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A Mughal legacy in neglect

A deeper look into the history of havelis in Lahore tells a story of abandonment

By Muttahir Ahmed Khan |
PUBLISHED October 03, 2021
LAHORE:

During King Shah Jahan’s rule, Nawab Saad Khan, who is also called the first Punjabi Prime Minister, was the Prime Minister of Mughal Court. He was amongst the dearest and the closest friends of the King. Like the eras of Asif Khan, Khan-e-Doraan Bahadur Jang and Nusrat Jang, his period was also peaceful. He died in the 30th year of Shah Jahan.

After his death, The Deputy Administrator Lahore Nawab Mian Khan became his successor. Nawab Mian Khan got two large havelis built in Lahore that still have some fading traces and remnants that remind you of the old days. The havelis are called Haveli Mian Khan and Haveli Pathran Wali. Nawab Saad’s ancestors were from Chiniot and this area was branded for its worthy black stone in all of India. He got a mosque built there with beautiful and delicate use of that black stone. Nawab Mian Khan got his tomb constructed along with his havelis during his life. He used Chiniot’s black stone as well as the red stone in his tomb. After the death of Nawab Saad Khan, King Shah Jahan too was imprisoned by King Aurangzeb. Thus, the status of Mian Khan in the court could not be like one in the past. He passed away in 1082 H (1672 AD) during King Aurangzeb’s reign. Nawab longed for off spring throughout his life but this fruit was not in his destiny. So, near to his death, he adopted one Meer Hidayat Ali. Meer Hidayat Ali’s several generations enjoyed luxurious life on the basis of the wealth left by two Prime Ministers. Till the last century, the successors of Meer went on selling out inherited havelis, houses and other properties for their merrymaking. The major reason behind the ruination of the precious and grandiose properties of Nawab Mian Khan was that they had to suffer at different hands in different periods. The saying, ‘easy come, easy go’ can truly be dedicated to Meer’s generations.

Nawab Mian Khan himself got his tomb constructed, during his life in Bhogewal area. Like his havelis, the tomb too was a large and splendid one. In its original structure, there were two mosques and many porches, gardens, fountains and baradaries (airy big rooms with twelve doors, three on each side) on the premises. All these constructions were completed under the special supervision of Nawab’s special servant Mushki Khan. The structures of the tomb were destroyed and ruined with the passage of time. It may be on the basis of the love between the master and the servant that this place used to be called Mushki Mahal till the recent past. Thus, Mushki Khan has become a part of history with the Nawab. During Sikh Rule, the splendid walls and portions of the tomb were ruined. First, Mahahraja Ranjeet Singh got all the precious stones extracted and then, Raja Socheet Singh played havoc with it. The aesthetical combination of red and black stone used in the tomb still speaks for its past glory.

Kanhya Laal depicts the tomb’s ruin in the below-cited words on page 279 of his book ‘Tareekh-e-Lahore’ (The History of Lahore): “The historic and original form of this chamber got changed. Later on, Raja Socheet Singh got old premises demolished and built some new portions. Then, Late Nawab Ali Raza Khan also brought some changes. Despite all that, there still exists a reasonable old portion of the tomb. The doorway in the Southern direction is one of the old constructions and, apart from that, vast pools, cascade, grand Bara-dari with three complete rooms and a mosque with dome are surviving in Western direction. The pleasing fact is that another mosque, with same shape and walls and windows, is present in the Eastern direction. This mosque was constructed in comparison to the first one. Nawab Mian Khan’s grave is inside the solid baradari that is constructed in black. In the Eastern direction, there is a pathway for coming that leads to the six stairs made with black stone. On the concrete floor of the platform, there exists a door with bolts, in the Southern direction. Beside the large platform, there is another one, in the middle, that is nearly half-metre higher. It is surrounded by twelve doors, in all four sides, made of limestone and bricks, and every door has two pillars each. In the central Baradari, there is a six-inch higher pedestal that hosts the marble-made epitaph of Mian Khan’s grave. It was destroyed by Socheet Singh but the pedestal is still surviving and the damaged portion is also visible. During Sikh Rule, this glorious chamber was initially allotted to Shaikh Imam-ud-Din. He got many marble slabs removed from the bigger pedestal and fixed them in his Haveli. Later, it was handed over to Socheet Singh who devastated the grave completely. Now, the whole garden and house is shattered.”

If one wishes to see the ruined and damaged remnants of this tomb, he should take GT Road and, while travelling towards Shalamar Garden from University of Engineering and Technology Lahore, turn left after a short distance and enter the street leading to Bhogiwal. At a little distance, there is a square called “Shawala Chowk” and, it is followed by a large and vast ground on the left side. Previously, it was used for playing cricket all the day and for drug abuse all the night. But, now it has been encircled from all sides with walls and iron-grills and beautified by planting grass. A plastered Baradari’s formation is still visible in the North of this ground. To approach its platform, there are six stairs each in all the four directions. The black stone on the floor of the platform, with its dark fate, still expresses itself today. The beautifully finished red-stone work on the vaulting doors is also visible at a few scattered points. The minutely completed china ceramics work is also discernible in the small cornices under the ceilings of that framework. There is a pile of dust, now, at the place of grave. This Baradari reflects the Mughal-era architectural depth. The huge walls, corridors, palaces, panes, ponds, fountains all have been replaced with people’s houses and one can only dream of these majestic monuments and cherish their memories.

 

(The writer is an author, analyst and journalist. He can be reached at [email protected])