Maharajah Sir Lakhmishwar Singh, G.C.I.E., of Darbhanga, who was only in his forty-third year at the time of his death in 1898, was in every sense the best type of the Indian nobleman and landlord. He was the leading zemindar in Bihar, where he owned no less than 2,152 square miles (5,570 km2) with a net yearly rental of 30 lakhs, and was the recognized head of the orthodox Hindu community. His philanthropy and his munificent contributions to all public movement won him the esteem of all classes and creeds. He took an active part in public life and enjoyed a high reputation as a progressive and liberal minded statesman. With but slight interruptions he was a member of the Supreme Legislative Council from the year 1883 until his death, and latterly he sat in that body as the elected representative of the non-official members of the Bengal Council. Few Asiatics have combined more successfully in themselves the apparently incompatible characteristics of East and West.
– Cotton, H.E.A.
Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh of Darbhanga (महाराजा लक्ष्मेश्वर सिंह्) (September 25, 1858 to December 17, 1898) was the King of Darbhanga in State of Bihar, India. He was best known[by whom?] as one of the most munificent of living philanthropists of his time. His philanthropic works, administrative abilities and management of his estate (Raj Darbhanga) were models followed by others in India. His contribution to upliftment and modernizing Indian Society is, sadly, unrecognized by the Indian Government.
Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh was the eldest son of Maharaja Maheshwar Singh of Darbhanga. Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh was only 2 years old when his father died in 1860. The British Government placed the estate of Darbhanga under Court of Wards since the heirs to the estate were minors. He was placed under the tutorship of Mr. Chester Macnaghten who later served as the founding Principal of the oldest Public school in India, the Rajkumar College, Rajkot from 1870 to 1896.
For the next 19 years, till he attained majority, he was caught in political one-upmanship between his mother, who was supported by family priests, and the Tutors appointed by the British Government, who wanted him to be free from Zenana influence. He along with his younger brother Rameshwar Singh (who became Maharaja of Darbhanga after Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh’s death) received a western education from Government appointed tutors as well as a traditional Indian education from a Sanskrit Pandit, one of his uncles, a Maulvi and a Bengali gentleman. During the period when Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh was under the guardianship of the Court of Wards, he received a monthly allowance of Rs.5 a month even though the annual income of his estate was equivalent to a six digit figure in pounds sterling.
On attaining his majority, Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh devoted himself entirely to public duties of his position as Maharaja. He was appointed and served as a Member of the Legislative Council of the Viceroy, and took a leading part in the debates of that body. During the lengthened discussions on the important Bengal Tenancy Bill, he acted (in conjunction at first with the lamented patriot, Kristodas Pal, and subsequently with the Raja Piari Mohan Mukharji, (C.S.I.) as the representative of the landowners of Bengal and Behar and received warm recognition of the ability and moderation he brought to bear on this and other questions from successive Viceroys.
He was also a member of the Royal Commission on Opium of 1895, formed by British Government along with Haridas Viharidas Desai who was the Diwan of Junagadh. Royal Opium Commission consisted of 9 member team of which 7 were British and 2 were Indians and its Chairman was Earl Brassey.
Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh was outstanding champion of freedom of speech, personal and political rights. In 1898, Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh, along with W.C. Banerjee, was the only prominent Indian to publicly criticize and fight against the proposed widening of scope of section 124-A and 153-A of Indian Penal Code that was meant to suppress freedom of press in reporting news that could be deemed seditious in nature or against Government policy and insertion of section 108 in Indian Penal Code that gave right to postal authorities to seize any material that was suspected of containing matter obnoxious to section 124-A and 153-A of Indian Penal Code. Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh expired on December 17, 1898. He did not have any children and thus his younger brother Maharaja Rameshwar Singh became the Maharaja of Darbhanga.
Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh spent approximately £300,000 on relief work during the Bihar famine of 1873–74. He constructed hundreds of miles of roads in various parts of the Raj, planting them with tens of thousands of trees for the comfort of travelers, as part of generating employment for people effected by famine. He constructed iron bridges over all the navigable rivers of the Raj, and completed an elaborate system of irrigation works, for prevention of famine. The lakes, ponds, dams, and other water bodies created during his rule still exist today and form important part in irrigation in northern Bihar. In addition to the £300,000 expended in charitable relief during the Bihar famine of 1873-74, in every time of scarcity the late Maharaja’s arrangements for meeting it were on a splendid scale, and were in many cases the models for the Government measures. He built, and entirely supported, a first-class Dispensary at Darbhanga, which cost £3400; a similar one at Kharakpur, which cost £3500 ; and largely contributed to many others.
He built an Anglo-vernacular school at a cost of £1490, which he maintained, as well as nearly thirty vernacular schools of different grades; and subsidized a much larger number of educational institutions.
Most of the late Maharaja’s munificence was devoted to objects of charity pure and simple, such as famine relief, medical aid, and the like. But he also contributed very largely to objects of general public utility — as, for instance, in the gift of Rs.50,000 to the funds of the Imperial Institute. It was computed that during his possession of the Raj an aggregate sum of something like two millions sterling was expended on charities, works of public utility, and charitable remissions of rent.
The late Maharaja devoted special attention to all agricultural improvements, and especially to improvements in the breeds of horses and cattle in Bihar. He was a liberal patron of the turf, and was the owner of the largest and most valuable racing stud in India. He was also a keen sportsman.
The Maharaja was also one of the founders of Indian National Congress as well as one of the main financial contributor thereto.
He got Anand Bagh Palace ( also called Lakshmivilas Palace, after him ) built at Darbhanga, with its immense stables, its botanical and zoological gardens, and its many beautiful surroundings, also became well known in England by the sketches that appeared in the London illustrated papers. This Palace was donated by his nephew Maharaja Kameshwar Singh to the Government for establishment of a University to promote the Sanskrit language. This palace is now the head office of Maharaja Kameshwar Singh Sanskrit University, but however, the botanical and zoological garden surrounding it have vanished due to official apathy.
On the occasion of the Jubilee of the reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty the late Maharaja Bahadur was created a Knight Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire; and in 1897, He was created a Knight Grand Commander of the same Most Eminent Order.
Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh expired at a young age. As a mark of honour to him, British Governor commissioned Edward Onslow Ford to make a statue of Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh. This statue is installed at Dalhousie Square in Kolkata.