A tale of Khizri to Shairanwala

Another piece of heritage nobody is alive to

 

We have a city where each brick, bend, balcony, lane and house recounts the stories of past glories and mayhems. This is our Walled City of Lahore, the original Lahore which was enclosed within a thirty feet high wall with thirteen gates that gave access to it. Imagine a city closed after sunset and no one allowed to cross the gates. It seems impossible today, the way we are habituated to the open spaces and borderless cities without any gates. Contrary to our lifestyle in modern Lahore, the people living inside the Walled City are more comfortable breathing in narrow streets and adjoined houses. These people are well associated with each other and live like a big family. The same is the life inside the Shairanwala Gate, which comes on the circular road a little ahead of Yakki Gate.

This gate was once known as Khizri Gate but rarely would anyone know about the original name because it is popular as Shairanwala Gate now. Here begins the story of its transformation from Khizri to Shairanwala. According to some historians, it was named after a saint, Khawaja Khizar, whose name was associated with water, rivers, seas, boats and navigation. In old days the river Ravi flowed very close to the gate and for this reason the gate was named Khizri. There is a Khizri Mahallah (neighbourhood) inside the gate, which justifies this old tradition.

This gate was once known as Khizri Gate but rarely would anyone know about the original name because it is popular as Shairanwala Gate now

This gate remained as Khizri till the Sikhs took over Lahore. Historians affirm that the origin of its name as Shairanwala gate dates to the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, when he placed two lions beside the gate. Guards were also deputed there to look after the gate and the lions. It was then when it was named Shairanwala because of its association with the lions. Since then the name of the gate changed from Khizri to Shairanwala and the original name became part of history.

When the British took over Lahore, the lions in the cages were removed. The carved images of the lions on one of the gates near Shairanwala Ghatti are still evocative of Ranjit Singh’s times.

On the left of the gate is a government hospital along the waterway and the rehabilitated wall of the old city. This piece of one kilometre was restored to demonstrate the look and feel of the original wall which once encircled the city. Along the wall, there is a garden which used to be a trench filled with mud during the British period. The road coming down from the gate is very steep and is known as Shairanwala Ghatti and same is the case with the gate lying next to it, which is the Kashmiri Gate. This gives support to the assumption that these gates were built so high because of the vicinity of the Ravi.

An expert architect says that the single story gate has a distinct thoroughfare. There are two rooms built on each side. The structure of the gate is different from others gates of the Walled City because there is no window like Delhi or Lohari gates have. There are two pillars on the outer side supporting the arch of the gate and the ceiling is built slightly higher.

From the main Shairanwala Bazaar one can reach the famous Ayub Ka Bangla, which was built in the Sikh period and in 1849 it was taken over by an Afghan chieftain by the name of Ayub Shah. A few steps ahead are the remains of the Katri Bao Mumtaz in the form of depleted doors, windows, balconies unfolding the nice woodwork and revealing countless untold stories of this fleeting world. A narrow bazaar packed with a variety of necessities of daily life remains open till late at night. The food and tea stalls are seen at every nook and corner. A school for the deaf and dumb and another for the blind is also located inside the Shairanwala Gate, which is one of the exceptional traits of this gate.

 

Walking through the streets of the Shairanwala we come across unique street names like Gali Beeja Raam, Koocha Kanj Lal, Mahallah Nogarah and many more difficult names hard to memorise

 

A straight passage from Shairanwala Ghatti crossing through Tedi Gali (narrow street) leads to Asia’s biggest cloth market, the Pakistan Cloth Market, and Masjid Wazir Khan is also nearby. One can easily take a route to the Royal Trail of Delhi Gate from there. It is no doubt an amazing tourist trail.

Walking through the streets of the Shairanwala we come across unique street names like Gali Beeja Raam, Koocha Kanj Lal, Mahallah Nogarah and many more difficult names hard to memorise. During the Sikh era many mansions and havelis were built inside this gate, most of which were damaged during the riots and wars. Today this gate is taken over by commercialisation and only a few residential streets are left.

Like other gates, this should also be taken up as a tourist spot. It has never been restored, rather it is badly plastered with political publicity banners and other advertisements. Despite everything, the gate and its trail leading to Wazir Khan or Purani Kotwali Chowk is worth visiting.

Tania Qureshi

The writer is a media professional and can be reached at [email protected]



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