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Above and below: the Kings of Faridkot


The Sikh Kingdom Of Faridkot





Eighteenth-century saw the gradual erosion of the power of the Mughal empire on the subcontinent.

Taking advantage of the political vacuum, the Sikhs rebelled in Punjab. During the latter half of the century, various bands of Sikhs succeeded in carving out small principalities throughout the region. At the end of the century the chief of one of these principalities, Ranjit Singh, conquered the territories to the north of the River Satluj and established his kingdom with its capital at Lahore.

To the south of the river, in the region called Malwa, there came into being the small principalities of Patiala, Faridkot, Nabha, etc.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was an ambitious ruler, desirous of conquering the neighbouring Malwa states too. In 1808, he actually annexed Faridkot, which raised the concern of other Malwa chiefs.

If the Malwa chiefs were threatened by Ranjit Singh on the one hand, on the other was the menace of the British East India Company. By this time the Company had routed the Marathas and become virtual masters of the rest of the subcontinent, except Punjab and Sindh, so their attention was soon focused on the Punjab states.

The Malwa chiefs, caught between the devil and the deep sea, decided to seek British protection because they believed the British would take a longer time to overcome them whereas Ranjit Singh would annex them immediately.

In the meantime, with the rise of Napoleon in France, British affairs at home became troubled. The Company had to temporarily halt expansion in India in view of the rumours of a Franco-Russian attack on the subcontinent via the land route through Persia, Afghanistan, Sindh, and Punjab.

But when in 1808 Napoleon attacked Spain, and it seemed doubtful that he would think of the East for some years to come, the Company again became active in Punjab affairs. Taking the side of the Malwa chiefs, it contained its exposure by signing a treaty with Ranjit Singh whereby the British undertook to not cross the Satluj, in return for which Ranjit Singh would forego all his claims over territories to the south of the river ... including the state of Faridkot.

On April 3, 1809, Faridkot was returned to its chief Gulab Singh, and thus the state owed its very survival to British intervention.
After this the British lost interest in the Faridkot region as it was not a very good source of revenue. However, they secretly continued to nurture designs on Punjab as a whole.

When, after the death of Ranjit Singh in June 1839, his kingdom became a battlefield among warring factions and prey to the treacherous Dogras, the British took advantage of the situation and joined battle with the Lahore army in December 1845, resulting in the partial subjugation of the Lahore kingdom.

It is not surprising that Pahar Singh, the erstwhile chief of Faridkot state, sided with the British in their conquest of Lahore. In lieu of the help rendered by him, the Company awarded him the title of Raja and some territories. Raja Pahar Singh died in 1849, and was succeeded by his son Raja Wazir Singh who continued the policy of supporting the British.

To the good luck of the surviving princely states of India, the British stopped their expansionist policies after the Mutiny of 1857. Not only this, all the princes were assured of their protection, of course under certain conditions. The native states accepted these conditions and came under the indirect control of the British who appointed a resident at each large court.

Faridkot being a small state had no British resident. It formed a part of the provincial circle under a British representative.
After the death of Raja Wazir Singh in 1874, the state was ruled successively by Raja Bikram Singh (1874-98), Raja Balbir Singh (1898-1906), Raja Brij Indar Singh (1906-18), and Raja Harindar Singh (1918-48).

As the last two rajas were minors at the time of their coronation, the state affairs were controlled by a Council of Regency during 1906-16 and by a Council of Administration during 1918-34.

As already noted, the annual state income of Faridkot was meagre, the main source being land revenue from agriculture which in this arid region was entirely dependent on the rains. When the British brought a branch of Sirhind Canal from the river Satluj to Faridkot state in 1885, agriculture in the region took a great leap forward.

The previous year the towns of Faridkot and Kot Kapura had been connected with Lahore on one side and on the other with Delhi via Bathinda, Sirsa, Hissar, and Rewari by a metre-gauge North-Western Railway line, giving a great boost to trade.

Both these factors multiplied the state's income, which in turn gave a fillip to architectural activity that continued well up to the merger of the state into the newly minted Indian Union in 1948.

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As is indicated by the inscriptions on the state's monuments which record the names of various British officers as their founders or inaugurators, the Faridkot rulers tried their best to keep British representatives in good humour.

It is interesting to note that in contrast, with the passage of time, the British in India tried to incorporate indigenous architectural styles in their buildings. In 1903, when Lord Curzon presided over the durbar held at Delhi to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII, he saw to it that the great tented encampment was decorated entirely in subcontinental styles and materials.

The styles followed in England reached India too, first in the British structures and then in native buildings. When the British were developing the Presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras, neo-classicism was in vogue. By the time the British had established themselves throughout the subcontinent, Gothic Revival was reigning supreme in Europe.

And it was against this background that the style appeared at Faridkot.

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The architectural style that flourished in Western Europe from circa 1140 to around the middle of the 16th century goes by the label "Gothic architecture".

This term was not coined by the builders themselves but by the Italian artists of the Renaissance period who used it in a disparaging sense. They identified the builders with the Goth tribes, destroyers of the classical art of the Roman Empire.

In England, the word "Gothik" as used by 17th- and 18th-century writers implies "tasteless" and "bizarre". The pointed arches and sharply tapering spires of the Gothic style evoked the contempt of architects engaged in the revival of soothing classical styles.

Fashions, however, have their periods of development, decline, and revival. What is considered tasteless and bizarre at a particular point of time may be found attractive at another point. And so it happened with the Gothic style. Eighteenth-century Western Europe witnessed the rise of a romantic interest in medievalism; as a result the Gothic architectural style once again came into vogue.

Historians termed this resurgence the "Gothic Revival".

Although the epicentre of the Gothic Revival was Western Europe, its vibrations were felt in distant places such as the little-known town of Faridkot - the capital of the small Sikh kingdom of the same name that flourished to the south of the River Satluj from the mid-19th to mid-20th century. Colonial politics was mainly responsible for the reach of the Gothic Revival in this remote place.

However, it may be noted that the British architectural styles did not reach here in an unmediated form but were slightly metamorphosed en voyage, getting influenced by indigenous styles.

The speed of transmission too was slow.

Although the first signs of Gothic Revival were seen in Madras and Calcutta at the end of the 18th century, the style took a whole century to cover a distance of some 1,800 kilometres, reaching Faridkot after the extension of the railways to the state in 1884. By this time the style was reduced to the use of the Gothic pointed arch, and spired and pinnacled turrets. No intricate Gothic ribbed vaults were used here and consequently there were no flying buttresses.

All the three buildings of the state built in the Gothic Revival style - the Raj Mahal, Clock Tower, and Kothi Darbarganj - were erected during the reign of Raja Balbir Singh who ascended the throne on December 16, 1898. All were completed before the end of 1902, as they are mentioned in the court history of the state, Aina-i Brar Bans, published in December 1902.

Raja Balbir Singh appears to have had a special fascination for things European; in one of his oil portraits he is depicted dressed completely in European style .



[Courtesy: APNA. Edited for]

February 11, 2012


Conversation about this article

1: Jagmohan Singh (Ludhiana, Punjab), February 11, 2012, 8:24 AM.


2: Jamil Mirza (Lahore, Punjab), February 12, 2012, 10:56 AM.

Very informative and interesting.

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