Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Bust Unveiled in St Tropez in France
The bust of the Sikh emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh famously known as ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ was unveiled at Allard Square in St Tropez in the south of France on Saturday the 17 September 2016. The unique military ceremony was attended by over 300 guests from various countries among numerous dignitaries and local French officials. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had handed over the bust to the French ambassador to India, Alexander Ziegler during the latter’s visit to Punjab Bhawan in Chandigarh on the 12 July earlier this year.
The project was initiated in 2015 by Bobby Singh Bansal – writer, filmmaker and President of S.K Foundation with Ranjit Singh Goraya representative of ‘Sikhs des France’ based in Paris along with St Tropez Municipal Council and Tourism Department. The 110kg bronze bust was installed with a military guard of honour at St Tropez which was the birthplace of the French General Jean Francois Allard who served in the Maharaja’s army. General Allard was one of the most trusted officer’s of the Maharaja who played a key role in modernising the Sikh army and arrived in Lahore with General Ventura, an Italian in 1822.
The following year they both formed the Fauj-i-Khas or Royal Brigade which became the elite unit of the mighty Sikh army and took part in the Battle of Naushera defeating the Afghan forces of Azim Khan Barakzai in 1823. By 1827, numerous European mercenaries had descended on the Punjab frontier hoping to enlist in the services of Maharaja Ranjit Singh much to the alarm of the British in Calcutta. Men such as General Avitabile, a ruthless Italian who eventually became an administrator became governor of Wazirabad and Peshawar from 1838 to 1842 and the Frenchman General Claude Court whose expertise in modernising the Sikh artillery was exemplary. General’s Allard and Ventura were gifted the tomb of Anarkali as their official residence in Lahore which today serves as the Punjab Secretariat, there is even a plaque that commemorates their historical association with the structure today. He was one of the few officers not only respected by his own regiment but the Maharaja also arranged his marriage to a Punjabi princess Bannu Pan Dei from Chamba (now in Himachal Pradesh) whose bust was also unveiled during the ceremony. Becoming Ranjit Singh’s most loyal confidante, especially on foreign policy, General Allard along with General Hari Singh Nalwa accompanied the Maharaja to the historic meeting with the Governor-General of India Lord William Bentinck at Ropar in 1831. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was quite apprehensive and dubious about the entire affair with the British whose ulterior motives which were detected by the Sikh entourage and seen not in the interest of the Lahore Durbar contemplated cancelling it had it not been for General Allard’s shrewd guidance and advise that the meeting on the banks of the Sutlej River went ahead.
After serving the Maharaja for over 12 years, General Allard sought permission from the Maharaja to take leave with his expanded family back to France in 1834, he now had five children. It is said when it came to leaving it was an emotional affair, both the Maharaja and General Allard parted tearfully in the Lahore fort. When asked by the Maharaja, why he was going to France, he quoted “It is because I need to show my family from where I come from and wish that my children meet their uncles, aunts and grandparents and I promise that I shall return to Lahore” Sadly General Allard kept his solemn promise returnto Lahore in the winter of 1837, but without his family who had stayed behind in St Tropez. He was greeted ceremoniously by the Maharaja who had been quite ill at the time simply resumed his post in Peshawar where he died suddenly in 1839. His body was brought back to Lahore by troops from his own regiment who had aligned the streets of Lahore where his body was interned much to the sadness of the Maharaja. The ceremony was well attended by French officials, India’s former chief of Army, General JJ Singh, Indian ambassador to France Mohan Kumar, Colonel Harinder Singh Attari and Dinesh Singh Attari (both descendants of Sham Singh Attariwala) Mayor of St Tropez – Jean Tuveri, French historian Jean Marie Lafont, Henri Allard (fifth descendant of General Allard) and and Ranjit Singh Goraya (Sikhs des France). Bobby Singh Bansal, of S.K Foundation (UK) said “It was an honour for us to have the bust of Maharaja Ranjit Singh installed here in France. General Allard though born in St Tropez in 1785 died in Peshawar in 1839, just six months before the Maharaja and was buried in his own garden in Lahore”. General Allard’s great-great grandson Henri Allard who is now the deputy Mayor of St Tropez seriously considered our proposal which was instantly approved by the local French authorities.
The national anthems of France and India were also played on the occasion which marked the historic occasion. The bust of Maharaja Ranjit Singh installed at Allard Square in Saint Tropez was a resounding success due to a collective and a dedicated team. It will give visibility to the Sikhs in Europe, and our aim was simply to promote and preserve the historical links between Punjab and Europe, especially France.
Courtesy of www.darpanmagazine.com