Hidden Heritage : The remarkable Nishan-i-Phul

 Maharajah Bhupindar Singh

Patiala State was the foret of the five major Sikh States existing in 1947 and was the largest and t prosperous of them. In modern times Patiala was also the t prominent in terms of its military forces and carried their high reputation into the Indian Army where five of its units were integrated. The State produced a number of very able rulers who ensured that Patiala and the Sikh military traditions were held in high esteem by the rest of the world.

One of the titles of Maharajah Bhupindar Singh (left) was ‘favoured son of the British empire’. Born in 1891 the orphan Prince came to the throne in 1900. He later became renowned as a mighty sportsman-cricketer, shot and a fine polo player- and for his great generosity and hospitality. It was in the field of politics that his greatest contribution was made. His state of Patiala was known as the ‘cradle of the Imperial Service troops’ and on the outbreak of the First World War he placed all his resources at the disposal of the British Crown. 

The Insignia of Phul
There are three parts to the insignia, a ribbon collar, badge (left) and breast star (above and detail right). Set beautifully in gold and blue enamel, the badge has a central double-edged khanda motif above two crossed tulwars dividing a trident, star and crescent.

Surrounding them is the Sikh weapon, the chakram with lavish floral decoration in enamel bearing the famous inscription tera ghar mera asay (your home is my refuge) in Gurmukhi script. The whole being surmounted by an intricate four arched crown with gold ring suspender for attaching to a collar.The incredible breast star is formed by twenty ceremonial kirpan and khanda emblems radiating from a central gold medallion with blue enamel trident, star and crescent with crown appliqué.

left: Badge (and ribbon collar), set in gold and blue enamel bearing an inscription in Gurmukhi script.

 

An Akali NIhang photographed in 1860 with turban adorned with miniature khandas 

The profusion of Indo-Persian weaponry in the order is truly striking, and harks back to an era in the early eighteenth century Mughal  India when the sole support of the scattered and hunted Sikh guerrilla warriors was their belief in the protection of the creator and destroyer of man as captured in the phrase Sarab-loh, or All-steel. The personification of this ‘All-steel’ presence was the love of weapons in all forms, but particularly the double-edged broadsword, the khanda.

 

Subedar Bahadur Nihal Singh wearing the  turban insignia of the 45th Rattray Sikhs (3rd Sikh Battalion) 

 The khanda was used by Guru Gobind Singh to transform novices into warriors during his unique initiation ceremony and has remained a symbol, along with the chakram which he wore, synonymous with Sikh valour ever since. His injunction to remain ever-armed was obeyed by the faithful who covered their bodies and turbans in weapons as a tribute to their creator and destroyer.

Following the annexation of the Punjab by the British in 1849, disbanded Sikh soldiers were enlisted en masse to form a key component of the Victorian British Army. British officers were wise enough to maintain the potent symbolism of the independently minded Sikh warrior they had recently struggled to subdue and readily utilised the khanda and chakram in regimental puggari badges. In designing this order, the Maharajah would no doubt have wanted to mesmerise those he came into contact with when wearing it. This was the time when he was rising in the political sphere in the Punjab, traditionally the homeland of the Sikhs. It is reasonable to assume that Bhupindar Singh would have understood well what impact the popular symbolism would have over the community at large, especially in the context of his ambition in becoming the foret Sikh ruler in the eyes of the British establishment in India.

 The Inscription
The inscription tera ghar mera asay comes from the famous hukamnama or written order addressed to the two sons of Phul, Rama and Tilokha by the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Rama Singh and Tilokha Singh were devoted disciples of the Guru and on August 2nd, 1696 the Guru called upon them for aid in the way of a detachment of cavalry in his battle against the Hill Rajas. It was the great tenth Guru’s hukamnama that bestowed special status on the house of Patiala. The letter read:
There is one God. The Guru is great. It is the order of the Guru. Bhai Rama and
Bhai Tilokha, the Guru will protect all. You are required to come with your contingent. I am much pleased with you. Your house is my refuge. On seeing this letter you should come in my presence. Your house is my refuge. You should come to me immediately. On seeing this letter you should arrive with horsemen. Do come. I have sent one robe of honour. Keep it with you.

 

 

Written order, hukamnama, from Guru Gobind Singh to the brothers Rama and Tilokha, dated 2 August 1696.

The message was clear and the brothers sincerely obliged. Their response is claimed to have helped saved the Guru’s life, who blessed the Phulkian house as his own. The famous motto being adopted ever since in memory of this.

The existence of this order had been unknown to collectors until 1988. It is thought that only two complete sets were ever produced, one diamond encrusted version, worn on state occasions and the other, in gold and blue enamel, worn on less formal occasions and presented here for the first time.

Both sets are thought to have been worn uniquely by Maharajah Bhupindar Singh and appear in some of his. Being solely the property of the Maharajah, this order was never intended to be awarded for service or merit by a particular department within the princely household as was the case for other orders commissioned.

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