Ram Singh Malam

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Ram Singh Malam[a] was a navigator, architect and craftsman from 18th century Kutch region (now Kutch district, Gujarat) of India. When his ship got wrecked on a voyage, he was rescued by a Dutch ship which brought him to Holland. He learned several European craft skills there, which were introduced to Kutch upon his return. Despite being patronised by the ruler of Kutch for whom he built palaces including Aina Mahal and memorials, he is celebrated as a maritime folk hero whose artistic influence is still found in the region.

Early life

Ram Singh Malam was probably born in Okhamandal[b] region at the beginning of 18th century in a Wagher caste and started seafaring from an early age.[1][2][3][4]

At a young age, he lost his ship in a storm during a voyage to Africa and was rescued by a Dutch ship on the way to Holland (now Netherlands).[2][3] On the way, they were attacked by pirates but survived. He reached Holland with them and stayed for around 18 years.[3] There, he learned several European craft skills including glassblowing, architecture, stone carving, clock making, tile work, enamel work, gun-casting and foundry work.[1][4][5][6]

Return to India

He returned to India when he was in his thirties[2][3] and met several princes, but none were interested in his skills. He went to Mandvi in Kutch where his skills were appreciated by the locals. There, he met the Jadeja ruler of Kutch, Maharao Lakhpatji, in Bhuj who took him into service. He established a workshop of enamel work at his palace and the craftsmen in gold and silver all over the state were invited to learn from him.[2][5][7][8] When Lakhpatji sent an army against Sumraji Thakore of Tera Fort to subdue the revolt, he used the artillery set up by Ram Singh Malam. It was the first recorded use of the artillery power in the history of Kutch.[9]

With the help of the Maharao, he visited Europe twice to hone his skills. Along with some apprentices, he is said to have visited Venice and Austria. When he returned, he established a cannon foundry as well as tiles and glass factories near Mandvi where the sand suitable for production is found. There, he made clocks and minutely copied patterns of European models and figures.[7][5][8][4] He also established a handicraft school in Bhuj.[5] He was granted an estate of Kalyanpur village near Mundra by the Maharao for his service. He died of old age.[2][5][10][11]

Architecture and legacy

Ram Singh Malam is celebrated as a maritime folk hero and songs written on him are still sung in coastal regions of Gujarat.[5] His influence on the architecture and decoration of Kutch can be still found.[1] His technique of enamel work is now known as 'Kutch work'. The pieces created in his workshop are now housed in various museums.[3]

He designed and decorated Aina Mahal (lit. Palace of Mirrors) in Bhuj for the Maharao Lakhpatji which cost eight million koris. It was built in Indo-European style and decorated with glasses, mirrors and China tiles and also had a pleasure hall; the palace is now converted into a museum storing a "europeanerie"[c] collection including clocks, wares, mechanical toys, paintings and pictures.[12][13][4] He also designed the Old Palace built in Mandvi and the memorial cenotaphs of Deshalji and Lakhpatji in Bhuj.[2] These constructions demonstrate European influence in design and decoration. His characteristic sign in the architecture was merrymaking dutch boys with wine bottles and cups from whom he learned his skills. These buildings were damaged in the subsequent earthquakes.[2][5][6][10]


  1. ^ Alternative names include Ramsinh and Ramsang Malam. Malam literally means navigator.
  2. ^ Now part of Devbhoomi Dwarka district, Gujarat
  3. ^ An 18th century obsession of European things among the Indian nobles is called "europeanerie".


  1. ^ a b c Rushbrook Williams 1958, p. 138.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sastri, K. A. Nilakanta (1959). "Ram Singh Malam of Mandvi". Journal of the Assam Research Society. Kamarupa Anusandhan Samiti (The Assam Research Society). XIII: 19–21. OCLC 565646864.
  3. ^ a b c d e Parikh, Pravinchandra (January 2002). Thaker, Dhirubhai (ed.). ગુજરાતી વિશ્વકોશ [Gujarati Encyclopedia] (in Gujarati). XV. Ahmedabad: Gujarati Vishwakosh Trust. p. 806. OCLC 248968453.
  4. ^ a b c d Jethi, Pramod; London, Christopher W. (2000). "A Glorious Heritage: Maharao Lakhpatji and the Aina Mahal". In London, Christopher W. (ed.). The Arts of Kutch. Mumbai: Marg Publications and National Centre for the Performing Arts. pp. 48–61. ISBN 8185026483. OCLC 44835875 – via EBSCOHost.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Vashi, Ashish; Mehta, Harit (2010-02-20). "Gujarati Sindbad built Aina Mahal". The Times of India. Retrieved 2019-02-07.
  6. ^ a b Mehta, Makrand (2009). "Ports and Maritime Trade of Kutch". History of International Trade and Customs Duties in Gujarat. Vadodara: Darshak Itihas Nidhi. p. 55. OCLC 439922062.
  7. ^ a b Rushbrook Williams 1958, pp. 138-139.
  8. ^ a b Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Cutch, Palanpur, and Mahi Kantha. Printed at the Government Central Press. 1880. pp. 116, 143. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  9. ^ Lethbridge, Roper (1893). The Golden Book of India: A Genealogical and Biographical Dictionary of the Ruling Princes, Chiefs, Nobles, and Other Personages, Titled Or Decorated, of the Indian Empire. London: Macmillan. p. 274. OCLC 3104377.
  10. ^ a b Rushbrook Williams 1958, p. 140.
  11. ^ "કચ્છમાં છેક અઢારમી સદીમાં ઉદ્યોગ સ્થાપવાનું સપનું માલમે જોયું હતું" [A Malam had dreamed an establishment of the industry in Kutch in 18th century]. NavGujarat Samay (in Gujarati). 2018-08-22.
  12. ^ Rushbrook Williams 1958, pp. 140-142.
  13. ^ Watson, Paul (2001-02-11). "Treasures of India's Royal Past Among Quake Losses". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-03-26.


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