A LIFE-SIZE statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who ruled over Punjab for close to 40 years in the early 19th century, is to be inaugurated in Lahore Thursday, on the occasion of his 180th death anniversary.
The statue has been located in an open space outside the Mai Jindian Haveli in Lahore Fort, close to the building that houses the Ranjit Singh samadhi and the Gurudwara 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.
According to the invitation card for the event, the eight-feet tall statue, which depicts Ranjit Singh mounted on a horse, is being installed under the auspices of the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) — an autonomous body for the conservation of the city’s heritage — in collaboration with S K Foundation, a UK-based Sikh body.
“As you know, religious tourism is one of the main themes of our government. Kartarpur Sahib, Nankana Sahib have got more attention from this government. The Ranjit Singh statue is in line with the government’s focus on religious tourism, particularly Sikh religious tourism,” said WCLA Director-General Kamran Lashairi.
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 Gurudwara Dera Sahib. We also have a Sikh Gallery inside the fort now,” Lashairi told The Indian Express over phone from Lahore.
The statue would be “a good sign that we are opening out more to religious tourists, particularly Sikh tourists”, Lashairi said.
Since initiating the proposal last September for access to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur from India through a purpose-built “corridor”, Pakistan has kept up a steady outreach to the Sikh community. The Pakistan government has issued more than 450 visas to Sikh pilgrims from India for Ranjit Singh’s death anniversary, which falls on June 29.
However, no representative from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad has been invited for the event, The Indian Express has learnt.
The statue was commissioned by Bobby Singh Bansal, who heads the S K (Sarkar Khalsa) Foundation. Bansal, a UK-based Sikh who has authored several books on Sikh history, was also behind the unveiling of 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.
”The reason for a Ranjit Singh statue in Pakistan is that there is not a single monument in this country to commemorate him. A lot of Sikh pilgrims come to his samadhi here every year on his death anniversary, but you cannnot commemorate a grave. It is also to promote the Sikh legacy in Pakistan, to promote Sikh tourism to Pakistan. It will also educate local people about this unique leader who ruled all of Punjab, not just over Sikhs, but all people,” Bansal told The Indian Express from Lahore, where he is camping for Thursday’s event.
He said the event would be attended by Sikhs from India and Europe, and “lots of people from the local community in Lahore, who are very excited about it”.
On its website, the organisation is called the S K Foundation-Singh Brothers (UK) and describes itself as “a prominent company engaged in the publication and distribution of Sikh Books and Punjabi Literature”.
Books displayed on the website are on Sikh history, religion and scriptures, and mostly in Gurmukhi. The website also displays a book on Indian war hero Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh.
The Ranjit Singh statue was created by three artist-sculptors from Lahore’s National College of Art and Naqsh School of Art under the direction of Faqir Syed Saifuddin, a member of the family that runs Lahore’s famous private Faqir Khana museum.
“The statue has been made using the cold bronze technique. It took nearly eight months to make, and is the most beautiful statue of Ranjit Singh to be made, even more than the ones in Amritsar and Delhi,” Saifuddin said.
Describing his family as a “custodian of the legacy and artefacts of Ranjit Singh” — Fakir Khana has a huge collection of Sikh artefacts said to have been gifted by the Sikh ruler because of the family’s close links — Saifuddin said that in the statue, “the proportions, the expression on Ranjit Singh’s face, and the horse are perfect”