Dyaries: Visiting Elveden
Every Sikh visiting UK should attempt to pay a visit to the grave of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Sikh empire.
Remembering and finding out more about our history and exposing our younger generations to it is a great way to encourage our youth to take pride in their background. What better way than visiting a place of historical interest to us, and that too, in UK?
On a recent trip to UK, (I was performing an Anand Karaj ceremony in Ascot,England), my two grandchildren, and their parents, were able to coincide their tour to Europe to meet me for a few days – to ‘sight-see’ London. But besides going to Buckingham Palace (hoping to see a curtain move thinking that the queen is looking out!); Trafalgar Square; Houses of Parliament; looking up at Big Ben; going up the London Eye; seeing the play ‘Lion King’ at the Strand; walking along and boating on the Thames; riding on the sight-seeing bus; Madam Tussaud’s; Tower of London; going to Southall, their mother’s birthplace, and visiting The Dungeon, I was also keen to take them to Maharajah Duleep Singh’s grave. To me, that was the most important part of their visit to UK because that was a slice of ‘our’ history in England. (Grandson, of course, was more keen to see the Manchester United grounds!)
It was a 2 hour car drive through the lush green English country-side northwards towards Norwich. Enroute we stopped for a country ‘bangers-n-mash’ lunch. No doubt one gets the best sausages and mash potato (with onion laced gravy) in country England! The kids shared a typical fish’n’chips and on my suggestion the bangers’n’mash and voted that to be one of the best lunches they had had on their whole trip which included Spain, Greece, Italy and France before England. They claimed that pizza and pasta were better in Australia!
At Elveden estate, we were informed that Maharajah Duleep Singh’s Elveden estate was 18,000 acres of the best arable land in England. Since it came into the possession of the current owners, it is now 22,000 acres. The church where the Maharajah is buried stands like a majestic monument of British-Sikh relations because the Maharajah, his wife Bamba and 13 year old son Alfred are buried there, side by side. I sat with my grandchildren in the graveyard and told them about the glory days of Maharajah Ranjit Singh and how Maharajah Duleep Singh, his youngest son, happened to be buried there. They listened wide-eyed, asked questions and resolved to ‘find out more’ when they could get to ‘google’.
Then onto the sleepy village of Thetford and Maharajah Duleep Singh’s statue. He sits majestically on a black horse with inscriptions in English and Panjabi. In Thetford it is just called the statue of the Black Prince – because the whole monument is black in colour.
To my grandchildren of course, this trip could not match seeing the ‘Lion King’ or visiting the Dungeon, but to me, it was significant because I had done my bit by making them a little bit more conversant with our history. This to me was more important than getting them to visit some gold-domed gurdwara in Southall. It is our history that fires the imagination of our younger generation, not affluent looking gurdwaras.
Even in the Panjab, our historical monuments are slowly disintegrating due to lack of care and lack of consciousness in our leaders to preserve them. It is also partly due to well-meaning ‘sants’ and other religious leaders who believe that building more gurdwaras is more important than preserving the old monuments and buildings we have. In many cases they bring down old structures of historical significance to put up brand new marble gurdwaras – not realising that the old structures and their preservation are more meaningful than brand new gurdwaras.
The Sikh quom owes a debt to S. Harbinder Rana and the Maharajah Duleep Singh Trust for ‘doing something’ about our rich history in UK. They are responsible for this monument and ensuring that the graves are well looked after.
As an international community, we are rather complacent of our history. We need to do more about that. We have now, thanks to people like Harbinder Rana and also some naujawans who have now started collating old pictures of our proud military traditions, and producing well illustrated coffee table books, making information of our past more accessible.
We need to take a leaf out of the book of Jewish forward strategy. Think ‘holocaust’ or ‘exodus’ and you think Jews. They never stop reminding the world of 6 million being killed by Hitler. They finance movies like ‘Prince of Egypt’. In short they keep promoting their history in every way they can. They seldom promote their religion or religious beliefs, but they certainly promote their history. Perhaps we need to do that too. Our strategy also includes a very sound life philosophy in Sikhi.
There is a great deal of our history which has been downplayed by the British, as a great deal of our glorious history is linked with the British, but the information is all available thanks to their attention to recording all events as they occurred. We, as a community need to get more active in now collating this information and highlighting our history to our younger generation in every form conceivable – in producing more books on our history; in preserving monuments and putting up plaques at important places eg. where Maharani Jindan stayed in London; where Udham Singh shot General Dwyer etc.; in producing documentaries and movies of our history.
The one hundredth anniversary of WW1 is upon us – from 2014 to 2018. Sikhs fought in numerous arenas of that war. The Maharaja Duleep Singh Trust is already considering highlighting some of those arenas of war and commemorating them and also holding services there.
Pride in our past will lead to continuity of our way of life into the future.
On a side note, a few days ago, we had a young promising Pakistani youngster who could well be a future Pakistani leader visiting and staying with us. We were visited by a couple of Indian born friends. While I was making the tea the conversation shifted to Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru and the ‘Partition’. There were some very passionate statements about Hindus and Muslims being killed indiscriminately, the trauma, the atrocities – the rights of either community. In short not once did I hear ‘Sikh’ mentioned – raising my ire a few degrees. I completed making the tea and came back and sat down and butted in and let them all hear about the fact that the whole region (of Partition) had been taken from the Sikhs, the Sikh empire, our Maharajahs; that Lahore was the seat of ‘our’ empire when the British took it, etc. After they had heard what I had to say in stunned silence and the dust had settled, all at the table informed that they ‘did not know’ about all the things I had just spoken of. Yes, the Sikhs were affected, they said – but only as the third group of people after Muslims and Hindus!
No Sir, ‘we’ were the most affected and traumatised but seldom do we whinge about it or publicise it. We are just too complacent.
The true history of the Sikh empire, or of Sikhs for that matter, are taught neither in India nor in Pakistan. It is conveniently forgotten. Unless ‘we’, Sikhs do something about that, no one else is going to do it for us – not the British, not the ‘Indians’, not the Pakistanis, not the Muslims, not the Hindus, not the Christians. We, the Sikhs have to do that.
I urge all Sikh brothers and sisters – wherever you go in the world – there is Sikh history in almost the whole planet. Where on the one hand we do the regular sightseeing, look for information on Sikh presence and inform and educate our younger generation of these facts.
In UK, there are various places of Sikh historical interest. Plenty of artifacts at the Albert Museum for example but for me, a trip through beautiful English countryside to Elveden Hall and Thetford to pay our respects at Maharajah Duleep Singh’s grave is important.
My good friend Harbinder Rana of the Maharajah Duleep Singh Trust gifted me a book called ‘The Exile’ by Navtej Sarna when I was in UK. I am still reading it but I already have a quotation in the first few pages to insert here, about Maharajah Duleep Singh.
‘The firanghis will forget who he was, forget his lost kingdom. They will forget his story, his pain, his mother’s broken heart. It will only be a rare son of Punjab who will go all the way to bow before him, to put a flower on his grave, fold his hands and say the Waheguru’s prayer for the soul of the Maharaja of Punjab.’
I did, I have. My grandchildren did. I urge you to do so too. Knowledge of our proud history and exposing it and spreading it also means – pride of our heritage in future Sikh generations.
Courtsey of www.dyasingh.com