Gujranwala: TANIA QURESHI
A Sikh City Of Yore
Modern-day Gujranwala (Punjab, in current-day Pakistan) is a comparatively new city but settlements have existed in this area since long.
The foundations of the modern city were laid down in 1758, when Charat Singh constructed a small fort at Sarai Kambohaan. With the initial Sikh settlements in Gujranwala, there grew the trend of construction of Gurdwaras and Havelis.
The Havelis of Maharaja Ranjit Singh as well as his ancestors are still found in this city, but have not really been well maintained since the city became part of Pakistan after the Partotion of Punjab in 1947.
This city can be one of the biggest hubs in terms of religious tourism if the government wishes to develop it for this purpose.
Here I am writing about a controversial place which in some references is known as a Gurdwara. This is the Samadhi of Sardar Charat Singh, which is behind Sheranwala Bagh (the Garden of Lions) on GT road, inside Gujranwala city. Presently there are a few houses inside it. There used to be a Baradari (summer house with 12 entrances) built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh which has vanished now.
Sardar Charat Singh was sardar (chieftain) of the Sukerchakia Misl. Charat Singh (died 1774) was the eldest son of Naudh Singh, the father of Mahan Singh, and the grandfather of Ranjit Singh. He distinguished himself at an early age in campaigns against Ahmad Shah Abdali and along with 150 horsemen split from the Singhpuria Misl to establish the Sukerchakia Misl.
The 18th century was a period of turmoil in Punjab when the Afghans devastated the whole region from the Indus to the Jamna and the Mughal Empire was also breathing its last by the 1750s. The Sikhs arose during this chaos and in the 1760s quickly emerged as the strongest force in Punjab and the central Punjab fell into their control.
Lahore was captured by Sikhs on 16 May 1764. Then, except for a few months in 1767 and later for a few days in 1797, it remained in control of the Bhangi Misl.
Misls were twelve independently operating Sikh fiefdoms, under different chieftains, active in different regions of Punjab. One of them was the Sukherchakia Misl based in Gujranwala and controlling surrounding areas. It was 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 13 November 1780 and at the death of his father Mahan Singh in April 1790, he 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 British India and his state. Thereafter, h changed his focus to other directions and by the time he died in 1839, the whole of present day Pakistani Punjab (except Bahawalpur), most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Kashmir was conquered by him.
Sikhs rightly take great pride in the rise of Ranjit Singh, being the greatest ruler they ever produced. He is often called Sher-e-Punjab or the Lion of Punjab.
I found the Samadhi of Charat Singh in Gujranwala. It is not a well known place and few people know about it. At present a police station has been established in its premises, known as Thana Sabzi Mandi. There, behind the main gate, stands the majestic building of the Samadhi in a huge courtyard.
The building is no doubt in shambles and needs some preservation. I wonder why it has escaped from the eyes of the Archeology Department of Punjab. This site can be established as a hot tourist spot. I am sure Sikhs themselves will be happy to contribute in this regard.
Despite the controversy over this site it should be restored and opened for tourists. In my opinion a thorough research should be carried out by the archeologists to dig out the history of this place. There are a lot of such places in Pakistan which are debatable and unobvious in terms of whom they belonged to.
In our country we lack the research and interest in such topics, whereas if we observe other countries, they work hard to dig out their history. Moreover, I would request the Pakistani Department of Archaeology to please look into the sites located in Gujranwala and make it a place known for religious tourism.
Also the Sikh communities can be contacted and maybe they are able to help in the history and also the maintenance of these places. These locations should also be declared protected monuments and the misuse should be stopped. I hope one day this trend changes and our people develop a mindset for promoting tourism.
[Courtesy: Pakistan Today. Edited for sikhchic.com]
December 12, 2016
Conversation about this article
1: Navraj Singh Arora (Slough, United Kingdom), December 12, 2016, 5:32 PM.
Gujranwala indeed has a lot of Sikh history. During our tour of gurdwaras in Pakistan in 2013, we visited Gujranwala as it was the birthplace of my wife's father. The exact place of his birth was near Hari Singh Nalwa's qilla (fort). On arrival we asked several residents about the qilla but no one had a clue until we bumped into a gentleman named Abdul Hamid Butt. He insisted on taking us home, fed us a sumptuous breakfast and took us on a tour of the old town. In one of the parks Ranjit Singh's Baradari pavilion still exists and a renovation project was being carried out. Sadly the Maharaja's birthplace is decrepit and gutted and Hari Singh Nalwa's qilla is now a madrassa. Hopefully these and the other Sikh historic buildings will one day be restored. We were overwhelmed by the hospitality of our hosts; my wife was treated like a daughter returning to her ancestral village and presented with a 'suggan' (gift/blessing) of a Punjabi suit.
2: Amardeep Singh (Singapore), December 22, 2016, 5:43 AM.
I do not believe Charat Singh's Samadhi could possibly be in Gujaranwala. Ranjit Singh's court recorder, Sohan Lal Suri, meticulously describes (now published in the voluminous "Umdat-ul-Tawarikh") the journey and the visit to Charat Singh's samadhi. Following the trail, it is obvious that the samadhi is not in Gujaranwala but elsewhere.
3: Sukhbir Singh (USA), December 23, 2016, 11:39 PM.
Being born and raised in Gujranwala, I was excited to read an article about my lovely city. I was a school-going student when we were made to leave our home town after the Partition of Punjab. As regards the controversial place of Sardar Charat Singh Samadh, I would like to point out that it is not in the Sheranwala Garden area. Rather, it is in the area in-between Adda Qila Mian Singh and Bazaar Kumiaran. There used to be a Fodder Market called Nay-i-e, in front of the humble building of the Samadh, where a gurdwara was also located. There was a Government Girls School building next to the Samadh. The Samadh carried a plaque with the name of Sardar Charat Singh, written in Urdu script. The Samadh which is in Sheranwala Gardens is that of Sardar Mahan Singh, father of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The area where Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born is called the Sabzi Mandi Area. There is no doubt that Gujranwala was a Sikh city, as it was founded by a Sikh Sardar. Many of the Sikh chiefs used to live around that area. The city was a great educational and religious centre for the Sikhs. Guru Nanak aso visited Aminabad, a suburb of the city. By making this city a tourist centre, it will definitely encourage the Sikh community to have a glimpse of one example of their lost rich heritage.