We went to see the eclectic ‘Empire of the Sikhs’ exhibition at the Brunei Gallery last week – which tells the story of Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh, his reign, his army, his family and court, and how the Sikh Empire nearly ended British rule.
Once past the giant howitzer which marks the beginning of the exhibition, there are the lovely drawing and painting marking the transformation of Sikhs from ‘sparrows to hawks’, followed straight after by a brilliant wall where the timeline of Sikh history is shown alongside that of European and world history.
There are ornately decorated weapons, shields, armour and coins, as well as portraits of the Sikh and ‘firangi’ officers that served in the army. Don’t miss the portraits of the American mercenary Alexander Gardner in his tartan turban.
The room we liked best (obvs) was the family room – with delicate miniatures of the one-eyed Maharaja, the jewels of his wives, including those of the formidable Jind Kaur, and a stunning little cameo of first wife Rani Mahtab Kaur. And then there’s the armlet (also seen on the Maharaja Sher Singh’s right arm in a nearby portrait) – borrowed from the Royal Collection and with a crystal replica where the full size Koh-i-Noor once was. Knowing the story of the diamond’s journey from India to Britain we have to say we found this a singularly heartbreaking sight and it gave us angry wobbly legs.
The exhibition is on till September 23rd and there are free tours every Saturday and Sunday at 12pm and 2pm and an exciting series of talks on the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of September, including one on the Koh-i-Noor and another on Maharani Jind Kaur. Details for the talks are here.
When: 12 July 2018 – 23 September 2018
Where: Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
More information: Empire of the Sikhs