RAWALPINDI: The majestic 124-year-old Haveli Sujan Singh, used by the Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU), will soon be renovated by the National College of Arts (NCA), Dawn has learnt.
The NCA and FJWU have entered an agreement under which the former will preserve the building and hand it back to the university after three years.
The college will use this opportunity to establish a ‘field school’ for students learning techniques and methods of historic preservation with the cooperation of Boston Architectural College (BAC).
The two-storey haveli, once the residence of renowned political figure Sardar Sujan Singh, is located in the narrow streets of Bhabhra Bazaar. It was constructed in 1890 and is a fine specimen of brick masonry with a front verandah facing the street.
The wooden door, carved with animal and floral motifs, opens into an entrance hall connected with an inner verandah.
The building used to have majestic woodwork over the doors and windows. Its floors used to be covered with English tiles while Victorian furniture and Chinese silverware adorned the rooms.
The building shows the implicit faith that Hindu and Sikh communities had in their workmen, including their eye for detail in crafting intricate patterns and skill in carving mythological stories on doors while keeping in line with their traditions.
Apart from his private palace, Sujan Singh’s family also endowed huge amount of money for public welfare projects and built public areas for civic engagements.
“They were singularly responsible for the beatification of Rawalpindi city in the 19th and 20th century. The family built a beautiful garden, popularly remembered as Bagh Sardaraan (the garden of Sardars) which was stretched over acres with lawns, trees, plants, birds and animals,” said NCA Director Nadeem Omer Tarar while narrating the research of historian Sheeraz Haider.
A temple, a marriage house and Hardit Singh Library and Museum were also housed there for public use.
In addition, Sujan Singh built the entrance to Saddar Bazaar, known as Massy Gate in the memory of Brig. Gen. Massy, at a cost of Rs200,000.
This arch was demolished in 1920s for widening the road, but the market lasted till the 1970s.
In addition, Sujan Singh and his uncle Kirpal Singh founded Lansdowne Institute at Rawalpindi in the 1890s. The institute’s building on the Mall provided accommodation for theatricals, concerts and dance.
However, after partition, the building fell victim to the anger of local residents against the Sikhs and Hindus. The government also settled Kashmiri refugees in the haveli who destroyed the artistic woodwork before being evacuated later in 1980.
There were rumours that the building would be handed over to scientist A.Q. Khan for establishing a science college for women, but the plan never materialised.
Later, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the federal minister from Rawalpindi, announced that the building would be converted into a campus for FJWU, and its custody was handed over to the university.
FJWU considered starting a school of culture, heritage, architecture and designs for women, but the plan was never put into action. Finally, NCA Rawalpindi campus took over the building in January 2014 and decided to build a field school and a museum there.
NCA Director Nadeem Omer Tarar told Dawn that the arts council was also working to preserve historical places and in this regard, it had joined hands with several national and international organisations. He added that temples, mosques, Gurdawaras and others would be refurbished.
“As part of institutional collaboration, FJWU has given Sujan Singh Haveli to NCA for three years to establish a field school for learning techniques of historic preservation, documentation and much more,” he said.
Mr Tarar said Boston Architectural College (BAC) was assisting NCA in preserving the historical building which will be handed over to the women university after refurbishing within three years.
“This project will benefit the NCA in two ways. Firstly, our students will be trained in preserving buildings with old and unique styles, and secondly, we will be preserving historical places in town,” he said.