Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Golden Throne: an iconic symbol of the powerful Sikh Empire that miraculously survived

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s throne. Author: VAwebteam. CC BY-SA 3.0

This magnificent throne was made for Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the powerful Sikh Empire that ruled in the northwest part of India in the early half of the 19th century, by the Goldsmith Hafez Muhammad Multani between 1820 – 1830.

The golden octagonal throne was probably commissioned to mark the victory of the Maharaja, in 1818, when the Sikhs finally conquered Multan.

It was initially placed in one of the most important courts of India: Ranjit Singh’s court. The court’s opulence demonstrated the wealth and power of the great leader and especially strove to make a strong impression on the foreign visitors.

As Ranjit Singh’s court, his throne was also designed to impress. The throne’s shape is inspired by the furniture in the courts of the Mughals and it is made of wood covered with richly decorated solid gold sheets.

The gold is decorated with a design of flowering plants that have a symbolic meaning. The base is decorated with lotus petals, the sacred flower of the Hindu religion, that represent absolute purity, divinity and eternity.

The Lotus is also traditionally connected to the Hindu gods and goddesses since they are often depicted with the flower, sometimes even sitting on a Lotus Throne.

Hindu goddess Lakshmi on Lotus flower

The throne is a remarkable and unique object. It has eight legs and a raised, solid back, with supports on both sides that are hung with tassels, while the seat is decorated with gold and red cushions.

But, Maharaja Ranjit Singh did not sit on the throne very often, nor did he wear a crown; it was only used during state occasions.

Despite his wealthiness and his fabulous collections of jewels, Ranjit Singh dressed very simply and preferred to sit on a chair or in a cross-legged position on the floor.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Throne at the V&A Museum in London. Author: ptwo. CC BY 2.0

Maharaja Ranjit Singh died in 1839 and following the annexation of Punjab in 1849, the British governor general Lord James Dalhousie put an end to the Sikh Empire. He showed particular interest in the possessions of the Maharaja.

The Toshakhana (the royal treasury) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh included jewels decorated with pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, jeweled swords with golden handles, golden and jeweled figures of animals and birds, an elephant with a silver saddle, and many other relics.

The British government seized many of these items and removed from India.

Maharaja Sher Singh seated on the golden throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (ca. 1840)

Dalhousie, who was almost bankrupt, prepared a detailed report of the treasures of Toshakhana but didn’t list everything he had found. Dalhousie auctioned and sold many items that weren’t included in the report.

The larger ones were firstly melted down and then sold. The magnificent throne of Ranjit Singh was also among the jewels and crafted weapons of the treasures of Toshakhana.

Darbar (Court) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

The fact that the Golden Throne survived is a miracle. It was probably because Dalhousie intended to keep it for himself. He wrote to the British Government: ‘It is set apart as an object which the court would probably desire to preserve, but as it is bulky, I shall not forward it until I receive orders to do so.’ 

Luckily, the government demanded the throne, together with the other treasures, to be sent to London as soon as possible. 

Ranjit Singh’s golden throne, along with the remaining treasures were soon sent to England. Dalhousie, disappointed that he couldn’t keep the original, commissioned a replica of the throne, just before its departure, but instead of gold, carved in wood, for his private collection.

Eventually, the Golden Throne was reluctantly delivered to the Indian Museum in London.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s throne. Author: VAwebteam. CC BY-SA 3.0

Today, Ranjit Singh’s Golden Throne is one of the most significant items in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

It was transferred there in 1879 and since then, it has been on permanent display, except during the Maharaja exhibition, when it was moved to the conservation department to be cleaned and prepared to be part of the international traveling exhibition.

The Maharaja exhibition ran in 2009 from October to January, and afterward, Ranjit Singh’s Golden Throne returned in the museum in London, where everyone who visits it has the privilege of seeing an iconic symbol of the powerful Sikh Empire and an outstanding example of Punjabi craftsmanship.