The lost grandeur of Chhachrauli

Little is known about the antiquities of the area except that it is comparably a recent settlement, not more than 250 years old. Sugh, an ancient settlement of the late Buddhist period, is some 6 kosas farther down along the bank of the Yamuna. Alexander Cunningham records about its antiquities in his report of 1863-64. Little or no account of Chhachrauli is available in the Gazetteer of Ambala district which was compiled between 1870 and 1874. Only some mention of Kalsia rajas is available in the book The Rajas of the Panjab, authored by L.H. Griffin and published in November, 1870.

To get some information about Chhachrauli, my visit to the town sometime ago yielded significant information. Lala Trilok Das Garg, 65, was of great help. He led me to the fort. After passing through the magnificent entrance gate named after Raja Ravi Sher Singh, we entered the town. The straight road goes to the end of the town. We turned left to pass through another entrance gate of the fort. In its high precincts stand some old and a few new buildings.

In the centre stand the ruins of a magnificent royal house built probably 140 years ago in traditional Indian architectural style. This double-storeyed mahal looks like an ancient haveli, big enough to accommodate 50 persons. It could have been a jenana, since it has only one decorated entrance in its eastern wall. The mahal is built on a rectangular plane with a central courtyard, measuring 60 feet by 40 feet. On the left hand stands another magnificent building known as Rani Mahal. Between these is another building in British-Indian architectural style, which was probably used as a rest house. It is now used as a gurdwara and is painted in austere white. Beyond this to the left, is the 60-foot-high burj or the clock tower, built by Raja Ranjit Singh Kalsia. In olden times when noise pollution was non-existent, its chimes could be heard as far away as Jagadhari. Shri Charan, on a monthly salary of Rs 100, used to wind this clock in the times of Raja Ravi Sher Singh. The clock is a master creation of local artisans. Its long pendulum has been made of two heavy blocks of stones obtained from the Sombh bed. It stopped working after a few decades of its placement. Later, in the memory of his son Kanwar Karan Singh, the Raja got it repaired. It is now lying in a state of neglect.

Constructed with lakhauri bricks sometime in the middle of the 19th century, Rani Mahal does not seem to have been the personal abode of the queens alone. Its space and design make it a fit place for royal gatherings or for holding darbars. It has a great hall in its western side. There are 20-odd large rooms on both its northern and southern side. In the central hall, there is a three-arched, decorated masnad i.e., the royal seat. The masnad was designed to have three rear doors for letting fresh air and light in. The doors are now sealed with wooden planks. In its canopy exist several beautiful wall paintings and floral patterns. To see their real colours, I had to remove layers of dust for an hour. Several artefacts and photographs of the royal household that used to adorn the walls and mantels were removed years ago from here. This large two-storeyed building contains seven-arched verandahs. It is now being used as a girls’ school. In front of the building, which stands on a four-foot-high chabootra, there is a fountain that has been just left to decay.

The t striking building is the old haveli, constructed with lakhauri bricks and lime mortar and profusely decorated with wall paintings and floral patterns. The entrance door and the full length of the eastern wall, besides the courtyard walls, bear testimony to the royal taste. The heavy brass-studded and artistically designed front door panels were removed from here a couple of years ago by miscreants. Lala Trilok Das Garg told me that the Raja had engaged Muslim masons and chiteyras for the construction and decoration of the haveli. Even the grandfather of Lala Trilok Das had employed them for construction of their haveli in the main bazaar in the 1920s. The wall paintings depicted the Sikh Gurus, founding fathers of Kalsia state, deities of the Hindu pantheon and auspicious birds like the baaz and mayur. In the absence of proper care, this magnificent old building is falling in ruins. Some of the walls and alt the entire roof of the first floor have collapsed. The haveli is now covered with weeds and rubble. t of the paintings on its walls have vanished or faded. It can still be resurrected and made to appear as grand as it stood 100 years ago provided the owners are ready to invest sufficiently and convert it either into a local museum-cum-art school of Sikh heritage or at least into a heritage hotel. It is astonishing that the Archaeology Department is unaware of this beautiful heritage building.

The Raghunath and Shiva temples built here some 140 years ago by Lala Gopal Sharan Das Mittal are other fine monuments of religious significance in Chhachrauli, which has a population of over 10,000. Within the temple complex, are exquisitely carved wooden projections.

Unfortunately, with the migration of the royal family from Chhachrauli, all the buildings in the fort complex have lost their grandeur.

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