Nov 4 2012
Updated Information: The source of the image above, the archive selling copies of it on their website, apparently misidentified the exquisite Winterhalter portrait. It is not the Maharani Bamba Duleep Singh whose history I initially posted, but the Coorg Princess Gowramma, also befreinded by Queen Victoria, also a Christian, and who also died tragically young! The Queen even tried to “fix her up” with Dulep Singh before he met and married Bamba Muller! So do stop to admire this Indian girl’s complete costume, and the way her saree is worn. I love the dozens of itty pleats falling from her waist, and the broad pallu wrapping around her, fastened by the gold belt. Oh, and lots of heavy jewellery too.
The Cinderella story belongs to Bamba, the girl in this sepia photograph – an illegitimate, Arabic-speaking, half-German, half-Egyptian (her mother of Abyssinian background and possibly a slave), raised by American missionaries in Egypt, married to Duleep Singh, a young and very handsome deposed Punjabi Maharaja Sikh-turned-Christian whose holdings, including the fabulous Koh-i-Noor diamond, were all confiscated by the British government. The Singhs were the darlings of Queen Victoria and her family for some time.
But the fairy-tale life of Maharani Bamba Muller Duleep Singh did not end happily ever after. Like others I’ve profiled here, wearing beautiful sarees when they were young, Bamba died before she was 40, the mother of six children who all died childless, and leaving a husband who had taken a mistress elsewhere. Life is lumpy, as a friend of mine says.