When we visit the Walled City of Lahore these days it is, invariably, to see the newly-conserved Shahi Hamam inside Delhi Gate. Most move on towards the Mosque of Wazir Khan to marvel at days gone by.
Very few of us have ever given thought to what lies to the east of Delhi Gate. In the space between Lahore’s railway station and Delhi Gate is a bazaar that has three parts. The first is known as Naulakha Bazaar, beyond it is Loha Bazaar and the last stretch is known as Lunda Bazaar. This terminates at the roundabout known as Chowk Dara Shikoh.
Along the way are a series of monuments which represents a major chunk of Lahore’s history.
They also represent a gruesome portion of Mughal and Afghan invasion history and how the Sikhs were tortured and the decapitated bodies of their children and women filled ten wells that existed there once.
Now only the main one remains, a reminder of how our communal history unfolded. But let us start from the railway station. This is where Naulakha Bazaar starts. There once existed a beautiful garden starting from Delhi Gate right up to Garhi Shahu, and arriving at Lahore from the East must have been a beautiful experience.
From historical accounts it seems that Prince Mirza Kamran developed this garden in the early 16th century, and Empress Nur Jehan’s brother Asaf Khan extensively developed this garden to include a central ‘naulakha’. This was then taken over by Prince Dara Shikoh, that favourite son of Lahore who was murdered by his brother Emperor Aurangzeb on a charge of ‘apostasy’.
The communal mindset had taken root as the Mughal Empire collapsed. The new ‘naulakha’ that Dara built allegedly cost nine hundred thousand rupees, and was hence named so.
Initially the entire bazaar from the place where the Grand Trunk Road broke away to head towards Delhi Gate was called Naulakha Bazaar, with the main road heading towards Badami Bagh and Shahdara onwards towards Peshawar and Kabul.
The name Badami Bagh was not named because there were almond gardens there, but because of one of two possible royal ladies.
One possibility was a Mughal princess names Gul Badan, whose mausoleum once existed between Masti Gate and Sheranwala Gate, or it could be a consort of Maharajah Ranjit Singh named Gul Bahar, who was buried in the fruit garden to the north of the Lahore Fort.
But as the bazaar moved westward we come across a number of important historical landmarks, they being Serai Sultan, the possible grave of Hazrat Shah Kaku Chishti dated 1477 AD, then there is the ‘mandir’ of Moolchand, and then the famous Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj as well as the gurdwara of Bhai Taru Singh.
Opposite the railway station to one side is the Naulakha Church, built in 1853, and the Lahore technical college built in 1889.
So we have a series of historical monuments that have a bearing on how Lahore’s history unfolded. For example the Serai Sultan was built by Sultan Thekeydar (contractor) who built Lahore’s railway station and the now destroyed 1851 Barrack in the Lahore Cantonment.
He, it seems from a research by Dr Neelum Naz of the Engineering University, incurred the wrath of the British chief engineer and the fines imposed on him led him to die a pauper. Details of that story need to be also told.
But the real story of Shaheed Ganj is which evokes considerable emotions among both Sikhs and Muslims. According to a document produced before a British magistrate in 1935, the land was purchased by Falak Beg Khan in 1722 AD.
However, as this was the place where in 1745 on the orders of the Mughal governor of the Punjab, Zakaria Khan, hundreds of Sikh men, women and children were murdered in a campaign against the Sikh religion, and their bodies dumped in wells in the area, it was, and remains even today, sacred grounds.
However, the Muslims of Lahore took exception to a ‘gurdwara’ being built there in honour of their martyrs. They claimed that in the days of Aurangzeb a mosque was built by the ‘kotwal’ of Lahore, Abdullah Khan, in 1653.
As time passed and Muslim control over Lahore passed to Sikhs, this space became ‘Shaheed Ganj’. Even the small mosque to one side of the seven kanal area was called ‘Masjid Shaheed Ganj’ However, once the British came the Muslims reclaimed their mosque.
Tension rose. On the night of the 9th of July, 1935, the Akali Party, with British permission, destroyed the small mosque and built a gurdwara.
Amazingly, within the seven kanal premises is also a grave, which some claim is that of Mir Mannu, a former Mughal governor. So the compound has a small mosque, a gurdwara (named after Bhai Taru Singh), a historical well in which Sikh martyrs were thrown, and a set of Muslim graves. If ever there was a communal ‘powder keg’ in Lahore, this is it.
But then there is a new Gurdwara Shaheed Gunj Singhania built in honour of the martyrs of the 18th century. One account claims that the last Moghal campaign against the Sikhs in Lahore claimed over 250,000 lives.
We know of the butchers of Delhi Gate spending a whole week slaughtering innocent Sikh captives brought there. The last time there was an incident over this place it was in July 2011 when militants of the Dawat-i-Islami threw out the Sikh occupants. However order was soon restored and now it belongs to the Evacuee Trust Board, which also allows Eid prayers there.
But then the last Hindu temple in this bazaar was the Moolchand Mandir, which was destroyed in reaction to the Babri Masjid incident in Ayodhya in India.
Here again the Evacuee Trust Board moved in and have renamed the place Ghausia Street, and have housed nearly 300 persons in new quarters built there. The main temple premises remains, but only its foundations can still be seen.
Few spaces outside the Walled City have a richer history, and the bazaar is worth visiting. The end portion, now called Lunda Bazaar, has also transformed from a cheap second-hand clothes market to a Chinese shoe and cloth market.
Change there is all the time, though the history remains for all of us to research and discover.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2016