Tania Qureshi

Lahore’s Hazuri Bagh – a historic complex with a new look

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The breath-taking garden will be opened for public in March as parts of efforts to revive night tourism

As you make your way to Lahore Fort from the newly built Greater Iqbal Park, a straight passage will lead you to the historic complex called Hazuri Bagh. This antique garden is a huge enclosure between the Alamgiri Gate of Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. Right there in this garden, in an instance, you can feel the history of this region. The historic vista and grandeur of the place can be imagined from the fact that grand mosque of Lahore, the magnificent fort, tomb of Allama Iqbal and the only existing Mughal era gate – Roshnai Gate – all meet at a common point in this garden.

The place was closed for the tourists except for those visiting the Badshahi Mosque. It has recently been illuminated by the Walled City of Lahore Authority and will soon be opened for public as a part of efforts to revive night tourism in Lahore. In my childhood days I remember the cars being parked right in front of the Alamgiri Gate and everyone could visit this place, but unfortunately the place had to be closed for public due to security concerns in the wake of terror attacks, thus depriving them from this historic setting and view. I am glad that now our younger generations would be able to see and admire this world class historic setting.

Mughal emperor Aurangzeb got this garden built while the Badshahi Mosque was being constructed. This garden served as the serai (resting area) of Aurangzeb. Once it was a place where the Mughal King briefed his troops and interacted with them. During the Sikh rule, a pavilion was added in the centre which is Baradari of Hazuri Bagh. Historians tell that Maharaja Ranjeet Singh was called ‘huzoor’ by his courtiers and that was the reason why it was named Hazuri Bagh. Maharajah Ranjeet Singh in 1813 ordered the construction of this pavilion to celebrate the attainment of famous Koh-e-Noor Diamond from Shah Shujah of Afghanistan. It is said that the experts of horticulture in those days were engaged to lay down this garden and the marble pavilion was constructed in five years – in 1818. The Serai Alamgiri formerly stood there. This royal garden was then built under the supervision of Faqir Azizuddin in the traditional Mughal style layout. Many historic accounts say that the marble of this pavilion was vandalised from various Mughal monuments and the upper storey was taken from Jahangir’s Tomb. This was ordered by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, at the suggestion of Jamadar Khushhal Singh, whose haveli is in Masti Gate, Lahore. It was Khalifa Nooruddin who constructed this pavilion later. Within this Baaradari, Ranjeet Singh used to sit in state and transact the business of the empire with his ministers and sardars. Later, Maharaja Sher Singh – son of Ranjit Singh – enjoyed the pavilion as his court.

As the word Baaradari means ‘with 12 doors’ this pavilion has twelve entrances. It has been constructed on a raised platform with two sets of stairs providing access from each side. There is a magnificent view from each side of the Baaradari. Only white marble has been used in this pavilion. The ornamentation technique used on the façade is mainly relief work. We see arches in the structure of pavilion which give it a royal look and present precisely rendered images of fruits, flower pots and peacocks. 16 beautifully ornamented pillars or columns, divide the central portion of the Baaradari from the outer one. Three beautiful archways on each side lead from the outer section into the central section of the Baaradari. It is said that in the centre of this pavilion Maharaja Ranjeet Sigh held his court. This place had a mirrored ceiling and flooring within the Baaradari in similar fashion to the ceiling is made out of stone. The marble pavilion also has a basement. This is something which many of us don’t know as it has always been closed for the public.

After the Sikh era, the Britishers took over Lahore and made this pavilion a bandstand from which music was played regularly on Sunday afternoons, and the Royals enjoyed it. This must have been an interesting sight. In July 1932, the upper storey collapsed due to strong storm and was never rebuilt. The debris was removed to the fort and has been reduced to a single-storied level since. Despite the fact that Sikh period architecture did not have much to boast in terms of architectural achievement unlike the Mughals, this pavilion remains a mark of beauty added by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. Today the pavilion stands with pride in the centre of this historic garden amidst the imperial Badshahi Mosque and the majestic Lahore Fort as a reminder of the glorious rule of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.

The trend set by British remained there after the partition as well. Locals would gather at this pavilion and garden narrates old tales (dastan goi). The epics of Heer Ranjha were shared along with the tales of Sassi Pannu and other Sufi poetry. People would sit in groups to share experiences of their life. Roshnai Gates built at two ends (one by British and the other by Mughals) were opened for the public as it was a socialising spot. With the passage of time, the gates were closed and later the garden as a consequence the trance of history was taken away from the history and Lahore lovers and the culture met a disastrous death. Now there is a hope of revival as the place has been illuminated and will be opened in March for the tourists at night. The tourists will be allowed to go inside the monuments and this will surely be another step towards revival of tourism in Pakistan.

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