Seeing the Lal Haveli of Rawalpindi in the middle of political tug-of-war makes one think what would Budhan Bai be thinking seeing all this happening to her love house which she mysteriously gave up and vanished never to be seen again.
One would like to think that she’s still alive and watching all this unfurl. This just makes this love story more spellbinding.
This is a stated fact the Budhan Bai had left this haveli without informing anyone, just vanishing that too in the later days of her age. People say that she was heartbroken after her only hope then, her brother was murdered by a thief when he saw him. No one knows where she went, how she is and why she never returned.
The Lal Haveli in Rawalpindi, Pakistan was built over a century ago by Barrister Dhan Raj Sehgal for Budhan Bai, a Muslim dancing girl from Sialkot.
The story of their relationship, which was famous in the city, began when Sehgal, from a wealthy Hindu family in Jhelum, met Budhan Bai at a wedding in Sialkot.
Sehgal brought her to Rawalpindi and built her the Lal Haveli, consisting of two portions: the main apartment used by men and a women’s chamber with courtyards in the back. Sehgal and Budhan Bai’s chambers were on the upper storey, attached to verandas facing Bohar Bazaar.
Budhan Bai was an honest woman, who, if she had wanted to, could have earned money by selling the property. The court asked her to declare herself a Hindu and take ownership of the property after Sehgal’s family migrated to India, but she refused. Instead, she stayed in the few rooms at the front and left the rest to be declared as evacuee trust property.
Today, the front portion of approximately five marlas is owned by Sheikh Rashid, while the rest has been leased to families by the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). The old sitting rooms are now political offices, and the artwork on the walls has faded. The floor of the main hall still boasts its original tiles, but the rest has been cemented over.
According to Sheikh Rashid, Budhan Bai stopped dancing after moving into the Lal Haveli and Sehgal built a mosque for her and a temple for himself. The temple is located adjacent to the haveli in Bohar Bazaar.
He also recalls that Budhan Bai was a wealthy woman who owned the mansion and the only car in Rawalpindi. Sheikh Rashid met her on her terrace in the evening and she even gave him his first cigarette.
The haveli, which dates back to the 19th century and is considered one of the finest examples of traditional Mughal architecture in the region. It boasts a unique blend of red sandstone and white marble, which gives it its characteristic red hue and earned it its name “Lal Haveli.” It’s intricate carvings and beautiful balconies are a showcase of craftsmanship of the artisans of that time.
The Lal Haveli stands as a testament to the inter-religious love story of Dhan Raj Sehgal and Budhan Bai, and its history serves as a reminder of the rich cultural heritage of Rawalpindi not the tug-of-war between ETPB, High Courts and political offices.
Very intresting and informative article not only for History students, rather for all readers.