Heera Mandi: Scarlet secrets of Lahore

Published: August 20, 2010

We mustn’t forget that there are humans living here and we should treat them as humans.

There is a bazaar in Taxali Gate called Heera Mandi. A few decades ago this place was famous for dancing and music. People used to go here for a visual and musical treat. Beautiful girls (kanjiries) used to sit in stall shaped balconies, called kothas, and ply their trade, the oldest profession in the world. The place was perhaps even more famous for singing and dancing. However, slowly the aesthetic pursuit became less arty and more tarty. The area became the centre of prostitution in Lahore.

Most people have the misconception that the Diamond Market got its because of the beautiful girls who worked there, inimitably like diamonds. However, that is not the real meaning or origin of the name. Actually this mandi is named after Heera Singh, who was the son of a minister of Ranjit Singh’s royal court. Heera Singh was also a minister of Sher Singh’s court during the Sikh period. The Mughals were the founders of that trend of dancing and singing, but as far as I know they never promoted prostitution publicly.

These brothel houses were first developed by the British in old Anarkali Bazaar for the recreation of the British soldiers. After that these were shifted to Lohari Gate and then to Taxali gate. They seemed to have spent more time at Taxali Gate than other places. Thus they settled in Heera Mandi, and one can still find the traces of that.

During the Zia era, a rigorous operation was conducted against these vendors of pleasure, because these ‘musicians’ were actually running brothel houses in the guise of music and dance. Of course, the operation didn’t root out this iniquity and instead it scattered all over the city.

Sinners and diamonds in the dark

There is a dark gali where every naughty boy considers going and every gentleman fears to go. We call it Sinner’s Street. Please don’t go there – not only is it sordid but it is dirty. When we were passing through the street there were prostitutes standing in the dark corners of that street calling customers. We saw two motorbike riders enter the street. They accosted a prostitute. She asked them where they had got the bike from. One of them replied, ‘I just lifted it. Now, it’s mine.’

This street is full of filth, with no proper sewerage system. It’s like you are walking in a drain. In a way it is the most poignant loss of heritage.

We don’t sing here anymore

Once prostitutes were hired by wealthy families to teach their children culture and social behavior. All that is left of a colorful, gay street with music and the echo of ghoongros coming from carved wooden porticos are old prostitutes lurking in filthy corners, a rotten smell and drug addicts.

What was lost at Taxali Gate

This is only one part of the story. Taxali gate was not always famous for its brothel houses. Once nobles and historical figures used to live here. Mualana Altaf Hussain Haali and Allama Muhammad Iqbal were some eminent residents. Some noble people still live here like Moan Yousaf Salaud din, a renowned socialite and the grandson of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, in a beautiful and well preserved haveli, one of the finest examples of the architecture of the Mughal Dynasty.

Taxali gate also hosts the oldest cinema of Pakistan, “Pakistan Talkies” which was known as the Nazir Theatre before partition. Sadly, today it plays only adult films.

The gate, which is now known as the red light area, is the only opening of the Walled City to the West. It was once called Lakhi Gate. Behind this gate is the single arterial route of the Walled City which runs from East to West and connects Taxali Gate with Dehli Gate. Starting from the West this route is called the main bazaar of Taxali Gate. As we head east it connects with Kashmiri Bazaar which ends at Akbari Mandi.

Now, the ancient gate has vanished but the route still persists. It is believed that behind this gate, and close to the Lahore fort once lay, the royal Taxal mint – hence the name Taxali Gate. It was pulled down during the early years of the British regime. The name, however, remains.

Unfortunately, this area is no longer worth living in. We can imagine our authorities are more interested in monkey business here than civic amenities. In the same way as these women are outcasts in our society, it seems this place has also been cast off as well. Respectable people living here share this neglect.

We musn’t forget that there are humans living here and they should be treated with respect.

zohaib butt

Zohaib Saleem Butt

A television producer at Express 24/7

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://khizer-jalal.blogspot.com Khizer Jalal

    Excellent Article.. I really enjoyed reading. The truth is that there is deep reflection of culture in those areas and streets Recommend

  • Umer Shaikh

    There are other good secrets of Lahore city as well. Why just explore Heera Mandi, useless article Recommend

  • Saira Saba

    i must say its a very nicely written intro & history of Red light area for which i am always curious to know about it. Recommend

  • Shahryar Ahmed

    One correction: Agriculture is the Oldest Profession, Prostitution is the second.Recommend

  • Madiha Mustafa

    nice effort..i just feel sorry for those girls who were born there and are indulged there by fortune…Recommend

  • http://shirazhassan.blogspot.com Shiraz Hassan

    well.
    I dont know why Tribune published this article, there is no new information in this article! all the same old things repeated.

    Allah Iqbal never lived at that place, though he used to visit heera mandi quite often.

    and man u also missed another important place, Ustad Daman ki Baithak and What about Iqbal Hussain? the artist.

    and u confused with histroic face. in article it is stated that

    These brothel houses were first developed by the British in old Anarkali Bazaar for the recreation of the British soldiers. After that these were shifted to Lohari Gate and then to Taxali gate.

    right but u also write… Actually this mandi is named after Heera Singh, who was the son of a minister of Ranjit Singh’s royal court. Heera Singh was also a minister of Sher Singh’s court during the Sikh period. The Mughals were the founders of that trend of dancing and singing,

    Ironically , this article is missleading!Recommend

  • http://www.al-noor.net Mahmood

    Shiraz , you pointed out well. the incoherence of article is well displayed. And as to historical accuracy what should one say!

    O think enthusiasm for new writers is causing this hasty and superficial writings.

    It is not to discourage, but to keep the record street, when did Haali came to Heera Mandi?

    Mere repetition of old facts does not shed light on this historical cultural relic of by gone past.

    Despite all this keep writing!Recommend

  • Taimoor Balooch

    now we have to change this …Recommend

  • http://shirazhassan.blogspot.com Shiraz Hassan

    @taimoor?

    change what?Recommend

  • http://sadaf-fayyaz.blogspot.com/ SadafFayyaz

    I guess Fouzia Saeed book “Taboo” is a very informative one on this issue….It states well the difference between “kanjar” and “mirasi” class….The women from Kanjar baradri prove best to join films, and are mostly dancers…The men of Mirasi baradri are called ustad…..They train women from the other Kanjar sect…
    The kanjar sect looks down upon the Mirasi sect…..
    There is also a rasm called “nath Utarna” here////
    Theres a dif in kanjari and Mirasi too….
    Late Quratulaine Hyder writes in her novellas Dilruba and Uglay Janam Mohay Bitia na kejo, on this class…..In Dilruba….There are shown “Nautanki wali” women…Gulnar stating “hamari amaa to saat pardon mein t=rehti thien, dadi bengal ki gaika thein”…..

    Well written post,,,But could have researched a little more….Keep it up……Recommend

  • Fateh Ullah Khan

    I have gone through the article as you are digging out the old culture of the Lahore Mr. Shiraz Hassan has properly pointed out the facts any how Lahore is Lahore and so many books have been written on Lahore and particularly about this Bazar or Street. I want to mention for the knowledge of the readers and commentators that the first book which I had read was having title “US BAZAR MAIN” (In That Bazar) by Shorish Kashmiri about whom I have great regards. Sahir Ludhiyanvi also written poems “SANA KHAN-E-TAQDEES-E-MASHRIQ KAHAN HAI”. Sa’adat Hasan Manto have also written related things. Agha Zahir Babar fiction “CHITTI RASAAN” (Post Man) also depicts this culture. Ahmed Faraz has also picked up this issue in his poem titled “LAKHTAI” (The Male Young who Dance Shaping Himself As A Woman). There is also a great film DESTINY OF HER OWN (Dangerous Beauty) also depicts the old culture of Venus. I am appreciating your efforts of digging out like a culture specialist and would expect you that you would also take the path of literature as well as Lahore is a cultural city and alot of literature has been written there where Ustad Daman was also there apart from other poets, writers, intellectuals and artists. Recommend

  • Taimoor Balooch

    i mean we hve to change ths type of old tradition so called old profession. a
    woman is a mother sister or a wife . i think this tradition is coming from hindus and sikh socities.
    ths is a cruel reality. Recommend

  • Fateh Ullah Khan

    I have gone through the article as you are digging out the old culture of the Lahore Mr. Shiraz Hassan has properly pointed out the facts any how Lahore is Lahore and so many books have been written on Lahore and particularly about this Bazar or Street. I want to mention for the knowledge of the readers and commentators that the first book which I had read was having title “US BAZAR MAIN” (In That Bazar) by Shorish Kashmiri about whom I have great regards. Sahir Ludhiyanvi also written poems “SANA KHAN-E-TAQDEES-E-MASHRIQ KAHAN HAI”. Sa’adat Hasan Manto have also written related things. Agha Zahir Babar fiction “CHITTI RASAAN” (Post Man) also depicts this culture. Ahmed Faraz has also picked up this issue in his poem titled “LAKHTAI” (The Male Young who Dance Shaping Himself As A Woman). There is also a great film DESTINY OF HER OWN (Dangerous Beauty) also depicts the old culture of Venus. I am appreciating your efforts of digging out like a culture specialist and would expect you that you would also take the path of literature as well as Lahore is a cultural city and alot of literature has been written there where Ustad Daman was also there apart from other poets, writers, intellectuals and artists.Recommend

  • M. Shaharyar Saeed

    Hey, you have done fantastic job its really an intresting article about this tale…!!! hmmmm…!!! really niceRecommend

  • Zohaib

    Well, thank you so much for appreciating my work. And for those who don’t. I just want to say that history is all about stories. The stories you’ve told me above are from the books and the story I have told you is from the streets. House of Iqbal still stands in Mohalla Jalotiyan very near to this bazaar and if you ask about Hali… the native showed me the ruins of his house as well which you can see in the video report. It’s good to criticize, I welcome criticism, but being judgmental is ethically wrong until and unless you are an authority on any relevant subject. You should have courage to listen to others stories. Trust me it wont damage your knowledge but to increase it. And I am very thankful to all of you who added in my story the lines I have missed and completed it. Thank you so much… all of…  I hope the world will know that culturally and historically how rich this Pak land of ours is. Mr Fateh Ali Khan Sir! i will read those books thank you so muchRecommend

  • Zohaib

    Well, thank you so much for appreciating my work. And for those who don’t. I just want to say that history is all about stories. The stories you’ve told me above are from the books and the story I have told you is from the streets. House of Iqbal still stands in Mohalla Jalotiyan very near to this bazaar and if you ask about Hali… the native showed me the ruins of his house as well which you can see in the video report. It’s good to criticize, I welcome criticism, but being judgmental is ethically wrong until and unless you are an authority on any relevant subject. You should have courage to listen to others stories. Trust me it wont damage your knowledge but to increase it. And I am very thankful to all of you who added in my story the lines I have missed and completed it. Thank you so much… all of you.. I hope the world will know that culturally and historically how rich this Pak land of ours is. Mr Fateh Ullah Khan Sir! i will read those books thank you so muchRecommend

  • http://__________ Marium Mushtaq

    i never visited this area but my friend did n they told me that when they were passing from those streets they literally got tears in their eyes after seeing those girls their must be thousands stories behind every girl doing this business but our society never thought it that way . we talk about that it is horrifying business if a some people or govt try to protect such girls then we can surely take control of it Recommend

  • Ashlin

    did you intend writing this only to attract attention. coz thisis majorly a phony. the title and content do not compliment . theres only a description of the address to the place am sorry to state. and other then that facts are wrong or incomplete infact the whole article is a mess…either you could have targeted the historical stance of the subject positively or negated its existance negatively. but this article fails to deliver either. a poor attempt!. Recommend

  • Saira Saba

    dont know why we get offended and never wants to face the reality. Recommend

  • http://www.al-noor.net Mahmood

    Dear Zohaib,
    Either we describe stories and fiction or we study concrete facts, it should be mentioned in that. If they say it , we need to corroborate it by supporting documents and logic. History is not fiction. Fiction is free, so please determine first it is factual or fictional?

    writing is always to be encouraged.Recommend

  • Mehmood

    @ashlin… im very sorry to say but shame on you… you should not discourage any writer like this… article is a mess or not but the boy tried to highlight an issue and people like you only foucs on the spellings not the meanings of the words. its a thought provoking issue, instead of talking and just talking why dont you wirte something good on it. then we’ll see what mess you’ll make… and for the writer.. keep it up boy… Recommend

  • http://shirazhassan.blogspot.com Shiraz Hassan

    @Zohaib
    House of Iqbal still stands in Mohalla Jalotiyan

    Dear Iqbal’s residence is is Bhatti Gate, Mohalla Jalotiyaan .. which is quite away from that place.

    But Yes legend Urdu Short Story writer Ghulam Abbas used to live near Pak Talkies cinama.

    I agree with the fact that this article is written just to get attraction (in a lousy way)Recommend

  • http://shirazhassan.blogspot.com Shiraz Hassan

    Mahmood

    you should not discourage any writer like this…

    Dear, the writer is writing for one the of the most credible newspapers, he is not just practicing his writing skills! Recommend

  • Mehmood

    Mr Shiraz What are you… your previous statements shows that you have some personal issues with the writer, i have read all of your above comments you talk baseless like a stubborn child who is insisting that “whatever in this article is not true and I know everything so everybody should listen to me. “ Well Mr Hassan relax first of all its not a newspaper it’s a blog. Secondly, avoid baseless arguments at public forums. It won’t bring you any good name. lastly, please we all know that you know everything about this place but there are other people who wanted to know so just please let them have a nice reading experience. There are people who found this article or blog interesting and informative… so please don’t impose your extra knowledge on us. Peace! Recommend

  • shahid Latif

    Good article for reflection of culture. Who is the enemy of our culture?Recommend

  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson

    Good article. People should know about background of this place. Yes you are right, it was settled by Heera Singh and it is equally true that Sikhs never seconded these types of activities as is known by the period which followed later (British & Muslims) rulers. There are many other famous names which took birth in this place. Some have been mentioned in this blog and others were exposed by the head of this community in a magazine. He was bitter when asked, where are the children of those nobles who use to visit or hire someone from this place. He openly named that you can find them in higher positions in all walk of lives including government departments. Anyhow, people with good connections have moved to the posh localities and the others have sneaked in other areas.Recommend

  • http://www.fdilbar.com Faisal Asif

    It’s my first time on your blog, and seriously I never knew anything about Taxali Gate and all the information you gave in few words. Excellent work my friend.

    May Almighty Allah show us all the righteous path, may He bestow His Mercy upon whole nation, may He forgive our sins. Ameen.Recommend

  • Zohaib

    click at “Sinner’s Street” above in the article its a link to the video report that i made on Taxali gate. Recommend

  • mateen saeed

    We have strange definition of “Sin” confined to sex and Whores. I wonder worst kind of criminals like dacaits, drug dealers, land mafias, thieves and other ugly characters has never been outcast,looked down upon marginalised, detested or abhorred collectively by us as detestable are residents of these so-called “Sinner Streets”. We even elect and send worst ugly characters to parliment and expect change. Whenever there is talk of purifying society, divert/concentrate all our energies towards so-called “Sinner Streets” and hope thereby all other evil will be wiped out. I wonder if there is any difference between Talibans and our mindset. Recommend

  • Burhan Chaudhry

    Nice work mr. zohaib..but i just want to tell you that may be to pass through those streets and talking to the unknown persons, who live there couldn’t give you the proper information. well i ve a very close frnd who’s forefathers are living there still and i must say they could provide u the best information abt that area and its myths..jus grab your cell phone and call Mr.Akbar bobby Bajwa..i already made em agree to deal with you without any hesitation.
    and plz keep writing…=) Recommend

  • Mehmood

    hey i need that bobby bajwa’s number too… does he really live there? i want to do a project on people like bobby bajwa those who have their generations involved in prostitution. its a noble cause i want to do somthing for the walfare of the people like Akbar Bobby Bajwa! Plzzz Mr burhan give me his no..? Recommend

  • farzam

    This article is misleading and it is suggested that all the facts should be presented as they are…… Must improve your knowledge by reading material written on it. If you want to know the history of prostitution must read the book “ Mantoo ki Aurtain” you will know lot of things. And second book written by Fauzia saeed “ Taboo or Kalank” published by Oxford press.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/IAARACCOP Sardar Alam Khan

    Guys stop inquiring about history of Lahore and these women. Just do something to stop this curse in an Islamic state. http://www.facebook.com/IAARACCOPRecommend

  • Kanishka

    “The Mughals were the founders of that trend of dancing and singing”

    Are you Madrassa educated?

    Dancing and singing has been there in the courts of all Indian Hindu Rajas and Maharajas even way before Mughals, tughlaqs or Qasim (from Ashoka, kanishka, Lalitaditya, Lakshman Sen Dynasty, Rajputs and Marathas etc)…….. Mythologycally even Indra is supposed to entertain himself with dane and music ……Dance and Music is sacred amongst Hindus and so is Sex :)…

    Please dont make a mockery out of Pakistani IQ levels.. You would affirms peoples doubt over literacy levels of Pakistanis Recommend

  • Hira

    Bravo!Recommend