Sunday 4 June 2017

Samadhi of Diwan Mulraj Chopra & A Beautiful Haveli In Alipur Chatha (Akalgarh)

Alipur Chatha also known as Akalgarh is a small town about 40 kilometers west of Gujranwala and 7 kilometers south-east of the historical city of Rasul Nagar (aka Ramnagar). The 1760s saw the rise of Sikh Power in the central Punjab including the Gujranwala district and then complete dominance for the next 90 years. During this period many forts, havelis, gurdwaras were built in this whole area. One such building is the Samadhi of Diwan Mulraj Chopra in Alipur Chatha.

Diwan Mulraj was the last governor of Sikh Empire in Multan. It was some of his actions as the governor of Multan, that precipitated a chain of events which started the second Anglo-Sikh war of 1848 – 49, which resulted in the fall of the Sikh Empire in Punjab. The Samadhi is located in southern part of the town and needless to say is in a dilapidated state. Even then one can easily imagine its beauty in its good old days.

This Samadhi is located at 32° 15' 44.34"N, 73° 48' 44.52"E. It includes a big room with a dome over it and three smaller circular structures with domes supported by beautifully designed pillars. A big square pond with each side measuring about 50 meters, exists on the west of the Samadhi. 

I could not find any information about its date of construction. However, it was probably constructed in the 1850s as Mulraj died in 1851.   I found a brief history of Diwan Mulraj and his family in a book The Panjab Chiefs” by Sir Lepel H. Griffin.

According to this book, grandfather of Mulraj, Hoshnak Rai was a Khatri of the Chopra Caste. He entered the service of Sirdar Dal Singh of Akalgarh in 1768. His eldest son Nanak Chand served the same until Sirdar’s death in 1804. Then he left his native town and entered the service of Diwan Mohkam Chand and rose to important places in the administration and later on employed in collecting the revenues of Multan and Kashmir.  Hoshnak Rai’s third son was Sawan Mal, who was born in 1788 and commenced his career in the office of his brother Nanak Chand. In 1820 he was sent to Multan on 250 Rs a month, as head of the account office, under Bhaiya Badan Hazari the governor. Due to his talents, he made rapid progress first he was made governor of half of the province in 1821 and in 1829 he was elevated to the position of the governor of the whole Multan.

Multan at that time had been mostly a desert and due to decades of war and rapine had become desolate. Sawan Mal brought in a great change and by offers of land and protection induced many of the people of neighbouring districts to settle in Multan. He excavated canals and encouraged commerce. He proved to be a wise and beneficent ruler.  

He ruled Multan without any problem till the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. After that his bitter rivals, the Rajas of Jammu Gulab Singh and Dhian Singh, started machinations against him and a demand of half a million sterling was made on him. He came to Lahore in September 1840 and settled the matters amicably. The first half of the 1840s saw a gradual deterioration of government affairs at Lahore Darbar, due to weak descendants of Ranjit Singh and rivalries of different factions in the Darbar. Sawan Mal used this period to consolidate his power in Multan and possibly to establish an independent state.

But fate had something different in store for him. A soldier was caught on the accusation of stealing and by chance, he found an opportunity to shoot Sawan Mal. This incident happened on 16th September, 1844. He could not recover from the wound and died on 29th September. Sir Griffin pays his tributes to Diwan Sawan Mal Chopra in the following words:

Diwan Sawan Mal was the best of all the Sikh governors. During the later years of the Mahraja Ranjit Singh’s life and during the reign of his successors, the Diwan was practically irresponsible; yet his great power was in no way abused. He amassed great wealth; it is true, and upward a million sterling was divided by his family after his death; but this was not wrung from the people by cruelty and oppression. The Government demand, under both Sawan Mal and his son, never exceeded one-third of the gross produce of the land, and was generally only one-fifth or one-sixth. But it was his impartiality which caused the people to regard Sawan Mal with such love.

Sawan Mal’s Samadhi exists in Multan at  30°12'1.59"N, 71°29'16.42"E, in Baba Safra locality. It was constructed by his son Mulraj. A video of his Samadhi is available at the following link: 

Mulraj succeeded his father as the governor. Earlier he had served as Kardar of Shujaabad and Jhang. But he did not enjoy the good reputation as his father did. Though he improved his disposition after becoming the governor, yet he was always unpopular with the people.

His wealth and power were also a source of anxiety for Lahore Darbar. He was demanded a Nazarana or tribute of one million Sterling by the darbar. To pressurise him two Sikh battalions were instigated to rebel against him, on the issue of pay scale. Multan troops were given a salary of seven rupees and eight annas, while an infantry soldier in Lahore army was getting eleven rupees and eight annas per month. The army mutinied on 24 November, 1844, Mulraj easily dispersed the mutineers with the help of eight battalions of Muslim soldiers under his command. After some negotiations, Mulraj agreed to pay 1.8 million Rs.

But before the affair could be practically settled; first Anglo-Sikh war started in late 1845 and matter dragged on further. After the war, Lahore Darbar sent a force against Mulraj, who finally through the mediation of Major H. Lawrence, the British Resident at Lahore, agreed to pay the tribute in October, 1846. It was agreed by him to pay an annual amount of 1,968,000 Rs as a tribute.

A general view of the water tank and the Samadhi of Diwan Mulraj Chopra.  (20.12.2016.)

Samadhi of Diwan Mulraj Chopra. (20.12.2016.)

View of the water tank. (20.12.2016.)

A closer view of the Samadhi.  (20.12.2016.)

A structure at the edge of the water tank.  (20.12.2016.)

Stairs leading to the floor of the tank.  (20.12.2016.)

A closer view of this platform like structure.  (20.12.2016.)

A side view.  (20.12.2016.)

In front of the samadhi.  (20.12.2016.)

A ramp to enter the water tank.  (20.12.2016.)

Another view.  (20.12.2016.)

The big square room with the two of the three Chhatris.  (20.12.2016.)

Samadhi buildings.  (20.12.2016.)

A view from the platform at the edge of the pond.  (20.12.2016.)

A painting inside the Samadhi.  (20.12.2016.)

A view of the Samadhi from inside.  (20.12.2016.)

Another structure about 30 meters north east of the Samadhi.  (20.12.2016.)

Another view of this smaller structure.  (20.12.2016.)

Diwan Mulraj Chopra, as depicted in a painting. (Source: Wikipedia)

However, things were not going smoothly in the affairs of the government and Mulraj informed the British Resident of his intentions to resign from his post of governor. Sirdar Khan Singh Man was appointed as the new governor, with Vans Agnew as the British Resident and Lieutenant Anderson as his assistant. These British officers reached Multan on 17th April, 1848 to take charge of their duties. They were received by Mulraj with great civility. Mulraj took them on an inspection of the fort and during this visit, they were attacked by the soldiers of Mulraj. The soldiers of the two Gurkha companies accompanying them took both of them to Idgah a strong building near the fort in which the English officers had taken up their quarters, a wounded condition. Agnews tried to contact Mulraj and asked him to explain his position on this attack. But Mulraj refused to meet him and next day on 20th April his troops opened fire on Idgah. Soon all the troops abandoned the British officers and they were killed. Mulraj praised and rewarded the murderers.

So the die was cast and the Second Anglo-Sikh war started, as the rebellion soon spread to other areas of Punjab as well. The hot weather of Multan saved Mulraj for a few months. In September the British launched their first assault on Multan from 4th to 14th September, but the small force could not take the formidable fort of Multan. After receiving reinforcements the British launched their second assault on 27 December and after a fierce fighting took the city on 2nd January, 1849. Mulraj took shelter in the citadel and finally surrendered on 22nd January, 1849.

Mulraj was sent to Lahore and put on trial for the murder of two British officers and was sentenced to death. However, the governor general Lord Dalhousie commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. He was sent to Calcutta as a prisoner where he died in 1851.

Besides this Samadhi, there are many other such historical structure. One of the them is the imposing gate of the fort of Akalgarh. 

Main gate of the Fort of Akalgarh. (20.012.2016.)

Inner view of the gate. (20.012.2016.)

Another view of the gate. (20.012.2016.)

An old house inside the city. (20.012.2016.)

A small alley with an old house. (20.012.2016.)

As I mentioned earlier, besides this Smadhi there are many old haveli inside the old city. I had had an opportunity of visiting one of them. It is very beautiful haveli in the traditional style. It is a four sided, double storey building with a courtyard in the centre. There is a veranda in front of the rooms on all the four sides. The haveli is still in a very good condition and the current owners are taking a very good care of it.

It was a busy day for the family, as they were preparing for a marriage and had some guests at home. Even then they most graciously allowed us to enter the house and see both the floors and take some pictures as well. 

A picture of the ground floor. (20.012.2016.)

A view of the upper floor from the ground floor. (20.012.2016.)

Another row of rooms on the ground floor(20.012.2016.)

Beautiful view of the first floor. (20.012.2016.)

Beautiful wood work on the first floor. (20.012.2016.)

Current owner of the house. Unfortunately, I lost his name. May be some reader in Alipur Chatha, could help in finding his name. 

A beautiful lattice, on the staircase. (20.012.2016.)

Mulraj is a very important character of our recent history, but he is totally forgotten. Now his Samadhi is nothing but neglected ruins. I am not sure about in what state are his family’s other properties in the city. There must be something left. I have seen one such beautiful haveli in the inner city. With some effort and research, a lot more can be found about Mulraj and his family. I wish somebody or some authority take some steps to preserve this Samadhi, which can be used as a small park and picnic spot with a little effort. 

With some effort, Gujranwala district can be turned into a museum of Sikh history and can give a great boost to our tourism industry. But is it possible in the near future?

Tariq Amir

June 3, 2017.
Doha - Qatar.