Hazuri Bagh Baradari: Sher-E-Punjab’s Last Durbar

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    In the midst of a beautiful garden in the walled city of Lahore is a marble pavilion that witnessed some of the most moving events in the Sikh Empire (1801-1849), the garden is called Hazuri Bagh (literal meaning: royal garden) and the pavilion Hazuri Baradari, venue of the last Durbar held by the ailing Sikh Emperor, Ranjit Singh (r.1809-1839), and coronation of his son and successor, just a few days before the Maharaja’s death. The history of this baradari pavilion goes back more than two decades before these events.

    It must be learned that during the Mughal period, Emperor Aurangzeb built a caravanserai called Serai Alamgiri, in the space between the imposing Lahore Fort to its east and the magnificent Badshahi Mosque to its west. With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the serai had fallen into ruins. It would take more than half a century to revive the royalty of the area during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who captured Lahore in 1799.

    In 1813, Ranjit Singh acquired the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond from Afghan ruler Shah Shuja Durrani. The 19th-century author Munshi Kanhaiya Lal mentioned in his book Tareekh-e-Panjab (1881) that the event was of great symbolic triumph for the Sikhs. To commemorate it, a royal garden, named Ranjit Bagh (or Hazuri Bagh) was planned and built under the supervision of Faqir Azizuddin, who was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s royal physician and close confidant over the ruins of the dilapidated Mughal serai which once stood there.

    Kanhaiya Lal further informs that at that moment, the deoridhar (chamberlain of the royal household) Jamadar Khushal Singh insisted that a marble baradari pavilion should too be constructed in the centre of the bagh which would add to the aesthetics of the complex. Maharaja initially disapproved of the idea saying that it was difficult to procure the expensive marble for it.

    But Jamadar suggested striping it from Lahore’s Mughal monuments, which led to the plan being executed. The marble used in the tombs of Mughal royals Asif Khan, Zeb-un-Nissa, Jahangir and Nur Jahan was used to cover the pavilion. Thus, the monument steeped in Mughal and Sikh history.

    The bagh complex was designed by the noted Sikh architect of the time Tota Ram. The pavilion has 12 entrances and rests on 16 pillars that have delicate cusped arches. Although a modest two-storey structure (the smaller, upper storey collapsed in 1932), it also has a basement was which contains subterranean chambers. The roof is decorated with elegant motif work representation flowers, birds along with the decoration with mirrors.

    The memorials of Ranjit Singh himself, and that of his spiritual guide Bhai Vasti Ram and his sons along with the Gurdwara Dera Sahib that commemorates the spot where the 5th guru of Sikhism, Guru Arjan Dev, was killed in 1606 by the orders of Emperor Jahangir are also located nearby. To the south is the Roshnai Gate, one of the 13 gates of the walled city.

    Ranjit Singh visited the pavilion often and also held court here with his generals and the English guests throughout his reign. Since the April-May of 1836, his health had to plummet. By the late May of 1839, it had worsened to an extent that he sensed the end was near and he summoned his generals, prominent landholders and officers to meet, in Hazuri Bagh Baradari.

    When they assembled as ordered, Ranjit Singh arrived in his golden palanquin. Since his failing health didn’t permit him to be seated, he rested on a pillow inside. On his arrival, Ranjit Singh received a 101-gun salute from the Lahore Fort and praises were sung to the Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of Punjab). But the Maharaja was too weak to acknowledge them, and he rested silently in his palanquin.

    There was a silence for a little time, after which Ranjit Singh finally mustered all the strength he could and, after a prolonged silence, he began to speak softly. But his voice couldn’t be louder than a murmur. Thus, Fakir Azizuddin, who was standing next to him, tried to translate what all he was speaking or was trying to on his behalf:

    “Bahadur Khalsa Ji, the blood you have shed in the creation of the Khalsa State was not futile. Everything around you is the fruit of your sacrifices. On Guru Sahiban’s and Your belief, I rose from a simple village to establish the Sikh State that now covers the entire Punjab province along with Afghanistan, Kashmir, Tibet and Sindh. Though my end is near, trust me, I shall bid you farewell happily. I shall hand over the reins to Maharaja Kharak Singh. Consider him my equal and he will always be willing to work for your goodwill.”

    This was all the Emperor managed to say. He fell silent and his elder son Kharak Singh (r. 1839-1840) was crowned King. The coronation took place at the pavilion, where Raja Dhian Singh was also declared Prime Minister of the Sikh State. A written account of this event was published as advertisements in Multan, Peshawar, Kashmir and other places under Sikh rule.

    It was the last Durbar Ranjit Singh would ever hold. The next time he arrived in the pavilion was after his death. He died after a few days on 27th June 1839. The day after, his body was placed in the Hazuri Bagh pavilion for his subjects to pay their last respects. From the western entrance of the baradari, his remains were taken to the banks of the Ravi, where he was cremated.

    When Lahore came under British rule after the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-1846), the Hazuri Bagh Baradari was used as a bandstand, and locals would flock here for leisure and entertainment. Then, on 19th July 1932, the first of the two storeys of the pavilion crashed during a powerful earthquake. The remains were removed and are now preserved in the Lahore Museum.

    The Hazuri Bagh and its baradari continue to be a symbol of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his empire in Lahore.

    Aashish Kochhar is a history enthusiast from Amritsar who studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
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