The Legend of Heera Mandi

Heera Mandi: An Introduction

Heera Mandi is a bazaar located inside Taxali Gate of Lahore, close to Badshahi Mosque. This place was once famous for music and dancing. There used to be Kothas there. Beautiful girls used to sit in balconies to attract customers. Initially it was all about singing and dancing. However with the passage of time prostitution also started there.

Heera Mandi

In 1961 Nawab of Kalabagh banned prostitution in heera mandi. Singing and dancing was still allowed there. Due to the ban, the prostitutes left heera mandi and spread out in the city. Then wherever they go, they would entice young girls into this profession. This is how the Call Girls came into being. These call girls cheapened the prostitution. Girls would sleep for small amount of money with other men. With the advent of TV, these call girls became actresses.

In General Zia’s regime, the timing of heera mandi was set between 11 and 2 pm. Which further hit their businesses. So more of these people shifted to Iqbal Town, Faisal Town and Defence. So when they shifted to good places of the city. They got relationships with influential people. Police would no longer bothered them. There would be secret Mujras in the bungalows of defence.

The Name

Heera is an Urdu word meaning Diamond, Mandi is an Urdu word meaning Market. Most people think that it’s called Heera Mandi due to the presence of beautiful girls there. This is not true, actually Heera Mandi got it’s name from Heera Singh. His father was a minister of Ranjit Singh. Heera Singh himself became a minister later. The place is also called Shahi Mohalla (Royal Street).

History of Heera Mandi

Mughals were fond of singing and dancing. In the beginning it was all about singing and dancing. People used to come here only for love of dance, poetry and music. There is a misconception about Tawaif. Many people think Tawaif is same as prostitute. Tawaif were females who were trained to sing and dance. They were not prostitutes. They were highly mannered people. In the past, elite families used to take their kids to Kothas. The purpose was to learn manners and cultures from Tawaifs.

British were the first to build brothels in Anarkali Bazaar for their soldiers. They were later shifted to Lahori Gate and then eventually to Taxali Gate. During Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, operation was carried out against these brothels. Due to the operation they got out from Heera Mandi and spread in other parts of the city.

Transformation

With the passage of time Tawaifs transformed into prostitutes. Initially there were women who inherited their lifestyle from their families. Then there are some women who came into this profession because they had no other way of making money. Mujras also started in Heera Mandi. Mujra is a form of sensual dance. Some of the women performing mujras are not prostitutes.

This culture of Prostitution came due to two reasons. The people there ignored the artistic aspect as it was an easy way of money-making. Second and most important reason is the type of audience that now come there. There was a time when people came there solely for music and dance, but not any more. In private parties, men started treating dancers like whores.

Then came a time when people started going there only for mujras and prostitution. So the artists refrained from performing art. And the decent people who appreciated art refrained from coming there. So the art faded away. Those involved in prostitution then shifted to other parts of the city.

The Rise & Fall of Heera Mandi

When prostitution started in guise of singing and dancing, the Tawaifs got rich. They purchased houses there and called it Shahi Muhalla (Royal Street, i.e. the street of guests of royal families). At that time Tawaifs wouldn’t even talk to common man. After Ranjeet Singh, poverty took over the heera mandi. Then they opened their doors for public. So to fulfill their needs they started prostitution. With the passage of time, people started coming here only for prostitution, not for art. When General Zia came into power, he was very close to religious parties. To please them he set late night timings for heera mandi. So most of the old residents of heera mandi shifted to posh areas of the city.

With the passage of time they became influential as politicians and businessmen became their guests. Relationships with multiple influential men also endangered their lives. Naggu was the first to be murdered on account of disloyalty. Then they became secretive in their affairs. Some of them got married outside the mandi. Some got richer by touring gulf countries for performing Pakistani Mujras. The charm of heera mandi has now faded away.

Now only those people live in Heera Mandi who can’t afford to buy houses outside. Transgenders (Heejras) are living in the houses that were vacated by the Tawaifs. They arrange dance parties there and make a living.

Yahya Khan & General Rani

Yahya Khan rose to power after General Ayub was defeated in Table talk by Indian PM Shastri. Yahya khan would remain drunk most of the time. Many Tawaifs and call girls would warm his bed at night. Three women were especially notable. First one was Aqleem Akhtar Rani aka General Rani. She would bring girls to yahya khan from all over the country. The second one was famous singer and actress Noor Jehan. She would not only sleep with him but also sing to please him. Third one was known as black beauty who was from Bengal.

An incident became famous about actress Tarana (anthem). Tarana wanted to go inside the president house, she was stopped by the guards at the gate. But she went inside anyway. When she came out, the same guards saluted him. When asked why they saluted the same girl they did not permit to enter. A guard replied: Before she was only Tarana, after meeting president she is qaumi tarana (National Anthem).

Singers of Heera Mandi

Heera Mandi has produced many famous singers. They are listed below:

Noor Jehan

She is also known as Malka Tarannum. She belongs to Qasur. Her birth name is ALLAH Wasai. Ustad Ghulam Muhammad was his teacher. Married famous director and actor syed shaukat huassain rizvi. Later she took divorse from Rizvi and married Ijaz Durrani. Her patriotic songs of 1965 war are still very famous.

Malka Phukraj

Another famous singer from Heera Mandi. Married syed shabbir hussain shah. Her daughter tahira syed followed her footsteps and became equally famous. Sometimes Tahira Syed and Malka Phukraj sang together. She lived in Model Town Lahore. Malka Phukraj passed away in 2004.

Farida Khanum

Another famous name from Heera Mandi. She married famous stage person Agha Hashr. Started from radio but later sang on TV as well. She later shifted to posh area of Lahore.

Surayya Multanekar

Although from Heera Mandi but basically belonged to Multan. One of her song became very famous. The title of the song was: Baray be murawwat hein ye husn walay, kahin dil laganey ki koshish na karna. This song was an instant hit. This song introduced her to TV.

Tasawur Khanam

Started singing in Heera Mandi. Started her TV carrier from Zia Muhiuddin Show. She couldn’t sing the first time she came on stage. One of her song from Movie Rangeela became very famous. The song title is Ve sab tu sohnya. Married a landlord from Sindh and left Showbiz.

Naheed Akhtar

Belong to Heera Mandi but basically from Multan. Used to sing as playback singer for movies initially. Married a journalist Asif Ali pota.

Zarqa

Another famous actress from Heera Mandi. She is younger sister of famous dancer Nazli. Nazli became very famous due to her dances in movies. Famous actor Nanha (Rafi Khawar) fell in love with her. Nanha married her and spent all his money on Nazli. But nanha couldn’t win her loyalty. Nanha took his life by shooting himself. Zarqa has performed in Tariq Aziz show as well. She performs in private parties as well.

Actresses of Heera Mandi

Besides singers and dancers, many famous actress also belong to Heera Mandi. Few of them are listed below:

Babra Sharif

Babra Sharif is from Heera Mandi Lahore. She started her career from Karachi TV center. Her first movie was Mera Naam hai Muhabbat.

Samina Khalid

Samina is also from Heera Mandi. She became famous for TV drama Sona Chandi of Munno Bhai. Her younger sister rozina khalid also started working on TV. They both tried their luck in movies but remained unsuccessful.

Mehrun Nisa

She lived and had business in Heera Mandi. Later shifted to Iqbal Town. Did a movie which wasn’t successful. Later did a drama named Fariab. Got famous for her role in that drama. Later did a drama Aankh Aujhal. Hosted a program Har Taal Hai Deepak. Did a drama Alao from Lahore center. She performs Mujras as well.

Economic Aspect

This had an impact on the local economy as well. Not only the artists who performed were affected. But those who assisted them were affected as well. There was a time, playing Tabla was an art, many people were associated with that art. But as the tradition of music and dancing faded away, so did playing Tabla. And people who inherited the art of Tabla Nawazi were left jobless.

Nowadays Heera Mandi is not what it used to be. It’s legacy is lost.

 

 

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