Guest column: Life and legacy of the last Maharaja of Punjab

ByH Kishie Singh
Sep 17, 2023 01:37 PM IST

An avid motorist and expert fisher, Maharaja Satbir Singh, who passed away last month, leaves behind a rich legacy

The last Maharaja of Punjab is no more. Maharaja Satbir Singh, who ascended the throne at the Sangrur Palace on September 8, 1959, breathed his last on August 18 this year at his residence in Gurugram and thus ended the tradition of Maharajas in the state.

A young Maharaja Satbir Singh (HT Photo)
A young Maharaja Satbir Singh (HT Photo)

His Highness Farzand-i-Dilband Rasikh-ul-Itiqad Daulat Inglishia Raja-i-Rajgan Maharaja Satbir Singh Rajindra Bahadur, Maharaja of Jind, son of the Late Maharaja Rajbir Singh assumed was formally crowned by Maharaja Yadvindra Singh of Patiala. Satbir Singh came from a long line of noble, distinguished and warrior clan of the Phulkia states.

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In 1763, Gajpat Singh laid the foundation of the Jind Dynasty. He was the great grandson of Chaudhry Phool, who was the founder of the Phulkian States, Jind, Patiala and Nabha. Besides, Gajpat Singh has another credit to his name — establishing the state of Punjab, which then became an Empire. Gajpat Singh’s daughter, Bibi Raj Kaur married Sardar Mahan Singh Shukerchakia.

A son was born from the marriage and named Ranjit. He went on to establish the Sikh Empire with his Capital in Lahore. He ruled over vast territories that stretched from the Arabian Sea to the mighty mountains of the Himalaya.

As the Maharaj Kumar, Satbir had a very privileged grooming to be a Maharaja both at home and in school. He completed his early education from The Doon School, Dehradun. He then attended the University of Ohio, USA, where he studied agriculture and administration. On his return, he was ready to take on the reins of being a Maharaja.

Maharaja Satbir Singh with a 40 kg Mahseer fish. (HT)
Maharaja Satbir Singh with a 40 kg Mahseer fish. (HT)

From a ‘shikari’ to a green warrior

The Jind royals were avid hunters. Maharaja Satbir had access to some of the finest English sporting guns ever produced. He handled them with precision and professional expertise. As a youngster, as soon as he was able to fire a twelve bore shotgun he was off shooting partridge in the vast estate around the palace and the farms.

The Palace had trophies of tigers, black buck and other animals mounted on the walls. Maharaja Satbir, now known affectionately by his friends as Sunny, was not impressed by them and had them removed. From being a shikari, he had transformed into a serious environmentalist. No killing! So he took up fishing. Sunny was a regular at the Corbett National Park to fish in the RamGanga river which abounds with the Mahseer fish. It is a challenge to catch the Mahseer as the fish is big and a fighter no less.

On one occasion, he landed a 40 kg Mahseer, almost a metre-and-a-half long. It took him four hours to land the fish! “I was with him in the boat handling the outboard motor! If the motor is off the Mahseer is strong enough to pull the boat downstream. Sunny would reel in a couple of metres at a time to get the Mahseer closer. He was playing with the fish. The idea was to tire it out, to get the fight out of the fish. I was concerned that the fish would tire out Sunny. It almost did! This duel lasted four hours. Finally, Sunny did land the fish. Then like a true sportsman, he removed the hook and released the fish back into the river!,” recalled a close friend of Sunny.

Driving force

Sunny was also a very keen motorist and active in motorsport. He participated in the Himalayan Rally and took second position in his category. Because of his vast knowledge of the rules of motorsport, he was also an official for the Raid de Himalaya.

His most exciting and interesting drive would be the ASEAN Car Rally. The event starting in Assam drove through half a dozen South Asian countries like Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, culminating in Singapore.

The parties that Sunny threw in Delhi were legendary. Those were the days of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley and long playing records who brought their music into your living room.

The food that was served became the talk of the town. The menu was always the same! Tandoori chicken, kali dal and naan. Kundan Lal, a refugee from Pakistan, the owner of Moti Mahal in Darya Ganj had introduced these delicacies, hitherto unknown to “Dilli-wallas”. It became the most famous cuisine in northern India and Tandoori “murga”, possibly the greatest gift from Rawalpindi to Independent India.

Maharaja Satbir lived a simple, but vibrant life. He will be loved, remembered and continue to live in the hearts of his friends!

(The author, a freelance contributor, was closely associated with His Highness Satbir Singh and was his Aide De Camps in 1970-1971.)

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