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Saturday, 23 May 2015

Gul Begum -- The Muslim Wife of Raja Ranjeet Singh

Gul Begum -- The Muslim Wife of Raja Ranjeet Singh

Gul Begam was a dancing girl from Amritsar, who in 1832 became the queen of Punjab after her marriage to Maharaja Ranjit Singh.  Ranjit Singh had become fond of her after seeing her perform at his meeting with Lord William Bentinck at Ropar in October of 1831. He had been so captivated by her beauty that he decided to marry her against protests from orthodox members of the Sikh community. The maharaja was 51 years old at that time. He took the wedding party to Amritsar and married Gul Begam in a grand ceremony. The wedding celebrations included both Sikh customs and Muslim traditions. Gul Begam moved to Lahore from Amritsar and Ranjit Singh furnished for her a palatial haveli near Kashmiri Gate. Renamed, Rani Gul Bahar Begam, she rode with the maharaja on the same elephant, sat in the darbar without veil and dwarfed the influence of other wives on the maharaja.

She built an elegant garden in the area of Mozang which came to be known as Bagh Gul Begam. Pools, fountains and corridors were built; in the midst of these an elegant mosque was constructed. The garden was finished in 1855. Gul Begam survived Ranjit Singh and was awarded an annual pension of Rs 12,380 by the British after the fall of the Sikh Government. Gul Begam died at Lahore in 1865 and was interred in a tomb that she had built for herself in her garden. Having no issue of her own, she had adopted one Sardar Khan as her son in her life time, whose descendants still live in the area.

The garden enclosure and the tomb are located next to the enclosure of Mirza Tahir Bandaghi's shrine in the Miani Sahib Graveyard. The main gate is on the west side of the garden. The gate stretches across two storeys; the lower part has a locked metal door blocking the central arch while on the upper storey, the openings have been partially closed up with bricks. To the north of the main gate, the old mosque exists even today. Presently, the mosque has been white washed leaving no trace of original artwork. The garden walls are hemmed in by houses on all sides. In the centre of the garden, there is a domeless mausoleum on a raised platform, where the remains of Sardar Khan are interred. There are a few other graves within this enclosure belonging to his offspring. The sarcophagi are embellished with black and green stones.

Along the southern wall of the garden is a domed building containing the grave of Gul Begam. The building sits atop a platform, portions of which can still be seen. The door to the building is locked. Some of the frescoes on the walls are in relatively good state of preservation considering how dilapidated the rest of the garden is.

Along the northern facade of the tomb building, above one of the arches, there is a marble slab with the inscription: