The geography and demography of the ancient Brahman city has seen an incessant change through the ages. The culture of this mythical town has, however, some staunch characteristics for centuries. Lahore has always enjoyed an insignificant status of a religious hub; discovered by the son of the legendary hero of the epic of Ramayana and held as the home of temples and shrines by the subsequent rulers. Lahore and its residents have always maintained a particular sanctity with this respect and their norms, customs and society is painted with its vivid and glossy colors. The typical demographic homogeneity of the centuries old city declined through the years and it, quite eventually, became a unified diversity. This multiplicity is the focal of the colonial and the beauty of the modern Lahore.
British colonization of the subcontinent concluded in many great changes in the politics, governance, economics, psychology and society of the region. The transformation had its impact on one of the biggest and the most significant cities of United India but it could not, however, dampen the spirit of Lahore. Lahore was no less than a holy treasury for all those who came hunting for glory to the subcontinent, given its social and religious standing and political implication. It had always been the centre of culture and power but no foreign force could penetrate through its fabric as deep as did the British. After its annexation in 1849, Lahore soon became the frontier where met the two poles; The East and The West.
Communal Diversity: Influx
A seat of the old Rajput dynasty and the principal city of Punjab for centuries, Lahore which had gradually grown to grandeur, was made the headquarters of the colonized province. British troops were stationed in the city and it was made the administrative block of Punjab, from Khyber to Dehli. To establish the new administrative headquarters, Lahore lacked the appropriate machinery. The British, therefore, arranged for the movement of the people of skill into the city from all across Punjab, North India and even Bengal. This influx brought with it the flavor of diversity to the society of Lahore. Various communities with lingual and racial differences began to settle in, and with them began to dwell in their customs and ethnicity. Lahore was secondary to Amritsar in matters of commerce, but it served as a route for the traders pouring in from Central Asia. They came and encamped in the provincial capital of Punjab and added a new color to the social splendor of Lahore. These raiding forces sank in the strong spirit of the city and its people and soon it began to project an integrated pattern of various regions of the subcontinent. The modern Lahore holds this gift of the colonial era in a beautiful wrapping and so dearly that it is now its asset.
The Religious Sanctity: The Missionaries
The conquest of Lahore was, as evident by prior records, a milestone for the British and lead to a formidable foundation of yet another Red Coat colony in the face of Indian subcontinent. Seeing the roots of English monarchy strengthened in the region, there traveled groups of dedicated missionaries to the region. These passionate groups came from the West and stationed themselves in various parts of the subcontinent. They had come with a motive of conversion of locales to Christianity, and Lahore being the capital of Punjab became the centre of their activities. They began preaching to the poverty-stricken peopled of the conquered and destructed city. This ran a wave of insecurity and diffidence through the citizens. Lahore was held as a land of religious blessedness by all the three religious sets of Lahori population, the Muslims, the Sikhs and the Hindus. This unrest lead to launch of various movements by these communities for the protection of their beliefs. While the Khalsa and Arya Samaj rose to scene, many Muslim Tanzims and Anjumans took birth. By the end of the nineteenth century Lahore had become a theatre of war for the establishment of religious supremacy. Table was always set for debates for the religious ideas to win them.
The Sheher and The City
The cosmopolitan city of Lahore, diverse and multiple in religion, culture and ethnicity, saw some structural changes during the British era. The British developed a city in the hinterland of the centuries old fabled town. Outside the Sheher of dark stingy, narrow Mohallas where the sun never shone, lined with tall buildings with arched windows and painted glasswork, the vast courtyards and the crafted domes evolved a grand city with broad lanes, concrete pavements, huge buildings, large bungalows and the magnificent cantonment. The Sheher hustled with the ticking of Charkha and the noise of beggars and haggling vendors while The City echoed with orders for management of affairs through the day and the jazz during the late balls through the nights. So, the business brought the two poles together at some hour of the day and this interaction culminated in emergence of a rather amorphous society.
Lahore’s Literary Culture: The Colonial Impact
The cultural diversity of the subcontinent met the foreign thoughts and Western modernity in Lahore as the British education approached the exclusive class of students. The descendents of the mobile and diversified society became the administrative elites of Lahore as opera, play and novel began to replace Kavita, Katha, Ghazal, Nasar or Afsana. Brown skinned and dark headed clad in long coats and felt hats began to stagger through the narrow streets and march across the cemented walkways, frustrated by the narrowness of the bricked town and awed by the splendor of the cantonment. The ideas began to change and the concepts became questionable as they read the books provided the boards and press of Colonial Education.
“Form a class who may be interpreters between us, with and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons, Indians in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect.”
—Qtd. in Sulehri
The similar and dissimilar customs and perceptions became the food for thought when interacted the colonizer and he colonized. This was a different breed of Lahoris, the generation next to those whom calls the West as the rebels of 1857.
Lahore, which had always been the hub of culture and society, now became the home to literary clubs. The sun would set in the city for the residents to move into a circle of friends and folks to talk for hours over a mug of coffee or a cup of tea. Arguments would be exchanged in the Gol Bagh or during promenades across the Mall. When there would be no issue left to debate on, they would discuss the courtiers of Lear or comment on Hali’s Musaddas. Lahore is a city, and then it was becoming a city, where Shairi spills out in daily conversations.
Lahore is today the most culturally and ethnically diverse city of the country and its foundation was laid in the era of British colonization. Lahore holds a legacy of literary circles with the roots firm in the colonial period. The religious and spiritual picture of the ancient town is overlaid by the blend of diversity and modernity lent by the Colonial British Raj.