Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Maharaja’s Residence

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History has no religion. This is a simply truth that we in Pakistan seem to be unaware of. For sixty-five years the government strived very, very hard to give it a religion and the sad thing is it succeeded. Consequently, now the history of Pakistan is only what is Islamic. Hard put to ignore Mehrgarh, Harappa, Moen jo Daro and Taxila, we simply try to wish away all relics of our built heritage if they did not originate under a Muslim patron.

Now, we cannot deny that Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Nov 1780-Jun 1839) was a truly great warrior king of Punjab. Astute, highly intelligent and possessed of immense cunning to boot, this man used his mental faculties to turn the divided Sikhs into one great community. Upon attaining the throne after his father’s death in 1799, Ranjit Singh found himself ruler of a small part of Punjab. Within a few years, this remarkable man whose prowess in the battlefield matched his acumen as a statesman and diplomat had increased his sway from Kashmir to Multan and from the Jumna River to the Khyber Pass.

The Maharaja himself said, ‘My kingdom is a great kingdom: it was small, it is now large; it was scattered, broken and divided; it is now consolidated: it must increase in prosperity, and descend undivided to my posterity.’ Sadly, however, within nine years of his passing away in Lahore, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom had fallen to the British juggernaut.

At the apex of his power, the Maharaja built a beautiful home just outside the village of Ramnagar – originally Rasulnagar, as it is again; it had been re-named after the Sikhs defeated the Muslim Jatts of the town. Sitting right by the banks of the Chenab, the house took its inspiration from European architecture which had flooded Delhi some years earlier. It was a bungalow much like any Raj building of similar size.

Here were verandas on two sides, a number of side rooms and one large audience room which may also have served as the Maharaja’s living and working quarters. The east façade had a marble plaque installed by some thoughtful British civil servant after the country had been annexed. It read in English, ‘Residence of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, AD 1830-1837.’ Underneath, the same was repeated in Urdu.

In November 1991, working on my book Gujranwala: The Glory That Was, I saw this house for the first time. I was impressed by the rafters holding up the roof and the window and door jambs – every single timber being first-class teak. Outside, a veritable orchard of mango and jamun trees all but covered the beautiful house.

From the roof of his summer house, the Maharaja would have watched the Chenab flow languidly by or strain at the banks in monsoon frenzy. But now, there was a high flood protection embankment blocking the view. Nearby was a set of graves recalling the British dead of the Battle of Ramnagar fought on 22 November 1848. It was on this battlefield that the empire that Maharaja Ranjit Singh hoped would pass in its full glory to his descendents died.

Recently, I was in Rasulnagar again to digitally photograph the Maharaja’s house. Twenty-one years is a very long time between the writing of my book and the present. In this while, I had thrice returned to Rasulnagar, the last time being in 2000. Until then the house was as it had been for more than a century and a half. But the upheavals of the past twelve years were apparently too severe for Rasulnagar.

The house of the greatest Punjabi ruler since Raja Paurava (Porus) was a ruin. The exterior was smeared with cow dung patties. The timbers, every single one of them, had been wrenched out, the roofs had caved in, the windows were gaping holes and the plaster on the arches and pillars was damaged. The brickwork floors were now covered with the debris from the roof. Only the marble plaque commemorating the building remains in place. Much of the work was clearly done in a destructive frenzy by who but some spiteful louts who despise the history of this land.

But the sad part is that no one evidently tried to stop the vandalism. The people of Rasulnagar where a young Ranjit Singh cut down an Afghan force much larger than his paltry band watched in silence. Here at the famous ford of Rasulnagar, having humbled the Pathans in fair battle, the seventeen year-old future Maharaja deprived the highlanders of the cannon Zamzama they were attempting to carry off to Kabul.

But no Rasulnagar native moved a finger. The corrupt and inefficient police remained mindless of the carnage. The worthless assistant and deputy commissioners, who should be hanged for negligence, cooled their worthless behinds in their air conditioned offices as a priceless Punjabi monument was laid waste.

I wonder how many images of the house as it once stood, are preserved in private archives. So far as I know, there is only one in my book on Gujranwala. In another few years, the hulk will collapse. The last remaining memory of a great king will be lost from Rasulnagar.

But we do not care. For Maharaja Ranjit Singh was not Muslim. And so far as we are concerned history should only be Muslim.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 19 May 2013 at 14:58, Anonymous Karim Dad said...

Rangit Singh was a great visionary. It was he who gave slogans of 'Parha Likha Punjab' and 'Jag Punjabi Jag.' He introduced a 'Qaida' and every Punjabi girl was supposed to read that.

Also, it was he who refused to allow British to Kabul for trade. He was of the opinion that there is hardly any trade in Kabul and British has different motives.

Sad that he was finally beaten and lost. But what he foresaw then is true even today.

At 30 May 2013 at 23:40, Anonymous Sonia Dhami said...

I am moved by your comment about how "Religion & history" are manipulated. How true this is. Thank you for this insightful article.

At 30 May 2013 at 23:42, Anonymous Sonia Dhami said...

We would like to publish this article on our webpage with credit & link to your blog post.
Thanking you
Sonia Dhami

At 31 May 2013 at 09:50, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Sonia Dhami, Please feel free to use this piece as you suggest.

At 7 November 2014 at 23:35, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Senseless destruction of such beauty. I enjoyed very much reading about the history. I remember vaguely being told a story about the bravery of Maharajah Ranjit Singh and his French General.

At 26 August 2015 at 00:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very good uncle g


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days