Havelis of Khushal Singh and Dhian Singh also known Asif Jah Haveli
It was beginning of year 2013, when I conducted a photo walk to visit various historical places in walled city of Lahore with my friends. These havelis are part of a cluster of havelis known as Chuna Mandi Havelis, a significant group of historic buildings in the Walled City. It currently houses the Government Fatima Jinnah College for Women. Unfortunately at that time, we could not get permission to visit and have to leave the place from main doorway; At that time, we have a little glimpse of inside of Haveli from entrance, which shows a magnificent architecture ahead. The photo walk finished but desire to visit this place ignited badly inside. I wanted to visit this place, I used all my personal contacts, also wrote a letter to Principle of this college for granting permission for visit; requested Walled city director and also asked many senior architecture lover’s but all efforts were in vain. Three year passed, one day I discussed the same with my good friend Maaria Waseem, a historian researcher. After and effort of two months we finally got permission, Special thanks to her and his husband in this regard.
The College building, with its spacious courtyard and Sikh imagery, sometimes thought to be the famous haveli or Palace of Raja Dhian Singh, the young Rajput chamberlain of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, but is more likely to be the Palace of Jamadar Khushal Singh (d. 1844). Khushal Singh was a humble doorkeeper who later rose to the exalted position of Lord Chamberlain of Ranjit Singh. Khushal Singh may well have built upon earlier Mughal remains. The large expanse of the compound and existence of a garden, along with some other pre-Sikh remains, indicates the existence of a large Mughal mansion. This could be the palace of Asaf Khan, brother of Empress Noor Jahan and father-in-law of Shah Jahan. Asaf Khan was an arbiter of taste, and historical sources credit him with building a luxurious palace in Lahore which had cost an exorbitant 20 lakhs at the time. Another haveli in the group, located in the north, also sports a courtyard. It was built by Teja Singh, nephew of Jamadar Khushal Singh. The third extant structure, located on the east of the cluster is considerably smaller in size.
Not long after British annexation, the haveli was fitted up as the first place of public worship for the Christian garrison stationed in the fort, and continued to be utilized as such until the tomb of Anarkali began to be employed for divine service in 1851. At this time the palace served as Government District School. Later, as is well known. Government College made its beginning in this building when classes were begun by the first principal of the College, Dr. G. Leitner on January 1, 1864. It was in 1877, when the new college campus was constructed that the haveli was vacated and fell into desolation until its recent restoration.
Seeing the magnificent haveli, one can well believe that its owner must have spent a pretty penny on it. From its sprawling courtyards to its royal baths and from its arched hallways to its zenana gardens, the building is breathtakingly beautiful. But, perhaps what is far more important is that the haveli is as alive today as it was in its days of glory. Instead of being kept under lock and key it is being utilized as a college and every corner has been put to constructive use.
In fact, the college has put its premises to such fascinating use that it is not surprising to find students sitting in a math class that is bang next to a royal bath, or climbing up a dark turret that would lead them to their department. Jharokas and arched niches in the wall make for cozy and picturesque sitting arrangements where girls either partake of a snack or browse over their books. The school canteen, rather than being tucked away in some obscure corner is located right under the main entrance of the mansion, while the computer classroom and lecture hall are in the basement.
What’s more, the roof tops allow a quaint vista of the old city so that you can spot the Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque and even the Minar-e-Pakistan if you climb right to the top. It is no wonder that the haveli is fast gaining popularity as an ideal venue for Basant celebrations.
But, what is most heartening to know is that the heritage site is being properly looked after. Conservation work on the haveli was carried out by the Lahore Development Authority before it was converted into a college.
One does wish though that it could be made accessible to more people, for by and large it is bypassed by tourists visiting Lahore.