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Festival will explore and celebrate the legacy of the Maharaja Duleep Singh

PUBLISHED: 09:24 08 June 2018 | UPDATED: 09:24 08 June 2018

The Jugnu Bhangra Dancers, dressed in their traditional folk Punjabi costume, will be performing at the Thetford & Punjab Festival. Picture:  Essex Cultural Diversity Project

The Jugnu Bhangra Dancers, dressed in their traditional folk Punjabi costume, will be performing at the Thetford & Punjab Festival. Picture: Essex Cultural Diversity Project

Archant

The story of Duleep Singh and his cultural heritage and legacy will be celebrated during a two-week festival.

George Beechey's portrait of Prince Duleep Singh. Picture: Archant LibraryGeorge Beechey's portrait of Prince Duleep Singh. Picture: Archant Library

The Festival of Thetford and the Punjab will also explore the under-appreciated links between the town and the heart of the Sikh community.

Organised by the Essex Cultural Diversity Project (ECDP), a £79,900 grant was awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund to deliver the event between July 7 and 21.

It will mark the 125th anniversary of the death of the Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last king of the Punjab.

The Maharaja bought the 17,000 acre Elveden Estate in 1863.

The statue of last King of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh in Thetford. Picture: Rebecca MurphyThe statue of last King of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh in Thetford. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

MORE - Film about the last King of Punjab Duleep Singh, who once owned the Elveden Estate, to hit the big screens

The festival will explore his legacy through his family and the political and cultural context of the time he was living, and how this influenced Thetford and the surrounding area.

Actor Satinder Sartaaj, who played the Maharaja in the Black Prince film, laying flowers on the grave of Duleep Singh in the churchyard at Elveden Church. Picture: Ian BurtActor Satinder Sartaaj, who played the Maharaja in the Black Prince film, laying flowers on the grave of Duleep Singh in the churchyard at Elveden Church. Picture: Ian Burt

Indi Sandhu, artistic director of ECDP, said: “We are trying to raise awareness of the links between the Punjab and Thetford. They are both agricultural and the customs are very similar. People know the story of Duleep Singh, but they don’t always know which part of India he was born in.

“It will be an amazing festival.”

The ECDP will work with Norfolk Museum Service, Norfolk Library Service and Norfolk Arts Service.

Thetford Library, Ancient House Museum and Elveden Village Hall will also host activities as part of the festival.

Speakers include, journalist and author of The Boy with the Top Knot, Sathnam Sanghera; Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha, and comedian and presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli.

Councillor John Ward, chairman of Norfolk County Council Joint Museums Committee, said: “The Festival is a wonderful opportunity to further celebrate this fascinating aspect of Thetford’s past.”

MORE - Celebratory event at Thetford’s Ancient House Museum mark’s 150th birthday of Prince Frederick Duleep Singh

On July 21 the festival will merge with Thetford Town Council’s River Festival to create one large celebratory event.

A wide-range of activities including turban tying, henna painting and storytelling, will be taking place along the River Ouse.

A procession through the town centre will see collaboration between Bhangra and Morris dancers and Bhangra Dhol Drummers.

Mr Sandhu said since the release of the 2017 film the Black Prince, based on the Maharaja’s life, more Sikh’s are coming to the town.

Who was the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab?

Born in 1838, Duleep Singh was the youngest son of Ranjit Singh who ruled the region.

He came to the throne at the age of five.

In 1849 the Anglo-Sikh war was fought and the British annexed the Punjab. Singh was compelled to resign his sovereign and rights.

He was exiled to England in 1854 and it is believed he was pressured into converting to Christianity.

He was introduced to Queen Victoria and became a firm favourite of hers.

With a pension from the India Office, Singh bought the 17,000 acre Elveden Estate in 1863.

He later renounced Christianity, reconverted as a Sikh and tried to reclaim his kingdom - but was stopped en-route to India and sent back to Elveden.

He died from a stroke in Paris in 1893.

He was given a Christian burial at St Andrew and St Patrick’s Church in Elveden.

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