Maharaja Ranjit Singh in a bazaar

India, Lahore, Punjab

Not on view

In this curious painting, we see the famed 19th century leader of the Sikhs of the Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (r. 1801–39) proceeding on an elephant through an urban street of Lahore—seemingly unnoticed by the mingling crowds who continue their conversations and shopping without pause. The Sikh ruler rides in a golden howdah on his caparisoned elephant, accompanied by his mahout and fly-whisk bearer. An official precedes on horseback and another carries the maharajas’s velvet-wrapped sword on his shoulder. In the foreground, oblivious to this parade, is a diverse group of religious figures. An Akali Sikh (bearded) is in conversation with three Hindu sadhus, one smoking a hookah, another with his bedroll on his back, observed by a Jain Svetambara monk wearing a white face cloth. In the bazaar beyond, daily activity is keenly observed: in one shop weavers prepare gold and silver thread; next door, a kite maker offers his wares to a father and his boys. The somewhat patchwork nature of this composition is probably the result of the painter borrowing established figure types from other paintings rather than creating his own. The incongruity of depicting the maharaja on formal parade in the bazaar likely reflects the wishes of the person who commissioned it, in all probability a Frenchman in the service of Ranjit Singh, the most famous of whom was Jean-Francois Allard who served as military advisor from 1822 until the Maharaja’s death in 1839. A fragmentary inscription on the reverse begins “Souvenir `a…”.

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