Written by Vidyun Goel
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, part of our frequent ritual, my father and I were on an umpteenth visit to the heart of Delhi –Dharampura, Chandni Chowk. Even though I have made peace with the sorry state of Old Delhi ruins, I cannot help but think about wonder about the glorious past of what has always been India’s political capital. I can safely assume through the interactions I have had with people on the subject of heritage in Delhi that Shahjahanabad is now a distant memory for most people, and the youth of Delhi may not be even aware of its existence let alone the small wonder of Dharampura. But, through the painstaking restoration of an old and dilapidated haveli here, now famously called Goel sahab ki haveli, I have taken the first step to showcase to the world the architectural glory that Dharampura was once known for. Being an ardent Dilli wallah, I have grown up on a healthy diet of the remnants of colossal temples and old houses dotting this place. Dharampura has everything that a place demands in order for one to romanticize medieval history. Temples, havelis, dharamshalas and shops dating back to the late 19th century gave it a unique feel. But sadly, this old locality is crumbling and nobody is taking notice and worse even if they are taking notice, they are too busy to care.
This is why I am doing my bit by coming forward to save Dharampura. There is no dearth of aesthetic appeal here to cast an impression on tourists, and me along with my father want to restore them in a way that Dharampura becomes an illustration of how a heritage and walled city should look like. As a nation that boasts of its soft power, we cannot afford to let a place of history slip into oblivion. How else will we champion Delhi’s case to be listed as a world heritage city by UNESCO?
The name Dharampura owes its coinage to many events in history. Centuries ago, it was the seat of peaceful co-existence between the Muslims and the Jains. Despite being close to the Jama Masjid and the surrounding Muslim neighbourhoods, the Jains were in a majority. They thrived here freely and built beautiful temples. The communal fervour that emanated from the religious tolerance in the place may have impelled scholars to call it the seat of religion or Dharampura.
It is another matter, though, that the same temples today have become lost territories, owing to the dismal condition of roads and traffic in Chandni Chowk and breakdown of administration. Even the locals here at best are unaware of them or want no association with it at worst. It would be unfair to not see merit in their attitude. On my first visit to the Haveli, despite being an ardent lover of history, I could not imagine any more of the Haveli except a building that could collapse any minute. Hence, I was not sure if it could be restored at all and if so, to what extent, may be just enough to withstand few more years. The structure was overloaded with several ad hoc and inappropriate additions on every floor. Yet, despite the fact that it would be a practical nightmare to make any attempt to save the Haveli, it somehow deemed fit for reinvention. All I could think was that its location made it a symbol of Dharampura. It is located on the 100-foot road, at a stone’s throw from the Jama Masjid Police Station. Adjoined by the famous Kinari Bazar and the jewellery market at Dareeba Bazaar, one can reach this place if you walk down the 100-foot road from the parade grounds at the Red Fort. But, to restore the glory of this Haveli was a distant dream.
What lay in front me were RCC chajjas that were disturbingly constructed inside the rooms to provide storage areas. Rooms were desperately organized and divided into smaller rooms to accommodate toilets, kitchens. Service connections including open pipes and hanging wires added to the chaos as if waiting for calamity to strike anytime.
The doors, windows were blocked; the walls had large patches of dampness. Wooden members were deteriorated and seemed non-repairable. Projected balconies were severely damaged and precarious. At the upper level, the roof had been collapsed due to uneven loading. There were long vertical cracks in the masonry walls. The wooden purlins and joists were sagging. Some of the red sandstone brackets supporting the first-floor level balcony were pulverized. The original arched openings were filled up with brick masonry or wooden partitions. Decorative plasterwork was hidden due to multiple coats of lime wash. Stone columns were painted with thick coats of synthetic paints obliterating the details. Wooden doors and windows frame and shutters were in a state of decay. The original glass panes were either missing or broken.
It was heartbreakingly painful to witness such dilapidating condition of what was once a grand Haveli of Dharampura. Originally called the Tin chowk ki Haveli with an intimate layout, separate courtyards meant for Mardana (Male) and Janana (Female) and with intricate ornamentation, it was once a symbol of pride and prosperity of the local Jain community. It is primarily a load-bearing structure built in traditional techniques with thick walls of lakhori bricks masonry; wooden joist ceiling covered with lime concrete floor and cleverly designed arches for uniform load distribution. Part of the basement and mezzanine has secret vaults with secret passages to access. The rooms around the courtyard on both ground and first floors have beautiful stone-carved arches and pillars. The arched openings with the Padahs and no doors would have let the entire Haveli naturally lit and the air circulation kept the rooms cool in summer. One of the existing balconies has the original decorative features of beautiful marble carved jalis and carved wooden members.
And standing inside it, I was absolutely clueless about where to begin. There was also no precedence of such restoration work of Havelis in Shahajahanabad or elsewhere in Delhi to take reference from. The heavy rains that year added to our woes. As emergency measures to prevent further collapse of the structure, the damaged walls were given necessary support with props and jacks and the building was covered with tarpaulin.
Clearly, there was a great challenge but unfailing will too, to not only to restore the original glory of the Haveli but also sustain it for years to come. It took nearly 5 long years, 24 / 7 working by 50 odd workmen, under regular and personal supervision to achieve the result, which we can all see today. The process and the journey were the most interesting, from finding the craftsmen who could work in lime, carve in stone to creating state de art facilities. Top priority was given to retain and restore the original structure and character of the Haveli.
Removing all partition walls, which were later additions, restored the original spaces. The blocked windows were opened up to help in ventilation. The Dholpur stone pillars that had lost their original sheen under thick paints were cleaned and found to be in perfect condition with each and every carving detail still legible. The old Sal wood joists and planks of the ceiling were termites affected; some of which were to be replaced and others were reused after appropriate anti termite treatment.
As the traditional building construction with Chuna (lime) plaster is not in vogue anymore, it was also a big challenge to find the masons. Thankfully, the ongoing conservation work in the Red Fort was of help and some of the masons from there were employed who had the knowhow of preparing the lime mortar mixing pozzolanic materials and additives such as belgiri, gursheera, sun (juitefibre), methi and daal. All broken and collapsed walls, roofs were rebuilt matching the original materials.
With the walls freshly painted, wooden doors polished, glass panes renewed, the Haveli now stands completely restored and reinstate the belief that where there is a will there is away. There is a renewed hope for the thousands of other Havelis in the lanes and bylanes of Shahjahanabad.
Bordering to slight immodesty and pride, the Haveli as it stands now after the renovation work has exceeded all expectations and distinctive features of this Haveli can be attributed to perfect amalgamation of the Mughal, Victorian and Hindu architecture. It has won Delhi its first Asia Pacific UNESCO award for Cultural and Heritage Restoration.
The Haveli is now open to the public. My vision for it is to be a cultural center, a knowledge hub for people and students to learn about restoration and conservation. It will also provide a place for people to showcase various forms of art. The restaurants on the ground floor and the rooftop would provide an intoxicating mix of flavor and ambiance. Further, we wish to showcase the traditional sports of Chandni Chowk like Kabootarbazi and Kite flying here.
As I write this article sitting on the rooftop of the Haveli, watching the horizon of Old Delhi through the pollution and squalor, the distant dream which is now reality has begun to sink in. It is easier for me to now envisage the beauty of other 50 Havelis in Old Delhi that lie in ruins as just the beginning of the restoration journey.
THEN & NOW pictures of the Haveli: