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Princess Bamba’s Sikh Collection In Lahore Fort





Duleep Singh, the last Emperor of Punjab, was taken to Britain as a child-prisoner under the aegis of the East India Company, after the end of the so-called Second Anglo-Sikh War and the subsequent occupation of the Punjab by Britain on 29 March 1849.

He was also kept away from his mother, Rani Jind Kaur, maybe because the world had already seen the power of the Sikhs in Punjab for many years and the British feared its continuation.

When decades later, Duleep was finally allowed to meet his mother, he was told about his lost kingdom and religion -- he had been converted to Christianity while he was a child and isolated from his family, co-religionists and Punjab -- after which he decided to reclaim it from British treachery. During the course of his struggle, he also married and had six children, three sons and three daughters, from the first marriage.

Princess Bamba Duleep Singh, the eldest daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh and grand-daughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was born on 29 September 1869, in London and like her father, she was brought up as a Christian and Briton, for long kept in the dark about her true ancestry by British Government fiat.

Unlike her father who had been denied higher education by his British captors, she was allowed to pursue education and attended Oxford University. Queen Victoria was very kind towards her and prompted her to be a royal socialite. A true firebrand like her grandfather, she was very active politically in England and was involved in a number of social movements, including women’s right to vote.

Following the footprints of her Sikh ancestors, Bamba decided to visit Punjab after the end of the Raj and the Brits could no longer keep the Sikh Royal Family captive. She hired a Hungarian companion Marie Antoinette Gottesmann who later married a Sikh nobleman (giving birth to world renowned artist Amrita Shergil) and went back to Hungary.

Bamba refused to return to Britain and settled alone in Lahore -- after all, it was the capital of her father’s usurped Sikh Kingdom -- and eventually married the Principal of King Edward Medical College in Lahore – Dr David Waters Sutherland.

She purchased a house in the locality of Model Town and named it ‘Gulzar’ where she had an exclusive garden of roses spread on an area of one kanal. She lived like an unknown in Lahore, the capital of the far-flung Empire of her father and grandfather.

She was widowed in 1939 without any children. When she died her funeral was arranged by the United Kingdom Deputy High Commissioner in Lahore and with only a few people present she was quietly slipped into the soil on 10 March 1957.

She was an important personality being the progeny of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, but unfortunately she was ignored and wasn’t given much importance, at least as much she deserved at that time. Located in Gora Kabristan on Jail Road, Lahore, the grave of the last surviving descendant of Maharaja Ranjit Singh still  remains relatively unknown, decked with flowers brought only by the descendants of Pir Karim Bakhsh from ‘Gulzar’, Model Town, Lahore, the residence of late Princess Bamba Sutherland. She requested to have following words inscribed on her grave:

The difference between royalty and servility vanishes
The moment the writing of destiny is encountered
If one opens the grave of a dead
None will be able to discern rich from poor

Princess Bamba left important historical items to her secretary, Pir Karim Bakhsh Supra of Lahore. The collection included considerable paintings, artifacts and antiquities, and a number of photographs and other articles. Part of the collection was sold to the Pakistani government and today this collection can be seen in Princess Bamba’s Collection inside Lahore Fort near the curator’s office.

The collection had extraordinary pictures and paintings of the Sikh Darbar, Maharaja Duleep Singh, Prince Nau Nihal Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Rani Jindan, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Maharaja Sher Singh’s Council, a sculpture of Ranjit Singh riding on an elephant and his entourage, and views of the city at the bank of River Ravi.

These are a must see, a beautiful collection indeed, but sadly hidden from the public.

The place is not maintained and like her, the articles she left behind are also unnoticed and neglected. The Princess Bamba Collection is a Sikh gallery inside the Lahore Fort. It was closed to the general public a long time ago. Now it has been opened by the Archeology Department for the public, as the museums and galleries of Lahore Fort are still under the possession of the Archeology Department.

The Walled City of Lahore Authority had invited a Hungarian Art Expert for the study of these paintings which are present in the Sikh Gallery. Hungarian expert, Dr Zoltán Dragon, PhD, art historian, came to Lahore and studied the paintings of The Court of Lahore, Duleep Singh, Bahadar Shah Zafar (the last Mughal Emperor), views of the cities of Calcutta and Benares, Sher Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh listening to the Guru Granth Sahib being recited near the Golden Temple, Amritsar, Sher Singh in Council, Shahzada Jawan Bakhat, and Mirza Mughal.

The expert said the paintings’ condition is ambivalent. Although all of them are in a protected space, separated from visitors by a glass pane or a cordon, the windows in the wall opposite the entrance are not hermetically sealed; thus, works of art installed there are exposed to external environmental impact, while extreme thermal fluctuation is also triggered by the wind coming into the room.

Objects located closer to the entrance, protected more efficiently, are in a better state; these are the pieces entitled “Maharaja Ranjit Singh Listening To The Recitation Of The Guru Granth Sahib Near The Golden Temple, Amritsar” and “Sher Singh in Council“. Even in the case of these works, paint losses appear at some places on the surface, and discolored varnish covers the images all over.

The magnificent “Court of Lahore“ is more damaged, partly due to its size, which covers an entire wall. Resulting from its weight, the lower third of the canvas got loose, cupped. Moreover, flaking typically appears on this area. At some places, paint losses take up 1-2cm of the surface. Traces of earlier treatments are also to be found on the canvas.

I should add that The Fort of Lahore houses ten of Ágoston (August) Schoefft’s works, and that the master of the paintings is, indeed, Ágoston Schoefft, who executed the pieces between 1841-1855, based on his travel pieces. The dates cover his first journey to Lahore as well the 1855 Exhibition in Vienna where the finished paintings were first on view. Schoefft’s (1809-1888) paintings held in Lahore, Pakistan, have long been recorded in specified literature. It is only these texts that tell us about Schoefft’s life in Lahore. One of the most important sources is the memoir of the Maharaja’s physician, Martin Honigberger, which records that Schoefft left Calcutta for Lahore in June 1840.

Now you can well imagine the importance of the paintings which Bamba inherited. Previously, the conditions of this gallery were poor with no proper descriptions on items. There were no lights for the gallery and it was closed to the public. The good news is that it is now opened for anyone visiting the fort.

The plans for improving the present condition of the gallery and conserving the artifacts are in the works and I hope that in the very near future it will be a popular visitors’ site inside Lahore Fort.

Many Sikh visitors visiting Lahore are also being taken to this gallery now. I would suggest that it is a must visit for all, Sikh and non-Sikh.

[Courtesy: Pakistan Today. Edited for]
January 14, 2017

Conversation about this article

1: Prithipal Singh (Malaysia), January 14, 2017, 9:09 PM.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful article.

2: Dalvinder Singh Grewal (Ludhiana, Punjab), January 15, 2017, 7:54 AM.

I have recently visited Lahore Fort. The paintings are really very exquisite and memorable. Specially those of the young Maharaja Duleep Singh are very attractive.

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