Maharani Jind Kaur: The Last Queen of Panjab

Monday
,
21
September
2020
sikhism
Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839 left a big void in the rule of the Sikh kingdom, which led to the annexation of Panjab by the British. His throne was inherited by multiple claimant heirs, none of whom could survive the intrigues and the schemings of the succession war in the royal court. Maharani Jind Kaur’s story is the narrative of a brave woman, who through all the trials and tribulations of the succession war, with all her faults, proved her mettle as a regent to the young Maharaja Duleep Singh, while also maneuvering through the diplomatic chicaneries of the British to the extent that even the British were wary of her.
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The Sikhs’ story is a story of a long-repressed people raised from the ashes to savor the taste of dignity and liberty for the first time in centuries. Under the spiritual-political revolution ushered in by the house of Guru Nanak Sahib, they learned to be the makers of their own destiny. Over time the fearless and valorous attitude instilled by the Guru’s Sabad (Infinite-Wisdom) bore fruits, and Sikhs went on to establish part or full dominion over the Panjab region multiple times. Out of these, Banda Singh Bahadar’s brief period (1710), misls, and the Sikh rule under the Maharaja Ranjit Singh are noteworthy.

The Guru instilled self-sovereignty taught them two things; to rule or to rebel. And this is the story of Maharani Jind Kaur (1817-1863), popularly known as Rani Jindan. She carved a name for herself in the annals of Sikh history, even though her primary identity was as the wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the last Sikh sovereign’s mother, Maharaja Duleep Singh. Because of her stature and role, she got to be known as Rani Mai or Queen Mother by various European and native contemporary writers. But her fame was derived chiefly from the concern she engendered in the British, who described her as “the Messalina of the Punjab,” a seductress too rebellious to be controlled.¹ Her story is a story of a great woman, both tragic and inspirational in equal measures, who fought to keep alive the royal legacy of her late husband, through her son Duleep Singh.

Early Days

Jind Kaur was born to Manna Singh and Mataji Kaur, in village Chicharwali, of Sialkot district, Gujranwala, Sikh Empire (now Pakistan). She was the third daughter of her parents. She was said to be very beautiful, because of which she was also named ‘Chanda’ (moon) at a young age.² Her father, Manna Singh, was a caretaker at the royal kennel of the Lahore Darbar. Not much information is available about her early life because of the lack of sources. Her beauty caught the attention of the Maharaja, who sought her hand from her father. She was married to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1835 at the age of 18.

Sohan Lal Suri, the official Lahore diarist, records that a munshi (literally a secretary or clerk, but also used for a teacher) named Gobind Ram Sahai in 1838 brought the news of Jind Kaur giving birth to a child.³ On June 27, 1839, Maharaja Ranjit Singh passed away, leaving behind the throne of Lahore Darbar to a protracted struggle for control. During this struggle, successive heirs got assassinated in a series of events.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was succeeded by his eldest son Maharaja Kharak Singh, who many believe was poisoned to death (5 Nov. 1840) by Raja Dhian Singh, then Prime Minister. Kharak Singh was followed by his son Kunwar Nau Nihal Singh. The latter also died within days (9 Nov. 1840) because of a gate falling on him while returning from his father’s cremation, which points to a successful assassination. Sher Singh, the uncle of Nau Nihal Singh and the brother of Kharak Singh, besieged Lahore with a 70,000-strong army. Ultimately, Chand Kaur, the wife of Kharak Singh, agreed to acknowledge Sher Singh’s claim to the throne in return for a generous settlement and safe passage, and Sher Singh was crowned on 18 January 1841.⁴

Meanwhile, Jind Kaur and her son Duleep Singh lived a life of obscurity under the care of Raja Dhian Singh in Jammu. In August 1843, the young prince and her mother were brought to Lahore. In September 1843, Maharaja Sher Singh, one of the sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and Dhian Singh, the longest-serving prime minister of the Sikh empire, were assassinated in a plot by Ajit Singh Sandhanwalia, who is believed to have had an eye on the kingdom.

Raja Hira Singh, Dhian Singh’s son, with the army and chiefs’ support, wiped out the Sandhanvalias faction. Shortly after, Raja Hira Singh captured the Fort of Lahore, and on 16 September 1843, the Khalsa army proclaimed minor Duleep Singh, the sovereign of the State, at the age of five years. Raja Hira Singh was appointed the wazir (a high-ranking political advisor or minister).

Becoming the Regent

The political history of Jind Kaur begins from that date. Gradually, she assumed the role of a de jure regent to the minor Maharaja. Both Hira Singh and his adviser, Pandit Jalla, did not show her the courtesy and consideration that she was entitled. Her establishment got put under the control of Misr Lal Singh. Jind Kaur mobilized opinion at the Darbar against the dominance of the Dogras. She and her brother, Jawahar Singh, pleaded with the Khalsa army panchayats (regimental committees) to banish Pandit Jalla and protect the rights of minor Duleep Singh. The council assured the Rani that Duleep Singh was the real king of the Punjab. The army panchayats treated Jind Kaur with deference and addressed her as Mai Sahib or mother of the entire Khalsa commonwealth.⁵

Jind Kaur persuaded the army panchayat to overthrow Hira Singh and Pandit Jalla. Curtailing the position of both Hira Singh and Jalla was her first political victory. With the backing of the Khalsa army panchayat, she proclaimed herself the regent, which propelled her to the position of complete control of Lahore Darbar.

In her role as a regent, she got confronted with many hurdles, seriously testing her political and administrative acumen. She held regular courts, did public hearings, ran state business, and reviewed troops. The Darbar army, particularly the regiments under the command of General Court and those of the King’s own called the kampo-i-mualla, were the Sikh soldiers. They were the majority in the infantry and artillery. They had almost taken upon themselves the role of the king-makers in the face of their repeated demands of increase in their pay and allowances and cash awards in advance. They had succeeded in this way in almost discarding the strict code of conduct and discipline as prescribed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.⁶

The strength of the army, infantry, cavalry, and artillery, which was roughly 35,000 at the death time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, besides over 10,000 jagirdari (feudal grant) force, had during 1843-1844 swelled to over 51,000 and 14,000 respectively.⁷ Their increased number and the cost of their salary put a heavy burden on the state treasury. The Maharani tried to balance the situation by reconstituting the ministers’ council by giving representation to the principal sardars (a title of nobility initially used to denote noblemen/aristocrats) and restoring a balance between the army panchayat and the civil administration. Further, to remedy the financial situation, Maharani Jind Kaur directed Raja Hira Singh to prioritize revenue collection. But, in order to replenish the depleted treasury, Raja Hira Singh gave a free hand to Pandit Jallah.⁸ This action added to the unpopularity of both Hira Singh and Pandit Jalla among the courtiers and jagirdars.

Hira Singh’s popularity took another hit when he had a revered Sikh Bhai Gurmukh Singh killed for opposing his father’s proposal to crown him the Maharaja after the death of Kanwar Nau Nihal Singh. At the instance of his uncle Gulab Singh, he also confiscated the lands of Kanwar Kashmira Singh and Kanvar Pashaura Singh, the two surviving sons of Ranjit Singh. His intrigues reached their culminating point when he attacked Baba Bir Singh, a soldier turned saint, who was a wellwisher of the dynasty of Ranjit Singh. Hari Singh got branded guru-mar (the killer of the Guru).This, as well as a subsequent attempt by Pandit Jalla to poison Maharani Jind Kaur, aroused the ire of the Sikh army, which forced Hira Singh to abandon Lahore with his trusted troops and several cartloads of gold and silver removed from the treasury, but a Sikh force led by Sham Singh Atariwala and Jawahar Singh overtook him on the way, killing him along with his adviser, Pandit Jalla on December 21, 1844.⁹ With the killing of Raja Hira Singh, the Dogra hegemony in the Khalsa Darbar virtually ended.

Gaining Foothold in the Darbar

This came as a perfect opportunity for the Maharani, who seized the moment and pitched for her brother Jawahar Singh to fill the position of Hira Singh. Jawahar Singh was formally promoted to a wazir (prime minister) status with some lobbying, though this action was not favored by all the ministers and the army council.

To assuage the discontent, and to further consolidate her position, Jind Kaur betrothed Duleep Singh in the influential Atari family, in addition to opening up negotiations with Gulab Singh and agreeing to pay a higher salary to the soldiery. To get out of this political impasse, the Maharani relied on the newly constituted councils of ministers and generals in the army.

Nevertheless, the Darbar’s continuous political intrigues and power tussles gave the British a golden opportunity to weaken the Sikh kingdom. They were aided in this by Kunwar Pashaura Singh, one of the sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who also laid claim to the throne and took refuge under the British (1844-45). He made multiple attempts at revolt against the Kingdom. It was believed that the British also had the tacit support of Gulab Singh, one of the most powerful chiefs in the Darbar at the time. Pashaura Singh was summoned to Lahore by the darbar council and ordered to return his jagir. In addition to that, a force of approximately thirty-five thousand soldiers was sent to Jammu to capture Gulab Singh. The army returned with the Dogra chief, and he got charged with treason.

The killing of Hira Singh and the ascendance of her brother Jawahar Singh to the position of wazir allowed the Maharani to exercise civil and administrative authority freely. Still, the Khalsa army remained independent under the army panchayat, which was dominated by the common Sikhs exhibiting the strong democratic antecedents living on in the Khalsa army ethos despite the slow decay having kicked in.

Personal Loss

But Jawahar Singh’s tenure as a minister did not last for long. He was believed to be instrumental in getting Kunwar Pashaura Singh killed while he was being brought back to Lahore from Attock after one of his failed attempts at revolt against the Maharani.¹⁰ This action angered the army, which held any member of Ranjit Singh’s royal lineage in high regard. Jawahar Singh was ordered by the army panchayat to present himself in front of them on September 21, 1845. He appeared in front of the army council along with his sister, the Maharani. He and the Maharani pleaded before the panchayat. However, this did not change their decision. Jawahar Singh got killed in front of the Maharani and young Duleep Singh in the cantonment of Mian Mir near Lahore.

The killing of Jawahar Singh had a significant impact on the Maharani. Many historians have accused the Maharani of wishing the destruction of the Khalsa army and, towards this end, actively conspiring with the British through the Dabar representative.

There is absolutely no doubt about the fact the Maharani’s primary goal was the preservation of the power for her son Duleep Singh. Still, it would be an exaggeration to suggest her involvement in any kind of direct scheming with the British against the Khalsa army. Dr. Ganda Singh in his work on the private correspondence relating to the Anglo-Sikh War, quoted Lord Ellenbrough (Nov. 20 1843) as saying, “The mother of the boy Maharaja Duleep Singh seems to be a woman of determined course, and she is the only person apparently at Lahore, who has courage.”¹¹

The Maharani was bereaved and heartbroken for many days. The Darbar remained without a head to govern as the Maharani stayed away from governing the state. The Khalsa army panchayat took over the affairs of the state in the absence of a state head. It acted as the sovereign political power of the state in the name of the Khalsa.¹² The Khalsa army panchayat met daily to run the affairs of the state. Even though later the Maharani had started running the state affairs, she and her council were now in a way subservient to the army.¹³

In November 1845, a Darbar was held at Shalimar Gardens, where Maharani proposed the appointment of Lal Singh as the minister and Tej as the commander-in-chief of the armies. Maharani's principal advisers were now Diwan Dina Nath, Bhai Ram Singh, and Misr Lal Singh.¹⁴

The Real Power

Consequently, three power centers arose in the Darbar, the Maharani, the council of ministers, and the army. But despite the appointment of Tej Singh and Lal Singh, the army continued to call the shots, and the council of ministers did not seem to enjoy much power or influence to override the army. Additionally, Lal Singh and Tej Singh did not prove to be competent in strengthening Maharani’s hand. Still, it seems they were busy consolidating their own position vis-à-vis the army.

While the Darbar’s conflicting power centers significantly contributed to its weakening, the British were preparing to consolidate their position across the Sutlej. The British invasion of Panjab was imminent, and the Khalsa army was well aware of it. The annexation of Sindh to the south of Panjab, establishing a garrison at Ferozepur just a few miles from Sutlej, marking the frontier between Panjab and the British dominion, clearly pointed to the offensive nature of the British military preparedness. With the increased tension and mutual accusations, diplomatic relations broke.

The First Anglo-Sikh War

In response to the British buildup across Sutlej, the Sikh army crossed Sutlej (11 Dec. 1845), claiming to be their territory. But the British regarded it as a hostile act and used this opportunity to declare war on the Sikh kingdom.

The observation of the British Political agent G. Carmichael Smyth exposes British intentions. He states: “Regarding the Punjab war, I am neither of opinion that the Sikhs made an unprovoked attack nor that we acted towards them with great forbearance. If the Sikhs were to be considered entirely an independent State, in no way answerable to us, we should not have provoked them and I only ask, had we not departed from the rules of friendship first… then the simple question is who first departed from the ‘rules of friendship’?  I am decidedly of the opinion that we did.¹⁵

Power Lost

The Sikhs lost the First Anglo Sikh War, which ended with a peace Treaty of Lahore (Mar. 9 &11 1846), which affected Jammu by the Sikhs ceding and put British control over the size of the Sikh army. A supplementary treaty also allowed the British forces to remain in Lahore until the end of the year to protect the Maharaja and the City of Lahore’s inhabitants during the Sikh Army’s reorganization. This agreement was at the request of the Lahore Darbar. Maharani Jind Kaur favored retaining the British troops in the city, as long as the British Government did not exercise any interference in the Lahore state’s internal administration.

But to her dismay, during their stay of nine months, the British won over most of the Darbar ministers through the promises of grants, titles, positions, and other favors. By this time, the Maharani had utterly lost control of the Darbar and its council of ministers. Although Rani Jindan continues to act as a regent of and Raja Lal Singh as vazir, effective power was vested in the British resident, Henry Lawrence.¹⁶

When the time came for the British to leave, the ministers petitioned the British on their behest to continue to station their troops until Maharaja Duleep Singh had attained the age of 16. Of course, the British readily accepted it, and a new Treaty of Bhairowal was signed (26 Dec. 1846).

The Struggle

Maharani Jind Kaur did not like the consistent and continuous process of slipping away of power from her hands. She stoutly opposed the Treaty of Bhairowal (Dec. 16 1846), which placed the administ­ration of the Panjab entirely into the hands of the British Resident with “full authority to direct and control all matters in every department of the State.”¹⁷ Maharani Jind Kaur did all she could within her power to stop this arrangement from taking place.

The Resident Minister at Lahore, Henry Montgomery Lawrence, noted: “During the last day or two, her whole energies have been devoted to an endeavour to win over the Sardars of high and low order and to unite them all together in a scheme of independent government of which she herself was to be the head.”  But this was successfully foiled by Frederick Currie with the help of councillors like Tej Singh—a non-Panjabi  Commander-in-Chief of the Sikh forces—who had played to the tune of the British in the 1845-46 war and brought about the defeat of the Lahore army.¹⁸

The open clash between Rani and the British made it evident that they would not tolerate the overbearing Regent for long. Therefore, her removal from power was the first condition laid down by the British for concluding the Treaty of Bhairowal. Lord Hastings categorically instructed Fredrick Currie, who was then negotiating, that, in any agreement made for continuing the occupation of Lahore, her deprivation of power is an indispensable condition.¹⁹ The Treaty of Bhairowal, thus sealed her fate. The resident forbade the Sardars to visit Rani’s private apartments.²⁰

She got cleverly kept out of all the negotiations that determined her and her son’s fate. Unfortunately, there was only one side in this negotiation, as most of the ministers got bought over, and they all represented the British interest.

The Surrender of Power

Consequently, Maharani Jind Kaur had to surrender political power to the council of ministers appointed by the British Resident. The Sikh Darbar ceased to exist as a sovereign political body. The Regent [Maharani] was dismissed with an annuity of Rs 1,50,000, and “an officer of Company's artillery became, in effect, the successor to Ranjit Singh.”²¹

Despite her diminished authority, she was still considered influential enough to jeopardize the British plans. This was vouched by Lord Hardinge’s statements, who believed that the Maharani should be sent away from Lahore on the first opportunity that the British got. As a consequence, the Maharani was usually greeted with hostility and suspicion.

Fighting Back

During this period, she is alleged to have hatched a conspiracy with some Sikhs chiefs to assassinate Henry Montgomery Lawrence, the first British Resident at Lahore, and the Sikh commander Tej Singh in order to topple the British control over the Darbar. Tej Singh headed the Darbar, which was subservient to the British, and was considered working against the Maharani and the Darbar’s interest. This plot to assassinate the duo came to be known as the Prema Plot.

Though the attempt was unsuccessful, it not only proved the ability of the Maharani to pull off a surprise on the British but also showed the extent to which she could go to secure her position. This attempt gave the British administration a good excuse for her banishment from the Darbar.

Banishment

She was seen as exerting influence on the young Maharaja to the detriment of the British position. At the time of Tej Singh’s investiture as Raja of Sialkot (August 1847), it was suspected that the young Maharaja had refused to confer the title on him at the instigation of his mother. Although neither of the charges against Jind Kaur could be substantiated on enquiry, she was removed to Sheikhupura in September 1847, and her allowance was reduced to Rs 48,000.²² On the instruction of Lord Dalhousie, she was sent away from Sheikhupura to Benaras, where she remained interned under strict surveillance.

Her banishment helped the British achieve two goals; one, they separated the Maharani from her son, the young Maharajah, thereby making it easier to condition and rear the Maharaja as per their wishes. Second, she was effectively removed from the Darbar, thus eliminating further chances of any upheaval in the Darbar.

This intention of the British is made clear from the following note by Henry Hardinge, the Governor-General of the time: The Maharaja is now a child, and he will grow up in the way he is trained. It was only too probable, therefore, that his mother would instill into him her own bitter feelings of hostility to the chiefs, and that he would have thus grown up at variance with the Sardars and ministers of his kingdom. This could not be allowed. The young Prince should be reared up in the cultivation of every natural and acquired excellence of mind and disposition, so that at the expiration of the present treaty, peace should be preserved by the kindly understanding existing between the Maharaja and all classes of his subjects a blessing which could not be hoped for it the young boy (Duleep Singh) remained with his mother.²³

Interestingly another attempt to ‘corrupt' the soldier under the British command came to light in March 1848, which was again blamed on the Maharani. It could not be proved that the Maharani was directly involved, but the British believed, that Maharani Jind Kaur the mother of the Maharaja, is the instigator and adviser of all their schemes and plots, and they have produced letters said to have been written by Her Highness and other evidence in substantiation of their assertions.²⁴

Consequently, she got moved from Sheikhupura to Ferozepur and from there to Benaras. She was strictly forbidden from communicating with anyone from Panjab. The banishment of Maharani Jind Kaur shook the confidence that the Darbar nobles had placed in the British. Till this time, they had been loyal because the British had saved them from the Khalsa army, guaranteed their possessions and privileges, and given them a sense of security. However, the removal of Maharani Jind Kaur and the confiscation of the Jagirs of those suspected of close association with her caused them to question the policies of their benefactors.²⁵ Additionally, the Khasa soldiery, even though independent, still associated with the Sikh crown, was highly agitated by the Maharani banishment. She was still regarded as the Queen mother, and the Khalsa soldiery believed that she had no longer anyone to fight for her honor. Her banishment was seen as illegal and unfair by the forces. The Khalsa army eventually joined Sardar Chattar Singh and Sher Singh Attariwala, who were loyal to the Lahore Darbar. The Khalsa army’s grievance was formally expressed in the manifesto, which Sher Singh Attariwala issued upon meeting Mul Raj, the Diwan of Multan, who had remained loyal to the royal family.

The manifesto read: “It is well known to all the inhabitants of the Punjab, to the whole of the Sikhs (and those who have been cherished by the Khalsa) and in fact to the world at large, with what oppression, tyranny and undue violence, the faringis (the British) have treated the widow of the great Maharaja Ranjit Singh, now in bliss, and what cruelty they have shown towards the people of the country. They have broken the treaty by imprisoning and sending away to Hindustan the Maharani, the mother of the people.” The Maharani’s deportation was thus considered by everybody attached to the Kingdom founded by Ranjit Singh, as a national insult and as an act preliminary to the subversion of his dynasty and dominion.²⁶

Thus, Maharani’s removal from the Panjab became a rallying point among the Sikh soldiery and one of the most critical factors contributing to the Second Anglo-Sikh War. She helped the rebels financially to fight against the British. But unfortunately, a few of her letters were intercepted. The British decided to remove her from Banaras to the fort of Chunar (Mirzapur, UP) now.

The Second Anglo-Sikh War resulted in the annexation of Panjab, but the British Government did not give up the guardianship and the possession of the young Maharaja. They now exercised complete control over him, including his movements, education, and his associates.

Maharani Turns Fugitive

The Maharani was closely watched at the fort of Chunar, which was heavily guarded. But on April 19, 1849, she escaped from the fort. A court of inquiry was set up the next day, which could not establish how the Maharani escaped. Interestingly, a letter written by her was found in the fort the same day, which stated, “you put me in the cage and locked me up. For all your locks and your sentries, I got out by my magic… I had told you plainly not to punish me too hard… But don't think I ran away, understand well, that I escaped by myself unaided."²⁷

She got announced a proclaimed offender, and police posts were alerted everywhere. To avoid an arrest, she escaped to Nepal. Maharani Jind Kaur arrived at Kathmandu on 29 April 1849. At Kathmandu, the sudden appearance of the widow of Ranjit Singh was both unexpected and unwelcome. Yet Jung Bahadur, the prime minister, granted her asylum, mainly as a mark of respect to the memory of the late Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A residence got assigned to her on the banks of river Bhagmati, and the Nepalese Government allocated her a maintenance allowance.

There she learned about the rebellion’s failure and the Sikhs’ loss in the Second Anglo-Sikh War. In her concern for the well being of the young Maharaja, she conveyed her wish to meet the British resident in Nepal, which was refused. However, she got informed that the Maharaja was safe, and a pension was granted to him. Her request for a meeting with her son got rejected. The British did not want her to return to Panjab anymore, where the government’s control was now comfortably under them. Nonetheless, diplomatic pressure was put on Nepal to keep the Maharani from trying further political adventures.

Activism from Nepal

But this did not desist her from trying to establish contacts in Panjab. With the help of a few faithful on her end, she reestablished links with the Panjab rebels detained in Allahabad fort. She also established connections with Bhai Maharaj Singh in Jammu and Kashmir, who was still active against the British government. Unfortunately, her correspondence with the detainees in the Allahabad fort got intercepted by the British government. In Nepal, the British resident promptly approached the prime minister and asked him to stop her from planning further intrigues; the Nepal prime minister obliged. Her attempts to reach out to the rebels got confirmed by the fact that about six Sikhs were apprehended on the border while attempting to cross over to Nepal.

The prime minister also informed the British resident that the Maharani had tried to pass on a hundi (a financial instrument for trade, in medieval South-Asia) of rupees two thousand to the rebels. This action strained her relations further with the Nepali prime minister.

Meanwhile, she received a verbal message from Maharaja Gulab Singh. She, therefore, began to explore the possibility of slipping into Jammu and Kashmir. In February 1851 she sent Badrinath, Doola Singh, and Chunda Singh to Kashmir with letters addressed to Maharaja Gulab Singh and his Wazir Chunu. She again sent one Rajinder Gir in the guise of faqir to the Maharaja. In reply to these pleas, the Maharaja is said to have again conveyed his verbal approval of the scheme through Chunda Singh, who returned to Nepal in 1851.²⁸

Before Maharani Jind Kaur could leave Nepal, her correspondence with Maharaja Gulab Singh also got discovered. The Governor-General thereupon instructed his resident in Nepal to lodge a strong protest with the Durbar and also to inform the Maharani that if she would try to enter the British territory she would be seized and imprisoned more severely than done earlier.²⁹

Under constant pressure from the British, the Nepal Darbar remained hostile to the Maharani. It imposed added restrictions on her as a result of her activism as well as of the constant British representations.

But the sad widow of Ranjit Singh remained undaunted… Jung Bahadur expelled from the valley one of her attendants, and the Maharani dismissed the entire staff foisted upon her by the Nepalese Government. She was then ordered to appear in person in the Darbar to acknowledge Nepalese hospitality, which she refused to do.³⁰

All this time, how aggrieved she was because of her separation from her son, land, and the people can be gauged from the letters she wrote to the British representative John Lawerence, where she poured her heart out and detailed her desolate state. But her pleas were not heeded by the British.

Maharani Jind Kaur stayed in Nepal till 1860, reference to which can be found in the Nepal residency papers which mention her twelve long years of residency within the boundaries of the sprawling mansion of Jung Bahadur at Thapathali in Kathmandu.

Reconnection with the Son

Maharaja Duleep Singh, her son, was converted to Christianity (1853) under British influence and sent into exile to Britain (1854). But the Maharani finally managed to establish a connection with her son through her agents at Patna and Amritsar, which continued undetected for a while until it became public in 1856. One of such letters written by Maharaja Duleep Singh to his mother also landed in the British resident’s hands at Kathmandu. These letters also detail the young Maharaja’s precarious and helpless situation, who was unable to bring his mother to England. He advised her to reach England through her own efforts

As soon as this letter fell into the hands of the British resident, he instituted thorough inquiries and reported the matter to his government on 28th August 1856, saying that Maharani Jind Kaur intended to proceed to England to join her son and then to fight her case for the restoration of her personal property and Jagir. He also reported that the Nepal Darbar was equally anxious to get rid of her, the only hitch being the Maharani’s fear of detention by the British.³¹

By this time, a mutiny broke out in Indian (1857), during which many of the Maharani’s loyalists got arrested, particularly those allegedly having entered Panjab frequently during this period. Keeping in view the circumstances, the Governor-General thought it prudent to allow the Maharani to openly contact her son since it would keep her distracted and busy and away from attempting further intrigues.

The secretary of state for India, therefore, allowed Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1856, to correspond with his mother and to bring her to England. Additionally, the Governor-General also ordered the British resident at Kathmandu, to permit the Maharani to proceed to Calcutta where her son would arrive and receive her.³² By then, her health had deteriorated considerably while in confinement at Nepal, because of which she had almost lost her sight.³³

The Union

Towards the end of 1860, the Maharani got informed that her son Maharaja Duleep Singh was returning to India and she could visit him in Calcutta. Upon his arrival in India, the Maharaja was allowed to live with his mother. Maharani Jind Kaur met Maharaja Duleep Singh at Calcutta in April 1861. Soon after, the British realized the presence of the mother and the son in India to be hazardous, and they ordered both to leave for England within weeks of the Maharaja's arrival on the Indian shores. In the first week of May, both sailed for England.

In England, the Maharani insisted on staying with her son, which was granted. In his mother’s company, Maharaja Duleep Singh gained the Sikh perspective on the annexation of Panjab by the British. He also became aware of the machination through which he got separated from his mother, and the treatment meted out to Maharani Jind Kaur by the British in the period she was away from him.

Over the course of a little over a year, the Maharani exposed Duleep Singh to his Sikh heritage, the legacy of his great father, the lost glory of his kingdom, and the invincible spirit of the Khalsa Sikhs, which formed the backbone of his sovereign rule. With Maharani’s guidance, his attitude towards his history, heritage, and faith became more favorable. She is considered to be a significant factor in Duleep Singh's return to Sikhi.

The British were closely observing the supposedly negative influence of the Maharani on her son and were wary of any unfavorable outcome. The British sensed this and prevailed upon Duleep Singh to arrange a separate house for Maharani Jind Kaur. The Maharani remained with her son resisting all efforts of his friends to make her arrange a separate establishment in another house on the estate, until June, 1862, when the Maharaja took a house for her in London, and placed her under the charge of an English lady.³⁴

Dusk Descends

Jind Kaur passed away on August 1, 1863, two years after she walked into the Kensington Gardens in 1861. And thus, with her death, the sunset on the marvelous, courageous and daring life of a Maharani, who never gave up her quest for sovereignty and self-rule even during the most testing times for an extended period under the most tragic and hopeless circumstances.

But the legacy of this brave woman survived through her son. Duleep Singh gradually shook off his Christian upbringing and tried to rebel against the British. Even though the British were too powerful for his machination to work, it marked his return to his roots and heritage.

Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India, once noted about Maharani Jind Kaur that “She is worth more than all the soldiers of the state put together for any purpose of mischief.”

Admiring the grit of Maharani Jind Kaur, the then Governor-General Lord Ellenborough, in 1843, wrote to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington that, “The mother of the boy Duleep Singh seems to be a woman of determined courage.³⁵

Christy Campbell, author of The Maharajah's Box, a book about the Maharani's son, Duleep, says Jindan was “one of the most remarkable characters of 19th-century history, let alone Indian or Sikh history.” This is despite the fact that much of what is known about her is “through the words of the British, who regarded her as a threat to their power in India and therefore did their best to make her reputation as bad as possible.”³⁶

Citations and Footnotes:

¹ E. Dalhousie Login, Lady Login’s Recollections. Patiala, 1970.
² Major G.C. Smyth. A History of the Reigning Family of Lahore. Patiala, 1970.
³ Sohan Lal Suri, Umdat-ut-Tvarikh. Lahore, 1885-89.
⁴ William Dalrymple, Anita Anand , Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond. New Delhi, 2016.
⁵ Harbans Singh (editor), The Sikh Encyclopedia. Jind Kaur, Maharani. Patiala, 2001.
⁶ J. S. Grewal and Indu Banga, Civil and Military Affairs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Amritsar, 1977.
⁷ M.L. Ahluwalia, Maharani Jind Kaur (1816-1863), Amritsar, 2001.
⁸ S. R. Kohli, Sunset of the Sikh Empire. New Delhi,1967.
⁹ Sohan Lal Suri, Umdat-ut-Twarikh. Daftar-IV.
¹⁰ The Orient Illustrated Weekly, October 8, 1939.
¹¹ Foreign Department Secret Consultation, Proceedings ‘A’, No. 88, dated 4th April 1845, NAI, New Delhi.
¹² Foreign Department Political Consultations, Proceeding, ‘A’, No. 89, dated, 4 April, 1845, NAI, New Delhi.
¹³ Henry T Princep, History of the Punjab, Vol. II.
¹⁴ Huge Pearse, Soldier and Traveller, Memoirs of Alexander Gardner.
¹⁵ Major G.C. Smyth. A History of the Reigning Family of Lahore. Patiala, 1970.
¹⁶ Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs: Vol 2. Delhi, 1977.
¹⁷ Ganda Singh, Some New Light on the Treaty of Bhairowal, 1940.
¹⁸ Ganda Singh, The Letters of Maharani Jind Kaur. Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 13, 1950.
¹⁹ M. L. Ahluwalia and Kirpal Singh, The Punjab's Pioneer Freedom Fighters. Bombay, 1963.
²⁰ Harpreet Kaur, Maharani Jind Kaur. Patiala, 1977.
²¹ Harbans Singh (editor), The Sikh Encyclopedia. Jind Kaur, Maharani. Patiala, 2001.
²² Harbans Singh (editor), The Sikh Encyclopedia. Jind Kaur, Maharani. Patiala, 2001.
²³ Nazir Ahmad Chaudhry, (ed.), Surjit Singh Jeet, The Maharajah Duleep Singh and the Government: A Narrative. Lahore, 2001
²⁴ Foreign Department Secret Consultations, Proceeding, “A”, No. 9, Dated 12, August, 1848, NAI, New Delhi.
²⁵ Foreign Department Secret Consultations, Proceeding, “A”, No.73, 7th September, 1848, NAI, New Delhi.
²⁶ Jagmohan Mahajan, Circumstances leading to the annexation of Punjab (1846-49), Allahabad & Karachi, 1949.
²⁷ M. L. Ahluwalia and Kirpal Singh, The Punjab's Pioneer Freedom Fighters. Bombay, 1963.
²⁸ Foreign Secret Consultation Department proceeding, “B”, dated 25 June 1852, No. 134.
²⁹ Foreign Secret Consultation Department proceeding, “B”, dated 25 June 1852, No. 139.
³⁰ Harbans Singh (editor), The Sikh Encyclopedia. Jind Kaur, Maharani. Patiala, 2001.
³¹ M. L. Ahluwalia and Kirpal Singh, The Punjab's Pioneer Freedom Fighters. Bombay, 1963.
³² M. L. Ahluwalia and Kirpal Singh, The Punjab's Pioneer Freedom Fighters. Bombay, 1963.
³³ E. Dalhousie Login, Lady Login’s Recollections : Court Life and Camp Life, 1820-1904. 2012.
³⁴ E. Dalhousie Login, Lady Login’s Recollections : Court Life and Camp Life, 1820-1904. 2012.
³⁵ Dr. Ganda Singh, Private Correspondence Relating to the Anglo-Sikh Wars, 1955.
³⁶ Hindustan Times, How Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s wife escaped British prison and led two wars against them. Aug 02, 2018.
https://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/155-years-after-her-death-maharani-jindan-gets-a-new-life/story-SxU1FZgt0itDizMKxuqgDM.html

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Surender Pal Singh is a researcher in Sikh studies. He works at the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI), where he develops curriculum, presentations and research papers, and delivers online courses and webinars on Sikh theology, culture and history.

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