M. Bilal Baseer Abbasi
ABBOTTABAD: Nawan Shehar, one of the oldest towns in Hazara is located 07 kilometers north of Abbottabad. The town once served as serai for commercial activities on the ancient silk trade route.
The origin and history of Nawan Shehar is mostly indeterminate but what is worth noting is that a picturesque landscape nestled in the lap of the mountains is dominated by Muslim and Hindu architecture of historic significance. Beside the havelis, temple and masjid that were built back by the time of Britishers Nawan Shehar was then a hamlet of stone and wooden houses with a mud-plastered walls.
Although much of the elegance has crumbled with time, the architecture still boasts signs of its former glory. For instance, the remaining frontage of Sawhney Haveli of the Ishwardas family lamenting the times when its residents were elites of the region. Built in 1900 by Rai Bahadur Ishwardas Sawhney, a wealthy Hindu who was a honorary magistrate of Nawan Shehar this resplendent mansion once remained the centre of politics and today after 121 years its extravagant architecture is a testament to the wealth of the owner.
Covering vast area the Haveli in it’s time was considered among a few attractive buildings in Hazara. Its architectural design reminds one of the oldest Hindu architecture. The exquisite exterior of Haveli has unique architectural character noted for its wooden windows, stunning fire places and ornately carved doors. The owner hired masons and craftsmen from Kashmir and KP (formely NWFP) to construct the haveli and make wooden doors and balconies.
An oral historian, and environmentalist Mahmood Aslam narrated the fate of Haveli from the pre-partition times. He told that Nawan Shehar was predominately inhabited by Hindus and Muslims before the Partition who shaped the economical outlook of Nawan Shehar and its neighbouring towns like Dhamtour and Qalandarabad.
Haveli was constructed using the finest building material as despite being in a terrible condition, one can see the love and aesthetics of the masons and artisans in it’s every nook and corner carved with intricate designs. Aslam is considered an expert on the oral history of Nawan Shehar and according to him the owner of the haveli was a Hindu businessman and known for lending loans on profit basis to the locals and was considered among the richest of the Hazara. His family was also among the wealthy ones and he had an eminent name in the city, as everyone knew him. Historic references tell that his forefathers were timber merchants who established their own Palace hotel, match factories and a sugar mill and later controlled and influenced the businesses of Hazara. They migrated when subcontinent was divided into two dominions and they found themselves on the wrong side of the border.
Vijay Sethi ,72, a resident of Dehradun, Uttarakhand Bharat born after his parents moved from Abbottabad to India in 1950 due to partition but he proudly calls himself son of Nawan Shehar. His family had a share in business of Sawhney family who were owners of Garhi Habibullah match factory, Premier Sugar Mills, Mardan and state of the art of Palace Hotel in Abbottabad.
Chaman Laal Jee was about 15 years old at the time of the Partition and were living in Nawan Shehar. Sitting in his home in Dehra Dhun in Uttarakhand, India still remembers the names of his close Muslim friends. To him visiting the birthplace was a strong desire before he dies.
Professor Ghulam Jilani Khan teaches History of Architecture in an affiliated institution of Abbottabad University who says “ the building was an exquisite blend of Hindu and British architecture. According to him the grand structure of Haveli is beautiful as one can visualise the the glory and majesty of pre partition period while standing in front of the main entrance.This haveli having carved wooden doors, extravagennt artwork and masonry were left behind by their dwellers in the partition of Hindustan in 1947”.
Shabnam Nawaz and Amna Sardar are civil society activists. They had a group of friends of environment which has filed a petition in Peshawar High Court for preservation of colonial heritage of Abbottabad. Shabnam also a lawyer by profession is so pessimistic about the future of cultural heritage as she rightly pointed out that scores of magnificent historic buildings lie in complete neglect. She stated that there is an immediate need to undertake the work for preservation but she lamented until that happens, these structures may die gradually and eventually.
Amna Sardar told that unfortunately we as a nation look into history with coloured lenses, covered with our prejudices. We need to start owning our heritage. We required to look at it with pride, whether it is the Sikh period or the British it is all a part of our collective identity.
“There is an immediate need to undertake the work for preservation and merely words cannot save this haveli, there is an urgent need to implement a strategy to save what is left of the pre-Partition heritage of Abbottabad” Amna Sardar demanded.
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