Maharaja Ranjit Singh, born in 1780 and taking the reigns of his father's misl only when ten, was the mightiest instrument purging the life of Punjab, widening horizons of Sikhism giving it larger followings and to Punjab a wider geography and broader vision. He carried Sikhism down to soil, to a housewife's kitchen, to a farmer's furrow, to rites of death, birth and marriage. Khalsa found in Maharaja Ranjit Singh its strongest base after Shri Guru Gobind Singh, arts and crafts their great patron, industry and handicrafts their promoter and protector and politics its all time seer and motivator. He gave to Punjab Punjabiat, an identity beyond caste, creed, social and economic status. During some six centuries before him he was the only ruler of Punjab capable to evade foreign invasions on the soil of Punjab and keep its boundaries intact and safe.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh's greatest contribution is, however, in the area of visual arts. With idolatry prohibited in Sikhism visual representations even of the great Gurus were largely discouraged. Maharaja Ranjit Singh thought differently. Gurus' representations on not only paper or canvas but even on a sword's handle, a medal, pendant or even kitchen utensil, if they did not derogate the divine ones, only perpetuated Gurus' names and their great message. He hence encouraged art but more particularly the art of portraiture and often spared hours of his busy schedule for giving sitting to an artist for his own portrait. He was greatly instrumental in bringing to India's traditional art the European realism, dynamism, multi perspectives and dimensions. This portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh reveals these European art elements.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
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