Travel with Marrium – Ghanta Ghar

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This 100 year-old picture postcard provides a view over the road leading to Hussain Agahi Bazaar from the vantage point of the Multan Fort. The salient feature is the “Ghanta Ghar” or Municipal Clock Tower House. Multan’s Ghanta Ghar was built in 1884 and christened “Ripon Hall”, after the Viceroy of the day while the tower housing the clock was named Northbrook Tower after a former viceroy.

The first clock towers were built in India in the 1860s, after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and were deliberately intended to stamp the landscape with reminders of the “supremacy of the Raj” while simultaneously forcing the Victorian-­era virtue of punctuality onto a native population supposedly marked by “laziness and lethargy.”

Such a symbol of Imperial rule was even more important in Multan that had been wrested from Diwan Mulraj, a vassal of Ranjit Singh, as the last stronghold of the Akal Takht of Lahore only twenty years before. Symbolically, the clock tower was built on the remains of Ahmad Khan Saddozai’s (Abdali/Durrani) haveli manifesting a firm vanquishment of the meddling of the Afghan tribes who had historically exerted control over India’s northern states through the passage of the rich caravan-city of Multan.

Picture courtesy: discoverpk.com

As railroads were also being installed to facilitate economic exchange there was an inevitable need for time standardization. For the British, time standardization was conducive to administrative control as well as the economic exploitation of India’s resources. And a manifestation of the Victorian ideologies of rationality and progress, as well as of Britain’s civilizing mission.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

The missionary function of the public clock was manifested through outward appearances that appeared to be adaptive to local culture. Anglo-Indian architects designed clock towers such as Ripon Hall with the exterior form of a minaret and a clock as its heart giving rise to what we now term as “Indo-Saracenic” architecture. This uncanny replacement of an Islamic time-­regulating technology with a British one had a more sinister meaning with British senior officials hypothesizing that Indian natives could be more easily coaxed into a Christian church if it had a familiar outward appearance.

After serving various functions post-partition, the Ghanta Ghar seems to have reverted back to its original purpose as an office for the municipal corporation. A recent restoration was done in red-brick but the scene that looks out into the bazaar from the principal clock seems to have adhered to “native time”, remaining almost unchanged more than a hundred years on.


Written by Marrium Habib

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