Portrait of Rani Jindan, wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
By Nadeem Dar
Have you ever been to the Princess Bamba’s Gallery inside the Royal Fort of Lahore? I am sure never. There are many restricted and mysterious areas inside the mighty Lahore Fort and the collection of Princess Bamba is one of them. I am unable to understand the reason for it being closed to the public. Being part of the heritage site you can access this gallery only if you have contacts with the management of Archaeology Department. There is no secrecy hidden in that galley neither it is suspicions in any way. It is a dark gloomy hall with artifacts and paintings in it.
As you will reach the curator’s office near the canteen area of Lahore Fort, you will see narrow staircase leading you to an upper storey of a building and there is the Princess Bamba’s Gallery. Let’s first see who this princess was. She was the last of the survivors of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s family, Princess Bamba Sutherland, who lived like an unknown in Lahore, probably the area now known as model town, the capital of the kingdom of her father and grandfather. Born on September 29, 1869, in London, she was the eldest daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh and his first wife Bamba Müller. Duleep Singh was brought to Britain as a child under the care of the East India Company, after the closure of the Second Anglo-Sikh War and the subsequent annexation of the Punjab on 29 March 1849. There he was brought up as a Christian and so was Princess Bamba. When Bamba decided to visit India, she hired a Hungarian companion, Marie-Antoinette Gottesmann, who later married a Sikh and went back to Hungary. Bamba settled alone in Lahore and eventually married the Principal of King Edward Medical College – Dr David Waters Sutherland. It is said that she purchased a house in the locality of Model Town and named it ‘Gulzar’, where she had an exclusive garden of roses spread on an area of one kanal.
A view of the Bamba Gallery: portraits of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his court in Lahore.
When she died her funeral was arranged by United Kingdom Deputy High Commissioner in Lahore and with only a few people around she was quietly slipped into the soil on March 10, 1957. She was an important personality being the progeny of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, but unfortunately she was ignored and wasn’t given much importance, at least as much as she deserved at that time.
Princess Bamba left important historical items to her secretary, Pir Karim Bakhsh Supra of Lahore. The collection consisted of water-colour and paintings on ivory and a number of photographs and other articles. The collection was sold to Pakistan’s government and today it is kept under lock and key in the Lahore Fort.
This collection, and gallery, is known as the Princess Bamba Collection. It has extraordinary pictures and paintings of the Sikh Darbar, Maharaja Duleep Singh, Prince Nau Nihal Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Rani Jindan, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Maharaja Sher Singh’s Council, a model of Ranjit Singh’s entourage on elephant and views of city at the bank of River Ravi. These are a must see. What a beautiful collection, but sadly hidden from the public.
Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh
The place is not maintained and like her, the articles she left behind are also unnoticed and neglected. You will surely find a layer of dust on all the items and glass cases lying in the gallery. There is no proper light or illumination in the gallery as we usually see inside the museums or galleries. That’s a big disappointment. The main source of light is sunlight that enters through the doors of the gallery. There is no uninterrupted power supply to this gallery. On inquiring from one of the officials there I was told that the gallery is opened for delegates and VIPs only on special occasions, otherwise it is locked. That’s a pity. Why are these artefacts placed so secretly with no access allowed to the public? To me this is damaging the artifacts placed in this gallery. There is no proper paper conservation and neither there is any cleaning activity of the gallery. I guess the place should be opened for the public with a ticket so that only serious audience goes in there but locking it up for the people makes no sense to me. It is a small place and can be well maintained but it’s a matter of importance and taking responsibility. Should we shut down all the places which the departments cannot manage? Same is the case with the Punjab Archives, which is buried inside the Civil Secretariat and Anarkali’s tomb. All over the world such places are projected and promoted; I don’t understand when these things will improve in my country.