Our sculpted past

January 8, 2017

Lahore was once home to some historical sculptures that were installed at different public places during the British Raj

Our sculpted past

It was common practice with the British rulers to erect busts and sculptures of their important people at public places. It was most prominent in their colonies. The British India was no different. The Lahore of those times famously housed numerous such sculptures -- Majeed Sheikh, a renowned voice on Lahore, is quoted to have put the number down to eight.

Almost all these public sculptures were removed, one after the other, at the hands of the religious fanatics who saw sculpting human figures as unIslamic, but mostly by those seething with anger and a hatred for the Raj as well as the Hindus. The precious few sculptures that survived their wrath were relegated to some corner space inside the Lahore Museum. Others that have lasted include those of Virgin Mary or the Christ inside different cathedrals and churches of the city, or the ones that stand at different graves in Gora Kabristans (Christian cemeteries) in Taxali and on Jail Road and Infantry Rd.

Alfred Cooper Woolner’s, then, is one rare statue from the British era that still occupies the pride of place at the gate of the Pharmacy department of the Punjab University, Lahore. A noted Sanskrit scholar and professor, Woolner (May 1878-Jan 1936) also served as the 16th Vice Chancellor of the PU. His sculpture was installed in recognition of his contribution to the varsity’s collection of Sanskrit and Hindi manuscripts as well as his services to the education sector.

Another statue that has surprisingly escaped any act of vandalism is that of Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal placed inside the Alhamra Arts Centre, The Mall, in November 2013. The statue is designed by the National College of Arts graduate Rizwan Haider, who is also a known sculptor. Incidentally, another statue of Iqbal by Haider now also resides at Alhamra Cultural Complex, Gulberg.

It can be argued that these statues have survived because these weren’t built during the Raj but also because these are figures of the country’s most revered poet-philosopher.

Almost all these public sculptures were removed, one after the other, at the hands of the religious fanatics who saw sculpting human figures as unIslamic, but mostly by those seething with anger and a hatred for the Raj as well as the Hindus.

Renowned artist and painter Zulfiqar Zulfi holds a different view. Talking to TNS, he says, "All art, especially sculpture, was under threat during the Zia regime. Later, we have seen no acts of vandalism as previously reported." he says.

A mention of the grand pieces of sculpture that we lost is well in order. The towering statue of the Punjabi author and politician Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928), for instance, was one prominent piece that had been placed near Kim’s Gun, the famous cannon on The Mall, until the Partition when it was damaged and, eventually, moved to Simla on August 15, 1948, in a formal unveiling ceremony by the premier of East Punjab, Dr Gopichand Bhargva.

Earlier, Rai himself had met a worse fate. It is said that he was leading a procession against the Simon Commission when he was baton-charged. He couldn’t sustain the injuries.

A majestic statue of Queen Victoria, seated on her throne, had been installed in the year 1902 at the Charing Cross pavilion on The Mall. It was removed in 1974, ahead of an OIC Summit, and replaced by a bronze replica of the Holy Quran. The statue was preserved in the Lahore Museum.

Another prominent statue, depicting King Edward VII riding a horse, stood outside the King Edward Medical College building. It is no more there.

The statue of Hindu banker and activist Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia (1848-98), who also has a college in Lahore named after him, was pulled down at the Dyal Singh Mansion some decades ago.

Sir John Lawrence, the first Governor of the Punjab who later became the Governor General of British India from 1864 to 1869, had a statue designed by veteran English sculptor of the times Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, to be placed outside the Lahore High Court building. It showed him holding a sword in one hand and a pen in the other. The statue was removed in an agitation following the hanging of Bhagat Singh, which was led by people who considered it a disgrace to the nationalist movement. The statue was later kept in the Lahore Museum.

The statue of leading Hindu philanthropist and engineer Sir Ganga Ram (1851-1927), who has to his credit some of the city’s iconic buildings such as National College of Arts and Ganga Ram Hospital, once adorned the Mall Road. It was also attacked and damaged by extremist groups. Celebrated Urdu writer Sadat Hassan Manto narrates an incident in one of his short stories, titled Joota, where an angry mob attacks the statue of Sir Ram. The cruelty of the mob is expressed in the way they pelt stones at the statue, then smother its face with coal tar. Eventually, a man strings together a garland of worn-out shoes and tries to put it around the neck of the statue. The police arrive and open fire. The fellow with the garland in his hand is also injured. As he falls down, the mob begins to shout, "Rush him to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital!" The satire here is unmistakable.

Today, the metropolitan city of Lahore has many public sculptures installed on different chowks. Most of these are non-human figures. Besides, these are recent additions, and designed by modern artists. For instance, the aesthetically appealing sculptures of white horses at the Ghora Chowk near Cavalry Ground.

Our sculpted past