Historical and cultural ties between the Kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the French were celebrated at a function at the French Embassy in New Delhi recently.
Cities like Kapurthala, Punjab and Lahore, Pakistan which was the erstwhile capital of Ranjit Singh’s empire were noticed for European architecture.
The French East India Company arrived in India in 1667 and set-up the first trading post in Surat, Gujarat. Tracing the European nation's links to Puducherry and other former French trading posts, the ambassador of France Francois Richier recalled his country's presence in North India as well.
Richier gave the example of General Jean-Francois Allard who was born in Saint-Tropez in France and entered the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Allard later married a Hindu princess.
The French ambassador said he hoped that French tourist who visited India pay Punjab a visit as well. "Heritage and its links can help foster relations between the two countries. I would want French tourists to visit Punjab to understand and discover the connection between the countries," Richier said.
Copies of 19th century portraits of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, General Allard and his wife, the originals of which are preserved in French collections were displayed at the event.
General Allard served the Maharaja from 1822 until his death in 1839, travelling extensively to cities including Kashmir and Kolkata. He married the princess of Chamba Bannu Pan Dei, with whom he had seven children.
Henri Prevost-Allard, deputy mayor of Saint-Tropez and a descendant of general Allard presented the memoirs of his grandfather along with cooperation projects linking his city to India. He also expressed the desire to build a statue of the Maharaja, General Allard and his wife in Saint Topez.
Bobby Singh Bansal, a British author of "The Lion's Firanghis: Europeans at the Court of Lahore", charts the careers of former soldiers and mercenaries of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to Punjab. Bansal also conducted research on Sikh heritage, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and French officials who trained the Sikh army.
"The bond between the French and Maharaja Ranjit Singh was very unique. General Allard and General Ventura who were the first to arrive in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and within five weeks of their arrival, the entire Sikh army was transformed to the European standards," Bansal said.
Numerous soldiers from Punjab, famed for their courage, travelled to Europe to fight alongside the Allies in the Great War which were highlighted in filmmaker Vijay Singh's presentation along with visuals from the period. "The Fauj-e-Khaas was an elite unit of the Sikh army.
French officials stayed in the court of the Lahore until the empire collapsed and was taken over by the British. The unique relationship between the French and the Maharaja was very noticeable," Bansal said.
The programme was organised by the French Embassy in association with The Neemrana Music Foundation and French
Heritage in India.