By Tania Qureshi
Daily Times : July 9, 2018
Lahore is known for its rich heritage and culture and no doubt that it has been an adored seat of power and the heart of many writers, painters and poets. The walled city of Lahore was once the hub of all the laureates and nobles and I can imagine the grandeur of this city at that time while roaming around in its narrow winding twisting streets. As you will pass by the antique streets of this city, clustered with people and houses, you will see huge mansions and heritage houses. These were the havelis of old times and few of them still exist today. The interesting fact is that there are people living in most of the havelis till now whereas a few have been abandoned and closed due to the conflict of ownership or derelict conditions. Once this city was loaded with havelis as the nobles resided there and Hindus and Sikhs built huge mansions, but with the passage of time many got looted and burnt and many were turned into commercial markets by demolishing the original structures.
Before coming to the details of the havelis, let me brief you on the meaning of this interesting word ‘Haveli’. It is a mansion with historical and architectural significance and the word is derived from Arabic ‘Havali’ and Persian ‘hawli’, meaning “a huge enclosed place.”
We cannot say that when exactly the concept of constructing havelis originated but this concept goes back to the primitive times and many Havelis of the sub continent were influenced by Islamic, Persian, Turkish, Sikh and Hindu architecture. The structure or building of a haveli usually has a courtyard, a fountain in the centre, huge rooms and kitchens, balconies, verandas and alley like running galleries. We do not see the concept of attached bath in havelis and that was due to the cleanliness and hygiene purposes. Separate areas for prayer rooms are seen along with huge basements in the old havelis. In Lahore we see these structures inside walled city and other old areas of Lahore like Mughalpura, Dharampura, Icchra etc. but very few are seen.
Today let me take you to a brief journey of the few havelis inside the Walled City of Lahore. The Havelis here are mostly of the Sikh and Hindu era as according to historic references during the British rule, while the reconstruction and uplifting of the city was in process much of the Mughal architecture was damaged and later on some met ill fate because of severe floods. It is recorded that the Sikhs rebuilt the Havelis with their own designs while adopting certain features of the Mughal architecture.
Let us start from Delhi Gate and the havelis existing here are Haveli Alif Shah, Haveli Dina Nath, Haveli Baij Nath, and Haveli Mian Sultan. Haveli Alif Shah is located near the street of Surjan Singh and it is more than 300 years old known for leading the main processions in the month of Muharram. Haveli Dina Nath inside Phoolan wali gali was of the finance minister of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, Diwan Dina Nath and till now this haveli is well intact. Opposite to it is the haveli of Baij Nath another Sikh courtier and it is said that Sir Ganga Ram had also stayed in this haveli. Near Chita Gate we see the magnificent Haveli of Mian Sultan, the famous contractor of British Era. All the havelis inside Delhi Gate are residential properties now and were allotted to different Muslim families after partition. You will be amazed to know that in one haveli more than ten families are residing.
We cannot say when exactly the concept of constructing havelis originated, but this concept goes back to the primitive times and many Havelis of the sub-continent were influenced by Islamic, Persian, Turkish, Sikh and Hindu architecture
Haveli Kabuli Mal near Dabbi Bazzar was once a masterpiece but now only the façade is left. It belonged to the Governor of Lahore, Kabuli Mal and was built in 1700s.
Masti gate has the most enriched and important haveli of Lahore which is the Haveli of Jamadar Khuhaal Singh, known as Chuna Mandi Girls College. It was built by Khushaal Singh, one of the most prominent courtiers of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. It is the biggest haveli in Lahore presently and the building is well intact.
Mochi Gate is known for Mubarak Haveli and Nisar Haveli which have associations with the religious processions during the month of Muharram. If ever there was a haveli that could be labeled as among the oldest that would be Mubarak Haveli. The original fabric of the Haveli is intact and it mesmerises the visitors. Nisar Haveli was owned by Nawab Nisar Ali Khan. In old times both these havelis belonged to the same family but with the transfer of property these got separated and became famous.
If we get to Bhatti Gate we come across the dazzling Haveli of Nau Nehal Singh, Haveli Wajid Ali Shah, Qamar Manzil and Faqir Khana. Haveli of Nau Nehal Singh popularly known as Victoria School for Girls was built by Nau Nihal Singh, son of Maharaja Kharak Singh as his private residence. This is one of the most brilliantly designed havelis of Lahore with colorful fresco work and it was converted into a school by the British government in 1849. Till now the Haveli is serving as a girls’ school. The Haveli of Wajid Ali Shah was the residence of the fifth King of Oudh (in present day Uttar Pradesh in India) from 1847 to 1856. It is now a residential place. Here comes another residential haveli Qamar Manzil which itself is again a masterpiece and I am happy that the residents have maintained the beauty of this haveli having a huge wooden door opening on the main trail of Bhatti gate. During the Sikh rule here in Lahore the Faqir Family was one of the influential families having close ties with Maharaja Ranjeet Singh till the fall of Sikh rule. The Fakir Khana Haveli belongs to the Faqir family and is now turned into a museum for the tourists and the same family is running it. These havelis are must-visit places.
Coming to Lohari Gate you will see the Lal Haveli which is a masterpiece built with red bricks, plaster and huge marble balconies. Another marvel there is the Noori building built by a dancing girl.
Near Taxali Gate are two famous Havelis, the Barood Khana and the Haveli Dhiyan Singh. Barood Khana is known as Mian Salli’s Haveli and belongs to a socialite Mian Yousaf Sallahuddin. It was built for the Sikh army’s commanding general around 230 years ago and was the biggest arsenal outside Lahore Fort. The present family purchased this haveli in 1870 and is living there till now. The other Haveli is of Raja Dhiyan Singh who was a courtier and later the Chief Minister of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. Many parts of this Haveli are lost and it was as the first house of Government College and Oriental College Lahore in 1864. Taxali has many heritage homes till now but these are the outstanding havelis.
Bangla Ayub Shah is located inside the Kashmiri Gate, built during the Sikh rule, and in 1849 it was taken over by an Afghan chieftain Ayub Shah. At present the Bangla is under the Government of Punjab’s possession. Kimla building, with beautiful white exterior is located opposite to Pani Wala Talaab. This building is also known as Blakki Shah building and was built in 1929.
Another outclass haveli is of Mian Khan built in Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign by his Prime Minister Nawab Saadullah Khan. It was completed during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb by the Nawab’s son, Mian Khan, who was the then Governor of Lahore. This grand edifice was spread over two square kilometres. When the British took over Lahore in 1849, they converted Rang Mahal into a Mission School.
If by any chance you are there in any of the gates of the walled city, you will surely come across these havelis, and do visit them as the residents are very welcoming and would show you the entire haveli happily.
The writer is a media professional and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org