Ghanta Ghar is one of the most iconic landmarks of Ludhiana city. It stands tall amongst the hap-hazard development of the industrial city. Previously it was the pride and the centre piece of the historic area of Chaura Bazaar, which was the hub of economic and political activity in the city. Located at the entrance of the commercial centre, the Clock Tower was and still remains a landmark in the city’s landscape. The railway station is conveniently located a short (walking) distance away from the Clock Tower, allowing for trade activity to flourish easily in the area. Apart from commercial activity Ghanta Ghar also attracts political activities, as it is a convenient location to hold political party protests and dharanas. Today the Clock Tower has receded into the background as a flyover dominates the urban landscape. Although, Ludhiana as a city has grown manifold since the Ghanta Ghar was built, and much of the commercial activity has moved to The Mall Road or Ferozepur Road, Chaura Bazaar still remains popular amongst old and new inhabitants. There is the old charm of the traditional sub-continental bazaar with its nooks and crannies. The narrow lanes, tucked away behind the wide and partial Chaura Bazaar, remain hidden gems for jewellery – gold, silver or artificial. And then there are the scrumptious aloo tikkis, gol guppas and chaats to satisfy the hungry shopper. It is a shame that the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation has not invested more in the city’s historic sites and made more of these places. But, this is part of a wider problem with preservation of heritage and history in the sub-continent.
The history of the Clock Tower, of course, evokes the British colonial heritage: Ghanta Ghar/Clock Tower was designed by the then-Municipal Chief Engineer of Amritsar, John Gordon. The design reflects the traditional European Gothic style and uses an interesting red brick, which is striking even amongst the colourful and vibrant Chaura Bazaar. Although the construction began in 1862, it was not officially inaugurated until 1906 by Sir Charles Montgomery, who was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, along with Diwan Tek Chand, Deputy Commissioner of Ludhiana.
Ludhiana actually came under British rule in 1835, when Rajah Sangat Singh died. The Gazetteer of Ludhiana District (Punjab Government, 1888) notes that it was under Sir Claude Wade (1823-38) and his successors that the town increased in its size and importance. Trade expanded, and Ludhiana became a centre for trade in grain, sugar, cloth. The small presence of Kashmiri weavers (approximately 8-10 families) expanded after the famine in 1833 to around 1,500-2,000 Kashmiris, who settled in the town. Following the Sutlej campaign (1845-1847), Ludhiana district was formed, and the civil offices were removed to the cantonment side of the city. In 1854-55, the Grand Trunk Road was metalled and realigned to its present position.
The opening of the Railway from Delhi to Lahore in 1870 undoubtedly gave a great stimulus to trade and commercial activity in Ludhiana. In addition, the number of shops and sarais along the Grand Trunk Road, facing the station were also growing. According to the Gazetteer, the new town to the south of Chaura Bazaar had all the hallmarks of being modern. The streets were wide and straight, and the houses and shops were uniformly designed, giving them a modern appearance. ‘The principal streets, the Chaura Bazaar and the Hazuri Sarak, were designed by Sir Claude Wade himself; and, one of his projects, the Iqbal Ganj, is a standing proof that he was rather too sanguine about the speedy development of the two for which he did so much’ (p. 216).
The population of town was modest compared to the 1.6 million people living in the city today. In 1868 Ludhiana had 39,983 (Males 21,701 and Females 18,282) and in 1881 this rose to, 44,163 (Males 24,685 and Females 19,478)
CENSUS REPORT 1881
Total Population – 44,168
Hindus – 12,969; Sikhs – 1,077; Jains – 752; Muslims – 29,045; and Others – 320
The population of Ludhiana started to grow, most likely with opening of the railway and consequently the establishment of the town a collecting centre for the grain traffic. But in 1878, there was a huge loss of life due to malaria fever following the monsoon season. It was estimated that around 6-7 per cent of the population died especially, ‘half-starved Kashmiris and others of the lower classes not having sufficient stamina’ (p. 217). According to the 1881 census, the town was overwhelming Muslim and indeed even in 1947, Ludhiana was a Muslim majority town. The city today is dominated by the Sikhs but there are still some remnants of a former history scattered around the city, like the Ghanta Ghar and Chaura Bazaar.