Rare Duleep Singh sketch at the British Museum


A previously unknown sketch of  Maharaja Duleep Singh has been discovered at the British Museum. Marked as Dhuleep Singh and dated to around 1880s it shows the Maharaj as a portly London Gentleman in sharp contrast to his earlier more iconic images of the young turbaned  prince who had charmed Queen Victoria and her family.

By the time of this sketch, the Maharaja was embroiled in a vicious war of words with the British Government over his status in England and more pointedly at the state of his pension. The considerable pension was massively overspent by the Maharaja and he took to berating the civil service for his financial position.

His search for recompense took him to the great round Reading Room in London’s British Museum where he discovered the injustice of the Bhyrowal treaty that robbed him of his kingdom. This was also the time that his distant cousin Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia was summoned to England. Sandhanwalia bought with him the Sau Sakhis – a series of prophecies attributed to the tenth Guru that included the alluring statement that  : “When the Russian troops invade the country, agitation will prevail in London and the British army will march to India. A Sikh martyr will be born and will reign as far as Calcutta. Deep Singh will shine among the Khalsa and will drive his elephant throughout the world”.

It was these prophecies, distributed by the mischievous Sandhanwalia and originating from the Namdhari heresy of the 1850s that spurned Duleep Singh to start his ill-fated journey eastward that took him to Russia and ultimately to a mysterious death in a Paris hotel room in 1893.

This sketch was acquired by the Museum in 1886, ironically the same year that Duleep Singh wrote: “I beg forgiveness of you, Khalsa-Ji, for having forsaken the faith of my ancestors for a foreign religion. It is my fond desire to take the Pahul again on reaching Bombay”.

In this drawing, Duleep Singh is far from the Sikh appearance he must have briefly acquired when he was re-initiated into his ancestral faith. He is wears a monacle and a top hat and walks with a cane.

This story follows on from two previous stories of items of Sikh heritage located in London’s collections. The remarkable story of the collection of Bhai Maharaj Singh at the British Library and the Akali Nihang Turban accoutrements also at the British Museum. The full catalogue entry for the sketch can be found here.

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