Sunday, 1 June 2014

Gujranwala: Birthplace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Samadhi of Mahan Singh and A Jain Mandir

Gujranwala is a big but comparatively a new city. Though settlements existed in this area for long time, but the foundations of the modern city were laid down in 1758, when Charat Singh constructed a small mud fort at Sirai Kambohaan

He was sardar of Sukerchakia Misl and grandfather of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. 18th century was a period of turmoil in Punjab. Foreign invasions by Nadir Shah and then Ahmad Shah Abdali, ravaged the whole region from Indus to Jamuna and the authority of Mughals totally collapsed by 1750s. Sikhs were already active and made full use of this anarchy and in 1760s quickly emerged as the supreme force in Punjab. Especially the central Punjab fell to their control. Even Lahore was captured by Sikhs on 16th May, 1764. Then except for a few months in 1767 and later for a few days in 1797, it remained in control of Bhangi Misl. Misls were twelve independently operating Sikh groups, under different warlords, active in different regions of Punjab. One of them was Sukherchakia Misl, based at Gujranwala and controlling surrounding areas, and constantly at war with neighbouring Muslim chiefs like Chatthas etc and also with other Sikh or Hindu chiefs. In these circumstances Ranjit Singh was born on 13th November, 1780 and at the death of his father Mahan Singh in April, 1790, he though just a boy, became the sardar of his Misl. His rise was quick and by 1799 he occupied Lahore and by 1809 wrested the control of all the areas west of Sutlej from other Sikh Misls. By a treaty in the same year River Sutlej was agreed upon as the border between the British India and his state. So he changed his focus to other directions and by the time he died in 1839, the whole of present day Pakistani Punjab (except Bahawalpur State), most of KP and Kashmir was conquered by him.

Sikhs rightly take a great pride in the rise of Ranjit Singh, being the greatest ruler they ever produced. Though, Muslims don’t have many fond memories of the Sikh Rule. But, one thing is certain that he brought a certain degree of stability to Punjab and ended the anarchy and depredations of Sikh Misls and Afghans and was tolerant towards other religions as well. Because of the strong state that he created due to his immense talents and energy, he is often called Sher-e-Punjab or the Lion of Punjab. 

In search of some traces of the family of Ranjit Singh I reached Gujranwala on 16.03.2011. Our first destination was Sheranwala Bagh, the Garden of Lions. Ruins of a house can still be seen there. At that time I thought these ruins to be the residence and birthplace of Maharaja  Ranjit Singh. But later on found that to be incorrect. Actually a big haveli exists inside the old city, which is probably the residence of his family. In the bagh we talked to some idle sitting old gentlemen and one of them pretended to be the authority on the affairs related to Ranjit Singh, but even he did not mention this haveli, which was just half a kilometer away. The ruins in Sheranwala Bagh are located at 32° 09' 21.17" N, 74° 11' 18.81" E.

A general view of the Sheranwala Bagh. (16.03.2011)

 Old ruins, with a mosque in the background. (16.03.2011)

A fountain in the garden. (16.03.2011)

A view of the ruins in Sheranwala Bagh. (16.03.2011)

View from inside. (16.03.2011)

View from the northern side. (16.03.2011)

Fast decaying building. (16.03.2011)

Just outside the Sheranwala bagh near the north eastern corner and visible from the garden itself, is the Samadhi of Mahan Singh (died 1790), father of Ranjit Singh. It is located at 32° 09' 23.21" N, 74° 11' 19.67" E. The access is through a lane on the backside of shops on main GT road. When I visited this place, it was close and the owner could not be found. It was being used as a store. Needless to say that the building though still strong, is in urgent need of repair. And more important is to clear the encroachments on all sides. Yes, I know it is a wishful thinking. This is how we treat historical monuments.

View of the samadhi of Mahan Singh, father of Ranjit Singh from the garden. (16.03.2011)

View from the lane. (16.03.2011)

Another view from the lane. (16.03.2011)

But the real discovery came afterwards, when I found the Samadhi of Charat Singh, grand father of Ranjit Singh, died 1774. This is not a well known place and few people know about its existence. Because a police station exists in its premises, known as thana Sabzi Mandi. It is also on the GT road,nearly a kilometer south of Sheranwala Bagh, on the main GT Road. My cousin Sahibzada Shah Sultan had to make a few calls here and there, before we were allowed inside. There behind the main gate, in the courtyard stands the beautiful building of the Samadhi. Right in the Samadhi, the thanedar sahib was sitting, on a table and chair.  He looked a little uneasy and suspicious, because we wanted to take the photographs of the building and rooms around the courtyard. But thankfully he allowed me to shoot. I quickly took some photographs and literally ran away after thanking from thanedar sahib to the sipahi on the gate. It is located at ­­­­­­­­­­32° 08' 57.06" N, 74° 11' 24.60" E.

I always welcome comments on my blog and especially cherish those which provide some additional information or suggest some correction. On 21 August, 2016 Mr Amardeep Singh commented on the post and informed me that the building I mentioned as Samadhi of Charat Singh, actually is a Jain Mandir. My source of information was Sikhipedia and a book on Sikh heritage in Pakistan, written by Bobby Singh Deol. 

Mr Amardeep Singh gave the reference of a book on Jain religion. This book clearly shows that the aforementioned building is a Jain Mandir built in memory of a great Jain scholar Shri Atmaramji. 

A short account of the life of Shrimat Vijayanan & Suri-popularly known as Shri Atmaramji

Twenty two years have gone by since the death of Shri Vijayanandsuri, the well-known Jain Sadhu of the Swetainber sect. He was born in the village of Lahara, District Ferozpur (Punjab) on the first of Chaitra Shukla in Yikram year 1893. He wras a Brahma Kshattriya by casle. His father's name was Ganeshchandra and mother's, Rupdevi. He lost his father in early childhood and was brought up by his mother. He was given in charge of Seth Jodhmal of Jira (Punjab) for education in Yikram year 1903.

He studied Hindi and Arithmetic. At times he used to visit Sthanakvasi Sadhus of the place and began to study about religion. In Vikrama 1910 he was initiated as a Sthanakvasi Sadhu. His intellect was keen : he used to commit to memory 100 verses a day. He had learnt the Shastras from the Sthanakvasi Sadhus but he began to entertain doubts as regards the interpretation as given by them. Fortunately he began to study Sanskrit Grammar and other philosophical and logical works with a Pandit.

He fearlessly gave up the Sthanakvasi doctrine and came to Ahmedabad in V. year 1932. He was initiated as a Swetamber Sadhu by Buddhivijayji, a Jain Sadhu of the place. In the V. year 1943, he went to Palitana, Kathiawar, and stayed there for four months during the rainy season. Here he was given the title of 1 Acharya' by the Sangha ; and from that time he was called by the name of Shri Vijayanandsuri.

Then he travelled on foot from Gujerat to the Punjab. During the travel he brought to light the hidden Jain Literature. The Jain Bhandars o£ different places of Rajputana were examined by him. He got many old important manuscripts fairly copied out.
For many years he lived in the Punjab. His fame spread through the different parts of the country. Many people of other sects came and discussed with him on matters of religion. He answered their arguments in a mild, courteous and dispassionate manner. His tone was inspiring, and the hearers were at times astonished at his pecular tact of answering the questions. His ideas were liberal. He was serene and calm of disposition.

Many questions on Jainism were put to him by Dr. A. F. Rudolf Hoernele through Maganlal Dalpatram in the Vikram year 1945. Dr Hoernele was greatly satisfied with the answers. He wrote to Maganlal in 1888 " Please convey to the latter (Muni Maharaj) the expression of my thanks for the great trouble he has taken to reply so promptly and so fully to my questions. His answers were satisfactory." In the introduction of the Upasakdasanga, which Dr. Hornele has edited and translated he writes " For some o£ this information I am indebted to Muni Maharaj Atmaramji, Anandvijayji, the wellknown and highly respected Sadhu of the Jain Community throughout India and author of (among others) two very useful works in Hindi."

In Vikram year 1949, he received an invitation from Chicago to attend 'the World's Parliament of Religions. On account of religious and personal restrictions he could not go, but he sent his representative, Mr. Virchand Raghavji Gandhi, B. A. to Chicago to represent Jainism at the Parliament.

He was the author of a number of works in Hindi. The important works are as follows:—
Tatwanirnaya Prasad, Jaina Tatwadarsha, Agnantimir-bhasker, Sainayktwa Shalyodhar, and Chicago-Prasnottar.

Many Jain temples were built in the Punjab by his teaching. About 15000 persons were converted to Jainism by his strenuous efforts. Many Pathshalas and Libraries were established by him in the districts of the Punjab and in different other parts of the country.
Spending his life in doing good deeds he passed away from this world in Vikram year 1953, Jyesta Shukla 13, in Gujranwala (Punjab).

The event of his death was mysterious. At midnight he got up from bed and sat in the posture of Padmasana. He called his pupils before him and said to them i Oh, Now I go, Arhan!

Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And departing leave behind us Foot prints on the sands of time.

A picture of this building is also given in the above mentioned book. Which leaves no room for any doubt that this was a Jain Mandir, dedicated to Shri Atmaramji.

The year written is Vikrama 1953, corresponds to 1896 AD. 

Another gentleman, Mr Ravinder Jain, also commented, rather bitterly, about the wrong information. He gave the date of completion of this Mandir as 1904. All I can say is that the mistake was unintentional and did not mean to disrespect to any religion. I also support the idea of this building be preserved and Jains from India or other countries should be allowed to come, visit and pray in this holy place. Currently this building is being used as a police station. Which is below the dignity of this holy place, sacred to so many people. 

Jain Mandir, decicated to Shri Atmaramji. (16.03.2011)

Jain Mandir, decicated to Shri Atmaramji. (16.03.2011)

Jain Mandir, decicated to Shri Atmaramji. (16.03.2011)

Jain Mandir, decicated to Shri Atmaramji. (16.03.2011)

Entrance of the thana (Police Station) from the from GT road. (16.03.2011)

Now question is then where is the Smadhi of Charat Singh? Here too, Mr Amerdeep has given a clue. He has given the reference of a book Umdat Ut Tawarikh and provided a link also to read this book. This books is official chronicles of the Maharaja. The link is given below:

On the pages 594 and 595, there is an account of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's journey from Qila Sobha Singh to Zafrwal, district Narowal. It is mentioned on page 595 that on 5 October, 1838, Maharaja Ranjit Singh reached the village of Jalal and visited the Smadhi of Charat Singh his grandfather. However, I could not locate this village. Other nearby villages mentioned are Halla, Chakli and Karala, these too I could not find. I hope some reader will help in locating these villages. 


Near the Sheranwala Bagh, just across the GT road a big gurdwara building is also seen. I was told that now it is occupied by dozens of refugee families and due to shortage of time could not explore it properly. 

A Sikh gurdwara complex. (16.03.2011)

Gurdwara Damdama Baba Sahib Singh Ji Bedi. (16.03.2011)

While writing this blog, I am thinking that with a little effort, Gujranwala city can be turned into a major tourist destination for the Sikhs from all around the world. Besides the above mentioned landmarks, there is a big haveli in the old city and also a beautiful rest house of Ranjit Singh. If we could preserve these buildings and advertise them properly, we can bring thousands of tourists every month. I am sure Sikhs themselves will be happy to contribute in this regard. Though Dilli is far away, but Amritsar is just 120 kms away!

I shall appreciate your comments on the above post. Similarly I most welcome your suggestions to improve it or any more information on this subject, which  I shall use with all due credit. 

Tariq Amir

June 01, 2014.
Doha - Qatar 
+974 - 552 552 36

As I mentioned above that during my last visit to Gujranwala in March, 2011, I could not find the birthplace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. So it was on my agenda to visit this city again and find the haveli of Ranjit Singh. The opportunity came after four years and during my last vacation, I was again in Gujranwala on August 12, 2015. This time I knew the exact location of the haveli and after passing through the narrow and crowded streets of the old town found myself in front of the haveli. Straight streets of the old town show the good planning of the Sikh government. For reference you may ask the way to old Sabzi Mandi (vegetable market).

The whole area is a crowded place and cars cannot enter in most of the streets. The scene in front of the haveli is even more chaotic as once empty ground is occupied by makeshift shops. Even the facade of the building is partially hidden behind newly constructed shops. A narrow stairs way, about ten steps in number, on the left side, lead to the main entrance of the building.  

 Facade of the haveli of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. (12.08.2015.)

 Main entrance of the haveli of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. (12.08.2015.)

 Another view of the haveli. (12.08.2015.)

The main entrance opens in a big hall. One can reach the courtyard by passing through this hall. The roof as we can see has been repaired in near past. Instead of old wooden roof as it must have been in the original condition, it is made of girders and slabs of cement/concrete. 

 A hall behind the main entrance. (12.08.2015.)

The courtyard is a considerably large area, surrounded by verandahs and large rooms. The whole haveli it seems was constructed on an elevated ground, almost 8 feet higher than the ground in front of the facade.
 A view of the courtyard of the haveli. (12.08.2015.)

 Inner view of haveli towards main entrance. (12.08.2015.)

 The plaque reads: (12.08.2015.)
                               Maharaja Ranjit Singh Born 2nd November, 1780.
                 جائے ولادت مہاراجہ رنجیت سنگھ صاحب بہادر                             

                             تاریخ ولادت 2 نومبر 1780ء

 Rooms in the haveli. (12.08.2015.)

 Rooms in the haveli. (12.08.2015.)

 Arches in the courtyard. (12.08.2015.)

 Verandah in the haveli. (12.08.2015.)

 A Hindu temple, as seen from the haveli. (12.08.2015.)

 A view from the above. (12.08.2015.)

 An old house adjacent to the haveli. (12.08.2015.)

Another view of the verandahs. (12.08.2015.)

Chaos in front of the haveli of Mahraja Ranjit Singh. (12.08.2015.)

The haveli, considering our damn care attitude towards historic monuments, is not in a very bad condition. Though it has lost much of its beauty. The original roofs have already been replaced by the current owner. However, it can still be protected and restored to its original glory and beauty. But who will do it and more important question is why should we restore the haveli of a Sikh despot? And sorry I would not repeat nonsense about the importance of historic monuments, culture, heritage, tourism blah blah. We have more important things to do.

Right at the moment when I was feeling satisfied that I have nearly covered all the Sikh monuments related to Maharaja in Gujranwala, I remembered that I forgot to visit the haveli of Hari Singh Nalwa, the most famous general of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. And perhaps there is one more building related to Ranjit Singh, probably a rest house. In addition to that another miss was not visiting the Sheranwala bagh, where the baradari has been very beautifully restored. So it means I shall have to visit Gujranwala again. 

Tariq Amir

September 23, 2015.
Doha - Qatar 
+974 - 552 552 36

Updated: 24.08.2016.

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