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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.