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UMER HAYAT: JUST A PALACE OR A BAD OMEN?

Cities and towns have something  in them which becomes a  symbol of their recognition.  People will always recall the name of  a particular city or town when such a  symbol is broached. Some cities and  towns have landmarks, which have  become a place for tourists to stop by  and be simply amazed by its historical  relevance.  Chiniot, a city of Punjab with thousand  colors and among those colors, the  most prominent one is of their beautiful  wooden furniture and its historical place  Umer Hayat Mahal which is shining in  and out of the country. This walled city  is ruling the entire furniture industry with  their beautiful cum perfect designs.  Chiniot, is well reputed in the whole world  for its furniture and no one can own this  title like this city can.  Along with the modern trade, Chiniot is  well known for its historical places; Shahi  Masjid and Umer Hayat Mahal are some  prominent and most visited places of this  city, and are not far from each other. Umer  Hayat Mahal is an example of the hard  work by the craftsmanship of Chiniot. It  is a beautiful wonder which is dying now  due to poor care and negligence. Now  this exotic mahal is used as public library.  The history of this fascinating mahal is  very interesting and heart wrenching; it  was started in 1923 and completed in  1930 with the cost of 200,000 rupees.  This mahal consists of 5 beautiful stories  with remarkable wood art.  The owner of this exotic palace was a  member of the Vohra sheikh clan and he  was settled in Calcutta, where he was a  successful businessman. Omer Hayat  was married against the will of his family  and as a result his family boycotted him.  He decided to leave his birthplace and  got settled in Calcutta. At that time,  Calcutta was considered as the main  trade hub of the Indian subcontinent.  Meanwhile, he was blessed with a baby  boy in 1920. Umer Hayat was already a  strong and successful businessman but  he always missed his birthplace. So, after  the birth of his beloved son, he decided  to go back to his land and planned to  build a house that will be incomparable in  beauty and grandeur. He shared his idea  with Syed Hassan and hired top leading  artisans of that time to build a palace that  would be a master piece.  Names of craftsman’s were Rahim  Bakish Pirjah and Elahi Pirjah whose  works were acclaimed from the darbar  of Indian rulers to Buckingham palace. It  was really hard for the artists to make a  mahal which will captivate the hearts of  its members. After seven years of hard  work, the mahal was completed in 1930  and literally it was a master piece in the  true sense. From carving to paintings  everything was perfect and beautifully  amazing. People from all around the city  came to see the wonder with their own  eyes.  The palace got him fame and the district  gazetteer of jhang ascribed it as a ‘local  wonder’. The exotic designing on its  windows, doors, exquisite jharokas,  splendid stucco work on its ceiling and  magnificial wood craving made it a fine  piece of art work.  After the final compilation of mahal, bad  luck started with the family, owner of this  mesmerizing mahal died soon after the  compilation. At that time, his son Gulzar  was 15 years. When he turned 17, his  mother decided to marry him. But that  didn’t make things better. On the next day  of the marriage, Gulzar was found dead  in the washroom due to the suffocation  of coal gases. His mother couldn’t bear  this loss and she died on spot. The two  are buried in the courtyard of the palace.  After this heart straining incident, nobody  claimed to be the care taker of the mahal.  It was considered as the bad omen.  In 1940, Ajman-e-islamia opened a  religious school in it which also didn’t last  long. In 1948 Sheikh Muhammad Amin,  a philanthropist of Chiniot, established  an orphanage in the mahal but soon they  shifted it into another building. In 1960 this  glorious mahal became the home for drug  addicts, wanderers and thieves which  almost destroyed it. The two-storied  palace was completely destroyed over  the passage of time and the municipal  committee ordered the authorities to  take care of this precious monument.  It almost took 19 years for a deputy  commission of Jhang to take notice of  this mahal. Finally, in 1989, Muhammad  Athar Tahir, the district commissioner  of Jhang, took up the matter and gave  this palace a new existence by making  it a public library, museum and cultural  centre. Now Chiniot’s dying wonder has  given a new life.  (The writer is a student of Msc. Mass  Communication).

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