BAHAWALNAGAR

One of the majestic pre-partition building in Bahawalnagar, Nagar Mahal still reflects a fine taste in architecture, standing elegantly amidst the vagaries of weather.

The 90 years old edifice is situated at Minchinabad, 35km northeast from Bahawalnagar. As far as its construction pattern is concerned, it has a row of guestrooms with a high arched doorway leading to the first courtyard. A short flight of stairs leads to a marble doorway inset with a timber door that leads to the inner courtyard.

The entire courtyard is exquisitely carved with abundance of grapevines and other floral and curvilinear motifs. On either side of the spandrel, Krishna strikes his signature pose playing the flute.

Inside is the central courtyard, a tradition reaching back some nine millennia. The rooms are arranged behind a veranda in a regular square. The arches of the openings to the veranda strictly follow the later Mughal design and are richly painted with floral and curvilinear designs. The top of each arch carries a human likeness, perhaps of members of the Agarwal family.

While the ground floor stringently follows the vernacular terms, the upper floor is an Italian delight. Noted writer Salman Rashid also visited the building and got highly inspired with it and said, “As early as the middle years of the 19th century, when British rulers had just started to raise their first edifices in northern India, the moneyed class of the Punjab had become deeply enamored of this new building tradition.”

The design would then be duplicated for the homes of the rich. At the dawn of the 20th century, the sea change of acceptance of vernacular architecture as an integral part of colonial buildings had already occurred. Scores of little-known private residences dating back to the early 20th century across the country are breathtaking examples of local craftsmanship. Nagar Mahal in the town of Minchinabad, Bahawalnagar District is a case in point.

It was built in 1925 by two brothers Sheikh Nagar Mal and Bhajan Lal of Agarwal family. They could enjoy the mansion only for about two decade and as they left in the great transmigration of 1947, abandoning Nagar Mahal which later came to be occupied by the Sukhera family. Mian Bagh Ali Sukhera who was member of Punjab Assembly in 1946, got the building at the exchange of his costly property across the border at the time of partition. The Sukheras have since lived in it and kept the lore of the mansion alive. Dilshad Hussain Sukhera is now the keeper of the lore of the mansion.

With such a good standing, the present occupiers could easily afforded a European architect-or even the best from local experts. However, there is no information regarding either the builder or outlay for the building, nor have ever they found any architectural plans or other papers related to the edifice.