|Haveli of Nau Nihal Singh|
Sikh rulers of the Punjab were great lovers of music and dance and Nau Nihal Singh was no exception albeit he also patronized visual arts like painting and architecture. His haveli is a testimony to his taste. This lofty haveli is reckoned among the most magnificent buildings of the city of Lahore. Nau Nihal Singh used it as his private residence. It contains numerous specious chambers, halls and balconies. The roofs are decorated with paintings and mirrors, and are worked in gold. The walls are richly and tastefully ornamented with glass and artificial flowers. It is now government property used as Victoria Girls' High School.
Nau Nihal Singh's haveli is situated inside Mori Gate. This gate is one of the 14 gates of Old Lahore and is located between Lohari Gate and Bhati Gate. The Mori Gate is the smallest of the gateways, and, as its name implies, was in old times used as an outlet for the refuse and sweepings of the city. Behind the place where Mori Gate once stood is a narrow street. This leads to an even narrower street on the left side. This street is hardly a meter wide. After meandering for some distance the street ends on an open area. This open area was once a large garden and the haveli of Nau Nihal Singh stood at one of its extremities. Not a vestige of that garden remains but the haveli survives with some of its decorative motifs in situ.
The haveli, rectangular in plan, is a fairly large building. Its entrance is on the west side and the façade has been divided into two clear sections: one housing the entrance gate, which is profusely decorated and the other is simple but has plenty of fenestration. If there was any decoration on this area it has been destroyed by the ravages of time. The building had a basement and four-storeys above the ground level. The basement is no longer approachable. Out of the four-storeys above ground level, two-storeys encompass the whole area, the third-storey is partially crumbled while the fourth-storey stands in the northwestern corner and is called Shish Mahal. Shish Mahal in fact is like the Mughal’s Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds. Hawa Mahal used to be at the top of the royal buildings where fresh breeze could be enjoyed and at the same time a view of the surroundings could be relished. The Shish Mahal of Nau Nihal Singh’s haveli served these purposes very well. This Shish Mahal is in no way comparable to the Shish Mahal of the Lahore Fort which is huge, massive and matchless in its decorative exuberance.
The wooden roof of Nau Nihal Singh's haveli is divided into several geometrical compartments and each one is fitted with a small mirror in the centre. In the middle is the “Surya” or the sun-motif. Northern and western walls have fenestrations in the form of windows and ventilators. There are blind arches in between the windows and ventilators. These arches house miniature paintings depicting religious and secular themes. Their colours are still fresh and speak a lot of the expertise and paint manufacturing of the Sikh artists. Gold, blue, red, and orange colours dominate. These paintings are rendered in 18 x 18 inch areas. Beside these miniature paintings there are several other kinds of decorative works like cut-brick work, woodwork including carvings and engravings, painted floral motifs and stucco work. The cut-brick work, however, is of the finest kind. It seems that Sikh craftsmen especially excelled in this kind of masonry. This brick-work manifests its perfection under the oriel window and under the cornices. The carving of the bricks is so sharp, precise and accurate that bricks seem to be made of wax rather than of baked clay. Wood carving is noticeable on doors and windows and miniature columns introduced at the corners of the oriel windows. Painted work exists almost everywhere although it is decayed at several places. The quality of restoration, however, is very poor. The paint used is already flaking off. Stucco work was created for development of multifarious kinds of floral motifs. At places magnificence of the bygone days still stands out.
*Photo courtesy of Syed Yasir Usman.