Lahnga Mandi — a musical treat inside Taxali Gate
Musical tunes, pleasing melodies, rhythms of life, harmonious beats, colourful flutes, tabla, dholak, harmoniums, daf and many other melodic instruments and tunes would welcome you upon entering this popular bazaar inside Taxali gate of Walled City of Lahore. You will be surrounded by numerous spell bounding real tunes and compositions which would make your mood pleasant, as music is soothing for soul and mind. This is the Lahnga Mandi, the music market inside Taxali gate Lahore which was one of the thirteen gates of the Walled City of Lahore and had been once famous for its dancing girls and musicians. Unfortunately the structure of the gate does not exist today but the remains of the intangible and tangible cultural heritage are still visible through its feeble bricks and balconies. I must say the stories of past are still roaming in the air there.
As you enter inside Taxali Gate take your route to Chowk Heera Mandi and a little ahead from the shrine of Peer Naugaza you will start seeing the interesting music shops and the most amazing part is that the artisans making those music instruments are still sitting there practicing their art and talent. This music market depicts the real picture of the past and melodies that were once the life of this gate. Let me tell you that this is the oldest market of music instruments here in Pakistan and was the center of the red light area. Once there were more than hundred shops of musical instruments and artisans were seen sitting on the thara (platform) outside the shops tuning the instruments. Now the shops have reduced in number but still in almost hundred shops you will find all types of traditional and modern musical instruments. Before partition most of the shops here were owned by Hindus. This area supplied the locals with the music instruments and many musicians practiced their symphonies here in these shops. Till now each shop has a singer working there and if by chance you are there to buy something, it would be a treat to listen to those unpopular but superb singers. This is a historic market and was once the hub of music, arts and culture and the remains we can still see here inside the Lahnga Mandi.
A new trend of music instruments souvenirs has also been seen in this market and if you are a music lover then you must visit this place to purchase small decoration pieces of tabla, harmonium, dholak etc. for you drawing room. You will also be carried away by the décor and display of music instruments in the shops as it is so aesthetically and colorfully done. The art of singing and playing music is at its peak in Lahnga Mandi till today but there is also a gloomy side of this bazaar.
Once there were rows of musicians, music bands and music players, but as there was a ban imposed on red light area the art of the musicians and instrument makers also faded away and many left the place and shifted to other parts of Lahore. Taxali no doubt till now is associated with music and art lovers but many people take it as a taboo and refrain from visiting the place which has also resulted in the economic downfall of the artisans, musicians and other shopkeepers. Over the past decade I have seen people changing their businesses there and if you visit this place now, you will see shops other than music instruments too. This is shocking for me as I had once seen the hustle and bustle of the bazaar. This place was at its peak after sunset and the bazaar was opened till late hours but now it shuts down around twelve at night. Many of the traditional music instrument makers have left their businesses and thus those instruments are dying now which include Sarangi and Sitar. This is alarming! Many people there said that music was the only source of income for them but the decline of the music industry had affected their lives. Many music ustads (teachers) are not encouraging the new generation to join the field of music now and the younger lot is now learning other skills like electrician, tailor etc. A strange thing which is happening is that the business of metal workers is taking up in this bazaar where once the melodies were I the air. What is the reason of this decline, we need to understand that.
I have seen that the modern musical instruments have replaced the traditional ones adding to the downfall of this market and now there is no help for the shop owners with which they can uplift their economic conditions. Shops of sitar, tabla, dholak, dhol, daf, harmonium, ek tara, toomba, flute, saxophone and many others were seen here almost ten years ago but now you will also see guitars, pianos and drums in each shop. This means that our generation is moving on to the western instruments and has no interest in the traditional musical instruments. Once the sitar maker was seen sitting in his shop but last time I visited the place I could not find him and on asking about him from others I got to know that he had moved out of the city and none of his children got into the same art. Most of the tabla and harmonium makers are also seen sad over the poor condition of the market. Many shopkeepers and instrument makers were disappointed at the government’s attitude and said that the government had no interest in uplifting their area and shops. These people made sense to me because going to this market needs patience and time as the traffic is highly mismanaged, and this is another reason for the downfall of this place. There is no proper parking facility, no traffic management and yes no management of the shops and bazaar too. If we talk about India, Iran, Japan, Turkey, Germany, France and other countries, they market their bazaars and turn them into a tourist attraction but here we failed to do so and attached taboos with it.
Association of taboos with the bazaar is also another reason for its downfall. Trust me this place is artists’ hub and should be visited by all who are art and culture lover. Another reason is the ban that was imposed on the red light area in 1980s. That affected the music industry too and till now they could not get back their lost identities and charisma along with financial stability. As the singers moved out their business also vanished and today if proper measures are not taken to save this living culture, we might lose this part of the market too.