Posthumous Homage Paid to Maharaja Ranjit Singh by Nadhra S.N. Khan

June 2016
Maharaja Ranjit Singh died on June 27, 1839 after ruling the Punjab for forty years (1799–1839). Following the Rajput tradition, eleven women of his harem (four wives and seven slave-gilrs) immolated themselves on his funerary pyre. The Maharaja’s samādhi or funerary monument stands in Lahore but unknown to most people is the fact that the ashes were immersed in the Ganges. This paper attempts to narrate the last moments of the Maharaja, the final respects and stately farewell accorded to him not only by his courtiers and his people but also by the British army while the caravan accompanying the ashes travelled to Hardwar en route Hindustan (the name given to British occupied India). The paper also discusses the symbolic presence of the ashes in the samādhi as carved white marble lotus bulbs once placed on the chhatri that stands in the centre of the monument and their removal in recent times.  

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Nadhra Khan is Assistant Professor of Art History at Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan. She specializes in the history of art and architectural ornament of nineteenth century Punjab but her research and teaching interests also cover the earlier Mughal and later colonial visual culture of this region. She has held research fellowships at SOAS, London (Charles Wallace Fellowship, 2010-11) Paris (2015) Princeton (Fulbright, 2014-15) and Oxford ( Barakat Trust 2015). Her forthcoming publications include her monograph entitled Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Samadhi: Understanding Sikh Architectural Ornament, which will appear later in 2016, and an essay on John Lockwood Kipling’s pedagogy in the context of colonial art education in India.

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