This week in heritage: Akbari Mandi
Lahore has been the capital of Punjab for nearly 1,000 years; perhaps more. Besides being the Mughal show window, Lahore has always been the cultural, academic and intellectual centre of Asia. For 200 years Lahore remained a thriving cultural hub of the great Mughal Empire, when it was beautified with palaces, gardens and bazaars. Lying on the main trade and invasion route of South Asia, Lahore has been ruled, built and plundered by a number of dynasties and hordes, however, it touched the zenith of its glory during the rule of the great Mughals and the bazaar I am taking about in this piece is one of the Mughal remains: The Akbari Mandi.
This largest spice market of Asia is right here inside the Walled City of Lahore. As you reach Delhi Gate, the aroma of countless spices would welcome you to this market. This market has more than five hundred shops and the variety of products is countless. The market is named after the great Mughal Emperor Akbar who was the third king of the Mughal Empire. Akbar came to Lahore in 1600s when he built a thirty feet high wall with thirteen entrances or gates in it for the access to the city. He established this market near the Delhi Gate which goes up to the Akbari Gate of the Walled City of Lahore. The purpose of having the market outside the gate was to ease the traders and keep them away from the city. The market is a hub of wholesale and retail and the variety you get here for the spices and herbs is unavailable in greater Lahore. Dating back to Akbar’s period this market holds historic importance.
An incomparable multi-coloured panorama is seen inside the streets of Akbari Mandi. The stacked up spices, herb and grains look like jewels in bright sunshine. This is the most vibrant market in Walled City of Lahore. The market is an assortment dwelling of Asian grains, spices and rice. Some shops deal in wholesale where as others also provides these for household kitchen use. All exceptional Asian spices and herbs available will fill up the pantry of an Asian cooking enthusiast very quickly. Different types of Bay Leaves, Cardamom, Cassia, Cinnamon, Cloves, Curry leaves, Five Spice Powder, Garam Masala, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Kalonji, Ajwain, yellow mustard, black pepper, sesame, Laksa Leaves, red peper, coriander, lemongrass, cumin, mace, mitsuba, panch phoron, pippali, radhuni, rice paddy herb, saffron, pandan leaf, star anise, nutmeg, turmeric, henna, and many more are piled in abundance. A lot more is there and many things are really new to our generation. If I ever take along friends to this market they are enthralled by twenty one types of rice which are available there. Also, if you are in search of some special herb for any medical treatment, I assure that you will get it from Akbari Mandi.
At present many tourists are being taken to Akbari Mandi for a treat but the sad part is that it is not well maintained. In my opinion everything cannot be put on the government, the traders and shopkeepers should also make efforts on their part. The traders and shopkeepers having ages old shops in this market are happy with the running system and do not want to change anything. Whereas if they only clean up the streets and look of their shops it can become a huge touristic site; and of course their sale and importance will also increase. Yes here the government can play a role to educate and groom these shopkeepers. Workshops and trainings can be conducted to tell them how markets in other countries are well maintained and what steps these people can take.
Now, let’s come to an interesting history of this place. This is the place from where the British East India Company planned to enter the Royal Land of the sub continent. The trade of spices! The sub-continent in those times was known for the great production of aromatic spices and variety of grains. Many times the products were destroyed because of getting stale or affected by the rains and weather conditions. Sources told the British about this and they extended a proposal to the Emperor Akbar. The British requested the Emperor to let them start the trading of spices from here to different parts of the then Britain. The sharp courtiers of Akbar’s court declined the offer and thought to trade it themselves with different countries. The British were trying to enter the great empire built by the Mughals but they achieved the goal in 1615 when the company acquired its first territory in Bombay and in Lahore this was the place which started as the trading point of spices being a part of the subcontinent. The offer was declined by the Emperor but the British kept on seeking an opportunity to do this.
By 1750, the Mughal Empire had weakened by a series of wars, and was breaking up into smaller states. The British East India Company took this as an opportunity to enter into trade in India. Then the trade of spices began and the British East India Company was finally in the sub continent with a strong position.
From this time on, the East India Company became more of a ruling power than a trading company in India. While the Company grew richer on the profits of its trade, land taxes shot up, and millions of Indians died in terrible famines. Over the following two decades, millions more would be dispossessed of their land, and have their local industries crippled by the actions of the Company. The British government became concerned about the Company’s ability to govern its territories and in 1783 it decided to make Calcutta the centre of government under a new Governor-General. The British government took away the Company’s monopoly in 1813, and after 1834 it worked as the government’s agency until the 1857 India Mutiny when the Colonial Office took full control. The Company went out of existence in 1873.