Even though the British thought she was dangerous, they allowed her some small comforts. 

“She is worth more than all the soldiers of the state put together for any purpose of mischief,”

– Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie

A beautiful woman was kept in a high-security fort, away from everyone. The guards were told she was dangerous and watched her all the time. She had been there for almost two years in a small, dirty part of the fort. Her famous beauty and charm were fading. But she didn't give up. She slowly made friends with the guards by telling them stories. After asking nicely, she was allowed to have a maid. The maid brought her new clothes, gave her massages, cleaned her dishes, and brought fresh fruit from villages across the Ganga river. She spent her days alone, with only the maid to help her. The guards changed shifts outside the strong walls of Fort Chunar.

Fort Chunar is located fourteen miles south of Benaras. It sits on a rocky hill next to a bend in the Ganges river, making it easy to defend. The fort is hard to attack because of its steep rocky side and the big river next to it. Inside the fort, there were many round objects stored to roll down on enemy soldiers if they tried to attack. Most of the fort area was flat, with grass and a few trees growing there.

Deemed as a trouble-maker 

The British saw her as a dangerous troublemaker. The former Governor-General of India, Lord Hardinge, compared her to Messalina, the third wife of Roman Emperor Claudius. He said she was too rebellious to control.

Even though the British thought she was dangerous, they allowed her some small comforts. She could have her own maid and wear her many jewels. They did this because she used to be a powerful empress. Her country had been larger than Germany and France put together. She was the widow of a strong emperor. The British never attacked him while he was alive, even though they had defeated all the other princes and kings of India. She had been the emperor's favorite queen and was known for her beauty. She became a widow when she was in her twenties.

The Queen at the peak of her power

After her husband died, the palace became too difficult for her to manage. When her stepson also died, she had to deal with many internal plots. She managed to put her 5-year-old son on the throne. She became the Queen Regent and the real ruler. She ruled for about five years. But the British kept attacking her kingdom. They finally took control from her son. They forced her to sign a treaty that gave them her kingdom. They sent the king to Britain and put her in prison. Before Chunar, she was held in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Varanasi, and other places. In all these places, she found ways to send secret messages to her supporters and friends across India.

That night, in Chunar Fort, she switched clothes with her maid. She put on the maid's simple cotton sari. The maid didn't want to do it, but the woman made her wear the fancy royal clothes and jewellery. The woman left the scared maid in the cell. Then, she covered her face and quietly left the fort. She sneaked out to the river, not knowing what would happen to her next.

She took a boat that wasn't hers and rowed across the Ganga river. She didn't know where to go because she had no home. The closest country that wasn't under British rule was Nepal, which was 800 miles away. She decided to go there because of her beliefs. She walked alone, slowly leaving the area controlled by the British. She crossed swollen rivers that flowed into the Ganga and went through thick forests in the Himalayas. We don't know much about how she made this long and dangerous trip.

One day in April 1849, she arrived at the court of Jung Bahadur Rana, who was the Prime Minister of Nepal. Rana was really in charge because he had put the king in prison. She looked messy and hurt, but she spoke with a strong voice. This made Rana believe that she was who she said she was. She was indeed the Queen.

Maharani Jinda

Maharani Jinda was the queen of Punjab. She was married to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and once owned the famous Koh-I-Noor diamond. After her husband died, she became the Queen Regent for her son, Maharaja Dileep Singh, who ruled Punjab from Lahore. Jinda led armies against the British. Her army was the last to be defeated by the British, about ten years after they had taken control of the rest of India. When she was in charge, her army generals respected her and called her Mai Sahib, which means mother of the Khalsa Commonwealth. She didn't wear the traditional veil and ran the empire well.

The British didn't attack the Khalsa nation while Ranjit Singh was alive. But after he died, they tried to take advantage of the situation. Jinda gathered a large army and fought two wars against the British between 1846 and 1849. These were called the Anglo-Sikh wars. However, she lost both wars, and in 1849 the British took over Punjab. A treaty was signed with the British that reduced Jinda's power. The British found her difficult to control, so they arrested her for treason. They sent her son, Maharaja Dileep Singh, who was the last independent ruler of India, to Britain. The British were too scared to let Jinda go free with a pension like they had done with other former rulers.

Young Maharaja 

After the British took over Punjab, the young Maharaja was sent to Britain. The queen escaped to Nepal. The Nepalese gave her a safe place to stay. They treated her well, giving her a separate living area and nice things. Jung Bahadur let her build a small Sikh temple in her compound at the Thapathali Durbar complex. She spent her early years there praying and helping others. The Nepalese people called her Chanda Kunwar as a nickname.

The story gets more interesting when we learn what this middle-aged woman hoped to do after losing everything.

From Nepal, she wrote a long letter to the British Governor General. She teased him for not being able to keep her locked up for long. While in Nepal, she kept trying to start a rebellion in Punjab. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857, she wrote to the Maharaja of Kashmir. She told him to fight against the British in Kashmir and move towards Gorakhpur. She said the Nepalese army would join him there. She also mentioned that Nana and Tantya Tope were in Nepal and urged him to fight with them. The British caught this letter before it reached Kashmir.

The British didn't let her live peacefully in Nepal. They thought she was still dangerous. British spies watched her closely. The Nepalese kingdom felt pressure for letting her stay. Also, Jung Bahadur Thapa didn't like her strong personality and pride. They slowly limited what she could do. She was almost under house arrest again. The Nepalese wanted to get rid of her. She stayed in Nepal for 11 long years, always missing her son who had been taken from her. Then one day she got a letter asking her to come to Calcutta.

Meanwhile, her ten-year-old son, Dileep Singh, had been taken to England. People say Queen Victoria liked him a lot and treated him like part of the royal family. The royal doctor became his guardian and gave him his own estate. He forgot about his important past. He became a Christian and lived like a British nobleman.

Prince Dileep Singh in his British Avatar

The British treated these two historical figures differently from other Indian royals. They were too important and dangerous to be given pensions like others, but also too valuable to kill. Killing them might have caused a revolt in the Sikh regiment, which was now crucial to British power in India. Maharaja Ranjeet Singh's former soldiers had been recruited into the British Army as the Sikh Regiment. This regiment still uses Ranjeet Singh's symbol along with the Indian army symbol. In the 1850s, the Sikh regiment was the main force of the British, balancing out the 'Bengal Army' which the Sikhs disliked due to past wars. The British used this dislike to stop the 1857 Mutiny.

Dileep Singh often asked the British to let him meet his mother. When they refused, he planned a trip to India, pretending to go tiger hunting. In 1860, he wrote to the British official in Kathmandu, hiding his letter inside one from his guardian. The official reported that the Rani had changed a lot, was blind, and had lost much of her old energy.

The British decided she was no longer a threat and allowed her to travel to Calcutta to meet her son. She received a letter asking her to come to Calcutta.

On January 16, 1861, Jinda met Dileep Singh at a hotel in Calcutta. It was an important day. Sikh soldiers were returning home through Calcutta after a war in China. The presence of Sikh royalty in the city made people very happy. Thousands of armed Sikhs surrounded the hotel, wanting to see their former queen and king. The prince was surprised by how much his army still loved him.

Maharani and Young Maharaj to England

The British leader in India, Lord Canning, got worried and decided to send both mother and son to England immediately. So, the former Queen of Punjab sailed to the country of those who had conquered her. Her story continued. She was now with her son, who had become Christian and acted like a British nobleman. He didn't know much about his past glory and was loyal to the British empire. In Britain, Jinda first lived separately but later moved in with her son. She was sick, weak, almost blind, and had lost much of her former glory.

Dileep Singh's foster mother met the former Queen. She felt sorry for the tired, half-blind woman who had lost her beauty and health. But when Jinda got interested in something, she showed glimpses of her clever mind.

The British had taken all her jewels, which were worth a lot. They gave some back to her. When she visited her son's friends and foster family, she always showed off these jewels. A picture was made of her wearing all her fine things, showing how she still tried to look proud and strong.

The woman was aware that her health was declining rapidly. She had a vision of Dileep Singh regaining his power. She shared stories with him about his lost glory and his impressive father. She told him about the strong spirit of the Sikhs and the Khalsa Raj of Lahore. This kingdom had stayed independent for 60 years while other Indian kingdoms fell to the British. The British didn't dare attack it for 30 years after beating the Marathas. This was 50 years after they killed Tipu Sultan and long after the famous Rajputs had given up for pensions. The Khalsa Raj had won Afghanistan, Balochistan, and Kashmir. They even attacked the Chinese in Leh, reaching as far as Tibet and the passes near Mount Kailasa and Lake Mansarovar. She said the British only defeated this kingdom through dishonesty and betrayal. As she told these stories, she helped him reconnect with his Sikh faith, which he began to embrace again.

The British establishment got jittery at her influence on her son and petitioned the Queen to send her back to India. The proposal was under consideration when she again did her own thing.

The end of Maharani Jinda’s journey 

On August 1, 1863, just after 6:15 in the evening,the weak and partly blind queen died. She had spent much of her life fighting against the British Empire. She died in her bed on the top floor of a house in Kensington.

At that time, cremation for Hindus and Sikhs was not allowed in Britain. Dileep Singh asked the British to let him take her body to India for cremation. Her body was burned on the banks of the Godavari river in Bombay state. This was far from Lahore. A memorial was built there to remember her. In the 1920s, her daughter-in-law moved her memorial stones to Lahore and put them in Maharaja Ranjit Singh's memorial. In Britain, where she was buried for about a year before being taken to India, a headstone was recently found. It was discovered in Kensal Green during repairs at the 'Dissenter's Church'.

Her influence lasted a bit longer than her life. Her son remembered his heritage and slowly moved away from his British upbringing. He fought back and wrote to the Russian Tsar. He tried to meet the Tsar to ask for help in his fight against the British. But the Tsar didn't agree, as he was related to the British royal family. Dileep's attempts to get the Tsar to invade India failed badly because British spies had watched everything he did. Dileep Singh tried a few more plans, but the British were too strong for him to beat.

Queen Victoria’s relationship with Young Maharaj 

Queen Victoria had a strong motherly relationship with Dileep Singh. She saw him as a fellow royal. Even after he rebelled against the British Empire, she pardoned him. However, she took away some of his money.

Some historians now think Jinda's short meeting with her son in Britain made Dileep want to take back his kingdom. Harbinder Singh, who leads the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail, says Jinda had the last laugh. He explains that Dileep began to turn against Britain right after meeting his mother. The British thought Jinda, who was weak, almost blind, and no longer beautiful, wasn't important anymore. But she reminded her son of his true identity and where his kingdom was.

Dileep Singh died poor in a run-down hotel in Paris. None of Dileep's children had their own children, so his family line ended after one generation. The Maharani (Jinda) died, the prince (Dileep) died, the family line ended, and their legacy was forgotten. The story of this strong woman, the last Maharani of India who stood up to the British, disappeared. It was no longer included in Indian history books and was not heard again.


*Based on an article by Kulveer Samra, published in kulveersamra.wordpress.com on 28th December 2015


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