HARKING BACK: ‘Havelis’ of Chuna Mandi and the Shabad Hazaray

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn Jan 8, 2017

In the northern tip of old Lahore is Chuna Mandi, also the highest mound, which probably has more old ‘havelis’ than any other part of this walled city. With a lot of misinformation around, it makes sense to try to set the record straight.

The classic case is the Haveli of Dhian Singh Dogra (1796-1843), because the ‘haveli’ of Jamadar Khushal Singh (1790-1844) has an official board at the entrance stating that it is that of Dhian Singh. The real ‘haveli’ of the Dogra Chief Minister of Maharajah Ranjit Singh is located just off Bazaar Said Metha, and is today in utter ruins. It is by any account a classic ‘heritage disaster’ and one that needs urgent attention. Mind you this is where after 1849 the British set up their first courts, and where Government College, Lahore, as well as Oriental College, started functioning, shifting much later to their present position.

The original ‘haveli’ was a 60-kanal complex with an alleged underground tunnel running all the way to the Lahore Fort. The LDA paid for eight kanals which is where a school was set up. The remaining decays, a sad picture of our collective attitude towards our heritage. Within the ruins a few places can be said to be where this mythical tunnel started, but no clear proof exists. When Dhian Singh Dogra built his ‘haveli’, the Chuna Mandi site where now stands the ‘haveli’ of Jamadar Khushal Singh, as well as that of Teja Singh, his nephew, is said to be among one of two sites where originally stood the ‘haveli’ of Asaf Jah, a place where Mughal emperor Akbar stayed before the Lahore Fort was bricked.

The other possibility is the site of Bangla Ayub Shah, which again is in utter ruins and faces the chance of demolition. That would be an utter tragedy. Before we touch on Jamadar Khushal Singh, let us mention two other ‘havelis’, they being that of Ballaki Shah, the famed Hindu moneylender, and that of Mian Ameeruddin, now known as the Baroodkhana Haveli. The Haveli of Ballaki Shah is on the main Bazaar Chuna Mandi, opposite the Paniwala Talab, though its name has been changed to a very pious one. It has been cemented over and damaged badly. Such is our connection to our past, which it seems we are trying to forget.


The Mian Ameeruddin Haveli, where today lives his grandson Mian Yusuf Salahuddin, is on the north-eastern side opposite the Lahore Fort. This Sikh era building has a shade of mystery to it. One account states that Maharajah Ranjit Singh built it to house his top military commanders. Another states that Raja Dhian Singh Dogra built it, but the maharajah ordered that his military commander live there. So Raja Dhian Singh built his ‘haveli’ out of the sight of the maharajah. In the end he stored critical arms and ammunition there, hence the name ‘baroodkhana’. There is a possibility that the ‘baroodkhana’ was initially used by General Court, for he ran an ammunition manufacturing facility between the mosque and Taxali Gate. Mention of this is made in Surjan’s book on Sikhs and Lahore. When I last visited this ‘haveli’ I climbed on a chair to peep at a wall painting which showed rare Sikh era miniatures showing battle scenes. So the connection is very strong.

This ‘haveli’ was taken over by Mian Karim Bakhsh, a Kashmiri of Sialkot in 1870. Local legend has it that he was a construction contractor with the British who made his fortune in the turmoil that followed the downfall of the Lahore Darbar and managed to acquire this ‘haveli’.

But we must return to the main ‘haveli’ that interests us among the numerous at Chuna Mandi. The one that is wrongly labelled as that of Raja Dhian Singh Dogra in fact was built by Jamadar Khushal Singh, with an extension allowed to his nephew Teja Singh, who proved a traitor against the Sikh’s Lahore Darbar forces in the Second Sikh War. For quite some time the people of Lahore called this set of three ‘havelis’ as ‘ghadaran de pand’ (The traitors bundle). The British, naturally, discouraged this and it were they who labelled this place incorrectly. We continue with that mistake.

Who was Jamadar Khushal Singh? Born to a Brahmin shopkeeper in Meerut in 1790, he came to Lahore and joined the Lahore Darbar Army. Seeing that being a Sikh was a definite advantage he embraced Sikhism in 1812 and his name was changed from Khushal Ram to Khushal Singh. A handsome tall young man he attracted the attention of the maharajah who immediately appointed him a ‘khadmatger’. Quickly he rose to be a ‘deoredar’ (royal door attendant) and then a ‘jamadar’ (master of ceremonies). Hence he controlled access to the ruler.

To test him the maharajah sent him on military expeditions with General Hari Singh Nalwa, where he distinguished himself. His closeness to Maharani Chand Kaur led him to be disliked by the Dogras. When Hira Singh was killed, Jamadar Khushal Singh was deprived of his ‘jagirs’. When he died it emerged that most of his wealth was in British-held territory. So its family really never lost their wealth.

But to my mind the importance of the Chuna Mandi area is its connection to the fourth Sikh guru Ram Das, who designed the Golden Temple at Amritsar, which his son Arjun built with the blessings of Hazrat Mian Mir. It is here that exists the Gurdwara Janam Asthan Sri Guru Ram Das. Ram Das was born in Chuna Mandi on October 9, 1735 near Purani Kotwali. The house where he was born is called Gurdwara Diwankhana.

It was here that one of the holiest portions of the Guru Granth Sahib was created. Called ‘Shabad Hazaray’ it has a story where the guru refused to go to a family marriage at his ancestral home and sent his son Arjan instead. This was after the two elder sons had refused to go. Guru Arjan’s letters to his father were intercepted by the brothers, which when the father discovered led to Arjun being made the fifth Guru. The ‘shabad’ was constructed by Arjun and is considered a masterpiece of poetry. This is considered by Sikhs as the masterpiece contribution of Chuna Mandi to their holy book.

Should we in Lahore today not rethink the way we picture our heritage? Should not we at least label the ‘havelis’ correctly? Should not the dilapidated ‘haveli’ of the Dogra Raja Dhian Singh be conserved as a prime heritage site? Should not Bangla Ayub Shah be conserved to let our children see whatever is left? Should not we own the ‘Shabad Hazaray’ as a contribution of Chuna Mandi to the Sikh faith? We can also relabel the ‘haveli’ of Bullaki Shah, a colourful Lahore character. Surely there is a need to reclaim our heritage and respect the lofty mound called Chuna Mandi.


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