New Delhi: Historic and cultural ties between Punjab and France, especially the contribution of officials in the French army to the empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh warrior who ruled the first Sikh kingdom are now witnessing a renewed interest.
At a recent function at the French Embassy here eminent people recalled the connect of cities like Kapurthala, known for its European architecture and Lahore, the erstwhile capital of Ranjit Singh's empire with France.
The French East India Company arrived in India in 1667 and set up the first trading post in Surat.
Tracing the European nation's well known connections in Puducherry and other former French trading posts, the Ambassador of France Francois Richier recalled his country's presence in North India also.
Richier gave the example of General Jean-Francois Allard, who was born in Saint-Tropez in France and entered the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and later married a Hindu princess.
The French ambassador said he hoped that the French tourist coming to India should surely visit Punjab and discover the unique ties.
"Heritage issues can foster the relation between both the countries. I would want that the French tourist will go to Punjab and discover the connection between both the countries," Richier said.
Copies of 19th century portraits of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, General Allard and his wife the originals of which are preserved in French collections ? were also displayed at the event.
General Allard served the Maharaja from 1822 till his death in 1839, travelling extensively to various cities of the country including Kashmir, Kolkata. He married the Princess of Chamba Bannu Pan Dei, with whom he had seven children.
Henri Prevost-Allard, Deputy Mayor of Saint-Tropez and a descendant of General Allard, presented the memoirs of his grandfather along with the cooperation projects linking his city to India.
He also expressed the desire to build a statue of the Maharaja, General Allard and his wife in Saint Topez.
Bobby Singh Bansal, a British author of "The Lion's Firanghis: Europeans at the Court of Lahore", which charts the careers of former soldiers and mercenaries of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to Punjab and who conducted research on Sikh heritage and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the French officials trained the Sikh army and matched them to the European standards.
"The bond between the French and Maharaja Ranjit Singh was very unique. It was General Allard and General Ventura who were the first to arrive in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and within five weeks of their arrival, the entire Sikh army was transformed to the European standards," Bansal said.
Numerous soldiers from Punjab, famed for their courage, travelled to Europe to fight alongside the Allies during the Great War which were highlighted in filmmaker Vijay Singh's presentation along with visuals from the period.
"The Fauj-e-Khaas was an elite unit of the Sikh army. The French officials stayed in the court of the Lahore until the empire collapsed and was taken over by the Britishers. The unique relationship between the French and the Maharaja created fabrics within the Durbar," Bansal said.
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 was also on display.
The programme here was organised by the French Embassy in association with The Neemrana Music Foundation and French Heritage in India.