On the Trail of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

 The court of Lahore by August Schoefft, painted circa 1850-1855.The original painting can be seen in the Sikh Museum in Lahore Fort


Anyone interested in this period may wonder what the pavilion and courtyard look like now. The painting itself shows little detail of the architecture and decorative work of the pavilion or courtyard itself as a host of nobles block any inner detail from being shown. And we may be left with the impression of the structure being made of plain stone or marble. What would the nobles crowding around Ranjit Singh have seen as they glanced up at the ceiling or around the walls. And if there was anything decorating the pavilion, it would be of interest to know its condition.

 The pavilion from around the same angle that Shoefft used for his painting.

Corruption at the Fort

On a recent visit I had the chance to have a little closer look than I at first thought possible. The chance came courtesy of some blatant corruption amongst the guards at the Fort. I was invited by the guard at the Shish Mahal to have a personal inspection of that building. Obviously he expected payment but I wasn’t going to let up a chance like this go. The cost was 50 Rupees. As I returned to Ranjit Singh’s pavilion I couldn’t resist asking him for a chance to take some pictures inside the pavilion. The reply was it would cost 100 rupees. Although this meant I had the chance to take a photographic record, this also means many others will do the same which doesn’t bode well from a preservation point of view on account of the delicate state of the pavilion internals. An article on this website dealing with theft at the fort comes as no surprise as the corruption of the fort guard I met was quite blatant. Any rich ‘outsider’ i.e. anyone who would be prepared to pay some money was allowed in to the Shish Mahal while the locals who tried entering when they saw these people being allowed in were shooed away. I also got a private viewing by the guard of the closed Sikh Museum for 200 Rupees.

View of the wooden roof from the side of the pavilion. Notice the plank at the end being used to support the timbers  Picture taken from the other side of the pavilion to the previous picture. Only traces of the dominant blue color of the ceiling remain.  t of the color has been scrubbed away leaving naked wood. The middle rosette that would have been the centrepiece of the decorative work is clearly visible.  

The real pavilion

The first thing one notices is the Pavilion actually has eight openings (hence in fact it’s name – Athdara meaning eight doors or openings). August Schoefft used some artistic license in depicting 3 pillars as showing the full five front facing pillars would have meant less real estate on the canvas to portray the many characters on the pavilion. The same goes for the size, in terms of length and height – the pavilion is smaller in real size than in the painting. Shoefft also angled the pavilion somewhat so more characters and courtyard could be shown

Inside, it’s apparent the pavilion was richly decorated. The bad news is that any decorative work is now fast disappearing. Any restoration work must be carried out very soon, and by qualified personnel, otherwise in a matter of years little will be left.

 The back wall  of the pavilion (shown on left of picture) is alt completely ruined with nothing left to save.

The ceiling

The state of the wooden ceiling is pitiful with a third of it already collapsed. A plank has been inserted in to help support the collapsed part of the roof, work it seems which must have taken all of one hour at t. This is the only ‘maintenance work’ that is apparent in the pavilion. What is left is in very poor shape indeed. Only the broad brushstrokes of any artwork can now be discerned. The ceiling was elaborately mirrored like the Shish Mahal with a rich blue background interspersed with yellow paintwork.  Around half the mirrors embedded into the wooden ceiling have disappeared and the remaining are there just in name having lost their lustre many years ago. The round mirrors were in square grid pattern with the middle of the roof containing a more elaborate intricate octagonal carving and suggesting a larger mirror in the middle of the roof. The middle of the roof has clear naked white wood with no paintwork left suggesting somebody has literally scrubbed it clean in the recent past !!. Abrasive marks can be seen on half scrubbed sections. It seems the personnel responsible only realized the damage they were doing after they had ‘cleaned’ around half the ceiling.

The wooden cornices joining the wooden roof to the walls are in far worse condition. Only one lengthy piece of cornicing remains at one end showing these were also covered with the same style of work as the ceiling except they have a more delicate leaf shaped mirroring. Only the odd brushstroke of the blue colour that the ceiling would have been is left now in places.


Closeup of the the last major piece of cornicing hanging on but badly faded.  

The walls

On the end wall to what would have been Ranjit Singh’s left side as he faced the courtyard, a full length painting is on the wall. What seems to be watermarks from leaks above have now left white streaks on  the painting . A fair amount of graffiti means people of people must have been visiting the pavilion even though there’s no steps leading into it. The painting is now very faint and it’s really difficult to make out what’s represented. The top right half of the painting still shows some elaborate work that can be understood. The lower half is alt all gone. This painting really need saving right now before they fade from eyesight totally.
The rear wall of the pavilion is in far worse shape, half of the plasterwork having been lost possibly when the ceiling collapsed. Any decorative work left in any shape is on the side of the pavilion with three opening.

The fast fading remains of a wall to wall painting on the closed side of the pavilion. Already it is difficult to make out what scene is being depicted. The cornicing at the top is the only large section left in the pavilion. 


Although the higher profile Sish mahal buildings behind this pavilion are being protected and currently being restored with UNESCO funds, the pavilion which is in far worse condition is unfortunately being left to decay. Without any attention, only traces of what the interior looked like in its heyday now remain. In this advanced state of decay, there is still enough detail present which gives us some idea of what the noblemen must have seen and brushed past as they jostled for position on this grand stage behind Ranjit Singh. These details need to be documented very quickly as they are close to being lost for ever. Moreover it’s difficult to see any restoration work appearing in the short term.

The view from the pavilion from just behind where Runjeet Singh would have been seated. 

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