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Duleep Singh statue at Thetford

Maharajah Duleep Singh painting centrepiece of Festival of Thetford and Punjab

An extraordinary painting recording the life and death of Maharajah Duleep Singh by renowned British contemporary artists, The Singh Twins, is at Thetford’s Ancient House Museum as the centrepiece of a new exhibition marking the 125th anniversary of his death.

On loan from National Museums Scotland, the colourful painting, entitled The Casualty of War, is a fascinating examination of the two cultures – British and Punjabi – which shaped the life of Duleep Singh, the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab who lived at Elveden Hall.

Casualty of War: A Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh, © The Singh Twins:; Image © National Museums Scotland
Casualty of War: A Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh, © The Singh Twins:; Image © National Museums Scotland

Oliver Bone, Curator at Ancient House Museum said: “We are delighted to be able to show the brilliant ‘Casualty of War: A Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh’ painting by The Singh Twins at the Ancient House Museum as part of our Duleep Singh Special exhibition. We are very grateful to National Museums Scotland for permitting the loan and really pleased that The Singh Twins themselves are able to join us for the launch of the Thetford and Punjab festival.”

The exhibition, which runs until December 1, is part of a major cultural festival, The Festival of Thetford and Punjab, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, celebrating and exploring the story of Duleep Singh and his legacy and the wider cultural links between the town and the Punjab.

Dr Satinder Sartaaj by the statue of Captain Mainwaring

Dr Satinder Sartaaj, Punjabi Sufi singer, songwriter, composer, poet and actor, who played the role of Maharajah Duleep Singh in the film ‘The Black Prince’ said: “It is a great honour for me to be the Patron for the Festival of Thetford & Punjab. I have been interested in the subject and had the opportunity to play the lead role of the Maharajah in the feature film The Black Prince which was released last year. I visited the graves of Duleep Singh and his family at Elveden, the Ancient House Museum and the statue on Butten Island in Thetford, Norfolk. I also carried out in depth research into the life of the Maharajah and his family which supported me in delivering my role with precision and authenticity.

"I hope the Festival of Thetford & Punjab will further highlight interest in the story of Duleep Singh and attract more people to attend the historical sites in Elveden and Thetford for generations to come, to pay homage and remind us not only of the turbulent life of Maharajah Duleep Singh but also the most enjoyable and memorable times of his life which were spent here.”

Alongside their exhibition, Ancient House Museum is hosting a packed schedule of events as part of the Festival, including special free family event days, talks and a fantastic finale!

Thetford and Punjab Festival

Fraser Harrison, author of newly released Duleep Singh’s Statue, says of the Casualty of War painting: “The painting shows Duleep Singh in all his jewelled finery, but it is also a densely patterned collection of incidents and symbols, which amounts to a pictorial biography of the Maharajah. The picture is full of references to his childhood in India after he was deprived of his throne in 1849, and his exile in England, where he lived for much of his adulthood in Elveden Hall. It is a kind of charge sheet showing the many injustices that the Singh Twins believe Duleep Singh suffered at the hands of the British government of his day, including the forced surrender of the Koh-i-noor diamond.”

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Festival of Thetford and Punjab, which runs from 7th-21st July, is led by the Essex Cultural Diversity Project and involves partners including Norfolk Library Service, Norfolk Arts Service and Thetford Town Council alongside Ancient House Museum. Together they have been working on a 14-month project, culminating in the Festival, which involves local communities, artists and performers inspired by Duleep Singh, his family, the political and cultural context of the time he was living, and how this has influenced Thetford and the surrounding area today. For full details of the Festival programme click here.

Sikh dancers