Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bhurtpore and the legacy of its magnificent maharajahs

Bhurtpore fort in the 1860s
Last week, I read some interesting news about Bharatpur. Vishvendra Singh, scion of the erstwhile royal family of Bharatpur and a BJP leader resigned from the parliament as well as the party. Reportedly, he is joining the Congress party. Singh, a Jat royal, was political adviser to the Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and the revolt apparently was provoked by the BJP’s decision to field Industries minister Digamber Singh from Dieg-Kumbher, one of the royal family’s strongholds. His wife, Ms. Divya Singh belongs to the Gujjar community, which had gone on violent agitations in the region during the year. Recently, the Chief Minister had appointed Divya Singh Chairperson of the Rajasthan Subordinate Services Board obviously to appease her husband as he has considerable clout in the area.
Also, to counter the ill effects, BJP has roped in Jagat Singh, the controversial son of Natwar Singh, the former union minister and erstwhile Bharatpur Member of Parliament, who himself is no less controversial. Natwar Singh, a former foreign secretary and a man of letters had been alleged to have received kickbacks from Iraq for the “food for oil” programme of the UN. He is also the brother-in-law of Amrinder Singh, former Chief Minister of Punjab and the scion of the royal family of Patiala. He had been expelled from the Congress party and then he joined the BSP. Again he is shown the door by BSP alleging that he is an opportunist. There have also been differing stories about the mysterious deaths of his daughter-in-law and his own daughter which all happened in the recent past. His son Jagat Singh has many controversies surrounding him.
All the above may be just some more pages from the power-hungry politics we observe practiced in India. But, the history of Bharatpur has more such interesting and shocking episodes.
Bharatpur or Bhurtpore, as the English called it, was once a native state under Rajputana agency which is the present day Rajasthan. Bharatpur, in Rajasthan is situated 50 km west of Agra.

Maharaja Surajmal ( 1707-63 )
The royal family of Bharatpur used to be given a 19-gun salute by the Viceroy of India and it traces the ancestry to an 11th-century warring Jat clan. It achieved prominence under Raja Suraj Mal (1707–1763) who took on the armies of Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals, and carved out its fiefdom between Delhi and Agra. He built the forts of Deeg and Kumbher in 1730. He joined the great Mahratta army with 30,000 troops, but later abandoned the confederacy, to escape the murderous defeat of the Mahrattas at Panipat. Incidentally, Natwar Singh, a Jat, has written a widely acclaimed book titled Maharajah Suraj Mal.
The Bhurtpore fort built by Suraj Mal was intended as a point of resistance against the British. The English under Lord Lake captured the fort of Dieg and besieged Bharatpur, but were compelled to raise the siege after four attempts at storming the fort. A treaty was concluded in April 1805 which guaranteed the raja's territory; but he was to pay two lakhs of British pounds as indemnity to the East India Company. A dispute as to the right of the succession again led to a war in 1825, and Lord Combermere captured Bharatpur with a besieging force of 20,000 men in January 1826. The fortifications were dismantled and the Rajah was deported to Benares. There were heavy causalities on both the sides. An infant son of the raja was then installed under a treaty which was much in favour of the company.
The army of India medal issued by the honourable East India Company for the siege of Bhurtpore (1825-6) bears the clasp Bhurtpore and is a collector’s item which brings back the memories of a great chapter in Indian history.

Maharajah Jaswant Singh 1853-93

Maharajah Ram Singh 1873-1929
Another shocking episode about Bhurtpore happened in 1900, when, in a unique action, the Indian Government , deposed Ram Singh the then Maharajah of Bhurtpore for shocking intemperance and reckless behaviour. Ram Singh who ascended the throne in 1893 succeeded his father Sir Jaswant Singh, GCSI. Jaswant Singh in 1893 had asked Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy of India (1888-94) from his death bed to debar his son Ram Singh from succeeding him owing to his vicious and intemperate habits. The government however, hoping for the best, and being reluctant to interfere with the established order of succession, acceded to the claims of Ram Singh. Ram Singh, who ascended the throne, was later deprived of power of government in 1895 on the ground of intemperate conduct, reckless behaviour and extravagant ways and in 1900 he was finally deposed for the murder of one of his personal attendants. Every attempt had been made earlier to reclaim and reform him which all proved futile. In June 1900, without cause or excuse for violence, he shot his personal barber dead in his room thus leading to his deposition. Only his rank as Maharajah saved him from further trial before a tribunal.

Maharajah Kishan Singh 1899-1929

Ram Singh was succeeded by his infant son Kishan Singh whose eccentricities and extravagance were legion. He reigned under his regency of his mother till invested with full ruling powers in 1918. He was a spendthrift who literally plundered the bourses of his state by spending 8 million rupees, more than twice revenue of Bharatpur of the 1920s. He amassed over 30 Rolls Royces as Maharajah, all custom-made. He had over dozens of custom-built Purdy rifles and a stable for many thoroughbred Arabian ponies. He also reportedly had a private jazz band always in attendance. He was fond of hunting and bought many lions, elephants, leopards and others at astronomical prices and released these into the Bharatpur jungles. All these actions, coupled with allegations of his gross misrule led to his deposition in the 1920s and he died in exile in 1929.

Maharajah Brijendra Singh 1939-1995

Brajendra Singh, who was the eldest son of Kishan Singh, was a minor, studying in England, when his father was deposed. Till 1939, Bharatpur was administered by Cyril Hancock, the British Resident, and then Brajendra Singh aged 21 took over. He was indeed one of the most colourful maharajahs of the 20th century. He was a good hunter, and hosted duck shoots for the Viceroys and other dignitaries at the famous Keolado Ghana marsh in Bharatpur. He converted this into one of the world's richest bird sanctuaries. Reportedly, the number of birds, mostly ducks, killed during the shoots he hosted exceeded 100000 at times and never went below 20000.
Brajendra Singh who was by reputation quietly eccentric and temperamental became an MP for Bharatpur (1967-71) after independence. Later, he was also elected to Rajasthan's state assembly (1972-73) but resigned a year later, retiring to his stately mansion before his death in 1995. He helped develop the Ghana sanctuary which is now a world heritage sanctuary spread over 29 square kilometers. Today, more than hundred species of birds including the seasonal Siberian cranes could be seen here despite its earlier notoriety as the killing fields of birds.
Vishvendra Singh, about whom we read in the first part of this post, is the son of Brajendra Singh and is technically the present Maharajah. Some fine legacies indeed!

Dubai, 20th November 2008.


Ashvin said...

Dear Muraliettan, to clarify, Bharatpur was a 17 gunner, not a 19gunner. However within the limits of their own state they were allowed 19 gun salutes (another example was Travancore, a 19 gunner with a 21 gun local salute). So in terms of protocol Bharatpur was ranked 3rd, below the 21 gunners (Hyderabad, Mysore, Kashmir, Baroda and Gwalior) and the 19 gunners (Bhopal, Indore, Udaipur and Travancore (all 21 gun local salutes) and Kolhapur.

Some rulers also had personal gun salutes more than their actual entitlement (example 17 gunner Kotah with a 19 gun personal salute for the then ruler ONLY and 15 gunner Dholpur with a 17 gun personal salute for the then ruler only - all in 1947).

Incidentally the UAE now (Trucial States then) were 3 gunners !!

Nebu said...

It is when you compare with the upcountry Maharaja’s that you become aware of the humility and sagacity of the Travancore rulers.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks for the response. I now understand from various reports that Bharatpur is having a 17 gun herediary salute and a 19 gun personal or local salute.

Moolam Tirunal of Travancore was in a senior rank of the Indian Orders, and his salute of 19 guns had been raised as a personal distinction to the maximum 21 guns.

It was curious news to me that the Trucial states had only 3 gun salute.


Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Nebu,

Your observation is quite right, which I had left for the wise judgements of people like you.


Kariyachan said...

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks, Kariyachan for sending the link on VK Krishna Menon. I had read that his grand nephew , one Hariram Shastri was traced in New Delhi who was to come to Pretoria to receive the prestigious award for “excellent contribution to the fight against colonialism and the apartheid system in South Africa”in October 2008. As you know, Krishna Menon was a bachelor and had only one sister, Janaki. Hariram Shastri is the son of Janaki’s elder daughter V.A. Madhavi Shastri and is a bachelor and a businessman in Delhi.


Kariyachan said...

Hi Murali Sir;

There are quite a few South African Indians with the 'Nair' Surname and most of them trace their roots to Kerala. I recently met one person with 'Nair' surname who mentioned his great grand father was 'Mangyanos' which is very much 'Malayali'.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks, Kariyachan for the interesting observation. I have noted that many "Naidoos" are there in RSA who are descendants of the earlier settlers from erstwhile Hyderabad/Madras. Obviously , there might have been Malayali's too. However, I have noted that most of these descendants have never been to the Indian shores to trace their roots. Once in Durban, I had an occasion to talk to a driver who was one such descendant of an early Tamil settler.

Roland said...

I havev av photographv here from the 1870's cannot make out whether the sitter is Sir Jaswant Singh or his Son Ram Singh?

Can you help?

$ing$tar said...

Hey I am son of reincarnation of Raja surajmal jat

$ing$tar said...

Hey I am son of reincarnation of Raja surajmal jat

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