Saint Tropez and its Himachal connection: The story of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s French general and his wife, Princess Bannu

Anurag Thakur paid floral tribute to Maharaja Ranjit Singh Jean-Francois Allard (a general in Singh’s army) and Allard’s spouse Princess Bannu Pan Dei.

Minister Anurag Thakur at Saint Tropez in front of Maharaja Ranjit Singh statue.

The Indian pavilion was at the 75th Cannes International Film festival to celebrate the 75th year of independence and the Indian cinema. Union Minister Anurag Thakur was present with artists, actors, and directors representing Indian cinema. During his visit, the minister also took a boat ride to the coastal town of Saint-Topez in the French Riviera and paid a visit to Allard Square which has a historical connection to Himachal Pradesh.

The town, houses a bronze statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh that was presented by the Punjab government to the people of France. Several French generals served at the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

History of Saint-Tropez

Saint -Tropez is a fishing village that once had its own fleet and Army.  It became the first town on its coast to be liberated during World War II. During the 1920s, Saint-Tropez attracted famous figures from the fashion world such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. After the war, it became an internationally known seaside resort with artists of the French New Wave in cinema visiting the place. Gradually it became a resort for European and American jet-setters and tourists. Tropez with its Mediterranean-style climate has been the land of inspiration for artists.

Saint-Tropez Himachal connection

General Jean-Francois Allard who served both the Napolean army before the downfall and even fought the Battle of waterloo and then Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire in Punjab, belonged to Saint-Tropez. While in India, he fell in love with a Himachali princess, Bannu Pan Dei from Chamba. They married and went on to have seven children.

The general built an oriental-inspired Pan Dei Palais (a palace for his wife) as a token of love. The general left his wife and children in France fearing that if he dies, his wife will be subjected to the practice of ‘Sati’ in India. Three years later General Allard passed away in Peshawar and his wife, princess Bannu and her children continued to stay in the Saint-Tropez Palais until her death in 1884.

Residents of Saint-Tropez still love telling the romantic story of General Allard and Princess Bannu. Four generations now., the family of Princess Bannu held great respect in Saint-Tropez.

About Jean-Francois Allard, the trusted general of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

General Allard was instrumental in modernisation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army Fauj-i-Khas (special brigade), that in 1826 comprised 10,000 men in 4 infantry regiments, 3 cavalry regiments, and one unit of modern artillery. In 1827, 15,000 men were under French command in this army.

He was the first French officer along with General Ventura (an Italian), who in 1822 arrived in Lahore, was enlisted in the services of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and trained the Sikh army to meet the European standards

From 1834 to 1843, Peshawar city and the province remained under the command of Ranjit Singh’s French generals. The troops were active in the South (Sindh and Baluchistan), East (Anglo-Sikh border), and North (conquest of Himalayan states). Punjab’s victorious battle against various Jihads originating from Afghanistan was commanded by the French generals.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh had great regards for General Allard. Allard was awarded the Légion d’Honneur (French for Legion of Honour) by Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Kaukab-i-Iqbal-i-Punjab (Persian for Bright Star of Punjab) by Ranjit Singh. He continued to serve the Maharaja until his death in 1839 and was buried as per his wishes in Lahore.

Anurag Thakur paid floral tribute to Maharaja Ranjit Singh Jean-Francois Allard (a general in Singh’s army) and Allard’s spouse Princess Bannu Pan Dei.

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