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Maharaja Ranjit Singh's bust on sale in London

Mehtab Singh

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He was called the Lion of Punjab. And among the many precious treasures he owned was the priceless Kohinoor diamond. It comes as little surprise, then, that a 1 metre, 38 cm tall bust of Punjab's Maharaja Ranjit Singh is attracting worldwide interest before it goes under the hammer at an international auction.

The milk white sculpture has been priced between £50,000 and £70,000 (Rs 45,00,000 and Rs 63,00,000 ) and will be be auctioned at the Bonhams Indian and Islamic sale on October 9 in London.

This is not the first time items related to Indian royalty have gone under the hammer. "Last year we sold a bust of Ranjit Singh's son, Duleep Singh, for £1.7m. Then, there was the Shah Jahan dagger we sold in April this year and the inscribed spinel of Shah Jahan that we sold in October 2000," said Clare Penhallurick, Head of Indian and Islamic Art at Bonhams.

And contrary to perception, Penhallurick points out, "There is a worldwide market for items related to Indian royalty that attracts many non-Asian buyers. Of course, many Indian pieces are bought by Indians, both resident and NRI."

Price-wise, Indian art and artefacts are not in the A-league yet. "Prices have risen considerably in the past

few years; however, it is still possible to buy works of art by major Indian artists for relatively less than the comparable Western counterpart. So it's still a good time to buy," she adds. Ranjit Singh was referred to as Sher-e-Punjab and is credited with the beautification of the Harmandir Sahib with marble and gold, from which the popular name of the Golden Temple is derived.

"For sealing Punjab's borders against invaders from Afghanistan and central Asia, to having an army that had both Sikh and Muslim soldiers fighting side by side, Ranjit Singh was probably the most secular, honest and generous ruler Punjab has had. No wonder he was called the Lion of Punjab," says Dharam Singh, professor head of the School of Punjabi Studies at Amritsar's Guru Nanak Dev University. Indian artefacts have had pride of place at many international auctions.

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