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Town set to celebrate last maharaja

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A festival to celebrate the legacy and story of the last Maharaja of the Sikh empire is set to take place next month in Thetford.

The Festival of Thetford and Punjab will explore Duleep Singh, his family and how they have influenced Thetford and the surrounding area to mark the 125th anniversary of his death.

Thetford Town Council has joined up with the Essex Cultural Diversity Project (ECDP), who were awarded a £79,900 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to organise the festival

Indi Sandhu, creative director of the ECDP, said: "It is a great collaboration that first came about after the release of the film 'The Black Prince', which tells the story of Duleep Singh, we approached the town council about doing something special.

"We originally looked at a one week event, but after the idea of linking it to Thetford River Day it became a two week festival and we have some big names coming."

Events will include award winning broadcaster, comedian, writer and chef, Hardeep Singh Kohli at Thetford Library, Bend It Like Beckham film director Gurinder Chadha in conversation, a Punjabi cuisine demonstration with chef Paul Singh Babra at the Thomas Paine Hotel and a lecture on Sikh Relics and Artefacts at the town's Guildhall.

The festival will commence on July 7, with the opening of the Duleep Singh special exhibition at the Ancient House Museum and the unveiling of the painting 'Casualty of War: Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh ' by renowned British Sikh artists, The Singh Twins.

The painting will be on displayed there until December and has been loaned to the museum by National Museums Scotland.

Mayor Roy Brame who will officially open the festival after the unveiling, said: "This festival puts Thetford on an international stage and I for one am greatly looking forward to it.

"I hope the people of Thetford will get behind it as it is going to be a great event and is such great promotion of our town."

A grand procession through King Street to Butten Island on July 21 will close the festival and feature the UK’s leading traditional Punjbi Dance Troupe Jugnu Bhangra, Folk Dance Remixed, Morris dancers, King Gurcharan Mall Dhol Blasters and Rani Giddha Female Dancers.

Demonstrations of Ghatka Punjabi Sikh Martial Arts, as well as storytelling by Seema Anand, an Indian food stall and henna hand painting will also be part of the finale.

Indi said: "There are similarities and connections between Norfolk and the Punjab, both are very agricultural lands and also share a history of Duleep Singh.

"We hope people from all over will come enjoy what the festival has to offer and learn about these connections as well as the culture of the Punjab."

For a full list of events during the festival, go to leapinghare.org or essexcdp.com/event/ftap