Anarkali Bazaar---A Story of Fallen Splendour

By: Farhan Ahmed Shah
Edited & Illustrated by: Usama Irshad, 2nd Year MBBS.

Far from it current run down state and waning significance, Anarkali Bazaar was once the heart of Lahore. The significance of the Bazaar was such that the fashions and latest trends that emanated from the Anarkali Bazaar would become famous all over northern India. The Anarkali Bazaar is traditionally divided into two portions. The Old Anarkali is famous for its food while the New Anarkali Bazaar exists across the street. The Old Anarkali dates back to almost Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s time and it is said it was at this place that Anarkali, a Royal concubine and Salim's one true love, was entombed alive in a wall by the Mogul Emperor Akbar; hence the name of the bazaar.

Anarkali's Tomb 

A View of Old 'Purrani' Anarkali by Night

The New Anarkali, as a bazaar however, has a history more recent.

It was at this venue that Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak had built his huge garden when he ruled Lahore in early 13th century. And it was in this garden that Sultan Aibak was killed while playing polo. Unknown to many, his tomb stands unnoticed in the midst of the everyday ongoing chaos of Anarkali Bazaar.

Qutb Ud Din Aibak's Tomb in Anarkali near Urdu Bazaar

When the British took control of Lahore in 1846, they chose Anarkali to set-up the Cantonment for their soldiers. But due to unhygienic conditions many soldiers fell prey to dysentery and a pelothra of other gastrointestinal ailments and a need to shift the Cantonment to a new location was felt. 

Legend has it that Sir Charles Napier, in one of his many expeditions to find a new location, once wandered off near a village called Taslimpur. It was near the shrine of the famous saint ‘Meean Meer’ that his horse threw him off on the ground. He got up and looked around, stuck his stick in ground and exclaimed ‘this will be the heart of the new Cantonment!’. Thus came into being, in 1850, what we today know as Lahore Cantt.

The boundary of the new Cantonment stretched from the shrine of Hazrat Mian Mir to the Lahore Canal. At the corner of the boundary of new Cantonment near the Canal was stationed the Scottish Regiment and therefore this corner came to be called the ‘Scots Corner’. And as with ‘other things’ Scottish, the spot later came to be christened as the ‘Scotch corner’; a name it still retains.

Anarkali soon emerged as the popular 'upscale' Gora market.The array of exquisite English goods and fashionable hat-adorning men and veil-less mem-sahibs strolling up and down its cobble-stoned alleys stole the breath out of local Indians who would stand and gawk to their hearts content! For all of its chic splendour and urban charm,Anarkali Bazaar could well have been the Bond Street of British Lahore.

The current Anarkali Bazaar morphed into existence with the rapid expansion of the City under the British Raj. It was created as an upscale market place for the British where all amenities of life could be found; it was the Bond street of Lahore. Compared to the less affluent Bazaars of the Androon Shehar (Walled City), the newly constructed Anarkali Bazaar was a major attraction for the city folk. The inhabitants of the Walled City, for whom the Anarkali constituted something unattainable, would stand outside the bazaar and wonder at three-piece suit clad, hat-adorning men and veil-less fashionable women.

A Vintage Potrait of a Street in Anarkali.

For the black bordered ‘dhoti’ or Dhakka cotton kurta and ‘chaabi maarka’ salwar-clad men and veil-adorning women of walled city, the Anarkali Bazaar was bit of a far cry and something worth aspiring to. Consequently, Anarkali and Mall Road were the breeding ground of plethora of stories and gossip for Walled city denizens.

The kissa khwans would gather in the Kashmiri Bazaar inside Delhi Gate and narrate their kissas or stories with such flair, that people out in the market to buy groceries would instead end up emptying their pockets to these kissa khawans for an extra story or two!

These stories and gossips were narrated by ‘kissa khwans’ (story-tellers) and singers who epitomized the art of singing with one hand covering the ear and other hand dancing with the tune. These kissa khwans and singers would sell these stories to a rush of curious residents of the walled city. The Kashmiri Bazaar inside Delhi Gate was one of the most prominent places for the kissa khwans to narrate these stories. The experienced of the kissa khwans would wear steel bracelets on the wrists and beat the bracelet with a wooden stick to gain rhythm while narrating a story. Some stories were so captivating that some of those out in the market to buy grocery would instead end up emptying their pockets to listen to the stories!

Kashmiri Bazaar 1900. Sunehri Masjid is also visible.

Outside the four walls of the inner city a new Lahore was emerging; a Lahore that the resident of the Walled City had not witnessed before.

Seen in Anarkali

 This new Lahore was often looked at with a mixture suspicion and excitement. The stories were the Lahori way of keeping abreast with the emerging situation and customs. And Anarkali Bazaar was at the center of this assortment of emotions and stories.

True to their trait of making one-liner poetry or 'bannis' for every social situations,the Lahoris were soon making bannis about Anarkali Bazaar!

A particularly enchanting trait of the Lahoris of the past was their penchant of creating one or two-liner couplets for any social situation. These one liners or ‘baani’ were usually a taunt and were developed in response to a certain event or recently emerged custom. And true to their character, the Lahoris developed one for Anarkali bazaar as well. They created a baani to victimize the young Indian girls of Lahore who were studying in British-era schools and used to cut their hair short and enter the Anarkali Bazaar in an attempt to emulate the elite. The baani which did rounds of the city as a taunt for these girls was:

‘hun mai angrezi parh gayi aan, tay Anarkali vich varh gayi aan!’
                (Now that I know how to speak English, I can enter the Anarkali Bazaar).

Women Shoppers in Anarkali

Lahore was one of the most culturally,ethnically and religiously diverse cities of India,and apart from its elitist status, Anarkali also epitomized the culture of tolerance that existed between the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities of Lahore. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs together ran businesses in the Anarkali Bazaar that catered to the upscale communities in suburban Model Town. Dhoni Ram Lane - deep inside the Anarkali Bazar - with its high-end crockery, Neela Gumbad for its clothing stores and automobile parts, pharmacies, and shoe stores. Hindus traditionally dominated all businesses, and the Muslims who worked there were upwardly mobile.

Dhoni Ram Lane with its high-end crockery,Neela Gumbad with its clothing,automobile,shoes and drug stores and Mohalla Hakiman with its matchless eatries,Anarkali Bazaar was soon catering to the needs of such posh communities as Model Town and Jail Road.

Consider the case of M. Shahid who runs a store in the Anarkali bazaar. His grandfather, Dilawar Hussian, belonging to Mochi gate, dropped out of school to work for Gogal Ram, a distinguished Hindu entrepreneur. Gogal Ram had invested in the then cutting-edge business of selling car batteries. Only the wealthiest families owned cars back then, and most of them lived in Model Town or Queens Road. By the time Dilawer turned 20, he was managing the shop for Gogal Ram and dealing with the elite of the city. A couple of years later, he was making enough money to move his family from the Walled City to the developing suburb of Muslim Town.

Neela Gumbad,Anarkali

As August 14, 1947 began approaching, communal tensions boiled over to full-blown riots. Gogal Ram didn’t think much of the riots; Lahore had been home to his forefathers for centuries, and he could never even think of leaving.

Dilawar called over his brother to guard Gogal Ram's property until the riots cooled down and Gogal Ram came back to reclaim his property. But the riots lasted for months and Gogal Ram never returned.

Then one day, when a Muslim mob attempted to torch the Hindu temple behind his shop, Goga Lal handed Dilawer the keys to his store and his house in Gulberg and boarded an India-bound train. He only planned to go away for a few weeks, until tensions cooled down. Dilawer, called over his brothers to guard Gogal’s property till the riots were over and Gogal Ram returned. But riots did not cool down and Gogal Ram, never returned.

Dilawer's grandson, Shahid, still runs the same business from a newly renovated building and lives in Gogal's house. Luck has been kind for numerous of similar Muslim families who still run businesses in the Anarkali Bazar. And they, in return, have been kind to the small Hindu community that still gathers, occasionally, at a small temple located amidst the puzzle of Bicycle and Book Stores around Neela Gumbad .

Anarkali of Early 1900s

Six decades later, Anarkali Bazaar is a mere shadow of it’s glorious past. The diversity, vibrancy and class that were once associated with it are a thing of the past. The streets are clogged with carts and shopkeepers who are short of space with their goods out on the street. What little space remains on the street is shared between crowds of shoppers, motorcycles, rickshaws, and sometimes,cars. 

Most building structures have been replaced with unsightly, concrete store-fronts; and those that remain are dilapidated. Today, it’s more like an entire village of twisting alleys and shops and stalls. It’s a collection of sometimes wide, sometimes squeezed-in dirty, overcrowded, and winding streets. 

Weekends sees a rush of young women. And that’s when the boys on the prowl enter the market too, finding every opportunity to harass women. The market has become the hot-bed for students from vicinity who roam the streets for used books, roadside food and snooker.

Every time we,the children of Lahore,cross the street which connects the two Anarkali Bazaars lets just imagine Anarkali(the woman) looking down upon us from one of the walls, and lets just remind ourselves of the Bazaar's fallen splendour by silently repeating the words: 'hun mai angrezi parh gayi aan, tay Anarkali vich varr gayi aan!'

When I was a young kid, a visit to the Anarkali Bazaar was a haunting experience. I would ogle at the walls around me thinking that Anarkali must still be inside one of these walls. For me, the thought that Anarkali might still be alive peeping down at me through a hole sent shivers down my spine.

 Decades since Anarkali Bazaar lost its soul, the thought of visiting the Bazaar is still haunting albeit for other reasons. But at least, till something is done to revive its glory, every time we, the children of Lahore, cross the street which connects the two Anarkali Bazaars lets just imagine Anarkali (the woman) looking down upon us from one of the walls. And lets just remind ourselves of the bazaar's fallen splendour by silently repeating the words ‘hun mai angrezi parh gayi aan, tay Anarkali vich varr gayi aan!”.

(Farhan 'Fanoo' Ahmed Shah holds a master's degree from the University of Warwick,UK. He is the director of Old Lahore Walkabouts , a tourism company that explores the various aspects of Lahore's history,culture and lore. Email:

(Usama Irshad holds a degree in Psychology from the University of Cambridge, UK, and is presently a sophomore at King Edward Medical University, Lahore. He tweets @Usama_Irshad_)


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