Once the abode of the grand nobility of Lahore, the village of Begampura today is a far cry from the grand palaces and mosques that once doted its landscape. The village lies east of the University of Engineering the Technology, just north of Grand Trunk Road.
The graveyard and the grand buildings and mosques adjoining it belonged to Nawab Zakariya Khan, Governor of Lahore during the reign of Muhammed Shah. Located just next to Mughalpura, where the rich and famous of the Shah Jahan era lived, the entire complex was supposed to be the grandest in Mughal India. The investment made by the governor ran into hundreds of thousands of rupees in those days.
Its gateways, buildings, architectural details, and brickwork date to no earlier than the year 1700 AD. The surviving structures include a mosque with yellow tile-work and a gateway with Sikh-styled plaster-work and brick details. The place was in the height of its splendour in the time of Zakariya Khan, who lived here with his family and adorned it with grand palaces, elegant gardens, mosques and tanks. Its magnificence and splendour can be formed from the fact that the nawab, after realizing the weakness of the Court of Delhi has assumed the power of a satrap, and the whole wealth of the Punjab flowed into the palaces of Begampura for the period of 21 years (1717 - 1738 AD).
The tragedies that Begampura endured once the Mughal era ended weave the saddest of tales. After the Afghan rulers plundered Lahore, there came the advent and rise of Sikh power. Every Sikh ruler who came to power started dismantling the structures and selling off the bricks and the expensive marble and tiles. During the Triumvirate of Sikh rulers of Lehna Singh, Ganda Singh and Gujjar Singh, this area came under the sphere of influence of Gujjar Singh, who completely destroyed the place and built Qila Gujjar Singh with its bricks.
During the reign of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the place was taken over by the head of the artillery of the Khalsa Army. He leased out the lands to farmers. Then the maharajah allowed the Kangra chieftain Rajah Sansar Chand to occupy the place. When he left he allocated it to his favorite Brahmins, who used to send him an annual rent. The Brahmins started dismantling the graves and selling off the tiles, marble slabs and the bricks. Then the son of Sardar Lehna Singh Majathia forcibly took over the land from the Brahmins. He also started selling off bricks from the buildings and graves.
Barely had he started his destruction when the Afghan chief Nawab Ghazi, who claimed to be the original builder's descendant, came to Lahore from Kabul. As the occupant Sardar Dessa Singh had gone to the hills and the houses were empty, he occupied them and forced the farmers out. They filed a case in the court of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, which ran for a few years. As Nawab Ghazi was not able to present any written proof, the entire area was handed over to Gulab Singh Poondia, who set up a military cantonment at Begampura.
The first thing Gulab Singh did was to convert the mosque of Begampura into an ammunition depot. He ordered that the very foundations of the houses and garden buildings be dug up and the bricks sold to raise money. Till the time the Sikh rule ended in 1849, the area remained in the possession of Gulab Singh. When the British took over, a numberdar by the name of Keema filed a claim of ownership. As no proof of inheritance was provided, the British magistrate ordered that he keep the place after paying a modest price, which he failed to do so and was therefore evicted.
By this time a person by the name of Fazal Shah, claiming original inheritance, put in an application, on which he was handed over the property provided he proved his inheritance. In the time period allowed by the court, this Fazal Shah started selling off more bricks and tiles. By this time the appeal of the farmers came up and Fazal Shah was evicted. The tillers of the land won the right of tenancy, with ownership rights going to the State. That status still remains. There is no doubt that in between the various owners who propped up from time to time, a long list of claimants came and were, each one of them, thrown out. Everyone sold off bricks by the thousands. No other graveyard has been so badly exploited and misused in the history of Lahore.
The name Begampura came from the mother of the original builder, Nawab Khan Bahadar Zakariya Khan. Her name was Begam Jan Sahiba and it was in her lifetime that Begampura was built and named after her, a name that still remains. Traces of the original structures still exist, some being among the finest in Lahore.
The imposing gateway, with its arched rooms and side rooms is still partially preserved. In those days, the gateway opened on a spacious courtyard, lined with cells and other buildings. The picturesque mosque of Begampura, with its beautiful minarets of kansi work and arched entrances could be seen from the distance but alas today it is hemmed in by dense growth of newer constructions.
Writing in the late 19th century, Latif noted that "nothing can be more sublime or more awful and heart-rending than the sight of these wrecks of departed glory; they convey at once to the mind how transitory and unstable worldly eminence is. The palaces, once the residence of the reconciler of the fierce Nadir Shah and of his delicate harem, where he, with all the pomp and pride of a viceroy, sat giving orders to his omerah and officers on State affairs, are now in ruins, and beneath the shattered domes which have survived the wreck of time, lives an old woman working at her grinding mill, or a weaver busy with his loom."
There were a number of raised platforms in the courtyard, but none remain. There are however, remnants of areas in the courtyard which appear to show some markings consistent with graves. On one of the raised platforms was the grave of Zakariya Khan himself. Beside him was the grave of his father, Abdus Samad Khan. On another platform, to the west were the tombs of Khawaja Innayat Ullah Beg, Kalandar Shah, and Nawab Ghazi Beg, the grandsons of Nawab Zakariya Khan. On the same platform were also the tombs of Mai Sohagan Begam, wife of Nawab Ghazi Beg, and Sahib Begam, his daughter. On another platform, east of the mosque, were tombs of Bahu Begam, wife, and Begam Jan, mother, of Nawab Zakariya Khan. Unfortunately, none of these remain today.