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The Gates of Lahore, Capital of Ranjit Singh's Empire




Lahore - the capital of Ranjit Singh's great Sikh empire - is now the capital of a smaller Punjab, the most populated province of Pakistan. It is one of the ancient cities of the subcontinent and has a rich historical and cultural heritage.

The early history of the city is cloaked in obscurity and it is pretty difficult to establish the exact date of its foundation. It was a town of not much importance in the first and second century A.D. and was ruled by Rajput princes. In the eighth and ninth century, it became the capital of a powerful brahman family, who, in the tenth century, were invaded by Sabuktagin and his son Mahmud Ghaznivide.

For the next eight centuries, Lahore was ruled by different Muslim dynasties and served as the capital of the Ghaznivides, Ghorians, and Mughals from time to time.

At the onset of the 19th century, the Sikhs ascended to the throne of Punjab and Lahore was made the seat of government. Shortly after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the British managed to annex Punjab to the Raj and took over their domains.

It served as the capital of the undivided province of Punjab until 1947 under the British rule and after independence, it became the capital of the province of Punjab in Pakistan.

The walled city of Lahore lies on the banks of the river Ravi that used to flow very close to the old city. The city was fortified with a wall in the times of Mughal Emperor Akbar and Sikh Emperor Ranjit Singh rebuilt it in 1812 and surrounded it with a deep broad ditch.

In 1849, when the British annexed Punjab, they destroyed the walls and gates of the city except Roshnai Gate. They filled the ditch and replaced the wall with gardens, irrigated by a branch of the Bari Doab Canal, encircling the city on every side except the north. The gates were later restored as simple structures, except for Lohari Gate and Delhi Gate.

In 1947, there were fierce riots in the city - [precipitated by the call to 'direct action' by those demanding the creation of Pakistan] - causing the destruction of many old structures such as the Shahalmi Gate. In 1990, the city wall was rebuilt partially on the northern side; however, for reasons unknown the project was never accomplished.

Access to the old walled city was gained by thirteen gates, of which only six have survived the vagaries of time.

The gates on the Eastern side are:

Zaki Gate or Yakki Gate

The Zaki Gate was named after the martyr Pir Zaki who fell fighting to the Mughal invaders from the north. The gate does not exist anymore, and the name Zaki is distorted to "Yakki" with the passage of time and is known as such these days.

Delhi Gate

The Delhi Gate is so called for its opening on to the road leading from Lahore to Delhi. It was first built in the Mughal era, but the British demolished the old gate and the buildings around it. The remains of the old gate still exist as "Chitta Darwaza" (the White Gate) about a hundred meters away from the present gate. It was once the main entrance to the city because of its proximity to the highway.

Akbari Gate

This gate is named after the Mughal Emperor Akbar who rebuilt the town and citadel. This gate was destroyed during the British rule and never rebuilt. There is a huge grain market close to this gate, also named after the emperor, "the Akbari Mandi" or the Akbari Market.

The gates on the South side are:

Moti or Mochi Gate

This gate does not survive and exists only in name. There are two theories about its name; according to one, it was named after ‘Moti Ram', an officer of Mughal Emperor Akbar, who resided close to the gate at that time. The name was later corrupted to Mochi. According to another theory, there was once a bazaar within the gate where shoes were sold and repaired as the name ‘mochi' (meaning cobbler in Punjabi) indicates.

Shah'Almi Gate
The original name of this gate was ""Bherwala Gate." This gate was named after the Mughal Emperor Shah ‘Alam Bahadur Shah who succeeded his father Aurangzeb. He spent most part of his life in this city and after his death, this gate was named after him. This gate was burned during the 1947 independence riots and today survives only in name.

Lohari or Lahori Gate

This gate was named after the city of Lahore itself. It was the quarter of the town that was first populated when Malik Ayaz, the viceroy of Sultan Mahmud Ghaznivide, rebuilt the town in early eleventh century. This gate is also called Lohari Gate. As Loha in Punjabi means ‘iron', it is suggested that there were once many blacksmith workshops based just outside this gate.

Mori Gate

This is the smallest among the thirteen gates of the walled city of Lahore. This gate was used as an outlet for the refuse and sweepings of the city in the old times.

Gates on the West side are:

Bhatti Gate

This gate is so called, because the people who inhabited these quarters in the old times belonged to an ancient Rajput tribe,  ‘Bhatti'. This gate was reconstructed during British rule and is one of the most famous gateways of Lahore.

Taxali Gate

Unfortunately, it is one of those gateways that exist only in name. This gate was called Taxali because there used to be a mint (Taxal, in Punjabi) in the Mughal era. Now there are no remains of either the gate or the mint.

Gates on the North side are:

Roshnai Gate

It is the only gateway that survives in its original splendor and reminds us of the past glory of the great city of Lahore. It lies between the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort. In the past, princes, courtiers, royal servants, and retinues used it as an entrance from the fort to the city. As most of the houses belonged to the upper class, and were profusely lighted up at night, it was called the "gate of light," or the Roshnai Gate.

Kashmiri Gate

This gate still survives though it has lost most of its past glory and splendor. It is called Kashmiri gate as it faces the direction of Kashmir.

Masti Gate

Its original name was ‘Masjidi' gate as the street further down leads to one of the oldest mosques in the city, the Mariam Makani mosque, named after the mother of Mughal emperor Akbar. Over the years, the name Masjidi was corrupted to Masti. This gate is now the lost part of Lahore's history.

Khizri or Sheranwala Gate

The river Ravi used to flow very close to the wall of the Lahore city and since the name of Khizr, the companion of Prophet Musa'a, is associated with water and water creatures, this gate was named after him in the old times. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh reconstructed the gate, he kept two domesticated lions in a cage, and the gate came to be called "Sheranwala," or the "lions" gate.


Tomorrow: The Tale of Sherawala Gate - Witness to Many tales

[Courtesy: Saudi Gazette]

February 6, 2010


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