Cultural Postcards + Pakistan

Heritage: 50 per cent of Lahore Mughal baths excavated
The Walled City Lahore Authority (WCLA) has completed around 50 per cent excavation of Shahi Hamam, which was originally built in 1634 AD in the period of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan and later buried under mud during the British rule.

50 per cent of Lahore Mughal baths excavated

50 per cent of Lahore Mughal baths excavated
The project is attempting to undo hundreds of years of neglect
 and damage [Credit: Rahat Dar]

The monument will be like a jewel in crown of Lahore and, after complete excavation, restoration and conservation it can be the most visited tourist attraction, claimed the officials of WCLA. They said the authority was spending four million rupees on the restoration of the monument and the amount was donated by Royal Norwegian Embassy.

The Shahi Hammam is located just inside the Delhi Gate and was originally built around 1634 AD by Hakim Ilmuddin Ansari, the Governor of Lahore during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58 AD). It was designed as a public bath house to service both visiting travelers as well as inhabitants of the city. A caravanserai was also located nearby which no longer exists.

Hakim Ilmuddin Ansari, who was granted the title of Wazir Khan, was also responsible for the construction of the famous mosque inside the Walled City which now bears his name.

Excavation of Shahid Hamam was started by WCLA in November 2013 in collaboration with the Agha Khan Trust for Culture and international excavators started working on the project. WCLA officials said in 1955, Shahi Hammam was recognized as a cultural asset and declared a protected monument by the Department of Archaeology. The entrance gateway on the west and the main hall in the northern part of the building are exquisitely decorated with frescoed panels depicting angels, animals, birds, floral and geometric designs.

A detailed report compiled by WCLA on the project revealed that having been covered for decades, if not centuries, with successive layers of whitewash, the frescoes were uncovered in 1991 and found to be unaltered specimens of Mughal era wall paintings, although a little provincial in execution.

Sometime during its history, the building had gone into oblivion and was taken over by the municipality to be used as a boys’ primary school, a girls’ vocational school, a dispensary and as offices for some of its functionaries. Makeshift structures to provide residential accommodation for some of the staff were added to the roof. The northwestern rooms were rented out as shops by the Department of Auqaf whilst additional shops were allowed to “grow” on the lengths of the building’s northern, western and southern façades.

The Hammam is a single storey building covering an area of over 1000 square metres. Built on the pattern of Turkish and Iranian bathing establishments of its time (which consisted of hot, warm and cool plunges, sweat rooms and related facilities), Shahi Hammam is a collection of 21 inter-connected rooms offering all the facilities found in a public bath and an additional room set at an angle facing towards Mecca for offering prayers, the report said.

The report quoting to some historical accounts said the Hammam was used extensively by the public during Mughal times and was reserved for the exclusive use of women on a specific day of the week. The Shahi Hammam is the only monumental public bath from that period which still survives in the entire South Asian subcontinent.

On the exterior of the buildings, the removal of commercial encroachments has already been achieved and its façade on the northern side in the Delhi Gate Bazaar has already been conserved to a certain extent by the Walled City of Lahore Authority. In general, the building is structurally sound but its exterior walls have been badly defaced due to past encroachment. It has suffered misuse of interior spaces and partial, fragmented and, at times, inappropriate restoration and conservation efforts and the absence of a proper management plan have led to loss of its authentic values and significance.

The repair and conservation works carried out in 1991 had stopped short of fully realizing the original configuration of the bath house, its water works and its floor finishes, and the hurried covering up of the base of the building with a marble floor equaled the loss of the opportunity to know the building in depth.

WCLA’s report on Shahi Hamam said the primary objectives for conservation of the Shahi Hammam are to re-establish the conserved monument as witness to a tradition of the bath house as a space of social interaction and the bathing activity as a socializing discourse in the lives of the citizens of Lahore of the times before the decline of Mughal rule in the Sub-continent.

WCLA wanted to preserve this unique Hammam by conserving and restoring its structural fabric and decorations, presenting its original baths and related waterworks, and integrating the Hammam into its urban context in conjunction with the WCLA’s Shahi Guzargah Project. The Hammam would thus become a part of the larger ensemble of Delhi Gate, the rehabilitated Delhi Gate Bazaar and the Visitors’ Center being developed at the latter location.

According to the report, upon exposing, conserving and presenting the original bath structures, pools and cisterns, the various rooms and spaces of the bath houses will be either part of a museal display, or be integrated into the re-use function. It is likely that some of the less important spaces would be adapted to serve as display galleries and congregational areas for holding talks, mushairas or traditional story telling activities. Support activities and spaces like public toilets and related visitors’ facilities, souvenir shops and a kitchen to serve an outdoor restaurant are proposed to be developed in the open area adjacent to the Hammam on its eastern and southern sides.

WCLA officials said the project is planned to be completed by the last quarter of 2014.

WCLA director general Kamran Lashari, while talking with The News, said the authority takes pride in carrying out this project. “It is a unique project and upon its completion we will encourage people to visit this place,” he said. This is a piece of art and tourists will surely have a wonderful experience here, he added.

In future, WCLA plans to restore many other parts of the Walled City and unique monuments like this, he maintained.

Author: Ali Raza | Source: The News [June 28, 2014]

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