Monday, November 26, 2012

Shahi Hammam: The only public place for refreshment of royals

In Lahore, the Shahi Hammam or also known as the Wazir Khan Hammam is the only public place for bathing or refreshment of the Mughal period. The hammam was used by the royal families including emperors in the time of Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor of the Mughal Empire from 1628 until 1658.

The Shahi Hammam was built inside the Delhi Gate by Hakim Sheikh Ilmuddin Ansari, a native of Chiniot, commonly known as Wazir Khan, who rose to be the court physician to the emperor and a governor of Lahore. The Delhi Gate, one of the twelve gates of Lahore, was built by Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, the third Mughal emperor.

The Delhi Gate is one of the most well-preserved gates and one of the liveliest with numerous markets. One of the most interesting features of the historically significant site is its Turkish style bath that is popular throughout the Islamic world, which provided reservoir fountains, dressing rooms, a hot room, and a warming room, additional latrines, and facilities for hot water.

Pakistan is among the three countries (other two being Turkey and Greece) where hammams like these still existed. Beauty of the historical remnant had mainly been ruined because of encroachments. Before and after the partition, people occupied the land surrounding the Shahi Hammam. The encroachment severely damaged the walls and beauty of the historical heritage, destroying the mosaic work on the walls and ceilings of the hammam.

However, the Punjab government has finally turned its attention to the deteriorating historical heritage, and successfully removed encroachments from its surroundings. The Archaeology Department is taking measures so as to renovate the hammam. The government had provided Rs 3.6 million for the first phase of renovation process while the World Bank had provided Rs 50 million for the removal of encroachments. The first phase (of the renovation) would include complete preservation and renovation of the outer walls.

In the next phase, the marble flooring of the structure (laid down in 1990), would be broken to reveal its original floors and the water channels underneath. The water system would be fully explored and restored with special focus on water routes, linking of hot and cold baths to channels underneath, route of the water drains, etc. The shops that were built around the hammam would also be dug to reveal what lay underneath them. A proper map of the hammam would be made, guiding the visitors about each and every corner of the place.

Nowadays, encroachments removing work is in progress. Besides that its the the fact that not many people know about Shahi hammam, one of the important landmarks of the Mughal period. Next time when you visit Lahore, don't forget to visit this place. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shaheed Bhagat Singh - seeking recognition in Lahore

A banner is placed at Bhagat Singh Chowk (Shadman Roundabout) against its renaming, calling it an attack on ideology of Pakistan. [Photo by: Faisal Saeed]

Bhagat Singh wasn’t just an ordinary citizen of British India. He was a son of Punjab, a true freedom fighter. The guiding principle of his life, in his own words - "My life has been dedicated to the noblest cause, that of the freedom of the country. Therefore, there is no rest or worldly desire that can lure me now...”

However, since the partition of India, and the inception of Pakistan in 1947 the higher authorities tried their best to distort the history and men who made history. “The Hindus are cunning, the Sikhs are foolish” - is the lesson we have learned since our independence. The situation became more critical after the Fall of Dhaka and takeover of General Zia ul Haq. The Afghan Jihad in 1980s also dealt a big blow to the comparatively tolerant society in Pakistan, and finally, at the end of Afghan Jihad in late 1980s, the cat came out of the bag and we are now still repeating what we saw thirty years ago.

Radicalized, intolerant and extremist factors, loaded with arms, started roaming freely in the society. Sadly, this growing radicalization of the Pakistani society , has still not been put under any check and balance .

Bhagat Singh - who raised his voice against the British imperialism, who was a son of our soil, who gave his life with his comrades Sukhdev, Rajguru, Chandershekhar Azad, Rampradad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Hussain for this cause; Bhagat Singh and his martyred comrades – who stood tall and mighty for the unity of oppressed nations of the Indian sub-continent - still seek their due recognition in Pakistan.

Anyone who remotely knows our history, would also know that Lahore and Bhagat Singh cannot be separated. Having studied in DAV College (now Islamia College), Lahore, Bhagat Singh delved into active student politics in and then went on to spend the rest of his life here till he breathed his last.

He, along with his comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death in the Lahore conspiracy case and ordered to be hanged on 24 March 1931. But he was executed 11 hours in advance on 23 March 1931. They were hanged on 23 March 1931 at 7:30 pm in Lahore jail.

For many years writers, poets, intellectuals, students and civil society had been demanding to rename the place as Bhagat Singh Chowk. Every year they organize a peaceful gathering at Bhagat Singh Chowk (Shadman Roundabout). Photo by: Shiraz Hassan

Old building of Lahore Jail, is popularly recognized today as Shadman Roundabout and its nearby areas. The old barracks of the jail has been demolished and turned into a commercial/residential area. However, the central roundabout of Shahdman is still marked as the place where Bhagat Singh was hanged, as a memorial.

For a very long time now, the sane voices of the Pakistani society, the progressive people ideologically inclined towards socialism, knowing the importance of this landmark had been demanding to rename this very place as Bhagat Singh Chowk, to pay tribute to the great martyr of the Indian Independence movement. Their efforts bore fruit and luckily the city district government of Lahore issued the orders of renaming of Bhagat Singh Chowk, very recently.

But, as expected, it is neither shocking or surprising to observe that the radical and fundamentalist elements of our society has treated this attempt to change the name as a challenge to the teachings of Islam and against the ideology of Pakistan.

Hence, in a matter of days post the Government’s decision, we are seeing banners against the renaming of Shadman chowk to Bhagat Singh chowk flooding the area!.

In a statement issued by the Tehreek-e-Hurmat Rusool(PBUH) it has been warned that the “government would not be allowed to take uncalled for decisions in the country of Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal.” Earlier city district government also received threats from Jamat-ud-Dawa against renaming of Shadman roundabout to Bhagat Singh Chowk.

Its a message (read threat) loud and clear, to the authorities that they will go to any level for “their” demands. The sane voices of society were fighting to rename this place to Bhagat Singh for many years. But no sooner than their voices were listened to, by the powers that be, and a much awaited welcome step taken at long last, it is all over. Crushed.

Another banner can be seen at Chowk, 'forcefully' naming it Hurmat-e-Rusool(SAWW) Chowk. [Photo by: Ammar Aziz]

The question is and remains, Why the government is so helpless? Does demanding something peacefully have no effect? Can’t we demand anything which in reality is not actually against the ideology of Pakistan(as being claimed by the radicals) or the so-called two nation theory?  

For our plight and the current state of intolerance and ignorance in our society, the textbooks churned out by our academia is also responsible to a large extent. Our children were and are systematically taught that Hindus and Sikhs are our enemies, and hence Bhagat Singh was a Sikh, he is a natural enemy of Pakistan. This distorted image is very easy to draw in impressionable minds, without much effort. Hence, it is imperative now that, we need to re-visit our history, the sooner, the better. As I said earlier, we are reaping today what we had sowed years ago and it will take another century to undo the wrongs and fatal mistakes committed in the last 50 years!

Graffiti: Bhagat Singh Chowk [Photo by Shiraz Hassan]

The radicals are knocking at our door, ready to take over our existence and our identity, by destroying our history, heritage and culture -  like the invaders Abdali, Ghauri, Ghazali and Nadir Shah did in the past, It’s time to act, it’s time to raise your voice, it’s time to say No to Extremism before it’s too late I urge you to look within, think hard and good, reflect and tell me, is it Impossible?