Pakistan

The Little-Known History Of The Kuri Bagh Of Lahore

Few people know that the Civil Secretariat at Lower Mall was not built by the British, but by the French legion that served with Maharajah Ranjit Singh. This was the house of the colorful Gen. Jean Francois Allard.

On Edwards Road, is the mausoleum of the great Sufi Hazrat Muhammad Shah, known popularly as Mauj Darya Bukhari. This is a place steeped in history. On Edwards Road, close to the mausoleum of Mauj Darya Bukhari, once stood Kapoorthala House, known popularly as ‘Kuri Bagh’ – or ‘daughter’s garden.’ The garden was sold by the Maharajah of Kapoorthala before 1947 and converted into flats. People used to call the flats ‘Kuri Bagh Flats’.

With time as the flats were knocked down and the Income tax structure came up, the name ‘Kuri Bagh’ was lost from our collective memory. It is important that we recollect just who that ‘kuri’ was. Munshi Chambers provides a narrow access to its rear to a yard containing a tomb of Gen. Allard and his daughter Marie Charlotte. The structure is a typical Sikh-period fluted cupola and is a very important monument of that era. Luckily, the French government recently undertook an excellent conservation exercise to bring this beautiful structure to its original glory. But as it remains hidden from public eyes, it remains unknown.

The structure was originally built by Gen. Allard himself in memory of his daughter in the garden attached to his house, which on that account came to be called Kuri Bagh. The tomb, dating to 1827, carries the inscription: “Cette tombe a ete construite en 1827 sur l’ordre du chevalier general Allard sahib bahadur pour sa fille Marie Charlotte que dieu lui aporte sa benediction an paradis.” The tombstone above the grave reads: “Marie Charlotte, decedee le 5me Avril, 1827, fille de M. Allard de St. Topiz Chivalier de la Legion d Honneur General de la Cavalerie”.

So it was that the tomb of Marie Charlotte was constructed in 1827, almost 12 years before Allard himself died and was buried next to his daughter. His wife, a relative of Maharajah Ranjit Singh left Lahore after the fall of the Sikh rulers and died in St. Tropez, France, where she was buried. Let us go over the story of General Jean Francois Allard. Born in 1785-1839, he was one of several European adventurers employed by Maharajah Ranjit Singh to train Sikh soldiers against the growing threat of the British East India Company. It goes to his credit that the Punjab was the last country in the entire sub-continent to fall to the British, who ruled over the Punjab for just 98 years.

He had arrived at the court of Ranjit Singh in 1822 along with Ventura, and received a command in the cavalry with an annual fixed salary of Rs50,000. Allard, together with Ventura, Court and Avitabile, is credited with instilling a high level of discipline in Ranjit Singh’s troops—the brigades commanded by them were considered the elite force of the Khalsa (Sikh) army.

Gen. Jean-François Allard (1785-1839) was born in Saint-Tropez. As a captain of the French Hussars in the Old Guard, he fought in the Napoleonic Wars in Italy, Spain, and France. He joined up with the retreating Napoleon in Golfe Juan, escorted him to Paris where he became the ‘aide de camp’ (ADC) of Marshal Guillaume Marie Anne Brune from 1815 to 1816. After the Battle of Waterloo, he escaped to Iran, where he devoted himself to learning the Persian language. In Iran he served the king, but as the British had promised the government a lot of military assistance on the condition that all French soldiers be arrested and expelled, Allard thought it prudent to escape. From there he secretly moved towards Kabul, crossed the Khyber Pass in disguise and ended up on the banks of the River Ravi at Shahdara. Unknown to the Punjab’s secret police, this well-disguised traveller, in the company of another French general Ventura, crossed the river at night and landed up inside the old walled city of Lahore in March 1822.

In Lahore he let it be known to Maharajah Ranjit Singh that he sought employment in his army, and would train the Sikh in modern warfare, so that the expanding British could be halted. The maharajah took his time and made them wait. He ordered that they not leave Lahore and his spies made sure their every move was reported. The fear of them being British spies was on his mind. After almost three months the maharajah responded positively. Gen. Allard was given the task of organising the maharajah’s cavalry on European lines.

On May 22, 1822, both Allard and Ventura took command of Sheikh Basawan’s ‘Paltan Khas’, followed by them taking over ‘Paltan Deva Singh, and then the ‘Gurkha Paltan’ a year later. Allard trained them hard, and some accounts tell us that a lot of the soldiers tried to run away. To set an example, he shot a soldier who broke into tears, telling them that this was a shame on the ‘khalsa’. In a way this was to become a highly-trained religious extremist fighting force that the British general Edward of India was to term “the finest fighting force in Asia”.

Once the training was over in the latest warfare methods, he named them ‘Fauji Khas’ – special force. The cavalry, called Fransisi Sowar, was originally formed by two regiments raised by Allard on July 16, 1822 Rajman (Regiment) Khas Lansia (Lancers) and Rajman Daragun (Dragoon). The tough training led to more protests, so Allard made fresh recruitment selecting the toughest men he could find. By 1825, the Fauji Khas was almost 6000 strong. All the words of command were in French. Gen. Allard commanded the whole force, and took orders only from the Maharajah.

Gen. Ventura, under Allard’s orders, was in charge of infantry. The uniform of the Fauji Khas was copied from Napoleon’s Grande Armee mixed with some local wear. The regimental standards were the French tri-colours with the motto ‘Vahiguru Ji Ki Fateh’. Each regiment had the French Imperial Eagles. If you even today see the old building to the far left of Munshi Chambers, you can see two old building with the Imperial Eagle made in limestone on them. Our history is everywhere, if only we observe and think about it.

The ‘fauji khas’ cavalry, undoubtedly, achieved a very high level of efficiency. The men and horses were the finest; their accoutrements were of the finest quality and the training the very finest. Across the border in British India, the East India Company’s cavalry was certainly no match, and it was this that kept them at bay during the lifetime of the maharajah. Gen. Allard introduced the use of carbine among the Sikh troops. Very soon Allard came to occupy a position of preeminence at the Lahore Darbar. To go with his impressive salary of Rs30,000 a year, he was granted several ‘jagirs’ and was able to live in a style even rich Sikh sardars could not match. His performance in 1825 in Peshawar and Derajat pacifying the Muslim tribes; in 1827 and 1830 facing the ‘jihad’ of Sayyid Ahmad Barelavi; and in 1837 in the attack on Jamrud after the death of Gen. Hari Singh Nalwa, made sure that he was held in the highest esteem. From 1824 onwards, Allard secured the Anglo-Punjab border along the Sutlej, from the Himalayas down to Multan.

In 1838, he was sent to Peshawar to help Gen. Avitabile in the administration of the province. On Jan 23, 1839, he died at Peshawar, having suffered for some time from a heart ailment. His body was, as he had wished, brought to Lahore and buried with full military honours between the tombs of his two daughters in ‘Kuri Bagh’ on Feb 19, 1839.

A firm favourite of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, Gen. Allard’s body was brought with full ceremonial from Peshawar, with salutes being fired at every station through which the cortege passed on its route. On arrival at Lahore, the entire stretch from Shahdara to Anarkali was lined with troops who fired minute guns during the progress of the body to its last destination. A grander burial was not to be seen again in Lahore.

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