DULEEP SIṄGH, MAHĀRĀJĀ (1838-1893), the last Sikh sovereign of the Punjab, was born at Lahore on 6 September 1838, the youngest son of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh. On 18 September 1843, at the age of five, he was, after the murder of Mahārājā Sher Siṅgh, proclaimed Mahārājā of the Punjab with his mother, Mahārāṇī Jind Kaur, as his Regent. The country was in a state of disorder and the army had become all-powerful. Though little Duleep Siṅgh attended all the council meetings seated on the royal throne, the real authority had passed from the palace to the cantonment and the military pañchāyats. The English, who had been watching the happenings in the Sikh State with more than a neighbour's interest, were looking for an opportunity to strike and penetrate into the Punjab. Matters were brought to such a pass that war between them and the Sikhs became inevitable. Hostilities in fact broke out in December 1845. The British who emerged victorious forbore to annex the State, but occupied a rich piece of the country between the rivers Beās and Sutlej under the peace treaty concluded on 9 March 1846. More stringent terms were imposed under the Treaty of Bharovāl (16 December 1846), reducing the kingdom of the Punjab to a virtual British protectorate. The Regent was pensioned off; the British government assumed the guardianship of the young Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh during his minority ; and a British Resident was to direct and control the entire civil and military administration of the State of Lahore with a council of ministers which was to be nominated by him. After the second Anglo-Sikh war (1848-49), the ten-year old Mahārājā whom, under the Treaty of Bharovāl the government was committed to protect and maintain until he attained maturity, was deprived of his crown and kingdom and the Punjab was annexed to the British dominions.
On 6 April 1849, soon after the annexation, the deposed Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh was formally introduced to his new 'superintendent, ' Dr John Login, a native of Orkney, Scotland, who had started his Indian career as a medical officer in the Bengal army. Duleep Siṅgh was removed from the Punjab to Fatehgaṛh, a small village in Farrukhābād district in the then North-West Province, where he arrived in February 1850. John Login took a great liking to the Mahārājā whom he treated like his own son. Walter Guise was named his tutor. On 8 March 1853, Duleep Siṅgh was quietly baptized a Christian at a private ceremony at Fatehgaṛh. The conversion was hailed as "the first instance of the accession of an Indian prince to the communion of the Church. " On 19 April 1854, the Mahārājā and his party sailed for England where they reached in May 1854. In England Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh lived in the first instance with the Login family and was presented to Queen Victoria who took very favourably to him. In January 1861, Duleep Siṅgh visited India, but was not permitted to come to the Punjab. He halted at Calcutta where his mother, Mahārāṇī Jind Kaur, then living in exile at Kāṭhmaṇḍū in Nepal, met him after 13 years. Duleep Siṅgh took her to England where she died after about two years later on 1 August 1863. In October the same year died the Mahārājā's most sincere and devoted guardian, Dr Sir John Login, on whom he had come to depend a great deal for negotiations with the British government for the settlement of his affairs.
Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh made another trip to India in the spring of 1864, this time with his mother's ashes which, on being disallowed by the British to proceed to the Punjab, he consigned to the River Godāvarī. On his way back, the Mahārājā married at the British Consulate at Alexandria in Egypt, on 7 June 1864, Bamba Muller, daughter of a German merchant, Ludwig Muller, and Abysenian-Egyptian mother, Sofia. On his return to England, the Mahārājā and Mahārāṇī Bamba lived for the first few years at Elveden, a sporting estate, of which the Mahārājā had got possession in September 1864. Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh and Mahārāṇī Bamba had six children, Victor Albert Jay Duleep Siṅgh, Fredrick Victor Duleep Siṅgh, Bamba Sofia Jindāṅ Duleep Siṅgh, Catherine Hilda Duleep Siṅgh, Sofia Alexandra Duleep Siṅgh and Albert Edward Alexander Duleep Siṅgh, born between the years 1866 and 1879.
The Mahārājā now lived in the extravagant style of Victorian English nobility. He loved art; he was an accomplished musician, was fond of the theatre, of hunting and of hawking. He came to be known as one of the best shots in Britain and entertained the greatest in the land, including the Prince of Wales. Living beyond his means, the Mahārājā incurred heavy debts. He sought from the India Office enhancement of his allowances. At the instance of his mother Mahārāṇī Jind Kaur, Malikā Muqaddisā (the holy queen mother) of the regency days, he claimed from the British lands which belonged to the family prior to the installation of his father as king of Lahore. Under her influence, Duleep Siṅgh was also gradually estranged from what had become his natural English style. The question of his private properties he pursued to the breaking-point. To prepare a detailed list of his ancestral estates, Duleep Siṅgh sent his solicitor, Mr Talbot of Farrer and Co. , to India. He also invited his collateral Ṭhākur Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā to visit him in England. Reaching London in 1884, Ṭhākur Siṅgh stayed with the Mahārājā, then putting up at Holland Park. He daily read out from the holy Gurū Granth Sāhib to the Mahārājā and instructed him in the tenets of the Sikh faith. Ṭhākur Siṅgh had brought with him a document signed by the custodians of the Sikh Takhts (the highest ecclesiastical seats) in India confirming the prophecies about Duleep Siṅgh's restoration to the throne of the Punjab. These prophecies, attributed to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh himself, announced in crisp, aphoristic Punjabi : "He [Duleep Siṅgh] will drive his elephant throughout the world. . . Dissensions will arise at Calcutta and quarrels will be in every home. Nothing will be known for 12 years. Then will rise the Khālsā whom the people of four castes will like. . . . Fighting will take place near Delhi. . . . When Delhi remains 15 kos away, the king will cease. Duleep Siṅgh will sit on the throne and all people will pay him homage. "
When in August 1885, Ṭhākur Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā returned to the Punjab, Duleep Siṅgh gave him Rs 1, 000 for distribution of kaṛāhprasād, the Sikh ritual food, at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. The Mahārājā himself decided to return to his motherland and left England on 31 March 1886 to settle down quietly in Delhi. He invited Ṭhākur Siṅgh to meet him at Bombay and arrange for his reinitiation into Sikhism. As the government was reluctant to permit Ṭhākur Siṅgh to receive him, Duleep Siṅgh wrote to the Secretary of State :
As my cousin, Sardār Ṭhākur Siṅgh Sandhaṅwalia, informs me that he fears permission will not be accorded him to go to Bombay by the Liutenant-Governor of Punjab, and as I particularly desire to be rebaptized into the faith of my ancestors by some relative of my own, may I therefore beg your Lordship kindly to request His Excellency by telegraph on my behalf or permit me to do so, that the Sardar be allowed to meet me on reaching India.
The news of Duleep Siṅgh's likely return sent a thrill of expectation across the Punjab. The government warily stopped him at Aden. This was the advice it had from one of its leading Sikh supporters Mahāmahopādhyāya Sardār Sir Attar Siṅgh of Bhadauṛ. Stung by this insult, Duleep Siṅgh resigned his allowance and forswore fealty to the British crown. One favour he sought was that the government continues payment of pound 500 each annually to the widows, respectively, of his superintendent, Login, and Comptroller, Oliphant. On 3 June 1886, he left for Paris. But before from Aden, he had, on 25 May 1886, received the rites of Sikh baptism from the Five Beloved (Pañj Piāre) - Ṭhākur Siṅgh of Wāgāh, another cousin of his (son of his mother's sister), Būṛ Siṅgh of village Kohālī in Amritsar district, Javand Siṅgh of Barkī in Lahore district, and two Sikhs brought for the ceremony from a transport ship which happened to touch at Aden.
The Punjab at this time was astir with rumour. Anticipation filled the air. Reports were studiously kept in circulation that Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh would lead a Russian invasion into India and overthrow the British. A network of secret communication was established; Duleep Siṅgh's emissaries kept filtering into India in spite of government vigilance. The most important of them were Ghulām Rasūl, a wool merchant of Amritsar, who had lived for many years in Sudan and Egypt, and Arūṛ Siṅgh of village Kohālī (Amritsar), a Europeanized Sikh. The Mahārājā's statements and proclamations - as from "the Sovereign of the Sikh nation and Implacable Foe of the British Government" - were smuggled into the country for distribution. The Kūkā Sikhs who had come into clash with the government in 1872 were the most enthusiastic in pro-Duleep Siṅgh activity.
The brain behind this entire movement for furthering the cause of Duleep Siṅgh was Ṭhākur Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā who had implanted the seeds of rebellion in the mind of the Mahārājā and who had finally persuaded him to renounce Christianity and rejoin the faith of his forefathers. From Pondicherry, where he had taken asylum to escape British authority, he masterminded the operations in behalf of Duleep Siṅgh. To win support for him, he visited secretly the Indian princely states and the Sikh shrines. He maintained an active liaison with people in distant places through a chain of servants, dependents and relations. Major Evans Bell's book The Annexation of the Punjab and the Maharaja Duleep Singh, exhibiting the illegality and immorality of British occupation of the Punjab, was widely circulated. Pondicherry had become the seat of Duleep Siṅgh's peripatetic government with Ṭhākur Siṅgh as his prime minister. Ṭhākur Siṅgh hoped that his sovereign master would one day land in Pondicherry. The latter had in fact written to The Tribune (3 July 1886) the following letter :
Although the Indian Government suceeded in preventing me from reaching Bombay, yet they are not able to close all the roads that there are in India; for when I return I can either land at Goa or at Pondicherry. . .
Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh left Paris on 21 March 1887 for St. Petersburg (Russia) where he tried to seek the help of the Czar. Arūṛ Siṅgh who had been with Duleep Siṅgh in Russia brought from him secret missives including a circular letter for the ex-king of Oudh, Holkar, Scindia and the rulers of Paṭiālā, Nābhā, Farīdkoṭ, Jīnd and Kapūrthalā. The princes generally implicated in the cause of Duleep Siṅgh were Rājā Bikram Siṅgh of Farīdkoṭ, Rājā Hīrā Siṅgh of Nābhā, the Mahārājā of Kashmīr and Rājā Motī Siṅgh of Puṇchh. From Russia Duleep Siṅgh sent to Ṭhākur Siṅgh a seal and letter in token of his appointment to the office of prime minister.
I appoint you my Prime Minister should Sri Satguru Ji one day replace me on the throne of the Punjab.
After Ṭhākur Siṅgh's sudden death on 18 August 1887, his son Gurbachan Siṅgh was invested by Duleep Siṅgh with the title of prime minister. But returning from Russia to Paris, Duleep Siṅgh had a stroke and remained bedridden for three years, the passion and grand designs of former day pathetically congealed in his heart. Drained financially and destitute of friends, he died in his humble hotel room in Paris on 22 October 1893. His body was taken to Elveden, England, by his son Prince Victor, where it was interred beside the graves of Prince Fredrick and Prince Edward. Thus was completed a life cycle drawn, as it were, to stated requirements of the tragedian, the poet, the philosopher.
P. M. Wylam