Sir Ganga Ram's abode on its last legs

July 11, 2004


LAHORE, July 10: "It has become a place for criminals," reads a graffiti at the Smadhi of Sir Ganga Ram, pointing to the step-motherly treatment being meted out to the historic place by the authorities concerned.

Today is the death anniversary of Sir Ganga Ram, whose last destination's crumbling structure may collapse any moment.

Thousands of people, irrespective of their faith, had gathered on Aug 15, 1927 to bury the ashes of Ganga Ram at the beautiful marble tomb near the Old Ravi.

The lawns of the city's Town Hall were crowded with people, including women and children, who wanted to have the last darshan of the ashes of the philanthropist, who gave them a lot, including a full-fledged modern hospital.

The dola (palanquin) carrying the ashes was covered with fragrant flowers and had the picture of Ganga Ram on front. Police on horseback were also present there to provide a smooth passage to the procession. The mourners chanted slogans like "Gharibon key waali ki jai" and "Long live the lord of orphans."

After 95 years, hundreds of people enraged at the demolition of Babri Mosque by 'zealot Hindus' in India damaged the tomb. However, this time police were not there to save the Smadhi of the man, who had established hospital, college, school, and widow and orphan homes for the people of Lahore.

"The area people had tried to stop them from destroying the tomb, but they were emotionally charged in reaction to the demolition of the historic mosque in India," said Muhammad Yousaf, who runs a grocery shop outside the Smadhi.

Besides damaging the tomb, the mob had also demolished its six pillars and eight lattices. The two water tanks, one for men and the other for women, and a garden were also damaged.

There are no traces of the tanks and garden, as the locals have cemented the grassy ground and erected electricity poles for night cricket. People while away time inside the remaining structure of the tomb.

Yousaf said several people, including foreigners, had visited the place many times and promised to restore it, but to no avail.

The Evacuee Property Trust Board, which looks after the shrines and other religious places of Hindus and Sikhs across the province, had no record of temples and Smadhis located in the province, according to an EPTB official. "None of us has ever worked on it," he admitted.

The Ganga Ram's Smadhi is 'protected' under the Punjab Special Premises Act of 1986, but the Punjab archaeology department has never bothered to press the EPTB to restore the Smadhi to its original form.

The tomb of the Smadhi was built in the 1920's on the wish of Ganga Ram, who wanted to be laid to rest at the Apahaj Ashram and the Widow's Home located there.

Sir Ganga Ram was born in 1851 and died on July 10, 1927 in London. Before the partition, a fair used to be held at his smadhi on his birth anniversary called Baisakhi. People from the length and breadth of India used to gather here to celebrate the event.

Ganga Ram was an executive engineer by profession and a man behind the construction of various city buildings like museum, Aitchison College, Mayo School of Arts, high court, GPO, Government College's chemistry block and Mayo Hospital's Albert Victor wing.

Being a philanthropist, he built Sir Ganga Ram Free Hospital, Hailey College of Commerce, Lady McLagon Girls High School, Ravi Road Orphanage, Sir Ganga Ram Trust Building on the Mall and a couple of societies for Hindu and Sikh widows.