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Priceless Indian necklace returns home

Last updated on: November 18, 2009 14:19 IST

Priceless Indian necklace returns home

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Angelica Jopson in London
A 19th century necklace belonging to the wife of the great Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, will finally return to Punjab.

The emerald and seed pearl necklace from the Lahore treasury, reputedly worn by Maharani Jindan Kaur was, bought for around $88,000 (a little over Rs 4.1 million) at a London auction recently.

The buyer, Peter Verdi, is adamant that it must return home to India.

"I am relieved that the necklace is back in a Sikh family," he said.


Image: The 19th century necklace that went under the hammer in London.

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A gift for Queen Victoria

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The British took possession of the necklace when they took control of the court of Lahore, then the capital of Punjab.

It was taken away as a gift for Queen Victoria along with the priceless Koh-i Noor and the Timur Ruby.

This extraordinary necklace comes from the collection of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Maharani Jindan Kaur (1817-63), which was sold by Frazer and Hawes from Garrards, Regent Street, London.

"It was very depressing the way the whole thing played out," said Verdi, "but it is in its right place now and we should put it all behind us."


Image: A statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Amritsar.

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When history went under the hammer

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The necklace, which has six polished emerald beads (one converted into a pendent) each one gold mounted and fringed with seed-pearl drop tassels, appeared among other rare Sikh artefacts, which went under the hammer at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in New Bond Street.

After tremendous interest, the auction house expected bids for the item to reach up to $95,000 (over Rs 4.4 million).

Jindan was Maharaja Ranjit Singh's 17th wife and bore him a son, Duleep, just ten months before he died.

She was his only surviving widow, rejecting the practice of 'Sati' or throwing herself on the funeral pyre with his other wives, choosing to bring up her young son instead.


Image: The priceless necklace.

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A chapter in history ends in Lahore

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Jindan waged two unsuccessful wars against the British, the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars of 1846-49, which brought about the annexation of the Punjab.

In 1846, she was deposed as Regent and in February 1847, the British took possession of Lahore.

The British continued to see her as a major threat to their control of the Punjab as she was instrumental in organising the Sikh resistance.

Her son Duleepwas sent away from the palace and she was incarcerated in the fort at Sheikhurpura.

She later escaped and lived in exile in Nepal before being allowed to move to England to live with her son, who had been adopted as a godson by Queen Victoria and brought up as a young English gentleman.

Maharani Jindan Kaur died in August 1863 in her Kensington home in the country of her sworn enemy. Her body was brought back to India in 1864 and her ashes taken to Lahore in 1924.

Readers may recall Indian diplomat Navtej Sarna's elegant novel, The Exile, which chronicled Maharaja Duleep Singh's sad life.


Image: Ranjit Singh's mausoleum in Lahore.

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