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Hundreds of decaying historical buildings across Lahore await Attention

Third story for the Herald’s annual heritage issue:

Once renowned as a city of gardens and monuments, Lahore now manifests decaying cultural heritage, rampant urbanisation and unregulated commercialisation. The monuments of Lahore, whether great or small, suffer from lax conservation efforts, if any at all. In fact, the lesser ones are in a tragic state of despair. Among these, several old heritage monuments are nearly obliterated.

Chenian Wali MosqueLucy Peck, the author of Agra: The Architectural Heritage on a recent visit to Lahore said that “she found it very depressing” because she was looking forward to visiting a couple of historic mosques. The Chinian Wali mosque, which was once decorated with kashi tile work, has been resurfaced with modern tiles, done in a crude kasha style. And the Sheranwala Gate mosque has disappeared completely except for the mehrab niche,  which is still there.” Bhadhar Kali Mandar, a Hindu temple believed to be over 2,000 years old and situated east of Thokar Niaz Beg on the southern outskirts of Lahore, is facing decay and destruction. The temple has a central building with a huge pool in the centre that was once fed by 12 wells through an indigenous drainage system. Its walls had beautiful frescoes, some of which have managed to survive over the centuries. At one point in time, this temple would host the biggest Hindu festival in Lahore.

According to Haroon Khalid, a cultural researcher, writers such as Kanhiya Lal Hindi and Abdul Latif have mentioned this festival in their works. This temple is visible from Multan Road with its plinth six feet high from the ground and the temple structure itself rising to approximately 20 to 25 feet. When Khalid contacted the archaeology department office situated in the Lahore Fort, an office representative said he was ignorant about the temple, suggesting Khalid contact the Auqaf department which, in turn, said the temple was not within its jurisdiction. Since Partition, the old temple lies abandoned and its walls have become fragile. In order to ensure the safety of those inhabiting the temple, local residents have decided to demolish it and construct quarters without the permission of any relevant authority.

Adjacent to the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir is the tomb of Nadira Begum Bano, wife of the Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh, the ill-fated heir to Shahjehan’s throne and the crown prince of his Indian empire. Unlike other Mughal tombs which have been constructed in the midst of gardens, Nadira Begum’s tomb is built amidst a water tank without a dome, bearing a flat parapet on all four sides and appearing more like a pavilion. During the British Raj, the tank was dismantled and its bricks were recycled and used to build the Lahore Cantonment. During the Sikh period, the tomb was robbed of its costly marble and semi-precious stones. Today the building retains a simple and blank facade, shorn of all ornamentation.

Photographer Saad Sarfraz Sheikh having documenting the tomb for years, says it was declared a protected monument in 1956 and since then responsibility for its conservation lies with the archaeology department. In 1956, a comprehensive scheme was framed by the department for its repair and restoration. Evidently, this scheme never materialised.  […]

Mughal era: Lahore’s neglected heritage is a sad shadow of its glorious past

The second story from Herald’s annual supplement on heritage

As the second Mughal capital, Lahore was home to emperors and noblemen during the 16th and 17th centuries. Emperor Jehangir and his wife Nurjehan were married in Lahore and their legacy survives today in the form of several monuments.

Perhaps the finest remnant of that era is the tomb of Jehangir, located at Shahdara Bagh near the town of the same name. It is said that Nurjehan supervised its construction and sought her stepson Shahjehan’s permission to stay in Lahore after her husband’s death.

The hallmarks of Jehangir’s tomb are the embellishments of interiors with exquisite frescoes, the pietra dura inlay work and the inventive use of coloured marble. The garden around the tomb also houses the dilapidated tomb of Asif Khan, Nurjehan’s brother.

Situated to the west of Jehangir’s tomb is the neglected grave of Nurjehan. The epitaph on her grave, which some say she composed herself, reads: “Pity us, for at our tomb no lamp shall light, no flowers seen/ No moth wings shall burn, no nightingales sing.”

In the1980s, when the Punjab government ordered cattle-pens to be moved “outside” Lahore, many of them shifted dangerously close to these monuments. Consequently, the main entrance to Asif Khan’s tomb is an ungainly sight. For decades, the tomb remained neglected; initial efforts at serious restoration began in 1999, signs of which are visible with new tile work completed. But it is far from over: the overall appearance of the building remains dilapidated. Other great monuments – the Lahore Fort and the Shalimar Gardens – situated at a distance of seven kilometres from each other, are grand statements of artistic expression nurtured by the Mughals. Both the monuments are World Heritage sites but United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) missions in 2003, 2005 and 2009 noted that the Badshahi Masjid and the Tomb of Ranjit Singh, although located outside the Fort, form an integral part of the fort’s physical and historical context and may, therefore, be included within the heritage site.

The Lahore Fort or Shahi Qila, situated in the north-west corner of the Walled City, was rebuilt in the period of the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1566. Although the exact date of its original construction is not known, historians have noted that the fort was destroyed several times: starting from the 11th century, when it was destroyed by the Mongols. […]

Who’s afraid of Dara Shikoh’s ghost?

Raza Rumi (published in TFT this week)

Madeeha Gauhar
Prince Dara at the feet of his
Sufi saint
Emperor Aurangzeb
Dara Shikoh
Dara reading the Upanishads with Hindu priests
Maulana Maududi
To present a play on a prince who argued – with reason and reference – that there was little difference between the Upanishads and the tenets of mystical Islam is no ordinary feat. After all, this is a country where powerful forces within the state and society are hell bent on turning the Land of the Pure into a haven for cultural fascism
The Ahmedis are hounded on a regular basis, the Shias are being murdered and even the Barelvi majority feels unsafe given the high profile murders of their leadership
The propagation of Islam in the subcontinent was the handiwork of the Sufis who showed the path to a large number of people through the message of tolerance, harmony and reconciliation. Recognising the roots of our indigenous cultures is now the only weapon that Pakistan’s intelligentsia possesses

It is now a given that the Pakistani state is a playground for Islamism and extremism under various guises and forms. Since the passage of the Objectives Resolution in 1949, the state by design and sometimes by default has surrendered to the phantoms of the orthodox Islamic interpretation of the world. It is true that religion was central to the sloganeering for Pakistan, but the post-1947 architecture of the Pakistani state was meant to be secular and democratic. Whatever the proponents and apologists of a jihadi state might have to say, Jinnah’s words and deeds were clear. Iqbal’s vision, inspired by Islamic philosophy and strands of mystical thought, was also clearly anti-Mullah.

This was hardly surprising, as a majority of Indian Muslims, not unlike South Asians of today, were averse to orthodoxy. From the Bhakti movement to folk and Sufi traditions, mullahs and pundits have not enjoyed popular legitimacy, as their alliance with power was resented and rejected by the populace. It is also well known that Mr Maududi and his ilk were bitterly opposed to Pakistan and accused the Muslim League leadership of being un-Islamic. Even stranger is the fact that this essential truth is rarely discussed in the public domain, and excessive coverage and importance given to the orthodox champions of Pakistani nationalism in the media and in textbooks, betrays how the age-old nexus between Pakistani monarchs and the Mullahs has survived the test of time.

Ajoka theatre based in Lahore has been attempting to challenge the status quo. Its plays rooted in the folk and street traditions of the subcontinent have raised political themes and placed political mobilisation at the centre of any discussion for social change. Recently, its play Dara Shikoh was staged in Lahore, and this marked a watershed in our cultural and political landscape. Dara Shikoh, the elder son of Emperor Shahjehan, despite his brutal murder at the hands of his Mullahesque brother Aurangzeb, continues to represent a fault line that runs through the past and the present of South Asia, especially in Pakistan.

To present a play on a prince who argued – with reason and reference – that there was little difference between the Upanishads and the tenets of mystical Islam, is not an ordinary feat in a country where powerful forces within the state and society are hell-bent on turning the Land of the Pure into a haven for cultural fascism. Above all, Dara’s stiff resistance to a militant version of Islam and its exclusionary theological constructs is perhaps most relevant in these times.

However, Ajoka’s effort to take the play to our culturally desertified and politically bankrupt Islamabad, for a presentation at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), has been thwarted by officialdom, as it challenges the state complexion and orientation. One wishes that such a comment were merely speculation, but it seems that there is enough evidence to suggest that a female MNA from the Jamaat-e-Islami wrote to the PNCA earlier. Apparently, she believed that Ajoka was guilty of making fun of Islamic values and represented a threat to the republic of the believers and munafaqeen alike.

How ironic that this is no different from the late 1970s when a senior bureaucrat, now a media personality and scholar (of sorts), authored an article where General Zia ul Haq was compared to the austere and God-fearing Aurangzeb, and Dara was portrayed as a precursor to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The maverick civil servant argued that in the clash of ideology, Zia’s coup was symbolic of religious power. Pakistan suffered from Zia’s assumed divine right to rule in the name of Islam for eleven long years, during which intolerance, bigotry, sectarianism and dictatorship shook the foundations of this country. Intellectual voices and activist groups such as Ajoka have to constantly contend with Zia’s legacy, and the wily servants of the state are always eager to provide legitimacy to retrogression.

Ajoka’s earlier play Burqvaganza explored another explosive subject, that of purdah, and its literal interpretation at the expense of the metaphorical and spiritual meaning. The female MNA referred to above, who also happens to be the daughter of the former Amir of the Jamaat, even raised the issue in the National Assembly and protested that Ajoka’s legitimate questions about the burqa were tantamount to demeaning Islam. History and politics move in cycles, and this outcry in the Parliament was not different from the earlier assaults on the secular vision of Pakistan. All our rulers, except perhaps Ayub Khan, pandered to the orthodox lobby. Under General Zia ul Haq, Islamisation became an official policy and its instruments the un-uniformed part of the national security apparatus.

A small theatre group therefore is pitted against far larger forces of orthodoxy and regressive medievalism. This is shameful, given that an elected government is ruling Pakistan, and the ruling party has been hostile to the ideology of Zia ul Haq. But Zia seems to be alive as much as his nemesis Bhutto. Whilst the jiyalas may chant zinda hai Bhutto, the institutions are pretty smug and happy to articulate zinda hai Zia. Small wonder that JI, whose lack of electoral worth has time and again been exposed, has the audacity to become a guardian of our faith and nationalism.

When Ajoka’s executive director Madeeha Gauhar called the other day to share the recent phase of her ‘struggle’ in the democratic era, she was obviously disturbed. And given her penchant for speaking the truth she was also not too charitable about the Mullah brigade. While she was talking on the phone, her voice faded and a recording of a Hamd (a eulogy for the Almighty) emerged from nowhere. This was amusing, yet quite unnerving. Our Constitution and laws prohibit anyone to monitor citizens’ expression and speech in the public and private spheres. And, to experience this intrusion was not pleasant at all.

Interestingly, the minions of Big Brother played a popular Hamd, that begins with the verse Koi tau haye jo nizam-e-hasti challa raha haye. Muzaffar Warsi, who apparently was Zia ul Haq’s favourite poet, had composed these verses. In view of his special place in the Zia kingdom, he was accorded with various state honours and also a cushy state job. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan later rendered this piece in his magical voice.

I clearly remember a discussion that took place in the presence of the late Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi, a twentieth century literary giant. Many senior poets critiqued this Hamd for being a problematic hymn for God Almighty, since it did not express absolute belief in God but worked through an inference: there must be Someone who was managing the universe! Thus the element of doubt marred a believer’s chant in praise of his Creator.

More importantly, the bugged phone line sent a clear message: that la-deen (irreligious as secularism is understood by the clerics) Madeeha Gauhar had to be ‘censored’ even in a private conversation, and reminded that there is a God. And, the chosen, self-appointed representatives were managing the show in His name.

This is not limited to the minions of the state apparatus. Such attitudes are now embedded in our curricula, modes of instruction, thousands of madrassas and more dangerously, elements of the media who were trying to convince us of the glories of the Taliban until the Pakistan Army valiantly took on the miscreants.

A journey that commenced with the Right’s struggle to capture political space in the 1940s, and with the state’s cynical support, has culminated in capitulation to such forces. The gradual erosion of Jinnah’s Pakistan has also led to the ascendancy of all that Pakistan was not supposed to represent. The Ahmedis are hounded on a regular basis, the Shias are being murdered, and even the Barelvi majority feels unsafe given the high-profile murders of their leadership. What we have is a curious mix of a Wahabi-Salafi variant of Islamism with several local offshoots, which are not averse to using violence and butchery as weapons.

The propagation of Islam in the subcontinent was the handiwork of Sufis and sages who showed the path to a large number of people through the message of tolerance, harmony and reconciliation. Violence simply did not deliver in this part of the Islamic world.

This is why recognising the roots of our indigenous cultures is important. It is now the only weapon that Pakistan’s intelligentsia possesses. To encourage the airing of alternative messages and interpretations such as Dara’s worldview, and challenging the burqa’s form […]

Emperor Jahangir receiving his two sons, c1605-06

Succession intrigues:Emperor Jahangir receiving his two sons; an album painting in gouache on paper, c1605-06.

Read the related story here: Power, then as now, brings its own price. Neither life nor death was kind to this unfortunate son of Jehangir. AROON RAMAN recounts one of the […]

Ajoka’s new play on “Dara Shikoh”

It is absolutely a significant cultural landmark in Pakistan. Ajoka has decided to stage a play on a personality that has been neglected by India and Pakistan. His views and role in history challenges the myths of Indian and Pakistani nationalism and confronts religious militancy rampant in the two countries. Had Dara – the visionary, sage and believer in humanism – lived, we may have avoided blood, carnage and violence that defines South Asia of today. Those interested to explore the hidden history, removed from textbook propaganda must watch this play. The venue and timings can be found at the end of this post. Now the formal introduction to the play:

Dara – A play on the life and times of Mughal prince Dara Shikoh

Ajoka’s new play “Dara” is about the less-known but extremely dramatic and moving story of Dara Shikoh, eldest son of Emperor Shahjahan, who was imprisoned and executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb. Dara was not only a crown prince but also a poet, a painter and a Sufi. He wanted to build on the vision of Akbar the Great and bring the ruling Muslim elite closer to the local religions. His search for the Truth and shared teachings of all major religions is reflected in his scholarly works such as Sakeena-tul-Aulia, Safina-tul-Aulia and Majma-ul-Bahrain. The play also explores the existential conflict between Dara the crown prince, and Dara the Sufi and the poet. […]

Sultana Begum, the great grand daughter-in law of last Mughal emperor

Jahane Rumi is grateful to Shivnath Jha for this contribution..

Stiching words together to restore glory to the lives lost in oblivion may not be an easy task.
But eminent journalist Shivnath Jha and wife Neena have successfully launched the ‘Andolan Ek Pustak Se’ movement in 2007 to help those who did the country proud in the past. […]

May 11th, 2009|History, India, India-Pakistan History|41 Comments

Stories of Sarmad

Read this excellent piece by Bilal Tanweer published in DAWN, Pakistan on one of my favourite characters:

Among recurring motifs in Sadequain’s work is the image of a headless man holding his lopped head in his hand. The dislodged head, sitting on the palm of the man’s hand, is studying a beloved subject, while the other hand sketches the subject on canvas.

In another variation of this motif, the severed head is looking back at the vacant spot, while the brush is drawing the self-portrait of the head in blood. In all these versions, the lopped head is an unmistakable symbol of ecstatic transcendence: the head is dismembered from the body but is reunited in the subject, in the act of creation, in the contemplation of the beloved. […]

April 6th, 2009|India, India-Pakistan History, Sufism|4 Comments