CECI n'est pas EXECUTE Anne-Colombe Launois-Chauhan

Anne-Colombe Launois-Chauhan

PhD Student
Institutional affiliation(s): EHESS

Professional contact information



Dissertation director: Denis Matringe

PhD program: EHESS - History and Civilization

Initial registration: 2011


Images of an Indian Royal Family. The Sikh Dynasty of Patiālā and its Fortified Palace, 18th to 19th century


In 1850, right after the second and particularly bloody Anglo-Sikh war (1848-1849), Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India, had almost all the forts in Punjab razed to the ground so they could not serve as gathering points for future insurrections. The only ones spared were the few forts used by the British and their local allies, including that of the kings of Patiala, the Qilā Mubārak (from the Persian qilaʿ-i mubārak, “the blessed fort”), which is remarkable because of its numerous wall paintings. Up until that time, the landscape in terms of military architecture in Punjab must have been that of a region peppered with forts, something similar to present-day Rajasthan. The Princely States who shared this territory in the colonial period, as part of the Rajputana federation, were indeed never conquered by the British military and were governed indirectly until 1947. The Qilā Mubārak is therefore one of the rare vestiges of Punjabi fortifications of the 18th and 19th centuries, but it came under threat once again after the independence of India because of urban development projects linked to the extension of the bazars occupying the overcrowded old quarter of the city which surrounds it. It was not classified as a historical monument by the region until 1964, through a decree passed by the Punjabi Government (the Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act), followed by a Federal Government decree in 1994.

This historical research project proposes to study Sikh royalty as it was made manifest in the Patiala realm in the 18th and 19th centuries, in light of the wealth of evidence offered by the Qilā Mubārak, be it through its architecture or its iconographic program. This fort, on which construction began in 1763, bears first of all witness to the history of the Sikh dynasty of Patiala founded by Ālā Singh (1695-1765). Its numerous wall paintings bring into question the way in which the Sikh kings of Patiala, who had themselves represented in the wall paintings of their fortified palace, intended to manifest their function, stage their authority and write the course of their dynasty. In connection with the royal ideology of these sovereigns, a number of other paintings are also open to interpretation: the many images inspired by Hindu mythology, in comparison to the less frequent representations that allude to Sikhism, and furthermore, the series of images that refer to pan-Indian legends on the one hand, and to stories from Punjabi oral tradition on the other. Finally, from a broader comparative perspective that looks at the paintings of the Patiala fort and those of the forts of other former realms of Northwest India, a local painting school can be defined by looking at how the artists moved around, what their original schools were and what role was played by Patiala royal patronage. Beyond this, the ultimate aim is to revise the overall vision of Sikh history and arts in the 18th and 19th centuries, which still bears the mark of the British colonization of India and is largely focused on King Raṇjīt Singh of Lahore during his reign from 1799 to 1839. The Qilā Mubārak heritage reminds us that Sikh art was also flourishing on the other side the Sutlej River (which served as a border between the Lahore realm and colonized India) more than thirty years before Raṇjīt Singh took the throne in Lahore.




2018 (forthcoming) | “Le corps dévoilé de Draupadī: visible et invisible, Peintures murales au Qilā Andarūn, Patiala (Panjab), Inde du nord, 18e-19e siècles,”inAnna Caiozzo, Françoise Laurent (ed.), Le corps entre visible et invisible, Clermont-Ferrand, Paris, Centre de Recherche sur les Littératures et la Sociopoétique, Université Paris 7-Diderot,Champion [Proceedings of the March 2015 Symposium entitled: “Le corps entre visible et invisible” as part of the Idex project “Identités, Cultures, Territoires,” Paris 7-Diderot and the Centre de Recherches sur les Littératures et la Socio-poétique, Clermont-Ferrand]

2018 (forthcoming) | “Une œuvre au noir: signature d'un peintre méconnu de l'école de Patiala (Panjab), Inde du nord, 18e-19e siècles,” in Anna Caiozzo, Isabelle Bretthauer and François Rivière (ed.), Les métiers de l'écrit à la marge, entre Orient et Occident, Valenciennes, Presses universitaires de Valenciennes[Proceedings of the June 2015 Symposium entitled “Les métiers de l'écrit à la marge, entre Orient et Occident,” part of the Idex project “Métiers et professions dans l'Europe des XVe-XVIIIe siècles,” Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle and Paris 7-Diderot]

2017 | “La chambre des reines: peintures et pouvoirs au Qilā Mubārak, Patiala (Panjab),” in Sylvie Taussig (ed.), Arts et pouvoir, Inde et Iran contemporain, on the research and dissemination space of the journal Implications philosophiques

2015 | “Reflets du pouvoir féminin au cœur d’une royauté de l’Inde du nord: les peintures murales du fort royal de Patiala (Panjab), 18e-19e s,” Journal Asiatique303.2, pp. 303-314 [Proceedings of the conference entitled “Les courtisanes, les inspiratrices et la culture dans les sociétés orientales”organized by the Société Asiatique,the Collège de Franceand the Centre de Recherche sur les civilisations de l'Asie orientale(CNRS-UMR8155) and the Unité Proche-Orient - Caucase(CNRS-UMR7192) in May 2014]

2007 | “Essence du pouvoir de Patiâlâ: les estrades royales du Qila Mubârak,” in Arts Asiatiques, tome 62 (2007), pp. 46-62

2003 | “The Khalsa Heritage Complex: a Museum for a Community?”in New Insights into Sikh Art, Mumbai, Marg, 2003, pp. 134-146



Last update: 23 November 2017 (NG)




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