|Sir Ganga Ram's Samadhi|
Samadhi of Sir Ganga Ram is located on Ravi
Road, in the locality of Karim Park. It is an imposing structure built in 1927
in the style of a Mughal baradari and is topped by a raised bulbous dome. On the
inside, it is a rather simple structure owing to renovation
work following the damage
done to the building during the riots of 1992, after the demolition of Babri
Mosque in India. Currently, it is quickly being encroached upon and is in dire
need of attention from the relevant authorities.
Sir Ganga Ram, the great son of Punjab, was born in 1851 in Mangtanwala, a small town about 64 km from Lahore. From the beginning, he proved to be a brilliant student and in 1869, he joined the Government College in Lahore on a scholarship. In 1871, he obtained a scholarship to the Thompson Engineering College at Roorkee, India. He graduated in 1873 and was awarded with a gold medal.
In 1873, he was appointed to Lahore in the engineering department, where he served under Rai Bahadur Kanhaiya Lal, the Executive Engineer, and author of the distinguished "History of Lahore". In 1885, he was appointed Assistant Engineer at Lahore. Here, he supervised the construction of the new High Court Building and the beautiful Lahore Cathedral. He occasionally officiated as Executive Engineer, and four years later became Special Engineer for the design and construction of Aitchison College, where he worked in conjunction with Bhai Ram Singh. Finally, once his work at Aitchison College was completed, Ganga Ram was promoted to the post of Executive Engineer of the Lahore Division, occupying the chair he had once sat in as a lowly student, but which he could now occupy in his own right. He held this position for the next twelve years, during which time he constructed the Lahore Museum, the Mayo School of Arts, the General Post Office, the Albert Victor Wing of Mayo Hospital, and the Government College Chemical Laboratory. The City of Lahore substantially owes its metalled streets, its paved lanes and its properly laid drains to Ganga Ram's unstinting efforts. In 1900, Ganga Ram was selected by Lord Curzon to act as Superintendent of Works in the Imperial Durbar to be held in Delhi in connection with the accession of King Edward VII.
In 1917, he applied for 23,000 acres of barren, unirrigated land in Montgomery District near Bari Doab Canal. The land was situated on higher ground and he could only water it by the lift irrigation system. He was successful in his endeavours, and his arid acres soon turned into tracts of rich soil. He was then leased another 40,000 acres of higher ground land for a period of seven years, which he was able to irrigate successfully once again. He constructed a hydro-electric station on the Bari Doab Canal, and was able to complete his project within the time limit given to him. By 1925, he had constructed 75 miles of irrigation channels, 625 miles of water courses, 45 bridges, 565 miles of village roads, and 121 miles of boundary roads, all at his own cost – the list of his achievements is endless. Altogether 89,000 acres of waste land had been developed successfully by this miracle worker. This was the biggest private enterprise of the kind, unknown and unthought-of in the country before. By now he was 70, and in 1922 he was recommended for a richly deserved knighthood by the then Governor of Punjab, Sir Edward Maclagan.
Sir Ganga Ram’s services to education included the establishment of the Lady Maclagan School for Girls and Punjab’s first college of commerce, Hailey College, was made possible by a donation of his residential building “Nabha House” opposite the University Grounds for exclusive use to establish a College of Commerce.
However, the most impressive charitable act of all performed by him was the construction of the Sir Ganga Ram Free Hospital. In 1921, he purchased a piece of land at the junction of Queen’s Road and Lawrence Road to construct a hospital building at a cost of Rupees 131,500 which was open to the needy, irrespective of caste or creed. In 1923 the hospital was taken over by the Ganga Ram Trust Society, and today it ranks second only to Mayo Hospital in its services to the people of Lahore.
In 1927, Sir Ganga Ram traveled to London where he suffered a heart attack and passed away at his London home. The cremation ceremony took place at the Golders Green Crematorium, and was attended by dignitaries befitting a man of his stature. His ashes were brought back to India by his son, and the main portion of these were scattered in the waters of the Ganges, where about ten thousand people attended the ceremony. The remaining ashes were then taken to Lahore, and the urn containing his ashes was bedecked with roses and jasmine blossoms. It was carried on the back of a magnificently caparisoned Kotul horse from his house to the Town Hall and then to his samadhi near Taxali Gate. The crowds chanted ‘Gharibon key wali ki jai’ (Long Live the Friend of the Poor) as the procession wended its way towards the old city. After his death and right up to 1947, on Baisakhi Day a great fair used to be held in honour of him.
A statue of Sir Ganga Ram once stood on Mall Road outside Lahore Museum. Saadat Hasan Manto, a famous Urdu writer, relates a shameful incident that occurred during the frenzy of religious riots of 1947 when an inflamed mob in Lahore, attacked the statue of Sir Ganga Ram. They first pelted the statue with stones; then smothered its face with coal tar. Then a man made a garland of old shoes and climbed up to put it round the neck of the statue. He was shot by the police and as he fell to the ground, ironically the mob shouted: “Let us rush him to Ganga Ram Hospital.”
Sir Ganga Ram was a great engineer and a great philanthropist and no doubt a great human being. He devoted his life to the service of the common man. Sir Ganga Ram is also known as “Father of Modern Lahore”, but unfortunately like many others we have forgotten this great man, the son of our soil. He was truly a legend. In the words of Sir Malcolm Hailey, the once Governor of Punjab, "he won like a hero and gave like a Saint". What he did for Lahore can never be forgotten.
*Photo courtesy of Syed Yasir Usman.