Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Haunted Fort of Sheikhupura

(References:- K. Lal in his book Tarekh e Punjab & The crumbling glory of Sheikhupura Fort by Aown Ali)

In West Punjab (now in Pakistan), the town of Sheikhupura (about 35 km west of Lahore) is hailed a center of historically significant architecture.

The Hiran Minar (Minaret of the Antelope) and the Sheikhupura Fort make this stop a focal point of interest.

The town, now a district headquarters and one of the major industrial cities of Punjab, has grown from a village, originally called “Jahangirpura” when it was settled during the reign of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, because of its proximity to Hiran Minar, a royal hunting resort.

The primary historical importance of the city relates to its Fort. It lays no claim to grandeur. Locally known as Qila Sheikhupura, it has gave its name to the town as well.

Construction of the fort began in the second year of Jahangir’s reign (1607). The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri (autobiography of Jahangir) mentions that the emperor assigned the job of constructing a fort at that location to Sikandar Moeen during a hunting trip to Hiran Minar.

The two centuries that followed were mostly uneventful for the Fort. Neither a seat of government nor a target for invaders, it remained but a halt for imperial entourages heading on pleasure trips to Kashmir in the north, or towards Kabul in the west.

The Fort’s political importance did not emerge until the establishment of the Sikh Empire at the end of the 18th century.

A veteran historian and archeologist, Ihsan H. Nadiem, tells us that immediately before the consolidation of Punjab under the Sikhs, the Fort served as a convenient place for robbers looting the countryside.

The Durrani king, Shah Zaman, during his invasion of Lahore in 1797, briefly besieged the Fort, but only to purge it of the robbers. Soon after his departure, the Fort was once again occupied by the highwaymen.

Shortly thereafter, Lehna Singh Majithia (who also served as the Governor of Lahore. The son of General Lehna Singh, Sardar Dyal Singh, was perhaps the most significant Punjabi of the late 19th century in the British Punjab. He was the main force behind the founding of Punjab University), an ally of Ranjit Singh, invaded the fort and took occupation. After him, its ownership passed on to Bhai Singh, followed by Sahib Singh and Sahai Singh in 1808, at which point Ranjit Singh marched upon it and caused its surrender.

This whole story of Sheikhupura raid wrote by Hindu writer K. Lal in his book Tarekh e Punjab (Page 196-197) and it is as under:

“Mahraja Ranjeet was busy in handling state affairs, in the meantime a group of farmers belong to Sheikhpura came to his door, they wanted to seek help against brutal Sikh rulers Sardar Arbel Singh & Sardar Ameer Singh. These Sardars had occupied the Sheikhupura fort and land, there army looting common people up to that level that they were dying of hunger. That group of farmer said the people of Sheikhupura accepted the over lordship of the Maharaja and requested to take their territory under Mahraja rule and control to protect them from these two brutal Sardars.
Mahraja accepted the request and assigned his eldest son, the crown prince, Kharak Singh for Sheikhupura fort Campaign. He reached Sheikhupura; he has four thousand army troops and support of one Cannon artillery.
Sheikhupura fort was very well constructed with strong fortified walls, Mahraja himself selected best cannons from his cannon yard for this campaign and also assign one of his best army officer Sardar Hakma Singh for assisting Crown prince Kharak Singh in this campaign.
When this troop reached Sheikhupura, Crown Prince Kharak Singh called both the ruling Sardar’s to him, but instead of appearing in front of Prince they have further fortified the fort and get ready for war.
The Prince first sieges the fort and then orders Canon artillery to start fire on fort walls. The fort walls were strongly fortified and hold the Cannon artillery attack for days.
This result less campaign made Prince to think if he wanted to win this fight he has to reinforce his troops and artillery as well. For that purpose he wrote for help to his father Mahraja Ranjit Singh. When Maharaja saw this letter he got angry, he ordered to send biggest cannon of his artillery the Ahmad Shahi Gun. Which he forcefully took from Saheb Singh Guajarati)
(Ahmad Shahi Gun also known as zamzama gun…, The Zamzama Gun is a large bore cannon. It is also known as Kim’s Gun or Bhangianwali Taop. It was cast in 1757 in Lahore. At that time Lahore was a part of the Durrani Empire. The gun was used by Ahmed Shah in the battle of Panipat in 1761. In 1802, Ranjit Singh got hold of the gun and used it in the battles of Daska, Kasur, Sujanpur, Wazirabad and Multan. In the siege of Multan, the gun was badly damaged. It is currently on display in front of the Lahore Museum at The Mall Road, Lahore.)
The Maharaja also reached the Sheikhupura Fort with fresh troops and again the battle started.
After two days of fight, Maharaja ordered to place Ahmed Shah Gun in front of Main gate of Fort. It was tough task and took many lives of soldiers but at last it was placed there. Hundred rounds of guns were fired and main gate of fort completely destroyed. The Mahraja troops entered the fort and raise the winning flag on wall. Both Arbel & Ameer Singh were arrested.
Since the area of Sheikhupura won in name of Crown Prince Kharak Singh, the fort and “Jageer” of Sheikhupura bestowed to Prince by his father Mahraja Ranjeet Singh under the primacy of her mother Rani Datar Kaur (1801-1840), the mother of the crown prince, Kharak Singh. She was also known as Rani Raj Kaur or Mai Nakkain. She lived in the Fort till her death.”





She had a considerable role in the rehabilitation of this small, strategically unimportant and hitherto almost abandoned citadel. She built a wonderful haveli within it. The excellent frescoes in the distinctive Kangra style found in the parlour and in the two chambers on the first floor of this haveli, are attributed to Raj Kaur‘s excellent taste.

In mid-19th century, when the British invaded Punjab, they used the Fort to imprison the Sikh kingdom’s Regent, Rani Jind Kaur – “Jindaa(n)” - after taking her son, the child Emperor Duleep Singh, prisoner.

In a letter dated August 9, 1847 Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence, the British Resident in Punjab suggested to the Governor General that the Queen be banished from Punjab, to prevent the populace from rising under banner.

The 8-year old Emperor was removed from his palace in the Lahore Fort on August 19, 1847, and taken to the Shalimar Gardens, while his mother, the Queen, was confined to the distant Sheikhupura Fort.

Historian Himadri Banerjee describes how Jindaan was forcibly removed from Lahore between 8 and 9 pm under a heavy military escort. Accompanied by Sardar Arjan Singh Rangharnanglia and Gurmukh Singh Lamma, she was lodged in Sheikhupura Fort in the early hours of Friday, August 20, 1847, under the charge of Sardar Boor Singh.

Soon after her arrival at Sheikhupura, she wrote the following letter to the Resident at Lahore, protesting the ruthless separation from her young eight-year old.

With the Grace of the Great Guru
From Bibi Sahib to Lawrence Sahib,

We have arrived safely at Sheikhupura, You should send our luggage with care, As I was sitting in the Samman (Burj - Palace in Lahore Fort), in the same way I am in Sheikhupura. Both the places are same to me; you have been very cruel to me. You have snatched my son from me … In the name of the God you worship and in the name of the king whose salt you eat, restore my son to me. I cannot bear the pain of this separation … I shall reside in Sheikhupura. I shall not go to Lahore. Send my son to me. I will come to you at Lahore only during the days when you hold darbar. On that day I will send him. A great deal (of injustice) has been done to me. A great deal (of injustice) has been done to my son also. You have accepted what other people have said. Put an end to it now. Too much has been done.

The Queen resided in the Sheikhupura Fort for nine months. On the afternoon of May 15, 1848, she was taken away, to be imprisoned in Chunar Fort, near Benares (in current day Uttar Pradesh, India). She made a dramatic escape from there and fled to Nepal, where she remained until, years later, almost blind and dying, was finally allowed to visit her son, who was by then exiled in England.

The Sheikhupura Fort was thus witness to a number of crucial turning points during the half-century of the Sikh Raj.

The Empire had held played a crucial role as a bulwark against ongoing invasions through the subcontinent’s porous western borders. At its peak, it held sway from Tibet in the east to the Khyber Pass in the west, to Kashmir in the north and to Sindh in the south. It also, while Ranjit Singh was alive, kept the British at bay, even though the rest of the subcontinent had collapsed under them like a row of dominoes.

After the annexation of Punjab, the Sheikhupura Fort was temporarily used as administrative headquarters of the Gujranwala district from 1849 to 1851. However, upon the transfer of the district headquarters to Gujranwala town, it was turned into a military outpost.

After a split of administration jurisdictions in 1918, a new district was created in Sheikhupura. The Fort then passed on to house the police headquarters of the newly created district.

After the partition of Punjab and India in 1947, it was briefly used by the immigrants from East Punjab (by then in the newly-created India) as shelter, and
later by encroachers, from whom it came into the possession of the Department of Archaeology of Pakistan in 1967.

Within the complex, no building from the Mughal period is left standing, except the main entrance fa├žade. There are also some remains of sandstone columns depicting the history of the laying of the foundations of the Sheikhupura Fort.

Today, what we can see standing, although dilapidated, is a crumbling six-storey haveli, identical to the haveli of Naunihal Singh, which is situated inside Mori Gate in Lahore.

The most vibrant aspect of the beauty of the haveli in the Sheikhupura Fort is its frescoes.

Sadly, precious wooden doors, windows and parts of the roof have already been whisked away by raiders and the haveli has turned into a haunted house.

Inside the ruins and rooms occupied by bats, we can still find signs of the former lifestyle through colourful and thematic paintings and other art work in the Kangra style. Fresco art work in the haveli of Raj Kaur portrays almost all aspects of daily life – ranging from worship to romantic love to military life. Colors are still vivid, the art work is glittering, but the haveli is now, due to institutional neglect, close to the end of its physical life.

Despite its poor condition, no contractor or labourer agrees to work as it is believed the fort is haunted by ghosts of the queens which used to live there.

This fort is closed to the public due to its bad structural condition; it took me at least three years to take permission to visit this






































































Anarkali Tomb