Thursday, July 1, 2010

Notes from the Lahore Gazetteer

Odd little mistakes in the Gazetteer of the Lahore District 1883-1884. (No author given, just an anonymous "Editor." The Editor does state, near the beginning, that he's used Kipling and Thornton's earlier accounts of Lahore. The book was reprinted by a Pakistani press in the 1990s)

Describing Ranjit Singh’s Samadhi:

The door jambs of the shrine itself were originally a very finished example of inlaid work of the same delicate character as that in the palace above. The ceilings are elaborately decorated with tracery in stucco inlaid with small convex mirrors. The marble arches of the interior were in a dangerous state when Sir Donald McLeod, then Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, had them strengthened with brick and chunam and clamped with iron. The visitor will generally find priests reading the Granth, or Sikh scriptures, a huge volume over which a chauri is reverentially waved, or chanting to the accompaniment of the sitar. In the centre is a raised stone platform on which is a marble lotus flower, surrounded by eleven smaller ones. The central flower covers the ashes of the Maharaja, the others those of four wives and seven slave girls who perished on his funeral pyre. In small niches in the side walls are to be seen images of the ordinary Hindu gods, to abolish which was one of the original objects of the Sikh faith. On the further side of the Mausoleum are two other domed buildings containing similar but less costly memorials of Kharak Singh and Nau Nihal Singh. Below the Mausoleu of Ranjit Singh by the side of the road leading from the Roshnai Gate to the external plain is the Shrine of Arjun Mal, the fifth Sikh Guru, and the compiler of the Adi Granth which now forms the principal portion of the Sikh Scriptures. Here, according to Sikh tradition, the sage miraculously disappeared beneath the waters of the Ravi, which in the time of Jahangir flowed under the fort walls. A more prosaic legend says that he holy man committed suicide to escape the enmity of Chandu Shah the Prime Minister of the Emperor. (176)

Wait, what? Suicide? Chandu Shah?

Sitar music?

Marble lotus flower?

Where is he getting this stuff from? [Need to check on the history of the death of Guru Arjun. Interestingly, there is that account by a Spanish priest of Guru Arjun’s death in 1604, so there is room for debate here]

More architectural detail:

Aurangzeb built a massive quay, called the Band of Alamgir, to protect the city from the floods of the Ravi. It succeeded in changing the course of the river, which now runs away from the city.

The remains of the quay, or Band of Alamgir, as it is called are still traceable between the north-east end of the fort, and the village of Bhogiwal.

The Jama Masjid:

But the great work of this period is the Jama Masjid, or Musalman Cathedral, the most striking building at Lahore, whose white marble domes and almost colossal minarets may be seen for miles, --a building said by some to have owed its origin to the Emperor’s pious remorse for the murder of his brother, Dara Shikoh, and by others to a desire to eclipse the beauties of the Mosque of Wazir Khan. (161)

The editor of the Gazetteer was really underwhelmed by the Sikh contribution to the architecture of the city, which was witnessed by an unnamed British visitor in ruins in 1809 (“I visited the ruins of Lahore, which afforded a melancholy picture of fallen splendour.”)

The domination of a peasant race, of martial habits, under a sovereign ignorant of the alphabet, is not encouraging to the development of architectural taste; nevertheless Ranjit Singh, unlettered and unpolished as he was, had an idea that architecture was a good thing. Accordingly, he stripped the Muhammadan tombs of their marble facings, and sent them to adorn the Sikh temple at Amritsar. He restored the Shalamar Gardens, which had gone to ruin during the troublous times of Ahmad Shah; but at the same time laid ruthless hand upon the marble pavilions by the central reservoir, and substituted structures of brick and plaster in their stead. He turned the sarai, which separated the Fort and Palace from the Jama Masjid into a private garden, and placed therein the marble edifice which remains to this day the architectural che-d’oeuvre of his reign—an example of judicious spoliation and hybrid design. Besides the above, a few unsightly temples to Siva erected in honour of a favorite wife or dancing girl, and some tasteless additions to the fort, comprise all the architectural works of Ranjit Singh at Lahore. One of the latest specimens of Sikh architecture is the Mausoleum of Ranjit Singh himself, his son and grandson. The building is, as usual, in design, substantially Hindu, over laid with Muhammadan details, and does not bear close inspection; but the effect at a distance is not unpleasing. Within, a lotus, carved in marble, set beneath a canopy, marks the spot where the ashes of the Lion of Lahore are laid; around it are eleven smaller ones, in memory of those who burned themselves upon his funeral pyre. (162)

The architectural impression left by the city. For the most part the city is unimpressive to the Editor. But from some angles he likes it:

But on the east, four minarets inlaid with colured porcelain work strike the eye, and on its northern aspect, where the Mosque of Aurangzeb, with its large bulb-like domes of white marble and colossal minarets of red sandstone, the Mausoleum of Ranjit Singh, with its curvilinear roof and details half-Muhammadan, half-Hindu, and lastly the once brilliantly enameled front of the palace of the Mughals stand side by side overlooking a broad and grassy plain—Lahore can even now show an architectural coup d’oeil worthy of an imperial city. Within the city walls the streets are narrow and winding, but some of them, from the overhanging balconies of wood curiously carved and coloured, the striped awnings over the shop-fronts, and the gay costumes of the population, are highly picturesque; while the streamers of bright coloured clothes hung at intervals across from balcony t balcony prove the wondrous dyes of Kathea, which moved the warriors of Alexander to admiration, are not altogether things of the past. (165)

Mosque of Wazir Khan.

The Mosque of Wazir Khan was built on the site of the tomb of an old Ghaznivide saint in AD 1634 by Hakim Aliuddin, a Pathan of Chiniot, who rose of the position of Wazir in the reign of Shahjehan. It is remarkable for the profusion and excellence of the inlaid pottery decorations in the paneling of the walls. Local legend says that artists were sent expressly from China to execute the work; but there is no historical authority for this, nor is there any trace of Chinese style in either the design or the execution. Its origin is manifestly Persian, and the descendents of the craftsmen employed to this day pride themselves on their Persian origin. It will be observed that in these arabesques each leaf and each detached portion of the white ground is a separate piece of pot or tile, and that the work is strictly inlay and not painted decoration. The panels of pottery are set in hard mortar. In the mosque itself are some very good specimens of Perso-Indian arabesque painting on the smooth chunam walls. The work, which is very freely painted and good in style, is true fresco painting, the buono fresco of the Italians, and like the inlaid ceramic work, is now no longer practiced, modern native decoration being usually fresco secco or mere distempter painting. (173-174)

The British pride themselves on being practical and work-oriented, not on symbolic grandeur – though in the end, they clearly admire people who have a flair for grandeur more than people who don’t. They like walking in former palaces, and then converting them to post offices.

The stern necessities of English military life have had no reverence for the relics of departed greatness, and there is only one part of the Fort and Palace which is not put to some practical modern use. This is the Saman Burj. Saman is an abbreviation of musamman, octagonal. (178-179)

The Museum and the Zamzamah.

The Central Museum is near the Anarkulli gardens, and adjoins the premises of the General Post Office. The building was hastily constructed for the Punjab exhibition of 1874, and was not intended to be permanent; but want of funds has prevented hitherto the erection of a more suitable structure. On a revised platform immediately in front fo the entrance will be observed an ancient piece of ordnance. This is the famous gun, Zamzamah, known by the Sikhs as the Bhangian-wali Top. The gun is one of the largest specimens of native casting in India, and was made in AD 1761 by Shah Ali Khan, Wazir of Ahmad Shah Durrani, by whom it was used at the battle of Panipat. After the departure of Ahmad Shah the gun was left in possession of the Sikh Sardards of the Bhangi Misl (whence its name Bhangian wali Top) and came to be regarded by them as a talisman of supremacy. Ranjit Singh eventually possessed himself of it, and it was employed by him at the siege of Mooltan in AD 1818. From that date until removed in 1860 it was placed at the Delhi gate of the city of Lahore; it is still regarded by many as an incarnation of Mahadeo. The inscription on the gun opens as follows:

By order of the Emperor (Ahmad Shah) Dur-i-Duran Shah Wali Khan, the Wazir, made this gun named Zamzamah, the taker of strongholds. The work of Shah Nazr.



Since 1869 Lahore has been the head-quarters of Freemasonry in the Punjab. The District Grand Lodge has a commodious and handsomely furnished hall, situated between the Agra Bank and the High School in Anarkalli—popularly known as the Jadughar or witchcraft house. There are 22 subordinate lodges in the Punjab with a toal membership of over 600 masons.
Besides the usual Fund of Benevolence, maintained at above Rs. 5000, there is attached to the District Grand Lodge the Punjab Masonic Institution, supported entirely by voluntary contributions; which educates, clothes and maintains at present 24 children, orphans of indigent masons. In 1884 it had a funded capital of Rs. 42,200, which is increased year by year. The members of the society are chiefly Europeans, but include some Parsis and Muhammadans, and a few of the more enlightened sects of Hindus. (188)

Nedou’s Sindh and Punjab Hotel
Caversham Boarding House
New Victoria Hotel
Clark’s Royal Victoria Hotel
Montgomery Hotel
Avenue Hotel
Punjab Hotel
Punjab Railway Hotel

Agra Bank
Alliance Bank of Simla
Bank of Bengal

All in Anarkali

32 Printing presses license in Lahore. 4 are government presses. 1 is the Civil and Military Gazette Press. One more press is called Punjab Trading Company’s Press.
The other 26 presses are run by Indians, with names like Pohlu Mal, Firoz uddin, Muhammad Dittu, Hira Nand, Gulab Singh, Budha Mal, Sawan Singh, Nadir Ali, Muhammad Hafiz, Munshu Harsukh Rai, etc.

Horse dealer. One Sarai is Muhammad Sultan’s in the Landa Bazar near the railway statin. Also another (Muhammad Shafi’s) in Anarkali, and a third (Ratan Chand Dhariwala’s) outside the Shah Alami Gate.

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