Rarely seen images of the Sikh past – Part I

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As usual, I can’t seem to keep my hands off the internet and discovering newer and newer things connected to Sikhi. In this PhotoEssay are collections in pocession of the British. Our history is almost like a jigsaw puzzle . . . as we piece together the scattered snapshots of our history, a picture begins to form in the mind and give us a glimpse into our glorious past . . . and what a feeling it is to step into the past and step back into the present!

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01 This is the frontispiece to the ‘Dasam Granth’ or ‘Dasven Padshah ka Granth’ – the ‘Book of the Tenth King’ – attributed to the tenth and last of the Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh (1666 -1708). It was written in Braj Hindi, Persian and Punjabi, and collated by Bhai Mani Singh in 1730. This manuscript, dating from between 1825 and 1850, includes a catalogue of weapons as well as devotional works and the Guru’s autobiography.

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02 Photograph of a group of Afghan prisoners with a Sikh escort, taken by John Burke in 1878. Burke accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force, one of three British Anglo-Indian army columns deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs ‘illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad’. Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, assisting William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. Burke’s two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region where strategies of the Great Game were played out.

The Anglo-Russian rivalry (called the Great Game) precipitated the Second Afghan War. Afghanistan was of strategic importance to the British in the defence of their Indian Empire, and the prevention of the spreading influence of Russia. They favoured a Forward Policy of extending India’s frontiers to the Hindu Kush and gaining control over Afghanistan. An opportunity presented itself when the Amir Sher Ali turned away a British mission while a Russian mission was visiting his court at Kabul. The British had demanded a permanent mission at Kabul which Sher Ali, trying to keep a balance between the Russians and British, would not permit.

British suspicions of the Amir’s perceived susceptibility to the Russians led them to invade Afghanistan. The three Afghan prisoners captured in the advance through the Khurd Khyber are sitting in the centre of the photograph, surrounded by Sikh guards. The 45th Sikh Regiment was raised in 1856 by Captain Thomas Rattray, and was popularly known as Rattray’s Sikhs. It had earlier earned glory with its courage and loyalty to the British at the relief of Lucknow during the Indian Uprising of 1857. The Regiment served in the Fourth Infantry Brigade, part of the Peshawar Valley Field Force, during the Second Afghan War. The prisoners were lucky to have survived because in the harsh conditions and terrain of the Afghan Wars no quarter was given and prisoners taken, on both sides.

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03 Watercolour of Sikh Sardars on horseback from ‘Views by Seeta Ram from Gheen to Delhi Vol. VI’ produced for Lord Moira, afterwards the Marquess of Hastings, by Sita Ram between 1814-15. Marquess of Hastings, the Governor-General of Bengal and the Commander-in-Chief (r.1813-23), was accompanied by artist Sita Ram (flourished c.1810-22) to illustrate his journey from Calcutta to Delhi between 1814-15.

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04 Watercolour of Sikh horsemen from ‘Views by Seeta Ram from Gheen to Delhi Vol. VI’ produced for Lord Moira, afterwards the Marquess of Hastings, by Sita Ram between 1814-15. Marquess of Hastings, the Governor-General of Bengal and the Commander-in-Chief (r. 1813-23), was accompanied by artist Sita Ram (flourished c.1810-22) to illustrate his journey from Calcutta to Delhi between 1814-15.

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05 “Recollections of India. Part 1. British India and the Punjab” by James Duffield Harding (1797-1863) after Charles Stewart Hardinge (1822-1894), the eldest son of the first Viscount Hardinge, the Governor General. This depicts Sikh soldiers receiving their pay at the Royal Durbar in Lahore. Following the first Anglo-Sikh War, the British prescribed that a large part of the Sikh army be disbanded with a diminution of pay to the remainder. The soldiers upon each successive overthrow of government had demanded large gratuities, an increase in pay and more expensive uniforms – amongst other things two golden arm bangles. When the regiments were paid off these bangles were deducted from their pay. Hardinge wrote, “It was the custom with Ranjit Sing to reward with these bangles any attendant or officer whose peculiar skill or prowess in military exercises excited his admiration.”

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06 William Simpson’s ‘India: Ancient and Modern’. The Granth (Guru Granth Sahib) is the sacred book of the Sikhs. Amritsar was founded by the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das, in 1577, and is the home of the famous Golden Temple, revered by Sikhs as the centre of their faith. The largest city in Punjab state, its growth as a major commercial centre was given impetus in the 19th century by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who diverted the Grand Trunk Road to pass through the city.

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07 This temple, built by Guru Arjan Dev in the late sixteenth century represents the spiritual centre of the Sikh faith and draws devout pilgrims from all over the world. Here they experience darshan, receive religious teachings of Guru Granth Sahib Granth and bathe in the purifying water. The tank has been known as the Amrit Sarovar or Pool of Nectar since the time of Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru.

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08 Emily Eden’s ‘Portraits of the Princes and People of India’. Eden wrote of the Akalis: “Akalees or Immortals, Sikh religious devotees, being very wild in appearance and turbulent characters. They formerly were largely employed in the Sikh armies and were often remarkable for acts of desperate courage, but their licence renders them formidable to any regular Government and Ranjeet Singh gradually reduced their numbers, and broke their power by distributing them in small companies among his disciplined battalion; their blue dresses, their high-peaked turbans, the rings of steel, which they wear as the peculiar emblems of their devotion to the first great military leader of the Sikhs Guru Gobind Singh, and the profusion and variety of their arms make them very picturesque objects.”

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09 Emily Eden’s ‘Portraits of the Princes and People of India’. Eden wrote of the Raja of Patiala: “[He] is the chief of the largest of the Sikh Principalities on the South Bank of the Sutlej which owe allegiance to the British Government and are under its protection … the revenues of the Raja of Putteealla are supposed to be from £300,000 to £400,000 a year.” Patiala had collaborated with the British against Ranjit Singh (the ruler of the Sikh nation) and entered into a treaty with them in 1809 when Lord Minto was Governor General. At this time both the British and Ranjit Singh were vying to extend control over the states between the Sutlej and the Jamuna rivers.

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10 Emily Eden’s ‘Portraits of the Princes and People of India’. Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler, died having reigned for nearly four decades and did not designate a successor. His sons from different wives jockeyed for power together with the Hindu Dogras and Sikh nobles. After much turbulence Sher Singh was enthroned. Eden wrote: “Maharaja Shere Singh (present Sovereign of the Sikhs) and son of Runjeet came to power early 1841.” Sher Singh had served honourably in his father’s campaigns and shown “a peculiar friendship and regard for European officers in the Sikh services”. A fine figure with a courteous personality, Sher Singh was sketched by many foreign visitors to his court. He did not escape the Sikh intrigues for long, however, and was murdered by other chieftains in 1843. During his brief reign, foreign policy was dictated by the British.

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11 “Recollections of India. Part 2. Kashmir and the Alpine Punjab” by James Duffield Harding (1797-1863) after Charles Stewart Hardinge (1822-1894), the eldest son of the first Viscount Hardinge, the Governor General. This illustrates Sheikh Imam-ud-din along with Ranjur Singh and Dina Nath. Sheikh Imam-ud-din was the governor of Kashmir under the Sikhs, and fought on the side of the English in the battle of Multan during the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46). Following the Treaty of Lahore, the administration of the district was entrusted to a Council of regency consisting of Imam-Ud-Din, Teja Singh and Dina Nath (the Minister responsible for finance). Runjur Sing conquered Lahore aged 19 in July 1799 and was the chieftain who opposed the British at the battle of Aliwal.

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12 This is the oldest known manuscript copy outside India of a substantial part of the Sikh scripture, the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ or ‘Adi Granth’. The original ‘Adi Granth’, containing verses by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, and other Sikh Gurus and saints, was compiled in 1603-4 by the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun. This manuscript dates in part from the middle of the 17th century (c.1660-75), and is therefore one of the twenty oldest known copies in existence. It was purchased by the British Museum in 1884 from the Reverend A Fischer, who had been the principal of a missionary school in Amritsar, Panjab.

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13 A street in Lahore in Pakistan with Sikh nobles on elephants passing onlookers on balconies by L.H. de Rudder (1807-1881) after an original drawing of March 1842 by Prince Aleksandr Mikhailovich Saltuikov and published in 1848. After the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, Lahore went through a turbulent power struggle that finally culminated in 1799 when Ranjit Singh captured the city for the Sikhs. Ranjit Singh (ruled 1799-1839) became the first Sikh ruler of the Punjab at Lahore. He is remembered for the architectural additions that were made to the city in his reign and as the unifier of Sikh Punjab. Following Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, the struggle for control over the Sikh kingdoms was between the Sikh aristocracy and the British. The first successor to Ranjit Singh was Kharak Singh followed by his son, Nau Nihal Singh, but by 1849 the city was officially in British control. Since Independence from the British in 1947, Lahore has expanded rapidly as the capital of Pakistani Punjab. It is the second-largest city in the country and an important industrial center.

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48 Comments

  1. Anonymous said,

    July 12, 2006 at 5:00 am

    This is great. Love the pictures 🙂

  2. P.Singh said,

    July 13, 2006 at 7:58 am

    yes- very nice pics, the desciptions really add to the tale. thanks bhai sahab.

  3. July 18, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    Excellent post with rare pictures and equally matches discription

    Excellent work , Keep It Up!!!

    Jatinder Singh

    http://www.Sikhphilosophy.net

  4. karan s attwa; said,

    July 29, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    great pics totally fascinated by he worlds richest culture

  5. Harinder said,

    August 12, 2006 at 10:00 pm

    great and moving pictures of our great past.

    given a post of it at Sikh philosophy

    keep it up

    love

    hps62

  6. Jaspal Singh Anand said,

    September 5, 2006 at 10:41 am

    Great article. Can anyone guide me as to where I can pick up some art , lithographs, watercolours etc, from the sikh period.

  7. Jeevan Singh Dhesy said,

    October 28, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    What the pakistanis have done to the GREAT SIKHS they shall burn down below our feet!!

  8. Bhagat Singh said,

    October 28, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    BHAGAT SINGH the true legend who got hung at the age of 23 to gain independence for india.

  9. 1984 said,

    October 28, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    WHY SIkhs forget 1984 where 250,000 Sikhs were bruttly murdered by Hindus. But we killed the 1 behind it all Indra Ghandi shot by her Sikh body guards.

    • baljinder singh said,

      July 15, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      stupid ignorant fool,you think like a taliban

  10. Raipury said,

    September 10, 2007 at 10:10 am

    sir yhis pics r 2 great, i never seen in past
    Great collection
    Regards
    Ravinder Raipury
    painting artist
    (Flickr.com)

  11. Amandeep Singh said,

    February 13, 2008 at 3:30 am

    Nihal ho java, fateh pava,

    Shri guru Gobind singh Ji, Da maan no pavee,

    Sat Sri Akalee.

    Great work.

  12. Inderjit Singh Gabrie said,

    February 15, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Excellant website, well laid out, full richness for the mind, keep up the good work, best wishes for the health…chardi khala….inderjit

  13. Mandeep Singh said,

    February 15, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    WaheGuru Ji da Kahlsa
    WaheGuru Ji di Fateh

    Pictures Speaks themselves about the Braveness,Royality,Spirituality of
    Sikhism. Love to see more of these.

  14. M S Grewal said,

    February 17, 2008 at 2:25 am

    Great pics and writing as well. Please continue to enthrall the whole world with the rich history of Sikhs.

  15. gs said,

    March 2, 2008 at 12:13 am

    great pics- it shows the sikhs as rich kings- maybe it was material power that was not balanced by spritual power that allowed sikhs to loose some battles. the miri piri states that all sikhs should balance tempory power e.g money with permenant power being sikhi.

  16. Afghan said,

    April 9, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Fighting as slaves for the British

  17. Navtej Sandhu said,

    April 13, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Guru Fateh Bhai Sahib.

    U hv done extra-ordinary work by putting these proud rare pics of our sikh history, religion. WE SIKH COMMUNITY ARE THANKFUL TO YOU. I would like to put up an exhibition in Sri Amritsar Sahib of your GREAT collection by ONLY WITH YOUR WRITTEN PREMISSION.

    I will be obliged if ur goodself allow me. I assure you that this exhibition will be PURELY NON-COMMERCIAL and just for SERVICE purpose.

    Thanx & Regards. Waiting for your kind reply.

    NAVTEJ SANDHU
    Sri Amritsar
    Mobile : +919815332266

  18. Balpreet Singh said,

    May 11, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Awesome pictures, these pictures are a source of inspiration for sikhs. Thank u for reminding us our glorious past.

  19. July 10, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    amazing

  20. Harvinder Singh said,

    September 8, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Good work….Great collection……

  21. Gaurav Jeet Singh said,

    October 17, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Brilliant

  22. Harpreet singh chandel said,

    November 10, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    really a great work and good collection

  23. Karolina Kaleciak said,

    November 15, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Hello, my name is Karolina, i am from Poland. I am very impressed by your website, it’s extremely useful for me. Currently i am working on my thesis which concerns history of Sikh Army. I would like to use pictures from this article, but only if you don’t mind and if you agree to give me your permission to use it. I would be very grateful, i know that those pictures are rare and it’s really difficult to find (especially in my country) information and pictures as good as those on your website. I am sending you my e mail: karolinakaleciak@wp.pl. I’m waiting for your kind response..
    Best wishes,
    Karolina

  24. afghan boy said,

    December 5, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    im very impressed with all of this but in this century sikh are changed like they

  25. January 3, 2009 at 2:33 am

    I’ve got to say this is absolutely brilliant! well done!

  26. Col S P Singh said,

    January 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Happen to see the collection. Great job which must have nedded sincere inulgence and precious time. Congrates for the achievement,

  27. baljit dadwal..indian hockey team said,

    January 18, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    great pics … valuable history … great work !!!!!! marvelous !!!!!

  28. Parminder said,

    February 23, 2009 at 6:13 am

    Hi,

    reading through your webpage, i had a feeling the words have been witten rather from a british point of view..a nuetral representation would be appreciated….

  29. Gurjore Singh said,

    May 4, 2009 at 8:05 am

    We are all proud of our great sikh empire.

  30. Gurmeet said,

    June 11, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Too Gud!This is the first time ive seen sumthing like dis on the internet about sikhs.too gud,cheers to you!

  31. avtar singh said,

    September 22, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Hi

    Great photos. I have a better appreciation for historical aspects of the sikh community going back to the 1800’s….

    Would you know where I could view more historical photos?

  32. Swinder Singh said,

    November 4, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    This is really a rare collection. I have got reference of this site after seeing a photograph of sikh warriors pumping bullets in a bunker most probably in Germany, which is not there in the above collection. Where is that?

  33. BALJINDER SINGH said,

    November 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Really,very impresive & rare collection of photoes. these pictures are a source of inspiration for sikhs.

  34. Unisehekkib said,

    January 2, 2010 at 3:41 am

    Looks like you are a true professional. Did you study about the issue? lawl

  35. afghan said,

    February 2, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    hahah lol sikhs history
    form past were all fucked off by afghans
    no one is like afghans in the whole world
    and all the world know thats <<<<<<<<<<siks are slaves of any one haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    • avtar singh said,

      February 3, 2010 at 3:39 am

      afghan,

      If you have a personal problem or issues with Sikhs, can I suggest you take them to a forum better suited to you. You’re comments are unwelcome here and quite distasteful.

      Oh, and before I forget, comparing what India is and what Afghanistan is today, I wonder which country got left back in the 15th century. Your’s or mine?

  36. Amardeep said,

    March 6, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Exceptionaly well and noval work ..Actualy it should be spreaded to rest of the world.Sikh Raj was much better than of Mughaliya Raj ,,,,,,,,It is most important that this work was not done by a Sikh but with anglo and other peoples ,who ,however not in favor of sikhs ,,,,,,,but they documented it without any fear or partiallity ,,,, thats why this is noval,,,,,,,
    if possible kindly suggest Karolina Kaleciak to visit Lahor ,Peshawar ,Kabul ,Amritsar and patiallla to know more about the Great Sikh Army and immortal nature of sikh as warrier,,,
    thanking you ,,
    amardeep

  37. Aryaman N said,

    March 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Awesome work here, and tremendous enthusiasm to see someone working for indias most loved community. I am a devout hindu and remember a lot of lessons learnt here in india from our history books as well as what i can dig out of the net. Despite the hugely sad incidents post 1984, we still consider even thinking of being separated from our sikh brothers as a heartbreaking concept(please dont), we (my community) being the marathas(warrior race from Maharashtra,india) admire , as most indians do, the most desirable qualities of sikh community – of being self sacrificing, supremely hardworking and honest.
    India wouldnt be where it is had it not been for this illustrious race.
    – Proud to be indian and a friend of the sikhs!!

  38. ss bariana said,

    May 10, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Really,very impresive & rare collection of photoes. these pictures are a source of inspiration for sikhs.we should tell our children about our great past.Pictures Speaks themselves about the Braveness,Royality,Spirituality of
    Sikhism. Love to see more of these.continue please.

  39. Afghan SUCKS said,

    September 4, 2010 at 2:10 am

    afghan thats right…. we kicked ur ass out of our area…… and u guyzz couldnt do a single thing about it….. (Except looking at ur people getting their asses kicked by the sikhs). LOLZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  40. jitender pal singh said,

    March 10, 2011 at 7:47 am

    i am very imprest these side

  41. khalis said,

    April 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Sikhs are a proud race, and weheguru has truly blessed this supreme race of people.

  42. Gurbir Kaur said,

    December 15, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Very educating and informative, many thanks

  43. July 22, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    […] Source: Ram, Sita. (1814–1815). Water­color Of Sikh Sar­dars on Horse­back [Paint­ing]. From Views by Seeta Ram from Gheen to Delhi (Vol. VI). Retrieved July 22, 2013 from https://lakhvir.wordpress.com/2006/07/11/rarely-seen-images-of-the-sikh-past-part-i/ […]

  44. Anonymous said,

    February 26, 2016 at 12:39 am

    really impressed with this Sikh history.Thankyou

  45. Rebecca Kaur Towers said,

    May 25, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Excellent Article ~ Well written and presented. Being an American Woman who has been drawn to the esoteric as well as religious and cultural stories among people could you tell me what sacred devotional music would promote peace and if at all possible would not stem or be based in war?
    Gratitude

  46. Harpreet said,

    January 25, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Great Work. Well done


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