Harking back : Timeless debate over what Mori Gate really is!

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, May 25 , 2014


Many do not consider Mori Gate as a ‘gate’ in the first place. That is why old folk in the walled city believe that the city has 12 gates and a ‘mori’ – a hole. This debate is as old as time.

The fact remains that Mori Darwaza is probably amongst the two oldest gates - call them outlets - of the city. Most people think of Mori Gate as Lahore’s 13th gate, the gate that never was, or is. This debate defies all logic, and that is why today we must jump into this controversy. Only we will use logic, topography and history to see through the smoke that surrounds this matter.

First of all what classifies as a gate or a gateway? Any opening through which people can pass comfortably is a gateway. The gate is merely there to shut people in or out, especially in days of old at night when animals and dacoits ruled supreme. Mori Gate never had a gate. The Sikh rulers built the gateway and the gate for security reasons. In the days when Bhati Gate, Shahalami Gate or Yakki Gate did not exist, the ‘mori’ did and it did not have a gate.

Lahore had a Lahori Gate, the main entrance to the city facing southwards. Right next to this main gate, at the edge of the wall as it moved northwards was Mori Gate. The outer wall existed to the east of Bhati Gate’s Bazaar Hakeeman. Hence, Mori Gate existed at the southwestern edge of the old mud-walled city. In old descriptions it is referred to merely as the ‘mori’ – the hole.

Now to topography. The land lay is such, as it still is, that it slopes in a south-southwestern incline. Therefore, the wastewater flowed in that direction and through the main gutter into the River Ravi. It was through this and along the water channels, that the waste and wastewater of the city reached the river outside.

As the population of the city was entirely Hindu and Buddhist, they moved their dead through this ‘mori’. Religious tradition and superstition stated that the dead should never leave through the main door of a house or a city.

Just outside Mori Gate was the open space next to the River Iravati. The word ‘Ravi’ originates from this name. This was where the population of Lahore cremated their dead.

The river moved snakelike and curled around the city passing to the north outside the Lahore Fort, then around the mounds and the outer walls that constituted Lahore. Outside Mori Gate it moved to the south towards the present District Courts and then on towards Sanda.

At this place we know that the great son and hero of Lahore, Raja Jaipal, committed ‘johar’ after being defeated twice by the Afghan invader Mahmud. For a Rajput this was the only honourable thing to do. Let us move northwards along the incline to see what exists inside Mori Gate.

As we move through the main bazaar of Mori Gate, we reach the famous Chowk Jhanda, where a grain market exists. The name ‘jhanda’ is derived from a ‘Pir Jhanda’ who sat under a huge pipal tree that still exists, as does his grave.

To the left is Kucha Darzian – Tailor’s Row – which lead to the haveli of Naunehal Singh, which was converted by the British into the famous Victoria School. Naunehal Singh, the son of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, was killed in mysterious circumstances when the Roshnai gateway arch collapsed on him as he walked to his coronation after his father’s cremation. That incident remains another great mystery of Lahore.

Chowk Jhanda is where also dwelt Hassu Telli, a Suhrawardy seer, who carried out his trade with amazing honesty. Even today every Thursday people come to the famous pipal tree and leave oil lamps burning to honour the saint.

The history of Mori Gate, at least ever since Akbar the Great built the outer walls with bricks and expanded the city, tells us of this gateway having a main bazaar leading to a huge grain market. From this point in time we can safely call it a gateway.

Nevertheless, it still, keeping with tradition, never had a proper gate, just an appropriate opening through which a body could pass for reaching the cremation ground outside. An iron grill gate was normally locked from the inside. So would that mean it was just a ‘mori’ and not a proper gateway?

We know that cremations took place outside the ‘mori’. People would gather inside sending the body through after appropriate preparations. Inside the ‘mori’ was once an open space called ‘Maidan Bhaiyanwalla’. This open space was for people to gather before the cremation. The ‘maidan’ is no more. Infact the ‘mori’ is no more. The facts are there for you to romance on. Is it a ‘mori’ or a gate? This matter will never be resolved, and why should it be?

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2014




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