HARKING BACK: Without walls, the old city now has 21 gateways

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Sep 21 , 2014


There was a reason – and a logic - why the walled city of Lahore was divided by the Mughals, i.e. Akbar the Great, into ten ‘guzargahs’ or entry points. Even though it had 13 gateways, but always was said to have 12 gates and a ‘mori’ – hole.

Our ancestors, almost like us today, were very superstitious people. Then so were people all over the world. Why take a risk, they would reason. It had ten ‘guzargahs’ because one plus zero stood for one, which is a most auspicious number, and, so they reasoned, there is one Almighty. Then the 12 gates were one plus two making it three, which again was an odd, and hence, lucky. They invented the ‘mori’ to ensure the city remained lucky. This might sound a weird way of thinking, but then just read ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ by Abul Fazl and you might get the flow of things.

First, let me dwell on the ‘guzargahs’. With the rising sun came Taxali Gate, where was located the ‘taxal’ – the royal mint. Money meant that one’s sun was rising. This had one gate.

Then comes the second ‘guzargah’, namely Bhati, and this had one gate also. The entire western front of the city, for purely military reasons, did not have a gate from Taxali in the north-west to Bhati in the south-west.

The consideration was that invasions came, invariably from the west. The third ‘guzargah’ was Lohari, with Lohari gate as the sole entrance, with ‘Mori’ being the additional exit point, mostly for cremation. With time it became a main gateway, but till today is not considered as such.

Then comes the fourth ‘guzargah’, which is Shahalami, the trading area to the southernmost side of the city. Note that traders were kept as far away from governance as was possible. Right in the centre of the city is the fifth ‘guzargah’, called Uchi Delhi, a name that was shunned once Rang Mahal came about. Before Akbar expanded the bricked walled city, this is where the eastern gateway of the city was, and hence it retained the right to be considered a ‘guzargah’.

The sixth ‘guzargah’ is called Mochi, which was where the cavalry of the Moghal armed forces dwelled. This area included Akbari. The seventh ‘guzargah’ is Delhi, from where travellers from Delhi entered and proceed towards the city centre, or the Lahore Fort, as the case would be. This incorporated Yakki also.

The eighth ‘guzargah’ was originally called Khizri after the saint of the seas and sailors, because this was the main river port of Lahore. This is today called Sheranwala gate after Maharajah Ranjit Singh parked two lions in a cage for people to see. Popular folklore is that children often threw stones at them leading to their death.

The ninth ‘guzargah’ was Kashmiri, which included Masti, the gateway that led to the eastern gate of the fort. Lastly was the tenth gateway called Roshnai because at night oil lamps kept the royal entrance alight.

So in the ten ‘guzargahs’ we had 12 gateways and a ‘mori’. Between each gateway were the fabled walls of the old city of Lahore. However, all this is now virtually folklore, a dream from days gone by.

This tragedy has unfolded before our own eyes. Today there are no walls left, the entire city denuded of its defenses. Then the trader classes do not need fences, they need the freedom for their goods to come and go without hindrance.

If you take the trouble of walking around the ‘walled’ city, an adventure that takes over two hours, you will discover that the old city now has 21 gateways, or entrances.

The ‘guzargahs’ exist in the sense that ten police stations exist where in days of old the Moghal ‘thanedar’ had his office and imprisonment cells. Therefore, that has followed a pattern. The walls and gateways are another story.

The walls have all been completely knocked down. It seems no one is brave enough to rebuild them to return old Lahore to its glory. Let me go over the new gateways.

To the west where once no gateway existed, today there are two new gateways, one coming from near Shish Mahal Road and the other from Omar Chowk in Tibbi. Then there is a new gateway from Mohallah Islam Khan from the ‘dera’ where once lived the sister of “Jagga Gujjar’.

Then just before Shahalami is the huge gateway of Nawa Bazaar. Here traders filled up a historic well and cemented a pathway through the wall. It is called Nawa Bazaar Darwaza.

Then between Akbari and Mochi they have opened up a wide walkway called Azadi Rah’. Imagine. Between Mochi and Akbari two more entrances have been sprung. Naturally, all this happened because the city walls were pulled down. Between Akbari and Delhi one huge new gateway exists which can handle trucks too.

The line between Delhi and Yakki has three entrances and the walls between Yakki and Kashmiri are no longer there. Their ‘collapse’ is a very recent happening. Then there is a huge new opening near ‘Kali Beri’.

In all we now have 21 gateways old and new. I suppose you might say that 21 is two plus one, and that is three, and three is a lucky number.

Now that we have a Lahore Walled City Authority, there is a need to declare the destroyed walls and old gateways as heritage, which they certainly are. Should the new entrances be plugged? Should the lost walls be rebuilt? Should we strive to conserve and rebuild the old walled city to its lost glory? These are questions that need clear answers, to be followed by robust action. Is this possible? I have my growing doubts.

Published in Dawn, September 21th, 2014




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