History Of Chunnamal Haveli
Lala Chunnamal Haveli is a rare heritage haveli (old-style Indian courtyard mansion) surviving in a well-preserved condition within the old Delhi area.
In the mid-1800s, Lala Chunnamal was an extremely wealthy merchant based in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi. His family belonged to the Khatri caste of Punjabi tradesmen and were staunch Hindus.
Role during 1857 War
During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Lala Chunnamal emerged as one of the wealthiest men in Delhi, having astutely read which way the wind was blowing, and made a vast fortune supplying provisions to the British. He had also refused a request for a loan from Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar himself. Having refused the Emperor, he had left the city overnight after having previously sent much of his wealth out of the city secretly. After the hostilities ended, the British ordered the exile (forcible removal) of all Muslims from the city of Delhi. The poet Mirza Ghalib specifically mentioned the name of Lala Chunnamal. That Lala Chunnamal was a great reformist and a social worker. Who helped his country men in need. The family during the troubled days financially helped Hakim Ajamal Khan and made financial donations to educational institutions. This magnificent Haveli as a reminder of Renaissance architecture, symmetry and proportion were deliberately emphasized by architects a beautiful fusion between the Mugal and Victorian architecture which can no longer be seen anywhere in Delhi.
Saving a mosque
However, the honorable tradesman was to prove his critics wrong in his estimation of the man. Among the properties which Lala Chunnamal acquired during this period was the Fatehpuri Masjid, a sprawling 17th century mosque built by one of the wives of Mughal emperor Shah Jehan, and located not far from Chunnamal’s mansion in old Delhi. After the Muslims were expelled from the city in 1857, the mosque was deemed redundant, and was auctioned by the British with the intention that it be demolished and the land be used for building new houses and shops. Lala Chunnamal purchased the structure at auction for the massive sum of Rs. 19,000. Lala Chunnamal, a Hindu belonging to an orthodox, upper-caste family, did not demolish the mosque but preserved it. He did this in spite of the fact that there were no Muslims in the area who could pray in the mosque. He just kept the mosque locked up and waited, like a philosophical Hindu, for times to change.
Twenty years later, in 1877, the British lifted the prohibition against Muslims entering (or living in) Delhi. This was done at the time of the Delhi Darbar of 1877, when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. At this time, the mosque was acquired by the British and made available to Muslims for prayer. Lala Chunnamal received an estate of four villages in exchange for the mosque. It is noteworthy that a similar mosque, Akbarabadi Masjid, built by another wife of Shah Jahan, did not survive under similar circumstances. That mosque had succumbed to British cannon fire during the battle and a very ruined structure had been auctioned later.
The Chunnamal haveli
The prosperity of the family survived into the twentieth century. The family was involved in the venture to establish India’s first textile mill. Also, the Chunnamal family was the first in Delhi to acquire an automobile and a phone.
Today, the ancestral haveli of the family, which stands in the heart of Old Delhi, is the last mansion to survive in a well-preserved condition. The mansion, known as Lala Chunnamal ki haveli, is located in the Katra Nil section of Chandni Chowk. It is spread over one acre of land, with 150 rooms built on three floors. The mansion is surrounded by as many as 139 shops. An inscription on the wall of the mansion’s drawing room states that it was built in 1848. However, some parts of it were added in 1864.
It is built using traditional material including lakhori bricks and lime mortar.