Rattan Chand And His Shivala

The Lahore Durbar of Maharajah Ranjit Singh had an array of very talented men from all over the Punjab-men of letters, of arms, of commerce, and then there were scholars and analysts. He would consult at least three to four persons on any matter of importance before making up his mind.

The maharajah liked to ask young and old, and often he would pose the most vexing questions to the numerous young children of courtiers that were present. His view was that the innocent often solved the most difficult problems. “Simplicity is not the virtue of those in intrigue”, he would often comment. One of his favourite young children at court was a boy by the name of Rattan Chand, and the Maharajah called him Rattan Chand ‘dhariwala’ to distinguish him from a namesake. When he came of age, he was known as a wise young man, and was greatly respected for his views. He was officially called Lala Rattan Chand Dhariwala. He was appointed to various positions, all of which he served with distinction. After the death of the Maharajah in 1839, he continued to serve the Lahore Durbar and in 1846 was the postmaster-general of the Punjab in the dying days of Sikh rule. When the British took over in 1849, he worked for them and became the honorary magistrate of Lahore in 1862. He then went on to become a member of the Municipal Committee and was made a Dewan in 1865, where after he was described as Dewan Lala Rattan Chand Dhariwala.

During the reign preceding Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the area outside the Shahalami Gate had been laid wasted by conflict. The various Sikh chiefs, who began constructing huge ‘havelis’ inside the walled city, plundered the bricks from vacant houses. Very soon the area was a huge empty ground, and it was at that time that Lala Rattan Chand wanted to purchase it. He was opposed by Sikh chiefs who felt that too large and important a track of land was being given to a mere boy. The maharajah decided not to allot it to anyone. One version has it that the maharajah promised that if it was allotted in his lifetime, it would be to him. As a special gesture, he allotted him a smaller piece to build a temple as a first step.

So Lala Rattan Chand set about levelling the wasteland and then he built a wall around his possession. On the four corners of the walls he built four structures with Sikh-style domes. In the middle he built a temple perched on a platform raised above the ground. The temple dome was raised to a considerable height, making it among the finest in Lahore. Outside, he built a series of houses and shops, and even before the British arrived, the road was being called Rattan Chand di Sarak.

The ten years after the death of the maharajah saw considerable fighting within the Lahore Durbar. In this period, Lala Rattan Chand consolidated his position and kept the status quo, thanks to his connections with the ‘patwaris’ of those days, all of whom feared him. When the British took over, he immediately switched sides, put in an application that the late Maharajah had promised him this additional land. The British immediately allotted him his “promised” land.

The British were short of residential accommodation, and Lala Rattan Chand provided them with ample housing, “at very reasonable rates”. Within a few months, he had managed to get allotted the entire gardens that were to make the garden, tank and temple of Rattan Chand a major feature of Lahore. Lala Rattan Chand was among the very first Punjabi bureaucrats to join the British administration of the East India Company.

The water tank was made in such a way that it surrounded the temple. The water for the Shivala was brought through an ingenious system of very small canals. The gardens laid out were well watered and green all the year round. Its fruit trees were well-known in the city and a nursery of sorts developed at this point, where today exists the dusty Bansaanwala Bazaar. Lala Rattan Chand died in 1872 and the road right up to the Mayo Hospital crossing was named after him. Once the Mayo Hospital was built, a major portion of the road was named Hospital Road.

After his death, his son Lala Bhagvandas took over and he soon fell victim to commercial pressures to part with some of the residential houses and shops. With time this Shivala was seen to be a major obstruction to the expansion of commercial activities, and it were the Hindu traders of Shahalami who began to pressure the administration to take over the Shivala. But then came the partition of the Punjab and in the bloody riots, just like in the days preceding the Sikhs, the entire temple, Shivala and gardens were reduced to bricks and the “claim brigade” took over. Today, there lie hundreds of small high houses, the dusty Bansaanwala Bazaar and the road now has three names, just one of the is Rattan Chand Road.

Article by Majid Sheikh for Dawn News

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