The ‘walled well’ — a symbol of ancient rulers’ stubbornness

While walking on the Royal Trail towards Wazir Khan Chowk, you can see this marvelous piece of architecture

You must be thinking what this ‘walled well’ is. It is an interesting piece of historic architecture inside Walled City of Lahore. As you make your way to the gorgeous, glorious and magnificent Mosque of Wazir Khan from Chitta Gate on your right, you will see a structure resembling a tomb. But fortunately it’s a well that was ‘walled’. It is the only walled well inside the Walled City of Lahore, whereas most of the wells have been vanished with passage of time and increase in population. It is recorded in history that Mughals and Sikhs were famous for building wells for the welfare of their people. Imagine a walled city with wells all around the streets and main squares but unfortunately we do not see any more now and this is incredibly sad. So this well of Diwan Dina Nath still exists in the walled city Lahore and the uniqueness of well is the walled structure around the well with a dome of its top.

Historians’ quote that Diwan Dina Nath wanted to build a well near the site of a well dug by a venerated Sufi saint Peer Said Soaf – in animosity to the previous one by the saint – but aggression did not work. Despite strong objections from local Muslim leaders who viewed construction of a second well to be antagonistic to the saint’s memory, Diwan Dina Nath did not pay heed. Disregarding all warnings and opposition, Diwan Dina Nath ordered the construction of the well and thus it began. The labourers kept digging down till 200 meters but no water source was found

You must be thinking why this well is so important. Firstly, anything that is a piece of history should be important to us as it belongs to our forefathers and respect and reverence is must. Secondly, this ‘walled well’ carries an interesting story, so let’s come to the story first and then I will tell you who this man Diwan Dina Nath was. The 19th century Well of Dina Nath was intended to be water well in the Wazir Khan Chowk. The well was commissioned by Diwan Dina Nath in the mid 19th century during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. So this well is a Sikh construction. Why this well was built is the real legend. Historians’ quote that Diwan Dina Nath wanted to build a well near the site of a well dug by a venerated Sufi saint Peer Said Soaf. This Sufi saint was known and respected among the Muslim community. Diwan Dina Nath wanted to build this well in animosity to the previous one by the saint but unfortunately, aggression did not work. Despite strong objections from local Muslim leaders who viewed construction of a second well to be antagonistic to the saint’s memory, Diwan Dina Nath did not pay any heed to their views and objections. Disregarding all warnings and opposition, Diwan Dina Nath ordered the construction of the well and thus it began. The labour engaged in the digging kept digging down till 200 meters but they could not tap a water source. That was the time when the labour refused to dig down any further. This was a high point of embarrassment for the Diwan Dina Nath. The well never got functional and remained dry since, without a single drop of water. Today the well remains a local monument to the ego and arrogance of Diwan Dina Nath.

Now let me give you the description of Diwan Dina Nath who belonged to a Kashmiri Pandit family living in Delhi. Historic accounts say that somewhere in 1815, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had invited Dina Nath to Lahore and offered him the seat of mutsaddi, or writer, in the department of military accounts in the Sikh empire. In the year 1826, after the demise of Diwan Ganga Ram one of Ranjit Singh’s courtiers, Dina Nath, succeeded him as the head of military accounts department and keeper of the privy seal and in 1834 he became the head of the civil and finance office. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, happy with the working of Dina Nath, awarded the honorary title of Diwan to him in 1838, which meant the custodian of finances. So that was the year when a finance officer rose to the seat of Diwan in the Sikh empire. Another interesting fact about him is that Diwan Dina Nath was also one of the signatories to the treaty which was made between the Sikhs and the British after the First Anglo-Sikh War, which was fought between the Sikh empire and the East India Company between 1845 and 1846. Later, when a council was constituted in December 1846 for the governance of the Punjab, Raja Dina Nath was made its president, with the active support of the British. This is how Diwan Dina Nath rose to power in Punjab and remained in Lahore. Diwan Dina Nath died in 1857 near Kot Khawaja Saeed, in Lahore, Pakistan.

This walled well of Diwan Dina Nath remained intact and did escape the several upheavals the city went through. Later after partition in 1947, the well was left abandoned and like many other monuments in Lahore, this well could not escape from the shackles of encroachments. While walking towards the Wazir Khan Square, one could not notice the well as it was all covered with almost 14 encroachments. In 2012, the encroachments from the well were removed along with the removal of encroachments from the historic Chowk of Wazir Khan. That was the time when the present residents of the city also noticed this gem of past. Then this well met a fortunate fate when Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Walled City of Lahore Authority began the conservation of the Chowk Wazir Khan. During this conservation process, the well was also conserved as per international conservation standards. The excavations were made and the real ground level of Sikh era was revealed after ages. A retaining wall has been built around it for the tourists to see the original levels. Interior of the well has also been conserved now. While walking on the Royal Trail towards Wazir Khan Chowk, you can see this marvelous piece of architecture. It’s a hotspot of tourists now and soon it will be developed into a piazza where tourists can sit and enjoy the local food amidst the beautiful scenery of past jewels. Around the well are several eateries selling the best food of Lahore. In my opinion if this is really developed into a piazza it will be wonder inside the city.

The writer is a media professional and can be reached at heritagechroniclestq@gmail.com

Published in Daily Times, March 9th 2018.