Explained: A love story that links Saint-Tropez to Himachal Pradesh

On Thursday, during his official visit to the Cannes Film Festival in France, Union Minister Anurag Thakur visited Place Allard in Saint-Tropez. Here, Thakur, a Lok Sabha MP from Himachal Pradesh, paid floral tributes to Maharaja Ranjit Singh (the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire), Jean-Francois Allard (a general in Singh’s army) and to Allard’s wife, Princess Bannu Pan Dei.

Not far from Cannes, Saint-Tropez has a historical link with the state of Himachal Pradesh.

The history of Saint-Tropez

Saint-Tropez was a military stronghold and a fishing village until the beginning of the 20th century. It was the first town on its coast to be liberated during World War II as part of ‘Operation Dragoon’. After the war, it became an internationally renowned seaside resort thanks to the influx of French New Wave artists to the cinema. It then became a vacation spot for European and American jet-setters and tourists.

Since the end of the 19th century, Saint-Tropez has been and still is a land of inspiration for artists. A remarkably well-preserved Mediterranean village, it attracted painters such as Signac, Matisse and Marquet, who produced major works of pointillist and Fauve painting there.

Saint Tropez link to Himachal Pradesh

General Jean-François Allard was born in Saint-Tropez. He served in Napoleon’s army and took part in the Battle of Waterloo. Forced into exile after the fall of Napoleon, he served under Maharajah Ranjit Singh in Punjab, where he felt deeply in love with Princess Bannu Pan Dei, born in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh. They married and had seven children.

When the family returned to Saint-Tropez in 1835, the general had an oriental-inspired Pan Deï Palace built as a sign of love for his wife.

The general later returned to India, leaving Princess Bannu in Saint-Tropez. He feared that if they were both in India when she died, she would have to endure the rite of sati, whereby widows are burned alive along with their dead husbands. Three years later, the general died in Peshawar.

Princess Bannu and her children remained at the Palace of Saint-Tropez until her death in 1884.

Princess Bannu Pan Dei

India’s connection to Saint-Tropez has not been lost even after four generations. Indeed, locals love to tell the romantic story of General Allard and Princess Bannu. Princess Bannu’s family is respected in Saint-Tropez.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his faithful General Allard

Allard reached Lahore, the capital of the kingdom of Punjab, in 1822. Maharaja Ranjit Singh soon sought to undertake the modernization of his army, which led them to command the Fauj-i-khas (special brigade), which in 1826 included 10,000 men divided into 4 infantry regiments, 3 cavalry regiments and a modern artillery unit. In 1827, 15,000 men were under French command in this army.

These troops were extremely active in the operations ordered by the Maharaja, towards the South (Sind and Balochistan), the North (conquest of the Himalayan states), the East (Anglo-Sikh border) and especially towards the North-West when Peshawar was annexed in 1834. One of the most dangerous and successful missions of French officers and Fauj-i-khas was the victorious battle against various jihads originating in Afghanistan and launched against Punjab.

From 1834 to 1843, the city of Peshawar and the province remained practically under the command of the French generals of Ranjit Singh.

It is said that Maharaja Ranjit Singh had such esteem and affection for Allard that it was feared to hear the news of his death would have a fatal outcome.

Union Minister Anurag Thakur at Allard Square in Saint-Tropez. He is pictured with the busts of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (left) and General Allard.

General Allard is buried, according to his wishes, in Lahore.

About Victoria Rothstein

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