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HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014

World

Ranjit Singh's bust sells for $192,000 in London
Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS
London, October 07, 2008
First Published: 10:21 IST(7/10/2008)
Last Updated: 10:23 IST(7/10/2008)

Far more important and wealthy than his son in real life, a marble bust of Maharaja Ranjit Singh has fetched only a fraction of the price a sculpture of Duleep Singh commanded last year.

Ranjit Singh's stunning milk-white bust, made in India around 1900 by an unknown sculptor, was estimated to sell for 50,000-70,000 pounds ($87,000-$122,000) at Bonhams' Indian and Islamic sale Monday but went for 110,400 pounds ($192,000).

Although the winning amount - going to a bidder in the room - was around double the estimate, it dashed hopes. A bust of Duleep Singh went for 1.7 million pounds in 2007.

The auction had been closely watched by many Sikh and other Indians after news about the Duleep Singh bust's sale hit the headlines last year.

Before Monday's auction, Clare Penhallurick, head of Indian and Islamic Art at Bonhams, said: "Bonhams is delighted to offer this magnificent sculpture for sale, particularly as last year we sold a bust of Ranjit Singh's son, Duleep Singh, for 1.7 million pounds."

The lives of Ranjit Singh and his son could not have been more different. Ranjit Singh was the last and most powerful king of Punjab, whose empire stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas.

Almost mythical in stature and known as the Lion of Punjab, Ranjit Singh was not only a fierce fighter and empire builder - having established his court in Lahore, he became a great patron of the arts and sciences.

One of his lasting legacies was the enrichment with gold and marble of the Sikh temple at Amritsar, which gives it the name the Golden Temple.

The bust that was sold Monday is replete with the symbols used in the battle standards of his army, including the double-edged sword or khanda, the circular ring or chakkar, and the kirpan sword - half hidden by a medallion suspended from a festoon of pearls.

The bust is flanked by lions that signify the power and majesty of Ranjit Singh.

"Although dating from after Ranjit's golden reign, this remarkable sculpture is full of symbols of power and majesty, which its creator and his patron might have dreamt would yet come again," Bonhams said.

In contrast to Ranjit Singh, son Duleep was a prisoner of circumstances.

Made a ward of the East India Company at the age of 11 after the annexation of Punjab, he was converted to Christianity and then packed off to England, where he lived out a life of opulence as a country gent, fussed over by a matronly Queen Victoria.

However, in later life Duleep Singh became disillusioned with the English and tried to return to India, only to be arrested by the British in Aden. Although he did re-convert to Sikhism, he never made it to India and died at the age of 55 in Paris.


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