A historical walk through the forgotten Sheranwala Bagh in Gujranwala
Gujranwala is one of the cities of Punjab that have contributed to its history, especially during Ranjit Singh’s rise to power and the establishment of the Sikh empire. This is where Ranjit Singh was born to Sardar Maha Singh, who belonged to Sukerchakia misl in 1780.
Sheranwala Bagh is home to the monuments of the Sikh rule in Gujranwala. I had been hearing about the charm of Sheranwala Bagh for a long time, and every time I went to visit my maternal family, I’d dream about the bagh. It wasn’t until this year that the dream finally came true.
Spring was over in the plains of Punjab; the air was warm yet laden with the subtle fragrance of spring blossoms. As we left the suburbs and got closer to the old city, the scenery around us changed; we saw tongas full of cargo, rushing past, cheerful Punjabi women clothed in bright colours. The city administration has decorated the roads and fly-overs with paintings and graffiti, each covering a span of Gujranwala’s cultural and archaeological heritage. Sheranwala Bagh is close to the Shahi Bazaar of Gujranwala, which itself is also a place to visit, one filled with the aroma and buzz of a typical south-Asian bazaar.
We crossed Sialkot Phatak and were directed to a large enclosed area after crossing the main road. Contrary to the name, there was not a single lion in sight, because the old bhagh had been converted into a modern park; the only remnant of its past was a Baradari built on one end. According to historical sources, this Baradari was built by Sardar Maha Singh in 1788 and was damaged during the riots of 1992 after the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, but was later renovated through a government project. The inside of this Baradari is beautifully painted with floral motifs, wreaths, and peacocks.
Standing in front of Baradari, I could see out onto the vast bagh; the sun was setting in the western horizon, and the trees were bathed in a fading yellow light. I saw an old building that was partially obscured by some trees; I walked towards it and saw that it was the Samadhi of the man who built the bagh, Sardar Maha Singh (1756-1790), the father of Ranjit Singh.
This Samadhi was perhaps once located within the boundaries of the bagh, and is now separated from it by a wall. In order to reach the monument, one has to traverse through the old, narrow streets of the Lahori darwaza neighbourhood. This area is part of the walled city of Gujranwala and is dotted with numerous historic structures, a few of which are still standing. The Lahori darwaza is a high arched gate, made of small red bricks and the street ahead is lined with paan shops, tea stalls, and other shops selling everyday goods.
The Samadhi was built on a raised platform and has steps leading to the interior. The inner structure was shrouded in darkness and it was difficult to see anything, thus we climbed the narrow staircase and reached the upper floor. The floor has a large inverted-lotus shaped dome, while the walls are painted with various scenes and human and animal figurines. However, it is in a dilapidated condition and in dire need of a restoration.
The view of the surrounding area is breath-taking; it seems almost as if one is travelling back in time, long before the land was divided, when the buildings were left behind and entire neighbourhoods were abandoned to be reestablished once more.
The sun had finally set and the lights shone brightly across the area, it was time to go home. While passing through the Lahori darwaza, I heard a Punjabi folk song playing in a dhaba where Heer was arguing with the jogi:
“Heer aakhdi, jogiya ve Jhoot bolle
Ve kaun ruthade yaar mananwa da ee
Aisa kon na milya ve main dhoond thaki
Jehra gayan nu maur lavanda ee”
(Heer says, Jogi you tell a lie
Parted friends cannot be reunited
I have searched far and wide but have found no one
Who can reunite those that have parted?)
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