The Legend of Heera Mandi

Heera Mandi

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

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.

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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