If ever there was a haveli that could be labelled as among the oldest, and also the finest, without doubt it would be Mubarak Haveli, just off Bazaar Hakeeman inside Bhati Gate. It was here that the Koh-e-Noor Diamond was recovered from a trapped Afghan king. This ‘haveli’ has stories galore, ones that make history so interesting.
Our story begins from three brothers by the name of Mir Bahadur Ali, Mir Nadir Ali and Mir Bahar Ali. All three were well placed and on the death of their father, a well-known ‘tabeeb’ and ‘hakeem’, they decided to build a colossal ‘haveli’ to house all three brothers. This was the time of Moghal emperor Muhammad Shah. It took three years to build and when the three brothers moved in, Bahadar Ali’s wife gave birth to a son. This was seen as a good omen and the ‘haveli’ was named Mubarak Haveli.
The family continued to prosper in the field of ‘medicine’ and business. With time they branched off into two major components, the Fakir family and the Syed family. The Fakir family built their own havelis near the Mubarak Haveli, one of which stands even today and is known as the Fakirkhana in Bazaar Hakeeman. There are three other properties of the Fakir family still near Tehsil bazaar-Bazaar Hakeeman crossing.
The Syeds owned the properties from both sides of the right edge of Tehsil Bazaar right up to the entrance of Mubarak Haveli. The land going right to the back of Lohari Gate Bazaar formed their western edge. So the haveli, in its original form, was between the main Bhati and Lohari bazaars. One could call it the prime land in the old walled city of Lahore.
With the start of the Sikh period began years of pillage and looting. Sikh mobs would come and loot whatever they could lay their hands on. While the Fakir family, because their influence in the Lahore Darbar remained in power,it was seen that the Syeds had to flee. The grand Mubarak Haveli remained empty for a few years and people inside the city began to steal the bricks of the western portion of the haveli. It presented a deserted look, prompting Maharajah Ranjit Singh to take it over, for himself and his guests.
The Maharajah is said to have held wild parties here. One account tells us that a seer informed him that as the original owners were Syeds, it would bode badly for him. Being a man who heeded caution, the Sikh maharajah decided to use it as a guest house.
It was during his reign that the Afghan king Shah Shuja and his family, who were fleeing from Kabul because of fighting over the Afghan throne, were his ‘guests’. The crafty Sikh ruler made them his prisoner and decided to release them only after they gave him the unrivalled diamond called Koh-e-Noor.
Initially the Afghan king refused to admit that he had the diamond, but a team of Sikh spies informed him that it was hidden within the clothes of a Royal Afghan princess. This led him to ask his female khalsa warriors to search each and every woman, but to no avail. It was decided to make them prisoners in the Mubarak Haveli till such time they yielded the diamond.
This tired the Afghans, who wanted to move to British India in order to amount a challenge to the throne of Kabul. Eventually the diamond was produced and the maharajah finally smiled.It had been an immense game of patience. But the Maharajah decided that they still had other gems and jewels, and he again decided to harass them.
Over the next three weeks the Afghan royal family women escaped dressed as local women, while the remaining men one night knocked down a wall of the western portion of the haveli, and escaped from Lohari Gate. Five days later they landed at Ludhiana and began their conspiracy with the British to regain the Afghan throne. The maharajah was very upset at this escape and decided that he did not need Mubarak Haveli any longer, and handed it over to Sardar Khar Singh Sindhuwala.
But Sardar Khar Singh also did not want to handle the property of the Syeds lest bad luck comes his way. He handed over the property, on lien, to Ghulam Mohyuddin Shah Qureshi, who managed to build a few houses for himself on the south-western portion of the huge lands of the haveli. With the coming of the British the Mubarak Haveli was taken over and handed over to Nawab Ali Raza Qizilbash. The Nawab, out of respect to the original owners, rebuilt the haveli and converted a major portion into an Imambargah, which is considered among the finest in Lahore.
The haveli then went on to his son nawab Nawazish Ali Khan and his brother Nawab Nasir Ali Khan. These brothers also managed to rebuild major portions to help the old haveli regain its original glory. But this time the ancestors of the original owners moved to regain their rights of a property abandoned out of fear for their life. They managed to get the haveli back. But the number of owners was so large that it was decided to sell it off as one block to pay off all those who claimed a slice of the cake.
It so happened that Syed Maratab Ali Shah, one of the ancestors of the original owner decided to acquire the entire property of his mother’s family. His own wife’s name was also Mubarak Begum. So the Syed, in this grand gesture of preserving their family property, regained what was originally theirs. Syed Maratab Ali decided to form a trust, and the property now belongs to this trust, whose objective is to preserve the main haveli, to further the traditional skills that made Lahore among the eight great cities of the old world.
Syed Maratab Ali’s son, Syed Babar Ali, has proven his immense love for Lahore by building a School of Calligraphy at the edge of the entrance of Mubarak Haveli. Built in small brick, it is a testimony to the creative genius that the man is. Two years ago another school inside the haveli, dedicated to preserving the paintings and old art forms of Lahore, was completed. Today it is, without doubt, well kept and is a testimony to the immense respect this very old Syed family have for Lahore and its history.