Celebration of historical links between Punjab and France

The Embassy of France in India, in association with The Neemrana Music Foundation and French Heritage in India association, is honouring the historic ties between France and Punjab.

New Delhi, 17 July 2015

In celebration, H.E. Mr François Richier, Ambassador of France to India, hosted a reception on Friday, 17 July 2015.

Although France’s historic links with India bring to mind Puducherry and other former French trading posts, French presence also existed in North India, as illustrated by General Jean-François Allard. Born in Saint-Tropez, France, he entered the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh kingdom of Punjab, and went on to marry a Hindu princess. Copies of nineteenth-century portraits of Maharaja Ranjit singh, General Allard and his wife – the originals of which are preserved in French collections – were on display.

On this occasion, France’s ties in Punjab as well as Punjab’s engagement with France were highlighted through presentations by various noted personalities who continue to foster these links.

Following Ambassador Richier’s introduction on the subject, a descendant of General Allard, Mr Henri Prévost-Allard, Deputy Mayor of Saint-Tropez, spoke about his eminent ancestor as well as the cooperation projects that link his city with India.

Mr Bobby Singh Bansal, British author of The Lion’s Firanghis: Europeans at the Court of Lahore, spoke on the presence of Western figures in general and French personalities in particular in Punjab.

Filmmaker Vijay Singh spoke on Punjabis and Sikhs who defended France during World War I. Numerous soldiers from Punjab, famed for their courage, travelled to Europe to fight alongside the Allies during the Great War. Mr Singh’s presentation was accompanied by visuals from the period.

Founder-member of INTACH and historian Aman Nath delivered the closing remarks.

These talks were followed by a recital by the talented vocalists Ms Aude Priya Wacziarg (soprano) and Ms Shireen Sinclair (mezzo soprano), who interpreted extracts from Jules Massenet’s Roi de Lahore and the celebrated Flower Duet from Léo Delibes Lakmé - both works a reflection of their respective composers’ affinity with Indian cultures and civilisation. Ms Wacziarg and Ms Sinclair were accompanied on the piano by Mr Philippe Engel.

The soirée concluded with a dinner giving pride of place to the cuisines of Punjab and Provence (the region under which Saint Tropez falls).

The evening also saw a digital exhibition presenting snippets of French heritage in India, drawn from a study undertaken by conservation architect Aishwarya Tipnis in 2011 supported by the Embassy of France, French Heritage in India Society and VMF Paris. Brochures on this theme were placed at the guests’ disposal.

The Neemrana Music Foundation

The Neemrana Music Foundation is a registered, national non-profit, nonpartisan educational organisation in the field of classical music that aims to build bridges of understanding between different cultures. It has been a pioneer in introducing the genre of Opera in India, imparting music education and awarding scholarships to young Indian singers and musicians to study in India or abroad. Among its many goals, it is working towards creating an opera repertoire for performances in India and abroad with trained Indian and foreign singers and musicians.

Henri Prévost-Allard

Henri Prévost-Allard is Deputy Mayor for Tourism of the French city of Saint-Tropez. He is a descendent of General Jean-François Allard, who served Maharaja Ranjit Singh from 1822 till his death in 1839 while defending Punjab on an official assignment. He has thus also descended from Bannu Pan Dei, Princess of Chamba, who married General Allard in 1825. Historian and writer, he has been working towards creating closer ties between India and France for over twenty years, especially between the General’s native city of Saint-Tropez and Punjab and the Sikh community.

Bobby Singh Bansal

Bobby Singh Bansal’s desire to learn more about his Sikh heritage was triggered by a chance visit to Lahore in 1989. He started researching about Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his reign almost immediately, his journey taking him all over the world from Lahore to London to Texas. His book, The Lion’s Firanghis: Europeans at the Court of Lahore, charts the careers of former soldiers and mercenaries of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to Punjab. He has also made an award-winning documentary, “Sikhs of Kabul: A Forgotten Community”, followed by another on Burmese Sikhs.

Vijay Singh

Vijay Singh, a Paris-based Indian film-maker, screenplay-writer and novelist, has written and directed four acclaimed films, of which “Man and Elephant” was awarded the Grand Prix La Titine (2002) in Switzerland. He is also the recipient of the Leonardo da Vinci Award for screenplay writing and the Prix Villa Médicis hors les murs for foreign Literature in 1990. He is currently working on Mademoiselle France Pleure, a feature-length documentary bringing to the fore what Indian soldiers lived through on the Western Front, using rare film footage, photographs, portraits, Indian war songs, some 600 letters written home by the soldiers, and interviews with their descendants.

Aman Nath

Aman Nath, a historian by education, has co-written and authored thirteen large-format illustrated books on art, history, architecture, corporate biography and photography, two of which have won national awards. He was the youngest founder-member of INTACH and has been actively involved in the restoration of India’s lesser-known architectural ruins. He is the co-founder of the Neemrana ‘non-hotel’ Hotels, which were nominated in 2004 for the Aga Khan Award, and have won awards from UNESCO, as well as National Awards from the Government of India.

Last modified on 18/09/2015

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