Black Prince: Controversy over burial place of the last King of Punjab

Like many first generation Punjabis, it was late when I came across the last King, the man who would have ruled as a young boy over my Indian ancestors.

I'd heard from my parents when I was growing up, about the exiled Maharajah Duleep Singh, stolen from India by the British as a boy, to live as a favourite of Queen Victoria, a court, never to return to the Punjab to reclaim his kingdom from his conquerors, living out his life as an English country gent. But that was all.

It was when I moved to East Anglia a few years back that I decided to seek him out. The beautiful churchyard in Elveden in Suffolk where he's buried is truly peaceful. And about as far removed from a Maharajahs life as it could be.

I've visited his grave many times since, my family too. It never fails to move me.

Duleep Singh was, say the filmmakers, among the first leaders in India's fight against British rule. Credit: PA

What is it about this Indian king who died in 1893, that affects us so much?

For me, it's a connection to my past, a reminder of where I come from, the essence of who I, and every other Sikh born in the UK, really is.

It is astonishing that it has taken so many years for his extraordinary story to reach mainstream cinema.

Now the filmmaking team behind the Oscar winning Twelve Years a Slave, has brought the story of The Black Prince to the big screen.

And those behind the 10 year struggle to get the film made, are hoping that history will now look back on this exiled Maharajah, with compassionate eyes.

A statue of the Maharajah Duleep Singh Credit: PA

For in India, he was largely forgotten, regarded as a king who abandoned his people after the Punjab fell to the British, the last Indian region to be conquered by them, a Sikh who converted to Christianity, and came to England to live a lavish life on a Suffolk country estate, leaving his subjects to the mercy of the British East India Company.

But the reality is somewhat different, and is a tragic tale of a King exiled from his land, separated from his mother as a young boy, given British guardians, renouncing his Sikh faith to become Christian.

It was only when his mother was allowed to see him 13 years after their forced separation, that he really learned who he was.

And then he spent 20 years fighting the British to get back his lost kingdom.

Duleep Singh was, say the filmmakers, among the first leaders in India's fight against British rule.

But all this he did from afar - he was never allowed to return to the Punjab, the British realising his presence in the region would create rebellion.

He died, impoverished, in Paris, having been turned back from Yemen as he tried to reach his motherland.

And it was his children who decided to bury him at the church in Elvedon, by the grand house where he lived for many years, and next to the grave of his wife Bamba and their youngest son Alfred.

The grave of the Maharajah Duleep Singh Credit: ITV News

Today the Sikh community is divided over whether the Maharajah should be returned to India for a proper Sikh cremation.

He had returned to his Sikh faith before he died, and his place, say campaigners, is back in India.

But others say not only is he buried where his family wanted, his ancestral home would no longer be in India, as Lahore, the centre of the Sikh Empire pre-Partition, is now in Pakistan.

Similar claims over the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond persist today.

The Imperial State Crown - one of the crown jewels Credit: PA

The jewel was taken from the Punjab with the last King, a gift claimed the British, stolen say many Indians. It is now part of the Crown jewels. And going nowhere.

The Maharajah too will I suspect remain in his Suffolk resting place, his grave tended lovingly by church staff, while Punjabi Sikhs come on Pilgrimage to salute their King.

And now The Black Prince which will be released on the 21st of July, will bring the story of the forgotten Maharajah, to the wider world.