BY: Mudassir Bashir
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was one of the wise rulers of Punjab. He recognised the rising power of the British in India, even before he came to power. He also knew that the British, in addition to employing collaborators in the native princely states, were equipped with modern warfare techniques and materials. To meet these needs, the Maharaja, like Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan and Siraj ud Daula before him, developed contacts with the French generals. The French were experts in modern warfare and had the advantage of being the arch rivals of the British.
Using this rivalry to his advantage, he invited the French generals to the Punjab on many occasions to train his army in modern warfare. This influx increased after the defeat of Napolean when his army was dispersed. One of the experienced veterans was Ventura, originally an Italian who came here and trained the Maharaja’s army. In the same way, a Frenchman, General Allard, also joined the Sikh army. General Allard’s daughter, Marie Charlotte also came to live in Lahore. She was very attached to her father. She died in Lahore on 15th of April, 1827. There was a large garden in the General’s estate where she was buried. M. Allard became increasingly unwell after the death of his daughter and died after a little while. He was buried near his daughter, with full military honours by Ranjit Singh.
When the Generals Allard and Ventura joined the Sikh army, they built themselves a mansion to the Northwest of the tomb of Hazrat Mauj Darya. The mausoleum was an elegant building of the Sikh era, combining features of the Mughal, Sikh and French architecture. It was built on an elevation. A double storied platform was built alongside this elevation. This whole area came to be called ‘Kuri Bagh’, due the being the burial place of a female. This name is still prevalent.
During the years of disorder following the death of Ranjit Singh, many grand buildings were reduced to rubble. The fate of this mausoleum was not much different. Its fortunes improved during the British rule and the mausoleum and the estate were repaired and restored. Official guests used to come and live here.
Later, the mansion and the mausoleum complex were sold to the State of Kapurthala. The mansion became known as Kapurthala House. The garden and the mausoleum was sill called ‘Kuri Bagh.’ The Kapurthala State managers, always looked after this mausoleum. However, after some time, the State sold this place to ‘Bharat Insurance Company.’ They built new flats all over the garden, although they did no touch the mausoleum.
After the partition, the eastern part of the mansion was used by the Income Tax Department. Medina Mosque and Munshi Chambers were built in the garden. For many years, the old building remained standing. Then, the department managers constructed new buildings, necessitating the demolition the major part of the older ones. Therefore the complex was changed out of all recognition. The western part of the mansion is still used by some solicitors and there address mentions ‘Kapurthala House’ on the boards. This building is also in old style and alongside, one can see the tomb of Marie Charlotte.
‘Kuri Bagh and Kapurthala House are on the Lake Road. The eastern part of the Kapurthala House are still in use of the Income Tax Department. The tomb of Hazrat Mauj Darya is located next door. Next to the northwest side is a mosque and a famous falooda shop. Heading towards Jain Mandar from Anarkali, one can see the dilapidated building of Munshi Chambers. Alongside this, one can see the Hotel Al-Najm. The mausoleum is located next to this hotel on the left side. Thousands of people who go past this on the road, have no knowledge of its existence. To the eastern side of the mausoleum, there are heaps of rubbish.
On the western side of the mausoleum, until the nineties, one could see a plaque, dating from the British times, giving information about Marie Charlotte in English and Hindi but now it has disappeared. Many banks and offices have rented rooms in Munshi Chambers. These concerns use these rooms for storage, accumulating years of junk. One can see rats of enormous size, enough to scare you.
In this depressing environs, the elegant building of the mausoleum is still standing. It stands on a solid platform which has two parts. The lower part is wider as compared to the upper part. The building is octagonal. Some stairs can be seen leading up to the building of the mausoleum. On the door, there is a writing in Persian. It is lucky that this plaque has survived. This gives information about the relation of Marie Charlotte with General Allard, the date of her death and the date of construction:
بحکم شوالیر جنرل الارد صاحب بہادر
مکان مرقد صاحبزادی میری شارلوت براے یا ۔۔و۔۔
الہی جائیش در بہشت بریں باد و بیامرزاد در سنہ ۱۸۲۷ عیسوے
موافق سنہ ۱۲۴۲ ہجری مطابق ہمت ۱۸۸۴ تعمیر یافت بالخیر
He (God) is the Exalter; By order of Chevalier General Allard Sahib Bahadur; The place of burial of Sahibzadi Marie Charlotte in memoriam; O Lord, may she dwell in Paradise above and be forgiven; completed in 1827 CE corresponding to 1244 AH corresponding to 1884 <?>
It is unclear what calendar the 1884 refers to. The word below it looks like ‘hemmat’, but the calendar is neither Mughal (Ilahi) nor Sikh (Nanakshahi). Some text on the margins is also obscured by the mounting, which seems to be later than the inscription.
The following inscription is on a wall behind the grave:
‘Cette tombe a été construite en 1827 sur l’ordre du
Chevalier General Allard Sahib Bahadur
pour sa fille Marie Charlotte que dieu lui aporte sa benediction au paradis.’
The rough English translation of the above would be:
‘This tomb was constructed in 1827 on the orders of the Chevalier General Allard Sahib Bahadur for his daughter Marie-Charlotte whom God took in his benediction to paradise.’
The large garden surrounding the garden is now a foregone dream. This mausoleum is one of the very important ones in Lahore. It is part of our heritage and needs to be preserved, before all traces of it disappear.