The Hush Post: A small UK town is all set to become a twin city of Amritsar in the East Anglia region of England. As part of the 125th death anniversary of Maharaja Duleep Singh’s remembrance, the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, a 14-day-long Punjabi festival is being organised.
Thetford in Norfolk was Duleep Singh’s home and the organisers of the Festival of Thetford & Punjab believe the town strongly resonates with the lush farms and livestock grazing of Punjab.
The organisers believe that the life of Duleep Singh, the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who came to Britain and was forced to live in exile in 1849 during the British Raj, is complex and requires some degree of fresh research.
“Elveden Manor in Thetford was home to the last Maharaja of Punjab for many years and Thetfordians are extremely proud of their unusual resident,” explains Seema Anand, a historian and storyteller behind a special ‘Punjab to Thetford’ film, which will be screened on the last day of the festival on July 21.
“But perhaps Duleep Singh coming to live in Thetford was not just mere coincidence. From his statue in the town centre, which is almost an extract replica of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s statue in Company Bagh in Amritsar, to the landscape of Norfolk, there seems to be an almost karmic connection between the two places,” she said.
The festival, a partnership project between Essex Cultural Diversity Project (ECDP) and Thetford Town Council, has been organised as a cultural celebration as well as discovery of the story of Duleep Singh and his legacy. This includes his family, the political and cultural context of the time he was living in, and how this influenced Thetford and the surrounding area today.
Thetford and Elveden was where the Maharaja had his most cherished memories, from the birth of his children to the extravagant shooting parties that were once held here.
“It was a place where he was most at home and at peace, away from the politics of Punjab and the puppeteers of Whitehall [British government]. This place was in fact, where he was at his happiest.”
The festival will involve a procession through the town as a collaboration between Bhangra and Morris dancers and Dhol Drummers and will include Punjabi food stalls, Sikh martial arts Gatka, henna painting and storytelling activities along the River Ouse, encompassing the town’s annual River Festival.