Matchless collection of paintings, arms and armours. manuscript and coins of 18th and 19th Century.There are three Art Galleries too, in the city one attached to the Golden Temple, the other to Jallianwala Bagh and the third named after the city's famous artist, Thakar Singh.
1. Paintings 2. Arms and Armours 3. Manuscripts 4. Coins
There are plenty of miniature paintings showing the camp and court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. During the meetings of Ranjit Singh with Lord William Bentinck, the Governor General of India in 1881. The General brought with him a native artist Jiwan Ram to prepare a sketch of the Maharaja.
A huge painting on cloth (app. 154 x 124 cms) shows the city of Lahore and its fort in all its architectural beauty, showing arches, doorways, jails and even pavements of locally burnt clay-bricks. The different professions of the residents have been executed by the Kangra artists in a masterly manner.
There are oil paintings of the Maharaja, his sons Kharak Singh and Sher Singh and his grandson Naunihal Singh, Rani Jindan and many courtiers on display. There is an oil painting by August Scheoft completed between 1850 and 1855 after the original drawing made by the artist who visited Lahore in 1841 during the period of Maharaja Sher Singh, a great patron of art. This Viennese artist's work is one of the most brilliant studies in group portraiture ever done in India. He has given minute details of Sher Singh rather than Ranjit Singh, which suggests that it was commissioned by Sher Singh. Each figure in the painting can easily be identified and is a rare document of the Sikh period in which all the splendour of the Sikh court has been depicted with a masterly touch. Emily Eden, the sister of Lord Auckland, who visited Lahore in December 1838 had painted a number of paintings of Sikh subjects. Perhaps she was the last painter to paint Ranjit Singh when he had become almost invalid. She also had the occasion to paint the famous diamond, Kohinoor. A few reproductions are also on view.
Prince Alexis Soltykoff who belonged to a distinguished Russian family visited Punjab during the period of Maharaja Sher Singh. In a long search of 'colour' he was ever ready with his sketch book. His most remarkable work relating to the Sikhs was "An Evening Ride in Amritsar". Its lithograph is on display. He gave a description of this painting on the day he prepared this sketch, May 3,1842. The greater lords decorated with precious stones were on elephants with gold silver Howdahs and trappings of cloth of gold, while behind them grooms clung on as best they could either quite naked or with a sheet of dirty linen picturesquely wrapped round them. He has described the whole scene in details but even his own words fall for short of the brush he used in the painting. One of the figures on the regimental flags is Shiva's son Kartikiya, the god of war in Hindu mythology.
After the annexation of the Punjab the British administrators commissioned a series of battle scenes showing their supremacy in their wars with the Sikhs. A large number of coloured lithoprints are on view. A study of these prints can reveal the technique of war, the formation of the troops, the weapons used and the uniform they wore. Maharaja Dalip Singh, the boy ruler, was taken to England and kept under the Christan tutorship of Dr. John Logan. Queen Victoria took fancy to Dalip Singh. She got his paintings commissioned by the famous English painter of her times, Winterhalter, in whose paintings Dalip Singh is shown as an elegant young prince with sad eyes. He is shown wearing a necklace of pearls with a miniature portrait of Queen Victoria. She herself drew sketches of Dalip Singh whom she admired as a handsome person. (see section of Maharaja Dalip Singh for more detail).
Sir Lepel Griffin wrote of Maharaja Ranjit Singh although half a century has passed since his death, his name is still a household word in the province, his portrait is still preserved in castle and cottage. It is a favourite subject with the ivory painters of Amritsar and Delhi. "Even foreigners were much impressed by the skill of the ivory painters and they patronised the art by ordering miniature paintings to take back home as souvenirs. Afterwards, however, when the artists started portraying the full face, the rich heritage of miniature paintings lost much of its charm and glory.
ARMS & ARMOURS
The Sikhs who became synonymous with the material personality of the Punjab were inspired by the baptism of the double-edged sword which symbolized the might of righteousness. As Guru Gobind Singh wrote to Aurangzeb in the Zafarnama, "when all avenues have been explored, all means tried, it is rightful to draw the sword for noble cause". His followers were fond of weapons. They took those arms, which suited their method of warfare. Besides the sword, the spear and the lance, they took to bows and arrows, and they started wearing armour. Their fire-arms consisted of cannon, matchlocks, flintlocks, percussion cap guns, camel guns, pistols, howzers and mortars. The swords of the Sikhs nobility were very costly as their handles, guards and scabbards were beautifully decorated with damascened work in gold and silver and inlaid with costly jewels. According to Sir Henry Fane, the blade of Ranjit Singh's sword was in some instances valued at 1000 pounds and the gold and jewels upon its hilt and scabbard at five times of that sum. The Persian sword, which Maharaja Ranjit Singh presented to General Allard, was studded with costly jewels and its blade was worth 5,000 rupees. A similar type of sword, which he presented to European officer was acquired by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and is on display. It has a horse heads shaped jade hilt stud-ded with rubies, with a miniature portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It's scabbard is embellished with precious stones set in gold. There is an iron and brass shield of exquisite workmanship in relief and cut-work prepared by Muslim craftsman of Lahore whose name is also inscribed on it. It has images of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and his grandson Naunihal Singh, all on horseback besides mythical scenes and scepes of fighting.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh employed European officers, mostly French and Italians, to train his infantry, artillery and cavalry on European lines. The army cost the State over one crore of rupees a year, which was more than one third of the State's income. His army was the most powerful in Asia.
The Khalsa Darbar Records consist of about quarter million sheets of Kashmiri or Sialkoti paper covering much of the reign of Maharaj Ranjit Singh and the decade of his successors. These records relate to each year from 1811 to 1849 and contain detailed information on income from various sources and expenditure on various heads. They are extremely useful for the civil and military history of the period and valuable for understanding the agrarian structure.
Besides the Khalsa-Darbar Records, there are a large number of manuscripts pertaining to the history of the Punjab. The Gulgasht-i-Punjab by Raja Ram Tota records the history of the Punjab up to 1849. This is a fine specimen of calligraphy. The Iqbalnama-i-Maharaja Ranjit Singh by Raja Ram Tota is the history of Maharaja Ranjit Singh up to his death in 1839. The Tankh-i-Kalan Kashmir is a statistical compendium on Kashmir prepared at the behest of Colonel Mihan Singh, the Governor of Kashmir during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Zafarnama is a military manual pertaining to the rules and training of army during the reign of the Maharaja.
One of the remarkable objects on view is a parwana of Maharaja Ranjit Singh addressed to Raja Fateh Singh of Kapurthala. It bears the seal of Ranjit Singh and his palm impression in saffron. It was inscribed on 13th April 1827. Important correspondence with the Kapurthala Chiefs and other Chiefs is also available.
Ranjit Singh never believed in ostentation. He did not wear a crown, struck no coin in his name and did not sit on a throne. On ceremonial occasions he used to sit on a gold chair while the other dignitaries occupied silver chairs. Ordinarily he used a simple chair. One such wooden carved chair with lacquer w6rk and floral designs and having velvet cushion is on view. The Maharaja bore no titles. The seals he used were inscribed with the phrase 'Akal Sahai' (May God be our helper) along with his name. Several types of coins were current in his dominion but the standard rupee was the Nanak Shahi. The silver coins which are on display here are symbols of his secular outlook On one of the coins there is a trident of Shiva, on another the word 'Om' is inscribed; Ram' in Devanagri script is on some other coins.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh became a legend in his lifetime, loved and respected by all his subjects irrespective of caste or creed. In the court as much as in the army units, Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims rubbed shoulders with one another. He symbolized the best in the tradition of the Punjab that could bring its entire people together.