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|Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh|
William Osborne was A.D.C. to the Governor-Genera], Lord Auckland. During his stay in India he could spend some time in Maharaja Ranjit Singh's court and wrote an interesting record about the time he spent with him, shortly before he died. In his book, 'The Court and Camp of Runjeet Singh', he gives insights into Ranjit Singh's exceptional character Osborne first saw him "Crosslegged in a golden chair, dressed in simple white, wearing no ornaments but a single string of enormous pearls round the waist, and the celebrated Koh-i-nur, or mountain of light, on has arm - the jewel rivalled; if not surpassed, in brilliancy by the glance of fire which every now and then shot from his single eye as it wandered restlessly round the circle - sat the Lion of Lahore The more I see of Runjeet Singh, the more he strikes me as an extraordinary man. Cunning and distrustful himself, he has succeeded in inspiring his followers with a strong and devoted attachment to his person; with a quick talent at reading men's minds, he is equally adept at concealing his own; and it is curious to see the sort of quiet indifference with which he listens to the absurd reports of his own motives and actions which are daily poured into his ears at the Durbar, without giving any opinion of his own, and without rendering it possible to guess what his final decision on any subject will be, till the moment for action has arrived. Though he is by profession a Sikh, in religion he is in reality a sceptic, and it is difficult to say whether his superstition is real, or only a mask assumed to gratify and conciliate his people. He is mild and merciful as a ruler, but faithless and deceitful; perfectly uneducated, unable even to read or write, he has by his own natural and unassisted intellect raised himself from the situation of a private individual to that of a despotic monarch over a turbulent and powerful nation. By sheer force of mind, personal energy and courage (though at the commencement of his career he was feared and detested rather than loved), he has established his throne on a firmer foundation than that of any other eastern sovereign, and but for other watchful jealously of the British government, would long ere have added Scinde, if not Afghanistan, to his present kingdom. Ill-looking as he undoubtedly is, the countenance of Runjeet Sing cannot fail to strike everyone as that of a very extraordinary man; and though at first his appearance gives rise to a disagreeable feeling almost amounting to disgust, a second look shows so much intelligence, and the restless wandering of his single fiery eye excites so much interest, that you get accustomed to his plainness, and are forced to confess that there is no common degree of intellect and acuteness developed in his countenance."
Osborne also had the opportunity to record about Maharaja Ranjit Singh's lively banquets. "On my return home, I met the Maharajah taking his usual ride. He was very inquisitive as to where I had been, and I never saw him in so good a humour or such high spirits. After a good deal of gossip upon various subjects, he said, "You have never been at one of my drinking parties; it is bad work drinking now as the weather is so hot; but as soon as we have a good rainy day, we will have one." I sincerely hope it will not rain rat all during our stay, for, from all accounts, nothing can be such a nuisance as one of these parties. His wine is extracted from raisins, with a quantity of pearls ground to powder, and mixed with it, for no other reason (that I can hear) than to add to the expense of it. It is made for him alone, and though he sometimes gives a few bottles to some of his favourite chiefs, it is very difficult to be procured, even at the enormous price of one gold mohur for a small bottle. If is as strong as aquafortis, and as at his parties he always helps you himself, it is no easy matter to avoid excess. He generally, on these occasions, has two or three Hebes in the shape of the prettiest of his Cachemirian girls to attend upon himself and guests, and gives way to every species of licentious debauchery. He fell violently in love with one of these fair cup-bearers about two years ago, and actually married her, after parading her on a pillion before himself on horseback, through the camp and city, for two or three days, to the great disgust of all his people. The only food allowed to you at these drinking bouts are fat quails stuffed with all sorts of spices, and the only thing to allay your thirst, naturally consequent upon eating such heating food, is this abominable liquid fire. Runjeet himself laughs at our wines, and says that he drinks for excitement, and that the sooner that object is attained the better Of all the wines we brought with us as a present to him from the Governor-General, consisting of port, claret, hock, champagne, etc., the whiskey was the only thing he liked. During these potation" he generally orders the attendance of all his dancing girls, whom he forces to drink his wine, and when he thinks them sufficiently excited, uses all his power to set them by the ears, the result of which is a general action, in the course of which they tear one another almost to pieces. They pull one another's nose and earrings by main force, and sometimes even more serious accidents occur; Runjeet sitting by encouraging them with the greatest delight, and exclaiming to his guests, "Burra tomacha, burra tomacha" (great fun)."
|Mian Jai Singh bring entertained by musicians and dancing girls.|
Osborne was greatly impressed with Pratap Singh, the young son of Sher Singh, who even at a tender age once escorted him. "Pertaub Singh was handsomely dressed, armed with a small ornamented shield, sword, and matchlock, all in miniature, covered with jewels, and escorted by a small party of Sikh cavalry and some guns. His horse was naturally of a white colour, but dyed with henna to a deep scarlet. He is one of the most intelligent boys I ever met with, very good looking, with singularly large and expressive eyes. His manners are in the highest degree attractive, polished, and gentleman-like and totally free from all the mauvaise bonte and awkwardness generally found in European children of that age. He is young and a very interesting friend. He expressed his thanks in graceful terms on receiving my present of a gold watch and a chain, and on parting said "You may tell Lord Auckland that the British Government will always find a friend in the son of Sher Sing." Then, mounting his horse covered with plumes and jewels, he gracefully raised his hand to his forehead and galloped off with his escort, curvetting and caracoling round him in circles till he was out of sight." At that time he was only eight years of age! In Emily Eden's lithograph he indeed looks like a bright child. (see painting of Kunwar Partap Singh in part 1)
Two years later, introducing his journal which was published after Maharaja Ranjit Singh's death, he critically wrote about Maharaja Ranjit Singh: "Brought up but not educated in the idleness and debauchery of a zenana, by the pernicious influence of which it is marvellous that the stoutest mind should not be emasculated, he appears from the moment he assumed the reins of government to have evinced a vigour of understanding on which his habitual excesses, prematurely fatal as they proved to his bodily powers, produced no sensible effect. His was one of that order of minds which is destined by nature to win their way to distinction and achieve greatness. His courage was of that cool and calculating sort, which courted no unnecessary danger, and shunned none, which his purposes made it expedient to encounter; and he always observed a just proportion between his efforts and his objects. Gifted with an intuitive perception of character. and a comprehensive knowledge of human nature, it was by the overruling influence of a superior rnind, that he contrived gradually, almost insensibly, and with little resistance, not only to reduce the proud and high-spirited chiefs of his nation to the condition of subjects, but to render them the devoted adherents of his person, and the firm supporters of his throne. With an accurate and retentive memory, and with great fertility both of invention and resources, he was an excellent man of business without being able to write or even to read. As insensible to remorse and pity as indisposed to cruelty and the shedding of blood, he cared neither for the happiness or lives of others, except as far as either might be concerned in the obstruction or advancement of his projects, from the steady pursuit of which no consideration ever diverted him. His success, and especially the consolidation of his power, are in great measure attributable to the soundness of his views, and the practicable nature of his plans. He never exhausted his strength in wild and hazardous enterprises, but restraining his ambition within the limits of a reasonable probability they were not only so well timed and slulIfully arranged as generally to ensure success, but failure (in the rare instances when they did fail) never seriously shook his stability, or impaired his resources. He seems to have had a lively, fanciful, and ingenuous mind, but the ceremonious forrus of Indian etiquette and the figurative and hyperbolical style of Oriental intercourse, are not favourable to the development of social qualities. Runjeet, however, had a natural shrewdness, sprightliness and vivacity, worthy of a more civilized and intellectual state. He was a devout believer in the doctrines, and a punctual observer of the ceremonies of his religion. The Grunth, the sacred book of the Sikhs, was constantly read to him, and he must have been familiar with the moral precepts it inculcated. But nothing could be more different than the precepts of Nanak and the practices of Runjeet. By the former were enjoined devotion to God and peace towards men. The life of Runjeet was an incessant career of war and strife and he indulged without remorse or shame in sensualities of the most revolting description. Nor did the excesses over which he was at no pains to throw a decent veil either detract from his dignity or diminish the respect of his subjects; so depraved was the taste and so low the state of moral sentiment in the Punjab. It is no impeachment of the sagacity of Runjeet that he was a believer in omens and charms, in witchcraft and in spells. Such superstitions only prove that early impressions were not eradicated and that his mind did not make a miraculous spring beyond the bounds of his country and his age."
|An excellent painting of the Maharaja. (Original by an unknown artist)|
a geologist, sketched Maharaja Ranjit Singh and wrote about him, "The diminutive
size of his person, and the comparative simplicity of his attire -consisting
of a turban, usually large only over the forehead, with the end hanging down
the back, folded a la Sikh; a kind of frock or tunic, padded so as to give an
extraordinary breadth to his naturally wide shoulders; the kumerbund tied round
his waist; and pair of close-fitting trousers, of the same colour, yellow or
pea-green; and all of Kashmirian manufacture - did not prevent anyone, who entered
the durbar for the first time, from instantly recognizing the Maharajah. The
contour of his face was square; his complexion was a light olive, his forehead
was wide and Napoleonlike: his right and only eye, large and prominent, for
he had lost the other by the smallpox, with which he was slightly marked, was
incessantly roving; his nostrils expanded and contracted, as his conversation
became animated; and decision and energy were pre-eminently imprinted on his
thick but well-formed lips. A grey moustache, blending with his white beard,
added character to the very expressive countenance of this extraordinary man."
Baron HugeL an Austrian traveller, also visited Ranjit Singh's court during his later years, when he was partially paralysed. "I must call him the most ugly and unprepossessing man I saw throughout the Punjab. His left eye, which is quite closed, disfigures him less than the other, which is always rolling about, wide open, and is much distorted by disease. The scars of the smallpox on his face do not run into one another, but form so many dark pits in his greyish-brown skin, his short straight nose is swollen at the tip and his head, which is sunk every much on his broad shoulders, is too large for his height and does not seem to move easily. He has a thick muscular neck, thin arms and legs, the left foot and the left arm dropping, and small well-formed hands. He will sometimes hold a stranger's hand fast within his own for half an hour, and the nervous irritation of his mind is shown by the continued pressure on one's fingers. His Costume always contributes to increase his ugliness, being in winter the colour of gamboge. When he seats himself in a common English armchair, with his feet drawn under him, the position is one particularly unfavourable to him; but as soon as he mounts his horse, and with his black shield at his back, puts him on his mettle, his whole form seems animated by the spirit within, and assumes a certain grace, of which nobody could believe it Susceptible. In spite of the paralysis affecting one side, he manages his horse with the greatest ease. If nature has been niggardly to him in respect of personal appearance, she has recompensed him very richly by the power which he exercises over everyone who approaches him. He can in a moment take up a subject of conversation, follow it up closely by questions and answers, which convey other questions in themselves, and these are always so exactly to the purpose, that they put the understanding of his respondent to the teat. With a voice naturally rough and unpleasant, he can assume a tone of much fascination whenever he wishes to flatter; and his influence over the people of northern India amounts to something like enchantment."
|The Maharaja's favourite horse, Laili, with an attendant|
|As can be seen, Ranjit Singh excited extreme feelings and emotions in all European travellers who met him. They either liked or hated him, but invariably respected his achievements. Burnes wrote about him in 1832: "Nature has, indeed, been sparing in her gifts to this personage; and there must be a mighty Contrast between his mind and body. He has lost an eye, is pitted by the small pox, and his stature does not certainly exceed five feet three inches. He is entirely free from pomp and show, yet the studied respect of his court is remarkable; not an individual spoke without a sign, though the throng was more like a bazaar than the court of the first native Prince in these times A conversation could not, of course, conclude without his favourite topic of wine; and, as he first sat down, he remarked that the site of his tent was an agreeable one for a drinking party, since it commanded a fine view of the surrounding Country. He enquired of the doctors, whether wine was best before or after food; and laughed heartily at an answer from myself, when I recommended both." Burnes also witnessed the celebrations of the Basant festival at Ranjit Singh's court and found them impressive. "The troops of the Punjab were drawn out, forming a street of about two miles long, which it took upwards of thirty-five minutes to traverse. The army consisted entirely of regular troops - cavalry, infantry~ and artillery; and the whole corps was uniformly dressed in yellow, which was the gala costume of this Carnival. The Maharaja passed down the line, and received the salute of his forces. Our road lay entirely through the ruins of old Lahore, over irregular ground, which gave the line a waving appearance that greatly heightened the beauty of the scene. At the end of this magnificent array stood the royal tents, lined with yellow silk. Among them was a canopy, valued at a lac of rupees, covered with pearls, and having a border of precious stones. Nothing can be imagined more grand. At one end Runjet took his seat, and heard the Grunth, or sacred volume of the Seiks, for about ten minutes. He made a present to the priest; and the holy book was borne away wrapped in ten different covers, the outside one of which, in honour of the day, was of yellow velvet. Flowers and fruits were then placed before his Highness; and every kind of shrub or tree that produced a yellow flower must have been shorn of its beauties on this day."|
|Emily Eden got on well with Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1838 and along with sketching him wrote in her book: "Another of Runjeet's topics was his constant praise of drinking, and he said he understood that there were books which contained objections to drunkenness, and he thought it better that there should be no books at all, than that they should Contain such foolish notions. He is a very drunken old profligate, neither more nor less.|
|A camp of Maharaja Ranjit Singh|
|Still he has made himself a great king; he has conquered a great many powerful enemies; he is remarkably just in his government; he has disciplined a large army; he hardly ever takes away life, which is wonderful in a despot; and he is excessively beloved by his people. I certainly should not guess any part of this from looking at him. He retained a perfect simplicity or rather plainness of appearance, while his chiefs and Courtiers around him wore the most brilliant draperies and a rich profusion of jewels. His manners were always quiet He had a Curious and Constant trick, while sitting and engaged in conversation, of raising one of his legs under him on the chair, which he used in compliance with the customs of his European visitors, and then pulling off the stocking from that foot. He had the use only of one eye, which age and a hard life of exposure and excesses had dimmed at the period now spoken of, but it still retained the traces of the vigour and penetration for which he was remarkable." Of Sher Singh and his son Pratap Singh she recounted, "To our horror, Shere Singh offered himself again for dinner yesterday. We had four strange officers as it was, and this promised to be an awful dinner; but it turned out very well. He brought his little boy, Pertab Singh, seven years old, with eyes as big as saucers, and emeralds bigger than his eyes; and he is such a dear good child! G. gave the little boy a box containing an ornamented pistol, with all sorts of Contrivances for making bullets, all of which Pertab knew how to use. We accused Shere Singh of having taken a watch that had been given to his little boy; and he pretended to put this pistol in his sash, and it was very pretty to see the little fellow's appeal to G.; but in the middle of it all, he turned round to his father and said - "But you know, Maharaj Gee (your Highness), what is yours is mine, and what is mine is yours; I will lend it to you whenever you like." Shere Singh thought the child was talking too much at one time, and made him a sign, upon which the boy sunk down in the eastern fashion, with his legs crossed and his hands clasped, and he fixed his eyes like a Statue. None of us could make him look or hear, and we asked his father at last to let him play, as we were used to children at home. He said one word, and the way in which Pertab jumped up was just like a Statue coming to life."|
|A street scene of Lahore painted by the Russian Painter Soltykoff.|
|Jacquemont, a French botanist and traveller was in Punjab for three years (1829-32) and met Maharaja Ranjit Singh a number of times. "He is a thin little man with an attractive face, though he has lost an eye from smallpox which has otherwise disfigured him little. His right eye, which remains, is very large, his nose is fine and slightly turned up, his mouth firm, his teeth excellent. He wears slight moustaches which he twists incessantly with his finger and a long thin white beard which falls to his chest. His expression shows nobility of thought, shrewdness and the biography of Ranjit Singh might possibly be amusing but it abounds in facts impossible to write down in the vernacular, which would require to be put in Latin notes. Yet in spite of all that is reprehensible in Ranjit, do love him a little for my sake. I have spent a couple of hours on several occasions and his conversation is a nightmare.|
|Maharaja Sher Singh|
|He is almost the first inquisitive Indian I have seen, but his curiosity makes up for the apathy of his whole nation. He asked me a hundred thousand questions about India, the English, Europe, Bonaparte, this world in general and the other one, hell and paradise, the soul, God, the devil, and a thousand things besides. Like all persons of quality in the East he is a malade imaginaire, and since he has a large band of the liveliest girls of Kashmir and sufficient means to pay for a better dinner than anybody else in this country, he is particularly annoyed at not being able to drink like a fish without getting drunk, or eat like an elephant without choking. Women no longer give him any more pleasure than the flowers in his garden, and for good reasons, and that is the most cruel of his ills. He had the decency to refer to those functions of whose weakness he complains as his digestion. But I know what the word stomach signified in the mouth of the King of Lahore, and we discussed his malady exhaustively, though in veiled terms This model Asiatic king is no saint: far from it. He cares nothing for law or good faith, unless it is to his interest to be just or faithful; but he is not cruel. He orders very great criminals to have their noses and ears cut off, or a hand, but he never takes life. He has a passion for horses, which amounts almost to a mania; he has waged the most costly and bloody wars for the purpose of seizing a horse in some neighbouring State which they had refused to give or sell him. He is extremely brave, a quality rather rare among Eastern princes, and though he has always been successful in his military campaigns, it has been by treaties and cunning negotiations that he has made himself absolute king of the whole Punjab, Kashmir, etc. and is better obeyed by his subjects than the Mogul emperors were at the height of their power. A professing Sikh, though in reality a Skeptic, he goes to Amritsar every year to perform his devotions, and, oddly enough, visits the tombs of various Moslem Saints as well; yet these pilgrimages do not upset any of his more strait-laced co-religionists One knows that Orientals are debauched; but they have some shame about it. Ranjit's excesses are shameless. The fact that this gray beard has had and has a number of catamites is nothing shocking in this country; but, apart from this, he has always consorted publicly with the women of the bazaar, whose patron and protector he is. At the great festivals there are hundreds of them at Lahore and Amritsar, whom he makes dress up in the most ridiculous way, ride on horses and follow him; on such occasions they form his bodyguard. He always has some of them in his camp, and they follow him everywhere riding upon his elephants. One of his pastimes when he has nothing better to do is to watch their flirtations with the young men of his court."|
|Jaquemont also had this to say of the Nihang Sikhs, whom he saw on his visit to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. "The Akalis, or Immortals, are properly speaking Sikh faqirs. Their rule compels them to be dressed in blue and always to carry arms. The sacred pool at Amritsar is their headquarters, but they often spread themselves over the Punjab in large and formidable parties. Ranjit wisely turns their ferocity to his own advantage. He enlists them in his armies, and employs them, preferably against his Mussalman enemies. He has at the moment about 4,000-5,000 of them in the army, which he maintains at Attock, ready to march against another fanatic, the Syed.|
|Nihangs or Akalis|
|Nearly all of them are mounted on ponies and armed with a spear or matchlock, others have only a bow or a sword. They are dressed in tattered blue clothes and most of them wear a long pointed headdress of the same colour, surrounded at its base with a polished steel ring like the brim of a hat. They are hideous to behold. They live on what they can take if it is not given to them; and hurl insults at those whom they dare not plunder. M. Allard, who has wisely made them friendly by his liberality, has nevertheless on one occasion been attacked by them. Sometimes they collect in parties of hundred and mingle among the Rajah's attendants, and when they think themselves strong enough, they threaten him and demand money. They have more than once held him up to ransom in this way, but Ranjit has never ventured to take vigorous measures and gives a general order to put them in positions from which they have little chance of returning, and they usually come back in smaller numbers for they fight with desperate courage." Jaquemont's views were corroborated by Steinbach. "In addition to the regular and irregular army, the Lahore government also has in its pay a body of irregular cavalry (to the number of between two and three thousand) called Akalees. They are religious fanatics, who acknowledge no ruler or laws except their own. They move about constantly armed to the teeth, insulting particularly Europeans, and it is not an uncommon thing to see them riding about with a drawn sword in each hand, two more in their belt, a matchlock at their back, and three or four quoits fastened round their turbans. The quoit is an arm peculiar to this race of people. It is a steel ring, varying from six to nine inches in diameter, and about an inch in breadth, very thin, and the edges ground very sharp. They throw it with more force than dexterity; but not so (as alleged) as to be able to lop off a limb at sixty or eighty yards. In general, the bystanders are in greater danger than the object aimed at. Runjeet Singh did much towards reducing this race of people to a state of subjection, but he only partially succeeded. They fight with desperation, and are always employed on the most dangerous service."|
|An impartial assessment of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) clearly brings out his great qualities. He converted a lawless region into an orderly and great kingdom - from the Sutlej (almost reaching Simla) including Ladakh, Peshawar, Multan, till the Khyber Pass and Sind. Re used force only sufficient to meet his requirements of maintaining power, and occasionally to obtain a horse that he took a liking to. (It is said that the campaign to get the horse Laili, apart from other objectives, cost him twelve hundred men and sixty lakh rupees). He abolished capital punishment and the smaller abuses and requirements of maintaining power were less gruesome in degree than the total lawlessness that was prevailing before his time. Uneducated and illiterate, he was also a man of the arts though he did not encourage his own paintings, perhaps because of his blind eye and smallpox marks. With great persuasion he sat for a sketch by Vigne, but even then, "He was constantly turning away, so as to conceal his blind eye." Many paintings exist depicting him in his later years but not surprisingly there are hardly any showing him in his youth, which confirms the fact that painting came to the Lahore court after the subjugation of the Kangra hill States. He died a monarch and his authority was not diminished even in his later years when he was paralyzed. He also used to adopt the children of his slain generals and looked after their welfare. "Ernily Eden first noticed them with Ranjit Singh and observed that 'he always has these children with him, and has married them to each other. They were crawling about the floor, and running in and out between Runjeet and G., and at one time the little boy had got his arm twisted around G.'s' leg' To an unmarried forty one year old spinster (and a Victorian one at that) these children violated the primary rule by being not only seen but also heard and felt.|
|Two Sikh Warriors|
|Portrait of the Maharaj on glass. The Maharaja was blinded on the left eye, but this painting shows the right eye as blinded - by mistake or printed wrongly.|
Seeing them again when calling on Ranjit Singh some days later she bristled with irritation at their behaviour and that of their bibulous guardian: 'Those two little brats, in new dresses, were crawling about the floor, and he poured some of this fire down their throats'. Schoefft believed that they received half their fathers' income until they reached the age of fifteen, and if still alive after Ranjit Singh's questionable supervision beyond that age, they were entitled to the whole revenue. (Aijazuddin)."
With the collapse of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's kingdom, the art of traditional painting disappeared from Lahore and Amritsar but continued in the other British protected Sikh States like Patiala, Kapurthala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot and smaller places like Una. In fact, with the peaceful conditions encountered by these states under the patronage of the British, indulgence in the arts and court leisure activities increased considerably. The Lahore court artists soon migrated there and evidence exists of artists reaching there directly from Delhi and even Rajasthan (the Hindu mythological paintings at Sheesh Mahal, Patiala, give it the air of a Hindu palace)
|Lord Shiva & Parvati with sons Kartikay and Ganesha.|
|It has been one of the biggest ironies of princely India that the rajas and maharajas could build majestic palaces to mark their greatness only when they were subjugated by the British. When they were actually independent and fighting they could not afford to do so, in terms of time or finances. Similarly in painting, once the princes were free from guarding their borders they hired the best artists in Europe to paint their portraits in majestic postures. The periods of rule of the various Maharajas was limited only by their state of health, given the excesses they could indulge in. One Sikh maharaja 'ruled' thus for seventy five years, just before the independence of the country. Actually, even a much lesser period of independent rule by any maharaja would have been more eventful, and there was to be no comparison with the powerful reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The British added to the drama by giving exalted titles to the Rajas and Princes. The title of Raja of Jind, for example, read "His Highness Raja-i-Rajagan, Raja Raghbir Singh Bahadur, Grand Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, Companion of the Indian Empire, Farzand-i-Dilband, Rasik-ul-Itikad-daulat Inglishia, Councillor of the Empress of India, Chief of Jind". Similarly, the Raja of Faridkot was called "His Highness Brij Inder Singh Bahadur Barar Bans, Hind, Chief of Faridkot". With such grand titles it was only natural that these Rajas turned to England, France and Italy for getting their portraits done in oil by famous European painters, or get photographed by Samuel Bourne. The days of the local court painter were clearly numbered, and the Sikh school of painting gradually disappeared, merging towards its end into what later came to be known as the Company style of painting. In fact when Baden Powell did a survey on the indigenous crafts and industry of Punjab in 1872 he could not find a single good painter in Amritsar. The next step was also obvious and the British proceeded to establish their own Mayo School of Arts in 1875, at Lahore. Wherever local traditions remained it was more due to ruler specific encouragement, like that of Maharaja Narinder Singh at Patiala, and later Maharaja Bhupinder Singh.|
|Lord Ganesha with Ridhi & Sidhi|
|Maharaja Balbir Singh of Faridkot|
|Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala|
|Maharaja Brijinder Singh of Faridkot with the British Political Agent on an elephant.|
|Maharaja Narinder Singh of Patiala|
|The Maharaja of Jind, Ragbir Singh's visit to the mountains of Jwalamukhi|
Stimulus for wall painting and frescoes had been provided by religious establishments like Gurudwaras and the various dharamsalas and akharas like those of the Udasi and Vaishnava sects all over Punjab, and the large establishments at Pindori and Damthal. Since Sikhism was a very open religion the Hindu pantheon and legends provided for some images, and common celebrations of Hindu festivals deepened the bond. The themes from Hindu myths and epics included those of the Bhagwat Puran, Ramayna and Mahabharatha. Also painted were incarnations of the various avatars of Vishnu like Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana (fish, tortoise, boar, dwarf), Shiv and Parvati, Lord Ganesh with Riddhi and Siddhi. Popular themes were the churning of the ocean and the lifting of mount Govardhan by Krishna and his hoIi lila, chira harna and daan lila were vividly painted. Also shown are Dharmaraj and heaven and hell themes. There were ragini, baramasa and nayita themes, as well as the love stories of the Mirza Sahiban, Heer Ranjha, Sohini Mahiwal, Sassi Punnu and Laila Majnu. A favourite subject of the muralists were the janamsakhi series of Guru Nanak, or depicting him with the other Sikh Gurus. Guru Gobind Singh, mounted on his horse and with his falcon, was prominently painted. Martyred sons of Guru Gobind Singh and other heroes were also painted. Some of the best murals in Amritsar are in the akhara of Balanand which was founded in 1775 AD. There is also a janamsakhi series in the Baba Atal Gurudwara, in the vicinity of the Golden Temple. This Gurudwara was built in honour of Guru Hargobind Singh in the late eighteenth century and the janamsakhi paintings appeared to have been done in the late nineteenth century. Apart from the religious themes and images of the Sikh Gurus, portraits of rajas and maharajas, courtiers, nobles, generals, jagirdars, sardars and martyrs were profusely painted. Ranjit Singh and his sons were profusely painted on walls in Lahore and Amritsar, and so were the respective rulers in the other Sikh states. The Nihangs made colorful subjects, including the Akali Phula Singh. According to the accounts of travellers even the European generals in Ranjit Singh's court patronized muralists and had done in their residences murals on a wide range of themes, including those from their home countries. Specific occasions were also painted for posterity, one of the famous ones being the meeting of Raja Ranjit Singh with the Governor General Lord William Bentinck, at Ropar in October 1831. After the collapse of the Lahore court the Anglo-Sikh wars were often painted by muralists, who were often the masons who built the structures. Many other akharas, temples and samadlus (tombs) also had wall paintings, all over Punjab, but are now in disrepair, some having been pulled down already.
When the first wave of European artists left Punjab in the middle of the
nineteenth century, they were soon replaced by a new group of artists, all
over India, working in the new medium of photography. Photographic processes
were discovered in Europe in 1839 and it took a decade for them to become
commercial. In 1848, this medium came to India and soon commercial photographers
were established in Bombay and Calcutta, though they were not many. The first
Indian photographic society was founded in Bombay on October 3, 1854, followed
by those in Bengal and Madras the next year. Competing with professional establishments
for attention were amateur photographers, who were often employees with the
East India Company and army officers. The various census reports were soon
embellished with the portraits of 'natives'. Lord Canning, the Viceroy at
that time, and Lady Canning were great patrons of photography and encouraged
civilian officers to photograph native lifestyles and submit them. Before
long, by 1865, the India Office in London was deluged with over 100,000 photographs
of Indian subjects. Between 1868 and 1875 the treatise 'The People of India'
was published in London, in eight volumes. Anthropologists delighted themselves
with this new medium to illustrate visual proofs of their research and theories,
like Risley's famous conclusion that, "In India the status of a man is
indirectly proportional to the width of his nose", since proto-australoid
tribals had short and flat noses! The folks back home got to see the 'tough'
lives of their compatriots in the colonies, with the incredible mix of tribes
and castes, trying to improve their lot. The Mutiny also gave rise to the
spirit of photo-journalism in the photographers.
Samuel Bourne was amongst the leading British photographers and, like many artists, had switched over from painting to photography, and continued to indulge in both. He came to India in 1862 and became associated with the firm of Bourne and Shepherd, and photographed people, princes and places. Bourne and Shepherd also brought out a book in 1874 titled the 'Photographs of Architecture and Scenery in Gujarat and Rajputana'. Others like Maurice Portman reached out to the Andaman islands. The Archeological Survey of India was established in 1870 and the British took great pleasure in documenting photographically the immovable assets of the Raj. Amongst the leading Indian photographers was the great Lala Din Dayal, who established shop around 1862 and was the official photographer of the Nizam of Hyderabad. The maharajas continued to be the greatest patrons of this new art and some, like the Maharaja of Benaras, employed permanent court photographers. All of a sudden the art of portraiture had been liberated from the confines of royal courts and made accessible to any one who was interested, could understand the new processes and afford to set them up. For the benefit of women in purdah there were even zenana studios. Punjab and the Sikhs too had their share of photographic documentation. Perhaps the first British photographer to leave photographic impressions of Punjab was John McCosh in 1848. The other photographic firms operating in Punjab, besides Bourne and Shepherd, were Sachs and W. Baker, founded in 1862. Some great photographs of Punjab were taken by Felice Beato in 1857-58, on his going there in search of post-Mutiny images. The convenient realism of the photographic print, which could also be tinted, was the final blow to the art of traditional miniature painting.
|Tomb of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lahore. Eleven of his wives and female slaves immolated themselves in his funeral fire (Sati).|
|Medals of Punjab with images of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Guru Gobind Singh|
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