From woman, man is born;
within woman, man is conceived;
to woman, he is engaged and married.
Woman becomes his friend;
through women, future generations come.
When his woman dies, he seeks another woman;
to woman, he is bound.
So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.
From woman, woman is born;
without women, there would be no one at all.Guru Nanak, Raag Aasaa Mehal 1, Aug 473
The above lines in Guru Nanak’s words are quintessential to the core of Sikhism which advocates equal status of women and men.
The Queen we are going to talk about was a woman too: a woman who fought to keep the legacy of her husband, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, alive through their son Duleep Singh. Guru Nanakji instilled self-sovereignty and preached to the Sikhs two primary ideals- “to rule or to rebel”. Maharani Jind Kaur, fondly called, Rani Jindan chose to rebel. She carved a niche for herself in the annals of Sikh history in spite of the fact that her main identity was that of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s youngest queen and the last Sikh king, Duleep Singh’s mother. Due to her stature, she was known as ‘Rani Mai’ or Queen Mother but her fame and recognition comes from the fear she instilled in the British, who called her ‘the Messalina of Punjab’. Her story is one of extreme courage and inspiration though also tragical and desolate.
Jind Kaur was born in Gujranwala, now in Pakistan. Besotted by her beauty, the Maharaja sought her hand from her father, Manna Singh, when she was 18 years old (1835). After Ranjit Singh passed away in 1839, she lived in obscurity with her infant son in Jammu till 1843. In September 1843, the Khalsa army proclaimed the 5-year-old Duleep Singh as their sovereign.
Hence began the political history of Maharani Jind Kaur. As the ‘wazir’ (main minister) of the kingdom did not show regard towards her, she managed to curtail his position and proclaimed herself the Regent, and took complete control of Lahore Darbar. This position constantly challenged her, testing her political and administrative acumen. She was aided in this by her brother Jawahar Singh who became the new ‘wazir’. However, the Darbar’s constant political intrigues and power tussles by other sons and relatives of Maharaja Ranjit Singh sowed the seeds of a golden opportunity for the British to weaken the Sikh empire.
The Maharani’s primary focus was the preservation of sovereignty for her young son. Lord Ellenborough said in November 1843, “The mother of the boy Maharaja Duleep Singh seems to be a woman of determined course, and she is the only person apparently at Lahore, who has the courage”.
Despite great effort from Maharani’s end, the Sikh state could not maintain diplomatic relations with the British and subsequently lost the first Anglo-Sikh war in 1846. In this course, she lost control of the Darbar and tried with all her might to stop the displacement of the administration of Punjab into British hands, but in vain. She had to step down from her position as the Regent and was banished to Banaras where she was kept under strict surveillance.
Her banishment helped the British to kill two birds with one stone; the separation of Maharani from her son made it easier for the British to condition him as per their wishes. Secondly, as she was effectively removed from the Darbar, the chances of further upheavals were also reduced.
Maharani Jind Kaur was held captive but her spirit could not be controlled. She escaped to Nepal in early 1849 and she continued her activism from Kathmandu undauntingly, despite being aggrieved at the separation from her son. She stayed in Nepal till 1860. Over the course of years, Duleep Singh moved to England. In 1861, she was finally united with her son who took her to England after they met in Calcutta. By this time, her health had deteriorated considerably and she had become nearly blind. But her spirit was still indomitable! In the two years that she spent with Duleep Singh, she enlightened him about his legacy and Sikh heritage and educated him about the invincible spirit of the Khalsas. Maharani Jind Kaur passed away on August 1, 1863, and the sun set on the life of the courageous Maharani who fought for sovereignty till her last breath.
Lad Dalhousie once noted about the Maharani that, “she is worth more than all the soldiers of the state put together for any purpose of mischief”.
Christy Campbell, author of The Maharaja’s Box (a book on Duleep Singh) says, Jindan was “one of the most remarkable characters of 19th-century history, let alone Indian or Sikh history“.