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Posted at: Jul 16, 2015, 1:19 AM; last updated: Jul 16, 2015, 12:51 AM (IST)SPECIAL TO THE TRIBUNE

Veil off Duleep Singh’s restored grave near London tomorrow

Cleaned for first time in years by Sikh society

  • MaharajaRanjit Singh’s son Duleep Singh bought 17,000-acre stately home Elveden Hall north of London in 1865
  • Denied the right to return to India, Duleep died alone in a Paris hotel in 1893 after he exiled himself to the European continent
  • His son Prince Frederick bought his father’s body back to Elveden for burial
  • The grave — never cleaned in years — has been restored with the help of a Sikh Welfare Society

Shyam Bhatia in London

As British Sikhs prepare for a unique event that marks the refurbishing of the graves of Maharaja Duleep Singh and his family, community leaders anticipate fresh pressures to exhume the Maharaja’s remains and send them to India.

This Friday, Sikhs and local VIPs will gather at a church north of London, close to the Suffolk-Norfolk border, where the Maharaja, his first wife Maharani Bamba, and their youngest son Prince Albert, were laid to rest more than 100 years ago. After restoration work, the gleaming white marble headstones of their graves are once again in pristine condition.

Their deaths and burials recorded the end of a tormented chapter in Anglo-Sikh history that followed the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the step-by-step dismantling of the Sikh empire. His youngest son and heir, Duleep Singh, was converted to Christianity in his teenage years before being exiled to the UK. From the age of 17, he enjoyed a British government pension that in due course allowed him to purchase a 17,000 acre stately home, Elveden Hall, where he lived with his family for the next 11 years until he made his unsuccessful bid to return to India.

This year, 2015, is the 150th anniversary of his purchasing Elveden Hall, which was subsequently bought by the Guinness family.

Denied the right to return to India, Duleep Singh exiled himself to the European continent where he lived for some years with his second wife. After he died alone and poverty stricken in an obscure Paris hotel, his second son, Prince Frederick, bought his father’s body back to Elveden for burial.

Frederick lived and died in the nearby village of Blo Norton, where he rented a stately home and where he is remembered with affection by the local community. He is buried there in the local church and his grave — never cleaned for 90 years — has also been restored with the help of the Sikh Welfare Society of East London.

One of Frederick’s brothers, Prince Victor, is buried in Monte Carlo. A sister, Princess Bamba, is buried in Lahore. Two sisters, Princess Catherine and Princess Sophia, were cremated at the Golders Green cemetery in North London. After the 1.30 pm unveiling ceremony of the graves at Elveden on Friday, Frederick’s restored grave at St Andrew’s church in Blo Norton will be unveiled at 3 pm. Among those present will be a leading London businessman, Gurdeep Singh Sandhu, a benefactor of the Sikh Welfare Society, who told The Tribune: “Members of the UK-based Sikh Welfare Society in East London are getting together for a special ceremony to commemorate the life and times of Maharaja Duleep Singh.”

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