Canadian Punjabi wins bidding war for Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s sword


Locked in a bidding war for a 200-year-old sword from his computer, Bob Dhillon got mixed up. A U.K.-based auctioneer was asking for bids in British Pounds, but the Calgary real estate tycoon was thinking in Canadian dollars. So his offer was inflated some — a mistake that earned him a rare relic believed to have once belonged to a legendary Sikh warrior king.

The Indo-Canadian businessman’s unlikely journey to become this weapon’s custodian started earlier this year, as a member a Canadian delegation to India with Governor-General David Johnston. There, media was abuzz about the heavily engraved sword of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, scheduled for sale by the descendents of a British military family — news Mr. Dhillon would have likely missed had he not been part of the official visit to the country.

“The Sikh history is not in the hands of Sikhs, it’s in private collections in the U.K.” said Mr. Dillion, who is bent on lending the artifact to any Canadian or Indian school or museum that wishes to exhibit it.

Victoria and Albert MusuemA watercolour painting of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from circa 1835-40.

“There is a wealth of Indian history that’s sitting in the U.K., it’s not in India.”

It is a black sword, almost a metre long, with traces of gold on the hilt, hinting that this was not the sword of an ordinary soldier, says Mr. Dhillon — a self-dubbed “history buff.”

The auction house reported the piece dated to the early 19-century.

Among the engravings on the sword is portrait of the maharaja — who the auctioneer claimed is “unquestionably one of the most important and charismatic figures in Indian history.”

If it indeed belonged to Ranjit Singh — the last independent sovereign leader in India by the 19th century — “then it’s quite a find,” says Professor Lou Fenech, a historian at the University of Northern Iowa. “He holds a special place in Sikh hearts.”