Mian Sultan, a famous contractor during the British Rule… Have you ever heard of him or his haveli inside the Walled City of Lahore? Well before I jump on to his Haveli, which is no doubt a mesmerizing piece of art let me tell you who this contractor was! Mian Muhammad Sultan at the young age of 12 came to Lahore from Kashmir as his maternal family was residing in Lahore at that time. He was not an affluent neither belonged to such a family, we can say as per historic accounts that he was a lower middle class person and to make his both ends meet he did all sorts of tedious jobs.
Historic references also state that he was the first to start manufacturing soap in Lahore, that’s an interesting fact! Well some historians write that he also practiced wrestling for a living and during that Maharajah Sher Singh had rewarded him and presented him a horse, at that time it was big prize for Sultan, who never knew where his fate would take him. As the time passed Sultan managed to make contacts with the influential of the city and became a small contractor for them. This was a turning point for Sultan and in the British era he became an eminent contractor. Very soon he was recognized as the Sultan of Lahore and was one of the revered persons in the city of Lahore.
An interesting fact I came across while reading a few references about him, was that he arranged a reception for the Prince of Wales Albert Edward on 18th January, 1876 AD, by placing heavily carved wooden balconies on all the shops in his Landa Bazaar and this was on his credit as an incomparable gesture. He gained more popularity but those wooden balconies vanished away with the passage of time as commercialization took over that area. He made his guest house in Landa Bazar, opposite Delhi Gate Lahore, where he also constructed a well for people and made way into their hearts.
Till some years ago the arches to the entrance of the guest house existed but now we see no traces of it, because of the massive commercialization in that area. The well also vanished many years ago. It is said that he made a lot of charity to the deserving, built mosques, wells and other useful places for the public, and so he gained popularity and of course made money too.
Now let’s come to a cruel aspect of this man, or maybe he had to do it to please his British commanders. You must have heard that the British pulled down the gates and the wall of the city and made a circular road and garden. Well this man, Mian Sultan, was also a part of that menace. He was the one who began to purchase the Mughal Era monuments and havelis and started demolishing them under the excuse of gathering bricks.
He was also a part in demolishing the great city wall and gates and with them he constructed many buildings and Lahore Railway Station is also one of them. Mian Sultan died on 4th February, 1876 AD and was buried in the graveyard of Miani Sahib in Lahore. As he did not have any heirs so at his deathbed he gifted this mansion to the doctor who was treating him.
Now let’s come to the Haveli of Mian Sultan which is located inside Delhi Gate on the main Royal Trail near Chowk Wazir Khan. I guess many of you who have already visited the place might not know that this haveli existed there as there is no sign or name plate of the person on it. Trust me the Haveli is a masterpiece on this trail and from its present you can very well imagine its past grandeur. It has a beautiful façade and the wood work embellished with carving, balconies and antique courtyard is intact till today. Some minor repair works only on the façade of the Haveli were carried out by the Walled City of Lahore Authority while restoring the Royal Trail in 2012, but the interior is poorly kept.
Historians claim that it was a huge mansion in the past but now the ground floor has some shops but a family is residing in the upper portion. The haveli and its interior is a treat for the eyes. A narrow dark door through a staircase will lead you inside the Haveli and while climbing up the stairs you will be astounded to see the architecture and spiral designing of it. Well, it had to be a master piece because it was the Haveli of Sultan the Contractor. Interior of the Haveli is more mesmerizing than the exterior as it has numerous rooms, mezzanine floor and above all a Sheesh Mahal…yes a Sheesh Mahal similar to the one inside Lahore Fort. You must be stunned like me when I heard of it for the first time, but believed it when I saw it.
As you climb up the haveli a door leads you into this mirror room and the spectacle is beyond belief. The entire room is decorated with mirror work, and I guess it would have cost a lot to the contractor at that time. The sunrays reflecting on those mirrors make the scene magical and I think during night it would be more romantic in the moon light. It is not as huge as of the Lahore Fort but the beauty is similar. It is still intact but now serving as a store room for the residents. The mirror work has not been damaged much but some parts have broken due to aging and neglect.
There are small arches in the room and a high raised pavilion. Maybe Sultan the Contractor would sit there during his leisure time and listen to songs and rhythms of life while imagining the architectural designs for various buildings he built, or maybe how to demolish the huge wall and gates! Ah, his actions have left him with a black mark in the history. The family living inside the Haveli does not value the mirror room or the haveli. Unaware of the importance of this haveli the residents do not let visitor see the place. The street where the Haveli is located is also named after Sultan the Contractor and known as Gali Mian Sultan.
I think if this Haveli is to be used as a tourist spot it should be ticketed as an incentive for the residents. This way they might take up the preservation of the place as well and understand its importance too. This is case is not limited to Sultan’s Haveli, there are several other havelis which need to be opened up for public but the residents do not allow. If not the entire, at least a part of such havelis should be opened for the tourists. Why this can’t be done if the palaces all over the world are opened for tourists, we just need to work on this pattern and create awareness among masses.