The entire walled city of Lahore with its historical architecture, heritage buildings, narrow winding alleys, exotic traditional food and sprightly hustle and bustle has much to offer to a visitor. The architecture boasts of royalty, brilliance and the great time bygone. The city can be approached through its 12 Gates. And each one of them carries a general character of the enclosure, while at the same time holding its own idiosyncratic essence and heritage assets.
Faqir Khana is one such heritage building of Bhatti Gate which is privately owned by the Faqir Family. Upon entering one finds herself in what is commonly known as Bazar Andaroon-i-Bhatti Gate. The bazar is a narrow lane covering a distance of one to one and a quarter of a mile. An eventful and busy bazar, it remains occupied with pedestrians, rickshaws, carts and occasionally a car, throughout the day. It is open till midnight and is famous for street food, snacks and edibles. Next is Nayian Di Gali (barbers’ lane) and then Mohalla Jalotian which is the great poet-philosopher Allama Mohammad Iqbal’s residence. Passing through subsequent mohallas and Koocha Moti Tibba one reaches Bazar-i-Hakeeman. It is here that the Faqir Khana museum is located. On the way one pleasures the sight of Pir Bhola Shah’s shrine and the famous Unchi (high) mosque of the area. The visitor may be amazed by the cultural richness and heritage found within this narrow lane called, Bazar-i-Khaeeman.
Within Pakistani context, Faqir Khan Museum presents a unique and interesting case for exploration and inquiry. It is one of the largest private museums not only in the country but across South Asia, claim the owners. Museums are of immense significance and there is no denying the fact that they act as repositories of material culture; as sites of history, art, politics, etc.; and as bearers of identity. Faqir Khana Museum and the objects therein offer all this and much more to its visitors. What is even more wonderful is that tourists to Faqir Khana are received as guests by the family which generously provides for tour to the museum; the grandeur of which is only known to those who have been there.
Walking through Faqir Khana is like a visual tour of history and culture. Each object therein carries within a deep story and a deeper meaning. The collection of artefacts conserved and rendered open to public exhibition perform specific purpose; firstly, it reproduces a particular historical era of Punjab as a “glorious” period with several parameters developed to explain and justify this “glory”; and secondly, it informs and endorses the key role played by the Faqir Family especially the three Faqir brothers affiliated with the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It also then constructs identity in specific ways through the possession, conservation and exhibition of artefacts.
Unlike conventional museums Faqir Khana is set up in family’s ancestral haveli. The first thing one notices is the parallel connection between history of the museum, of the family and of the region. The history of the museum dates back to the pre-partition time and takes the visitor as back to history as the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s era. The family takes immense pride in their ancestors, the three great Faqir brothers, Fakir Azizuddin, Fakir Imamuddin, and Fakir Nuruddin, who held illustrious position in the court of Maharaja. The various portraits of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and surrounding narratives construct and indigenous understanding of history. The narratives surrounding these portraits establish his reign as glorious time. An indigenous ruler who has invested in the welfare of his area and people irrespective of their caste, class, creed or religion. The gift items presented by him to the three Faqir brothers on various occasions bespeak the same.
Faqir Khana houses over 20,000 artefacts of significance. One wonders how the family ended up having such a huge collection of valuable items. There are two main sources of acquirement of objects in the museum which include, firstly, the valuable gifts presented to the three Faqir brothers, holding prominent positions in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court by the Maharaja. Secondly, the rarities purchased by members of Faqir family from time to time out of their personal pursuit for art and antiques.
Let us have a peep into the museum!
500 meters inside the Bhatti Gate, on right is a plaque with Faqir Khana inscribed. Upon entering, one finds him/herself in an open courtyard with a few steps on the left and a door leading to the second courtyard. On one side is the drawing room of the haveli also known as the Hall of Carpets, of the museum. As is evident from the name, the room displays several antique and precious carpets. The visitor learns about varied sorts of patterns of different origins; Iranian, Bukhara, Samarkand, and indigenous ones of the Mughal era. Also catching the visitors’ curiosity is the ancient weaponry, kakemonos and calligraphies hung there on the walls. Six rooms of the Haveli are solely dedicated for exhibition of artefacts. These are arranged in a way that each room has a particular item present in such a prominent number that considerably exceeds the number of miscellaneous objects therein. Behind the eastern wall is a stairway leading to the Hall of Miniature Paintings and Furniture. The room is a historical and visual treat. Among these intricate paintings are portraits of Mughal emperors, of Sikh Sardars, historical personages, of hertiage buildings of secular and religious nature; and of course, the three great Faqir brothers. A door in one of the corner leads to the Gandhara room. Majority of these sculptures from Taxila and Swat valleys of which the family claims originality. The ancientness of the sculptures, some as old as 2nd – 5th century, leaves one awe-struck. Next comes the manuscripts room and like all the others it houses extraordinarily rare published and unpublished books. The Calligraphy Room ranges works ancient and modern, the oldest is dated 1612 A.D. while the latest by Hafiz Yousaf Siddiqui is from the year 1986. In the north is a door leading to the last room of the museum, the Dining Room. Crockery pieces from across the world are found here. Metal-ware, bronze and brass ware, wrought iron and porcelain, you name it and it is there. The magnitude of the museum, the genuineness, the ancientness, and the infiniteness variety of the material artefacts leaves the visitor awestruck. Each artefact carries a story waiting to be told!
The making of the Faqir Khana Museum has helped the creators construct specific and multifaceted familial identity. The museum explains the historic, inherited, and continued nature of familial identity. As Sufis and Faqirs, the family is proponent of interfaith peaceful co-existence; as ministers of a Sikh Maharaja they represent indigeneity and active political citizenship; in making and curating of the museum, they become custodians of history; in collecting the rarities, the connoisseurs of art and artefacts. All these emerge as prominent aspects of this family’s identity.
The family, taking care of the museum for last six generations, believes that through the museum they are continuing the legacy of their “great” ancestors, that is, “contributing to their land”; the three Faqir brothers by creating history; while their descendants by preserving history through museum.
Hota hai fakhar jin ko maazi pe moeen apnay
Rakhtay hain tareekh k har baab ko wo zinda
sums up Fakir Syed Saifuddin.HH
Dr. Saadia Abid is Assistant Professor and In-charge of the Department of Anthropology, Quaid-i-Azam University.
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