The French connection

The Anarkali mystery and the rediscovery of General Allard’s tomb in Lahore

Anarkalis tomb in Punjab Civil Secretariat, Lahore
Anarkali's tomb in Punjab Civil Secretariat, Lahore


he construction of Anarkali’s tomb had not been completed when William Finch reached Lahore in February 1611. However, when his memoirs were published later, his two sentences propounded the romantic legend, which provided a spicy subject for many a motion picture.

As the story goes, Emperor Akbar had her villainously buried within a wall for passing a seductive smile to the young prince, and true to his romantic character, Jehangir ordered a tomb to be built at the site as a lasting token of his love. Whether or not Anarkali existed in fact is a matter of historical controversy, but the octagonal tomb has stood the test of time. It was occupied, ravished and stripped by Kharak Singh, the heir apparent to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Subsequently, it was given to General Jean Baptiste Ventura, the French soldier of fortune in the employment of Ranjit Singh, who used it as his bedroom. During the early British rule in he Punjab, the tomb was used partly as a residence for some of the clerical staff and partly as an office. Later, it was conse as St James’s Church: Anarkali, the first parish church of Lahore. After serving a variety of secular purposes, it finally ended up becoming the Official Store of archives.

Allard’s tomb perched at the top of the raised platform. The platform was not so high in 1992 when I first visited this place.
Allard’s tomb perched at the top of the raised platform. The platform was not so high in 1992 when I first visited this place.

In 1992, soon after my CSS examinations, I had loads of free time to roam about in Lahore, trying to rediscover its lost glories. I drifted to the tomb of Anarkali, which is located inside the Civil Secretariat on Lower Mall. My companion was a book, Early Travels in India, by William Foster. It contained William Finch’s travelogue. On the marble sarcophagus in the tomb, an engraved inscription in Persian, the court language of the Moghuls, said, “the profoundly enamoured Saleem, son of Akbar” was the one who had raised this magnificent structure. The sarcophagus was removed from beneath the central dome and placed in the eastern recess, probably when this place was used as a Church.

I sneaked into the verandah of the main secretariat building to peep at the marble plaque which says that this was General Ventura’s bedroom. Suddenly, a bell rang, and I was ushered inside the room rather reluctantly and had an audience with a “no-nonsense looking” gentleman occupying the top seat of the government. Disturbing the peace of the chief secretary was enough to condemn me but the book in my hand saved the day. Before dismissing me, he turned around the book nonchalantly and remarked: “Do you seriously believe that Anarkali actually existed?”

Edward Terry, an Englishman who stayed at the Moghul court (1616-19) with Sir Thomas Roe, wrote in his memoirs: “Achbar-shah had threatened to disinherit the present King, for abuse of Anar-kalee (Pomegranate Kernell), his most beloved wife; but on his deathbed repealed it.” My friend Salman Rashid, an authority in history, insists that these early travellers were mostly recording juicy hearsay, which at times was far from historical fact.

The marble plaque on the back wall has french engraved on it that. It says that these are the graves of General Allard and her daughter Marie.
The marble plaque on the back wall has french engraved on it that. It says that these are the graves of General Allard and her daughter Marie.

A few days after my visit to the civil secretariat, while roving in old Lahore, I heard an incredible anecdote at the most unusual place. I picked up a conversation with a resident of the Walled City inside Bhati Gate. The talkative old man was sipping scalding tea from a saucer, his slurping sound audible like a church bell. He said he had got so mesmerised after watching the Indian movie Moghul-i-Azam that he had visited the tomb of Anarkali a number of times. He winked at me and opined that the shifting of the sarcophagus from the central position could be a Sikh conspiracy. He followed it with a bewildering yarn:

“The sarcophagus was removed from its original central position by General Allard, the French mercenary employed by Ranjit Singh, who decided to use the tomb as his bedroom. But before it could be moved, a sage appeared and warned Monsieur Allard that a curse would fall on the person who disturbed the anatomy of the tomb. Dismissing this prophecy as oriental superstition, he proceeded with his plan, and soon, a comfortable bed was placed in the central position where the sarcophagus had rested. Within three months of this incident, the General’s teenage daughter died of an undiagnosed malady. The heartbroken father, as a token of his affection, decided to erect a tomb over the grave of his daughter. To compensate Anarkali, the sepulchral monument was to be fashioned on the pattern of Anarkali’s tomb. When completed, it was a miniature replica of the famous tomb.”

The story was hard to believe. On being questioned, the old narrator could not substantiate his yarn except that he had heard it from his elders via seena-gazette - verbatim transfer of vital information through generations.

Whether or not Anarkali existed in fact is a matter of historical controversy, but the octagonal tomb has stood the test of time.

Syed Mohammad Latif, an authority on the architectural remains and history of Lahore, failed to mention the existence of such a tomb - let alone the story. My friend Majeed Sheikh, another collector of the tales about Lahore, too somehow missed this account. I have always believed that such tales tend to have a kernel of truth buried inside layers of embellishments. Even though the anecdote may be a fabrication, the possibility of the existence of such a tomb could not be ruled out. For me, an attempt to unveil the mystery of the tomb, if it existed, and its French connection were worth the effort.

I started digging into books available on the history and architecture of Lahore. The first vague clue came from Col HR Goulding’s book Old Lahore-Reminiscence of a Resident. He acknowledged the existence of an unnamed Christian grave at the angle where Mozang and Edward Roads meet.

The next morning, I reached the spot overlooking the Accountant General’s Office building. The strategic angle formed by Edward Road (renamed as Mauj Darya Road) and Mozang Road was now occupied by a shop, Law Book House. On the top of this shop is a mosque, which, according to a self-appointed guide, Shaukat, was a typical ruse used by unscrupulous land grabbers in the aftermath of 1947 and later. He led us through a narrow staircase to the mosque and, instead of entering it, turned left into a tunnel-shaped zig-zag recess, which ended abruptly. There, surrounded by concrete walls, we found two graves, cemented but bearing no names. From their East-West alignment, we concluded that it was not what we were looking for. Christian graves are always aligned in the North-South direction. The mystery remained unresolved.

The front entrance of Munshi Chambers through which this tomb was only approachable in 1992.
The front entrance of Munshi Chambers through which this tomb was only approachable in 1992.

A few weeks later, my father, Mohammad Kamil, a retired professor of history, provided me with a biography of Ranjit Singh, which was published in 1939 by the Khalsa College of Amritsar to commemorate the 100th death anniversary of the maharaja. As I read through the pages, the mystery of the French connection started to unfold.

In the late evening of Sunday, June 18, 1815, the Battle of Waterloo drew to an end. Napoleon was defeated and the Quadruple Alliance, to prevent any further French aggression, imposed harsh measures, which included a strict check on the French army. Resultantly in an age of romance and adventure, the highly spirited soldiers of fortune started drifting around looking for daring ventures. Some of them found employment in princely Indian states to help modernise their armies. Ranjit Singh’s Punjab was no exception. Jean Francois Allard, along with his friend General Ventura (an Italian who had served in Napoleon’s army), joined the service of the maharaja in March 1822. Ventura received the command of a body of infantry. Allard was commissioned to raise a corps of dragoons, who were to be disciplined and armed exactly on the same lines as a cavalry corps in Europe. Both were given liberal salaries of about Rs 30,000 each per annum. In 1824, both fought a battle near Akora Khattak in which Mohammad Azim Khan, the ruler of Kabul, was defeated, and the Sikh forces entered Peshawar for the first time.

General Ventura was given the Tomb of Anarkali for residential purposes but soon shifted to a newly constructed building in the immediate neighbourhood. In 1847, this building became the British Residency. It is now being used as the office of the chief secretary of the Punjab.

Meanwhile, Allard occupied another building located some distance from Ventura’s house. Near this house, Marie Charlotte, Allard’s daughter, was buried in 1827. Her tomb was surrounded by a garden which extended from what is now the building of Lahore High Court, covering all of Old Anarkali bazaar, to the Anarkali police station. Locals soon started calling this garden as Kuri da Bagh (the girl’s garden) – a reference to Marie’s grave. In 1915, Allard’s abode was pulled down and the space was allotted to Maharaja of Kapurthala, whose mansion lies in the heart of Old Anarkali.

I started a renewed quest from the famous Al Mashoor Yousef Falooda Shop. After loitering for two days in the neighbourhood, I arrived at a yellow-painted five-storied building called Munshi Chambers close to Kapurthala House. The ownership of this building was disputed between a few shopkeepers, lawyers and a local bank. Though the building was guarded by an iron grill, the main entrance remained open. We reached the courtyard through a dark, dusty corridor. There it was – a smaller version of Anarkali’s tomb resting on a solid raised platform. A neat, bricked flight of stairs leads to the tomb’s high-arched entrance. On the wall, just above this entrance, was a marble plaque with a Persian inscription. A similar plaque adorning the chamber wall inside the tomb announced in French that the two graves contain the mortal remains of Marie Charlotte and General Allard Sahib Bahadur. It is surrounded on three sides by the ugly yellow walls of Munshi Chambers. Towards the east are a few slum houses and then a wall, after which the tall building of the Income Tax House rises into the sky, dwarfing this ageing monument. An old peepal tree is the last grim reminder of the Girl’s Garden.

Months later I was reintroduced to the gentleman I had met earlier in his office at Civil Secretariat. By then, I was a probationary officer undergoing specialised training at the DMG campus on The Mall. Mr Pervez Masood was now its director general. He listened to the amazing anecdote but was sceptical about the rediscovery of the tomb of Allard and his daughter. According to him, the French embassy had contacted him while he was the chief secretary of the Punjab in 1992 and asked for help to locate the same, but the related departments had found no clue to this grave. In the end Pervez Masood proudly spread the word about the rediscovery of Allard’s tomb and introduced me to Faqir Aijazuddin, an authority on Sikh history. My labours were compensated by Aijazauddin when he presented me his book, Sikh Portraits by European Artists.

We learn much about Monsieur Allard from the letters of Victor Jacquemont, a travelling French naturalist who had provided a vivid account of British India and Ranjit Singh’s Punjab. In 1829, when Allard heard about the presence of another Frenchman in India and his desire to cross River Sutlej, the two Frenchmen started exchanging letters. Allard and Ventura warmly received V Jacquemont in March 1831. To reciprocate Allard’s hospitality in Lahore, Jacquemont would soon send a letter to his father in France asking him to look after Allard’s younger brother, whose ill health had forced him to leave the Punjab some months earlier. He also mentions that Allard might be sent to deal with the “Afghan fanatic Chief Syed Ahmad” in “Hindu Cosh”. Allard was also fond of de Lafayette and, in 1823, had adopted his flag for the armies under his command, befooling Ranjit Singh in believing that it was Napoleon’s flag. Before the two Frenchmen finally departed, they “drank a glass of champagne to the health of Marquis de Lafayette, which is a very curious thing at Lahore,” noted Victor Jacquemont. But not once were the strange circumstances of Marie’s death mentioned by anyone close to Allard. The structure’s resemblance to that of Anarkali’s tomb could be a coincidence. Perhaps Allard thought that this design was an oriental way of expressing deep love.

Since then, the Archaeology Department has rediscovered the tomb, and a signboard, which was separately carved out from the side alley, has now been installed at the entrance. The tomb has been renovated, the slums removed and some of Allard’s descendants from France have paid a visit to the place. Last year when I visited it with my wife, the door from the alley next to the Yousef Falooda shop was locked. We peeped over the door for a better view.

I vividly remember that in 1993, when I last visited this tomb, it was late Thursday afternoon. Children and pigeons were playing merrily around the tomb. Both Allard’s and Marie’s graves were covered with a green chaddar littered with rose petals, a treatment reserved for saints. Allard is said to have dealt cruelly with Muslims while governing Wazirabad for which Ranjit Singh reprimanded him. Ironically, a century later, Allard’s harshness towards Muslims has been answered by Islamising his grave. Adieu Allard.

The writer is a retired civil servant, a conservationist and an animal rights activist. He may be reached at

The French connection