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Nagar Mahal – from Agarwals to Sukheras

Updated June 04, 2014

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BAHAWALNAGAR: Facade of Nagar Mahal. — Dawn
BAHAWALNAGAR: Facade of Nagar Mahal. — Dawn

BAHAWALNAGAR: Nagar Mahal is one of the majestic pre-partition buildings of Bahawalnagar. Standing elegantly amidst the vagaries of weather, and about 90 years old, the building is located in Minchinabad town, 35 kilometres from Bahawalnagar.

As legends go, two wealthy brothers -- Sheikh Nagar Mal and Bhajan Lal -- of the Agarwal clan had their business empire in as many countries.

According to celebrated travel writer Salman Rashid, “When they built their mansion in the 1930s, they clearly meant to showcase the wealth and connoisseurship of the family”.

Mr Rashid has visited the haveli. He writes in his book, Stone of Empire: “Behind the low outer wall and gateway, the house is hidden by a row of guest rooms. A high arched doorway leads into the first courtyard of the mansion with sets the pace for the aesthetic high waiting to be experienced.

BAHAWALNAGAR: A balcony. — Dawn
BAHAWALNAGAR: A balcony. — Dawn

“A short flight of stairs leads to a marble doorway inset with a timber door that leads into the inner courtyard. The entire courtyard is exquisitely carved with an abundance of grapevines and other floral and curvilinear motifs. On either side of the spandrel, Lord Krishna strikes his signature pose playing the flute.

“Inside is the central courtyard, a tradition reaching back some nine millennia. Around this the rooms are arranged behind a veranda in a regular square. The arches of the openings to the veranda strictly follow the later Mughal design and are richly painted with floral and curvilinear designs.

The top of the each arch carries a human likeness, perhaps of members of the Agarwal family. While the ground floor stringently follows the vernacular vocabulary, the upper floor is an Italian delight.

Some 200 kilometres to the southwest, the Nawab of Bahawalpur had been and gone with his orgy of building his Italian showpieces. If the Agarwals employed a local mistri, he would surely have visited the capital and was well acquainted with Italians features.

“The Agarwal brothers could only enjoy the mansion for just over a decade and a half as they left in the great transmigration of 1947, abandoning Mahal Nagar Mal which later came to be occupied by the Sukhera family. The Sukheras have since lived in it and kept the lore of the mansion alive.”

Dilshad Hussain Sukhera says the property was no less than Rs2.5 million in the 1930s, a royal sum indeed.

His son Umair Sukhera added that his grandfather got the haveli in return of several hundreds of acres in Abohar in Indian Punjab.

He said that the family preserved the historical building with their own expense and any measure by the building for its upkeep would be a welcome step.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2014