During Ranjit Singh’s reign in Lahore (1799-1839), a small boy used to run about the court inside the Lahore Fort. His father was a courtier, and this boy soon became a favourite of the maharajah. He also grew up to loyally serve the court.
The man who served the maharajah with distinction was Lala Rattan Chand. Once in a bout of affection for the loyalty of the man he was gifted two things with the instruction: “One is for your future generations, and the other is for this city to which you now belong”. For the family he gifted a set of jewellery of rare Iranian jades which experts had informed him were from the famous ‘Takht-e-Sangin’ temple on the right side of the Oxus river (Amu Darya). Experts recently claimed that it was part of the famous Oxus Treasure, most probably from the second century BC. He had ‘acquired’ it from an Afghan member of royalty, who had ‘acquired’ it from Central Asian sources. A famous London auctioneer recently claimed it was ‘priceless’, and we will leave it at that.
Just who now has that priceless ‘Takht-e-Sangin’ jade jewellery collection? It is in the possession of the direct descendant of Dewan Lala Rattan Chand, a lady named Tanya Palta, who lives in Delhi. Her grandmother, Mrs Santosh Palta, migrated from Lahore in 1947 and passed on this treasure to her on her wedding. Mrs Santosh passed away on the 15th of April 2018. As Punjabi family tradition goes, this rare jade jewellery was handed down by Dewan Rattan Chand ‘dhariwala’ as the maharajah called him and named him as such in documents, to his eldest son Dewan Bhagwandas, who passed it to his son Dewan Puranchand Soni, whose son was Dewan Permanand Soni.
Dewan Permanand Soni’s wife was Phoolwanti Devi Soni, whose daughter was Santosh Soni Palta whose daughter was Anita Palta and has now finally landed with Tanya Palta. The story of this rare set of jade jewellery has made sure that it remains in the family as was promised to Maharajah Ranjit Singh, and will, surely, remain with it as the years unfold.
The second gift by Maharajah Ranjit Singh to Dewan Rattan Chand Dhariwala was a plot of land outside Shahalami Gate. The Sikh courtiers protested that the man did not deserve such a rich gift of land, but the maharajah stuck to his word with the comment: “Simple-minded people are clear headed and do not intrigue”. This gift to Dewan Rattan Chand, whom the maharajah used to tease as he grew up for his newly sprouting beard, earned the nickname ‘dhariwala’. The name stuck.
To honour the ruler Dewan Rattan Chand Dhariwala built a beautiful temple devoted to the deity Shiva, and around it he built a water tank, with fruit trees around it. It was in its days - that is till 1947 - one of Lahore’s treasures. The road leading where once stood the temple and the water tank is called Rattan Chand Road, a name that still sticks even though, given our penchant for name changing, it has a new one.
Rattan Chand served the maharajah in various capacities and in court documents is called Lala Rattan Chand Dhariwala. The family originally belonged to Village Payal in Ludhiana, but moved to Lahore in the days of Akbar and built a house within the old walls of the ancient Lahore. That ‘mohallah’ is to the west of Shahalam Bazaar, which in those days touched the old city walls. After the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, he continued to serve the Lahore Darbar and in 1846 was made the Postmaster General of the Punjab.
After the British took over in 1849 he switched sides remaining in the same post. In 1862 he was made the Honorary Magistrate of Lahore. In 1865 he was made a ‘Dewan’ and hence his last official name was Dewan Lala Rattan Chand Dhariwala. Born in 1808 in Lahore, he died in Lahore in 1872 and his creation of a beautiful temple and a tank became part of Lahore’s landscape. The fruit trees became well-known and the local population were given a free hand at picking fruit as long as they ate them on the premises.
The Lahore Gazetteer of 1884 termed it as one of the city’s major ‘serai’ along with that of Sultan Thakedar’s one in Landa Bazaar and the Anarkali ‘serai’, where today stands the dilapidated Delhi-Muslim Hotel. The reason it was termed as a ‘serai’ was that Dewan Rattan Chand also built to one side housing for the new British officers who came to Lahore. In return he made the ‘patwari’ of Lahore confirm the land to his name as the maharajah had promised him the land.
After his death in 1872, his son immediately sold off these houses to Hindu traders of Shahalami Bazaar. These became warehouses (godowns as we call them from the word ‘go-da’am’) and when 1947 came enraged Muslims knocked them down for their bricks. Very few historic structures survived the loot by the new migrant traders who even knocked down major portions of the ancient city walls for bricks to construct new houses and shops. The sole shop of the Rattan Chand era is the one which once belonged to a ‘tabla maker’, who in turn was forced to sell it to a ‘second-hand nylon sack vendor.’ After all trash makes more money than a musical beat.
So it was that at Partition Lahore lost not only a rare set of ancient jade jewellery, but it also led to the senseless destruction of a beautiful water tank and a temple. Today few know just who Dewan Lala Rattan Chand was despite his sterling contribution to Lahore. But then his old pre-1947 family house inside Shahalami Bazaar near Rang Mahal was recently attacked when the Babri Mosque incident took place. The reason merely being that it is still remembered locally as ‘Rattan Chand da Makan’. The occupants defended themselves by reciting the ‘kalima’ in front of the attackers. It is amazing how religious hatred gets ingrained in the minds of people, only to become a major hurdle in a return to normalcy.
What researchers have seen of the temple of Rattan Chand of Lahore is a photograph taken in 1880s by George Craddock, which is part of the Bellow Collection in the British Museum of Lahore’s architectural views. Based on this photograph a number of drawings are available. It was before 1947 a landmark of old Lahore. Today the name does live on, which with time has become a mystery.
Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2020