Maharaja Duleep (Dalip) Singh was the youngest son of the founder of the Sikh Empire Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He was barely a year old when Ranjit Singh passed away due to multiple health issues. The story of Duleep Singh’s conversion to Christianity, apparent disillusionment, and subsequent return to the Sikh fold is both interesting and tragic.
Duleep Singh’s tragic childhood
After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death, Maharani Jind Kaur Aulakh moved to Jammu with Duleep where they spent a few years. Maharaja Kharak Singh, Maharaja Nau Nihal Singh and Maharaja Sher Singh ruled the Sikh Empire after Ranjit Singh. When Sher Singh was assassinated, Duleep Singh and Maharani Jind Kaur were recalled to Lahore in 1843. He was made the Sikh Empire’s new Maharaja on September 16, 1843, with the Maharani as the regent.
In 1845 the Sikh army was defeated by the British who retained Duleep as the nominal ruler with the Maharani as his regent. The British subsequently placed the regency in the hands of the council instead of Maharani Jind Kaur. Later the Maharani was imprisoned and exiled leaving Duleep with no parental guidance. The British considered the Maharani a ‘dangerous influence’ on the young boy.
The defeat of the Sikhs in the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849 and the annexure of the Sikh kingdom to the British Empire, added further to the young Maharaja’s woes. The British put him under the care of Scottish surgeon Dr John Login. Login was given the guardianship of the young Maharaja and the additional duty of safeguarding the Kohinoor diamond (one of the largest cut diamonds in the world) which had come into the possession of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1813.
The young boy was shifted to Fatehgarh in December 1849 where he was placed under severe restrictions. No Bharatiyas except a few servants trusted by the British could meet Duleep in private. The lack of parental guidance and being cut off from his roots, the young Maharaja developed a close bond with Login who introduced him to Christianity.
He was surrounded by children of British officials and his two close friends were English, one of them being the child of an Anglican missionary. He was given the Bible to read and Login subsequently persuaded (probably pressurized) Duleep to embrace Christianity. Here it must be mentioned that the British adopted a policy of completely anglicizing him. His health was also reportedly poor even though the British kept all information regarding his health under wraps.
Duleep Singh’s Conversion to Christianity and Life in Exile
As pointed out earlier, having been totally cut off from his cultural roots and growing up in a predominantly Christian household, he converted to Christianity following Christian convert Bhajan Lal’s advice. Lal was a Brahmin who had become a Christian and who was tactically used by the British to influence Duleep to adopt Christianity.
Lal recited Bible verses and introduced other Christian texts to the young Maharaja ultimately making the latter adopt Christianity with formal permission from Governor-General Dalhousie. Duleep’s conversion is held as controversial since it took place under unclear circumstances and as he had not even attained 15 years of age at that time. It is also amply clear that Login wanted and planned to convert Duleep to Christianity because he was young enough to mould and may influence thousands of others to adopt Christianity.
In 1854, he was exiled to the United Kingdom and introduced to the British court. He reportedly became a ‘good friend’ of Queen Victoria. During his stay in London, he also went to stay with the royal family at Osborne at the invitation of the Queen. However, soon Duleep started missing Bharat and wanted to return but the East India Company (EIC) board refused to let him go back to Bharat. Instead, he was sent on a tour of Europe with John Login and his wife.
On his return to England in 1855 he was granted an annual pension of £25,000 under the condition that he would remain loyal to the British crown. He stayed in Castle Menzies in Scotland’s Perthshire under the supervision of the Logins till he turned 19. Subsequently, he moved to the Grandtully Castle in the 1860s. Duleep first married Bamba Muller with whom he had seven children and later married Ada Douglas Wetherill with whom he had two children.
Duleep’s reunion with his mother Maharani Jind Kaur
He tried to contact his mother twice after he turned 18. The Maharani was residing in Kathmandu at that time. British intercepted both his attempts to contact his mother, first through a letter and the second through a Bharatiya named Pundit Nehamiah Goreh. Frustrated, Duleep decided to go in person and meet his mother. Since Maharani was almost blind and very frail by this time and since they did not consider her to be a threat anymore, the British allowed Duleep to meet her.
“Notably, as he had embraced Christianity, he had cut his hair. Upon meeting his mother, he bowed down in front of her to take her blessings. His blind mother raised her hands and touched his head with affection, only to get the shock that he no longer had long hair, which is one of the five Ks of Sikhism. She questioned him about what had happened to his hair, and he told her the whole story”, says Peter Bance, author of Sovereign, Squire and Rebel: Maharajah Duleep Singh and the Heirs of a Lost Kingdom, in an interview recounting the meeting between mother and son.
After Duleep narrated his ordeal, his mother recounted true Sikh history in order to bring him back to his roots. She told him how his father had established one of the most prosperous empires in the country. The British government permitted her to join him in England in 1860 and she stayed with him till her death in 1863 familiarizing Duleep with his true cultural roots. The Maharani’s mortal remains were brought back to Bharat where she was cremated.
Reconversion to Sikhism and Death in Exile
The stories about his family that Maharani Jind Kaur narrated left a deep impression on Duleep. He was disillusioned by the British and began to learn about Sikhism. He reconnected with his cousin Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia and sought his help to return to the Sikh fold. He wished to return to Bharat and reconvert to Sikhism but the British, who were certainly shocked, decided to do everything they could from preventing him to leave Britain.
British officials stopped Duleep Singh when he attempted to sail back to Bharat on March 30, 1886. He embraced Sikhism with his cousin Sandhawalia’s help at Aden in the presence of Sikh Granthi Pratap Singh Giani. His multiple attempts to rebel against the British Empire subsequently proved to be futile. Even his attempts to enlist the support of Russians and Irish rebels among others did not yield the desired results.
Maharaja Duleep Singh died in Paris in 1893 at the age of 55 years. Despite his desire that his mortal remains be sent to Bharat, the British government did not oblige as they feared a backlash from Bharatiyas. Furthermore, even though Duleep Singh had returned to the Sikh fold, he was given a Christian burial in Elveden Church. Multiple attempts to bring back his remains have met with failure.
The Anglican missionaries backed by the British government wanted to make Maharaja Duleep Singh a poster boy of Christian conversion. They even groomed the boy from a young age feeding him only Christian stories. Such was their insecurity that no Bharatiya was allowed to meet him. Yet, when Duleep Singh was made aware of his true cultural roots by his mother, he chose to return back to his faith and roots. His mortal remains, however, still wait to return to the place they belong.
(Featured Image Source: OpIndia)