Saturday, July 14, 2001

Sad tale of a legendary horse
J.S. Bedi

DURING the glorious days of the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, lovers and admirers of horses in his magnificent court often spoke of the beauty and grandeur of a Peshwari horse lovingly known as Laili. It was owned by Yar Muhammad Khan of Peshawar. Since Maharaja Ranjit Singh had much passion for such horses, he made up his mind to have Laili for exhibiting as his favourite stud. When the Maharaja spoke about Laili to Moorcroft, an excellent judge of this animal, he replied that Laili was believed to be a horse of surpassing beauty and excellence. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, therefore, set his heart on becoming the owner of this coveted horse. In the meantime Fateh Ali Shah of Persia offered Rs 75,000 for Laili —an offer which was politely declined by Yar Muhammad Khan.


When some influential courtiers of the Maharaja called on Yar Muhammad Khan for a fair deal for the horse, they were dismayed to hear from him that "Laili was dead and he had already noised about it all over the region". The vigilance wing of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was convinced that Yar Muhammad Khan was telling a lie and the death of Laili was disproved. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, then, sent an expeditionary force under the command of his son, Prince Sher Singh and General Ventura, and subsequently obtained the possession of Laili.

The presence of General Ventura and of General Allard at Peshawar in connection with the Laili affair proved to be of material service to the Maharaja as he was thereby able to rescue that city and district from the fanatical followers of Syad Ahmad, who had defeated the Afghan troops and slain Yar Muhammad Khan himself. Peshawar was, for a time, relinquished to the Afghans and the Sikh army withdrawn.

Laili was continually in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s thoughts and almost constantly in his sight, covered with jewels and rich caparisons. He was never weary of talking to or caressing this horse. It was in the beginning of 1839 that Laili was found almost abandoned. When Lieut, Barr and his soldiers saw the horse they were highly disappointed as by then Laili had grown old. It was by then speckled grey, fat and dirty, and its heels, for want of paring and exercise, were so high that it limped long with difficulty. Soon after Laili died. It has been painfully recorded by Lieut Barr in his autobiography that there was no one to mourn the death of the horse who had once been the cynosure of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s eyes.