When one leaves the Circular Road right at the turn towards Rang Mahal Police Station, the congested Mochi Gate Bazaar starts with the wholesale shops of myriad products, mainly toys, buntings and traditional sweetmeats, lining both sides of the bazaar.
During the peak hours, the walk on the constant lazy ascent further into the walled city gets harder due to the rush of people. Even motorcycles get stuck at places, blocking the whole street. The start of the biggest Muharram procession of the country from this area does not look anything less than a miracle.
It was the 4th of Muharram and a couple of policeman and policewomen were languishing on chairs at the entrance to Mubarak Haveli, spanning over eight kanals. Inside, a zakir was holding a majlis, narrating the ordeal of Hazrat Muslim bin Aqeel (RA) in Kufa, Iraq when the city’s residents changed their hearts and allegiance, leading to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the biggest tragedy of the Muslim history. The majlis is being arranged by Abbas Qizilbash and Haider Qizilbash, the young men keeping alive the family tradition of Muharram activities despite changing circumstances. They are two of three brothers who now own of the Mubarak Haveli.
The main hall has a high wooden ceiling in the old style supported by thick wooden beams perched on about 20 foot high walls. Outside it is a big courtyard with a water pond in the centre. Rest of the structure on the three sides of the Haveli is double-storey.
This is the site where oldest Muharram procession in Lahore as well as the country started about 170 years ago and kept happening for about a hundred years until the focus shifted to Nisar Haveli, built on a portion of the land of the Mubarak Haveli, according to Abbas Qizilbash.
Kanhaiya Lal in his book, Tareekh-i-Lahore, writes that Mubarak Haveli was originally built in the era of Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah (Sada Rangila), the great grandson of Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, whose rule spanned from 1719 to 1748. That makes it about 300 years old. It was built by three brothers Mir Bahadur Ali, Mir Nadir Ali and Mir Bahar Ali. When they shifted to the haveli, the same month a son was born to Mir Bahadur Ali and the family considered the building a good luck for them, hence, gave it the name of Mubarak Haveli. During the Sikh era, the haveli was vandalised multiple times and the family of its owners fled, abandoning it. It was taken into the official custody in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule. When Afghan king Shujaul Mulk (Shah Shuja Durrani) was exiled from Kabul, Ranjit Singh kept him here along with women of his family and the world’s most famous diamond Koh-i-Noor was snatched from him. The same incident has been mentioned by Muhammad Latif in his book, Lahore, its History, Architectural Remains and Antiquities.
The haveli has still got a portion in its basement that was used as jail during the Sikh era. Abbas Qizilbash led the scribe to the basement, which is still intact with its wear and tear at the ceiling that the passing time has inflicted on it. It has three rooms of various width and length. There are a couple of roshandans for ventilation and light. There are living rooms on the ground floor as well as the second floor of the haveli.
Kanhaiya Lal writes that during Ranjit Singh’s era, it was gifted to Sardar Kehar Singh Sandhawalia whose official Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah Qureshi lived in it for some time and he built houses on the plot of land around it. The haveli was given to Nawab Ali Raza Khan Qizilbash. Kanaihya Lal considers this family the most important when writing about the Muslim notables of the old Lahore. During the Anglo-Afghan war in 1839, Ali Raza Qizilbash had helped the British prisoners in Kabul as well as in later expeditions and moved to India along the British. He also supported the British during the war against the Sikh rulers of Punjab. He remained an honoray magistrate of Lahore. He had three sons, Nawazish Ali Khan, Nasir Ali Khan and Nisar Ali Khan.
Kanhaiya in his book, published in 1882, mentions the family for their generous activities regarding Muharram. He says taziadari would continue in the haveli of the family for the whole Ashra of Muharram with the Qizilbash family distributing food for 10 days. All the Mehndi processions of Imam Qasim on the 7th of Muharram would reach the haveli from across the city and the participants used to get gifts from Nawab Nawazish Ali Khan.
Abbas Qizilbash says that the imambara with the family residence was built around 1859; however, new constructions kept being added to it. One of the extensions to it is now called Nisar Haveli, whose land was a part of the Mubarak haveli itself but the land was divided among the extended family. ‘‘In the 1950s, when Nawab Muzzaffar Ali Khan Qizilbash, the maternal uncle of Nawab Nawazish Ali Khan Qizilbash II, was the federal minister and then the chief minister of West Pakistan, Nisar Haveli was completely separated from Mubarak Haveli,’’ he says. Now the main Zuljanah procession, the biggest in the
country, starts from the Nisar Haveli and it is brought to the Mubarak Haveli before proceeding to its traditional route to conclude at the Karbala Gamay Shah.
During the first Ashra of Muharram, majalis are held every morning at Mubarak Haveli and every night at Nisar Haveli. The main procession of Zari of Hazrat Ali (RA) in Ramazan is taken out from Mubarak Haveli now. Abbas’s family lived in the haveli until 1980s when the family moved out of the walled city. He cherishes his childhood memories in the haveli.
Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2021