“We are going to take up the restoration"
An NGO in India has resumed a restoration project to preserve the 200-year-old tomb of a French soldier on the outskirts of Delhi.
French soldier Major Jean Etienne is believed to have served for three decades in the mercenary army of Begum Samru.
Etienne died in 1821 at the age of 75.
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is working on the restoration. INTACH is one of the largest heritage organisations in the world.
The tomb of Etienne stands in the middle of a park in Gurgaon, southwest of New Delhi.
However, as a result of decades of neglect, the tomb is worn out and forgotten by locals.
The epitaph, now faded, reads:
“He served Begum Sombre for thirty-five years, was a common soldier and an honest man.”
But now, the Indian NGO is working on resuming the restoration in an effort to preserve the tomb.
Major Atul Dev, convenor of the Gurgaon chapter of INTACH, said:
“The structure has been identified as one of historical, architectural, educational value as it is the only surviving tomb out of many others representing the era of the early 19th century.
“We are going to take up the restoration now that restrictions have eased during the Covid period.”
Born in 1750, Begum Samru was a legendary warrior. She became the leader of a mercenary army that saved Mughal emperor Shah Alam twice.
Mughal kings would hire European mercenaries to suppress local warriors.
Historians claim that Samru, with the given name Farzana, was the daughter of a Muslim nobleman. However, others believe her to have been an orphan growing up as a nautch dancing girl.
Known by the British as Sombre, Samru was the supreme commander of 3,000 troops in 18th century northern India. Her army included at least 100 European mercenaries.
Jean Etienne, a major in the French armed forces, served under Begum Samru for over three decades.
The estate where Etienne’s tomb is located was also owned by Begum Samru, and the memorial marks an important ruler of pre-independent India.
Speaking of the NGO’s restoration plans, a senior French diplomat said:
“It will be an interesting structure once the restoration work is complete and it will be a tourist spot too.”
Organisers are hoping to track down descendants of Major Etienne, to invite them to partake in the memorial’s inauguration ceremony upon the completion of the NGO’s restoration.