LAHORE: In a colourful ceremony, the statue of the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh was unveiled at the Lahore Fort, at the Mai Jinda’s Haveli, on Thursday evening. The nine feet tall statue, made of cold bronze, shows the regal Sikh emperor sitting on a horse, sword in hand, complete in Sikh attire.
Sculpted by local artists, under the aegis of the Fakir Khana Museum, the statue is meant to invoke the feeling of the emperor being present, with its real life proportions, and was unveiled on his 180th death anniversary. Ranjt Singh passed away in 1839.
The unveiling ceremony was highlighted by some daring ‘gatka’ performances, or Sikh martial arts, where young boys displayed the different styles of attacking and sparring with various tools, including sticks that intend to simulate swords, a spiked ball and chain, and other weapons.
The performances showed how a stealthily-trained warrior could manage to do the most daring feats, such as in the display of this skill, the stick or gatka wielding warrior easily broke earthen pots, and coconuts balanced on others’ heads, while two expert warriors sparred inside a circle of fire.
UK-based entity SK Foundation commissioned the project in 2016
At the occasion were several Sikh delegates from India, Pakistan and also overseas. The event was organised by Bobby Singh Bansal, from the UK, in collaboration with the Walled City of Lahore Authority.
There were also prayers and devotional songs at the Golden Temple Gurdwara situated outside the walls of the Fort.
“The project was meant to commemorate the 180th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and to forge a lasting friendship amongst the people of Punjab,” said Bobby Singh Bansal, whose organisation SK Foundation UK commissioned the statue in 2016. “We donated it to the people of Pakistan to promote Sikh heritage and tourism here.”
In context of the Kartarpur Corridor, Bansal said that it was a golden opportunity for India and Pakistan and a chance to strengthen the bond. “The statue is the start of this, eventually leading to greater things,” he added.
Bansal also unveiled a Ranjit Singh bust at St Tropez in France in 2016 to commemorate the Sikh ruler’s appointment of a French soldier, Jean Franquis Allard, to train and modernise his army, while recently he unveiled a bas relief of the emperor’s Italian officer General Jean Baptiste Ventura at his birthplace, Finale Emilia, in Italy.
Meanwhile, Multan-based MPA from the Sikh community Mahinder Pal Singh said Sikhs could freely practise their religion in Pakistan, and that they did not face discrimination. He said it was an honour to represent the community in the assembly.
Rawint Singh from UP, India, said that he was glad to be in Punjab. “If Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled across the province and other areas, I say Sikhs today still rule the hearts of everyone here as we promote peace and tolerance.” He said the Sikhs in UP had also contributed to advocating peace and tolerance.
Meanwhile, Balbeer Singh and Harbajan Singh, participants from Sahiwal and Nankana Sahib, were vocal about the lack of information that Pakistani citizens had about the Sikh community.
“The Sikh rule has stretched across Pakistan, with its centre being in Punjab,” said Balbeer Singh. “However it is a sorry situation where even in school and college syllabi, students are not informed of the religious and lifestyle practices of the Sikh community who are also equal citizens of the country,” he said. “We have a deep connection with this land, yet it seems that usually we are portrayed to have a deeper connection with India, however it should be known that Sikhism began from Nankana Sahib.”
Chairman of Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) Kamran Lashari also spoke on the occasion.
“As you know, religious tourism is one of the main themes of our government,” he said. “Both the Kartarpur Corridor and Nankana Sahib have gotten a lot of attention in this context. Likewise, the Ranjit Singh statue is also in line with the government’s focus on religious tourism, particularly Sikh religious tourism.”
He said it was appropriate that the statue was being unveiled in Lahore, from where Ranjit Singh ruled over Punjab from 1801-1839.
“There is a great deal of Sikh heritage in and around Lahore Fort, including the Ranjit Singh samadhi, and the Gurdwara Dera Sahib. We also have a Sikh Gallery inside the Lahore Fort now,” said Lashari.
The statue is placed close to the building that houses the Ranjit Singh samadhi and the Gurdwara Dera Sahib of Guru Arjun Dev. The haveli, named after Ranjit Singh’s youngest queen, now houses a permanent exhibition of Sikh artefacts and is called the Sikh Gallery.
Pilgrims from India
More than 400 Sikh pilgrims arrived in Lahore from India on Thursday afternoon to mark the 180th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. The main ceremony will be held in Lahore on June 29. They arrived here at Wagah Railway Station through a special train of Pakistan Railways at about 9am.
“We are really grateful to Pakistan for issuing visas to a number of applicants seeking to attend the 10-day long event. It is a matter of great pleasure for us,” Sardar Nadheer Singh told journalists at the Dera Sahib temple.
“Both countries must formulate the policies that can create harmony among the people,” said Sardar Harpal Singh.
According to an Evacuee Trust Property Board spokesman, the pilgrims will also visit their religious sites in Aimanabad, Gujranwala, Hasanabdal (Gurdwara Panja Sahib), Nankana Sahib, Sucha Soda in Narowal and then Kartarpur (Darbar Sahib). They will return to India on July 7.
Khalid Husnain also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2019