The Valour of the Young Princes I
(gouache and acrylics on art board 18” x 24”, Khanuja Family Collection)
An illuminated manuscript of a passage from Suraj Prakash Granth (translating to “Book of the Rising Sun), describing the defiance of the two young Sahibzade (princes), Baba Zorawar Singh and Baba Fateh Singh, in front of the Mughal court.
The story is depicted in five parts: Gangu’s betrayal, Cold Winds, Unjust Trial, Merciless Fate, and lastly, Pandemonium. The circular text frame is designated as the sun, and the five divisions function as its rays, each shedding light on to the writing. This configuration pays homage to the title of the text (Suraj, meaning “Sun”).
This painting explores some of the key players that both protected and scorned the two Sahibzade, the youngest sons of Guru Gobind Singh. I want my work to be an educational tool, and also a means for commemoration. Rather than be a fleeting ephemeron, I hope that this illumination can be a reference to a heart-breaking chapter in Sikh history, while also invoking reflection on the strength that has been passed down from these young princes.
The Sahibzade, at the tender ages of 5 and 7, were killed by the Mughal court in retaliation against Guru Gobind Singh, whose growing guruship was of increasing concern. Wazir Khan, then Governor of Sirhind, hoped that converting the Sahibzade to Islam, the dominant religion among the Mughals, would prove to be a strong proclamation against the Guru. The Sahibzade underwent two days of trial, in which Wazir Khan’s attempts to cajole and coax them failed miserably. They wholeheartedly rejected Wazir Khan’s oppressive authority which was disguised as offerings of a life full of endless sweets and toys. They were eventually sentenced to be bricked alive. Kavi Santokh Singh imagines the Princes’ conviction in the following verse(40) in book 6, chapter 51 of Suraj Prakash Granth: (see comments for text!)
Gangu is seen as the ultimate offender, for he not only stole the possessions of Mata Gujri and the Sahibzade, but he handed the three in to the Mughal officials in Sirhind. He broke his promise of keeping them safe when Mata Gujri expressed knowing that he was the thief. The name of Gangu's village is never said aloud, and is often referred to as "that village." Following this similar vernacular of concealment, I have blurred out Gangu’s facial features to avoid dignifying him. I’ve utilized the digital pixelation technique to juxtapose a highly contemporary method of representation with the traditional media of gouache. In this first pod, Mata Gujri and the Sahibzade are partially visible, sleeping soundly through the night, while Gangu is seen sneakily exiting the scene with Mata ji's gold coins and precious objects.
This tower was meant to be a cool space for the royals during the summer months. Winds would flow above surrounding waters and then move through the open area under the dome cap. This tower was chosen to exasperate discomfort for Mata Gujri ji and the Sahibzade during the bitter cold of a Punjabi winter. My father shared a personal account of having seen the structure as a young adult, before it was demolished; it was an 8-sided, tapered tower, with a dome above. The older architecture of the time would not have been the demure, exposed brick structure that was left to stand in the late 20th century. In line with the Mughal cannon, it was likely clad in stone and “chuna,” or lime plaster, with geometric patterns and floral motifs painted on the surface. Chita baaz is seen flying above the structure, a symbol of the valiance of Guru Gobind Singh, which was passed down to his sons.