HARKING BACK: Lahore’s jadoo ghar and its ultimate carnage

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn May 28, 2017

As a young journalist still in college I happened to be among that group who witnessed the ‘takeover’ of the Freemasons’ Hall, known locally still as ‘jadoo ghar’, on The Mall when Z.A. Bhutto banned Freemasonry in Pakistan.

Just what harm this mysterious organisation posed to Pakistan, let alone a prime minister in search of scapegoats, I have still 45 years later not been able to understand. Not that we knew much about this mysterious building whose high walls hid what was going on inside. It was Lahore’s most abiding mystery. We had heard rumours of skeletons hanging on the walls with the most bizarre rumour being of posh gentlemen in dinner suits with bow ties silently witnessing a sacrifice of sorts, what sort no one knew. So it was no surprise that a colleague refused to cover the takeover and hence a fresh wild college student was pushed into service. I had my own apprehensions this much I will confess now that I have greyed appropriately, with the very word ‘jadoo ghar’ making me suspicious. I was to learn much later that a lot of senior journalists had also chickened out of the event.

The Freemason Movement has a unique ‘hush-hush’ history. One version is that it was set up during the Crusades when Christians from different countries joined forces. The other is that it was an organisation of British stone masons who had made it big in the construction boom during the industrial revolution and they had gathered to form a club to flaunt their new economic muscle. In a way they were like our ‘housing societies entrepreneurs’ of today. For that reason their symbol is a compass and a ruler, the basic tools of all masons. By the time the British came to Lahore in 1849, the officers who in England belonged to ‘lodges’, as their clubs were called, managed to set up their own exclusive ‘lodges’ out of the sight of the curious ‘natives’.

Just what is Freemasonry? Very few can answer that question still. The important thing is the perception that prevails still. In Pakistan it is seen as some sort of ‘anti-Islamic’ movement with links to Zionism. Some so-called scholars claim in books and pamphlets that it is connected to ‘Masih-e-Dajjal’, or the ‘false prophet’. The problem was that most prominent Pakistanis were members of this association, whose own booklets say it aims “to promote the welfare of the poor, irrespective of their religion”.


In the rush to condemn Freemasonry, a lot of other organisations, especially those with foreign connections, were blamed as being ‘anti-Islamic’. Luckily, with time all such claims have been rebutted. But the suspicions remain, even though a lot of Muslim countries where educational standards are high, like Turkey, Malaysia and Morocco, refused to shut them down and even protected them against religious bigots. Pakistan failed miserably on that score.

In 1972 when Z.A. Bhutto banned Freemasonry, he also by decree confiscated their beautiful lodges. Much later those decrees were declared ‘illegal’. In those days one official source claimed that had they handed over their huge buildings the ban could have been avoided. It was in this context that we set off to witness the taking over of the Freemasons Hall on The Mall opposite the Punjab Assembly. In those days it was also claimed that had the Freemasons allowed their premises to be used in the Islamic Summit Conference, the ban could have been avoided.

In Lahore the very first Masonic Temple of the Lodge of Hope and Perseverance was set up in Old Anarkali in 1859. Their building is where today stands the Lady Maclagan High School. This was where the first ‘jadoo ghar’ of Lahore came about, and it was here that the famous writer Rudyard Kipling and his father came, for they were part of the movement. Amazingly, the Freemasons of Lahore knocked down their first building and the present school was built in its place. The rumour then was that it had been cleansed of “all magic influence”.

As Lahore expanded the ‘lodge’ was too close to government offices and it was thought prudent to have a grander ‘lodge’. So it was that in 1914 a second Masonic Lodge was built at Charing Cross, much before the Punjab Assembly building had come up. The design was almost like the Shah Din Building opposite it which was constructed in the same year. The basic design of both the buildings was the same and it lent the Charing Cross its basic semi-circle character. The basic design was that of a consulting architect to the Punjab Government, Mr. Basil M. Sullivan. Opposite this semi-circle was set up an exquisite marble pavilion in which sat a huge statue of Queen Victoria, which faced outwards towards Queens Road. That statue now lies in the basement of the Lahore Museum.

In its days these three structures were a class act, with the Masonic Lodge of Lahore standing out in growing mystery. Perhaps it was the mystery that led to it being misunderstood. My research tells me that the Masonic Lodges have been fighting a court case for possession, and that they have won their case. The problem is that the current Punjab ruler uses it as the ‘Chief Minister’s Secretariat’s and does not want to give up the posh offices in this beautiful building.

The location of the Masonic Lodge led our politicians and bureaucrats wanting to renovate this ‘heritage’ building. This lodge was officially titled: Prince Albert Victor Lodge 2370 and Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782. They are both warranted by the United Grand Lodge of England, and it is, allegedly, this lodge that has won its court case. The details of the case, or its current status, are little known, though the government has gone in appeal, or so we hear. We do know that the writer and poet Rudyard Kipling in a letter to the daily newspaper ‘The Times’ of London, wrote: “Members of different faiths, including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews meet for the good of the poor”. For that matter Kipling in his famous novel ‘Kim’ opens by describing the ‘big blue and white jadoo ghar’ which is what the original Masonic Lodge at Old Anarkali looked like.

So with these thoughts we entered the ‘jadoo ghar’ and found nothing. Their once famous and amazing library of books by the thousand and grand rare paintings and exquisite oak furniture lay in heaps in the open. The takeover meant that some of Lahore’s well-known bureaucrats carted away free expensive oak furniture. Second-hand book sellers from Anarkali loaded carts full of rare books. The loot was there for all to see and take away. It was wanton, if tragic is not a better word. It was a sad spectacle before us. A friend also managed to lay his hand on a few good books. The skeleton and blood stories all proved to be fake. The lies had started.

I wrote my newspaper piece with a heavy heart, and let me tell you now that a small portion of it was deleted. So it was that this historic building of Lahore which housed people working for “the good of the poor”, or so it was claimed, was emptied in the name of an imagined threat. Those who imagined the threat today haunt our beautiful land.


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