Raja Bazaar still regal

Raja Bazaar still regal

Synopsis

The nomenclature was given after the name of maharajas of Kashmir and Poonch who used to stay here

Raja Bazaar still regal

As some historians say the nomenclature of the bazaar was linked to the Rajput clans inhabiting the area who used the title of Raja with their names. photos: Mian Khursheed/Bol News

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ISLAMABAD: The famous Raja Bazaar is undoubtedly the oldest bazaar of Rawalpindi and some historians trace its existence to eight centuries back when it was the only market in the city and people from small villages in the area used to trade here.

Historians differ over the genesis of its name as some of them say that the market was named after the clan living in the area for centuries and used the title of ‘Raja’ with their names. Others say that the nomenclature was given after the name of maharajas of Kashmir and Poonch who used to stay here.

Despite the establishment of modern shopping malls and plazas across the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the downtown bazaar is still the hub of business activities and it not only caters to the needs of residents of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, but also serves as wholesale market for the people of Azad Kashmir and the Hazara Division. Hardly half a kilometre long — starting from Fawwara Chowk and culminating at Bazaar Kalan at the foot of Purana Qila — the bazaar is linked to a number of wholesale markets at either side where thousands of people pour in for shopping on a daily basis.

Besides being a shopping hub, the bazaar is of great historic significance and it remained the abode of the Maharajas of Kashmir and Poonch for well over two centuries till the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

As some historians say the nomenclature of the bazaar was linked to the Rajput clans inhabiting the area who used the title of Raja with their names. However others say that the Maharajas of Kashmir used it as a transit station on their way to Lahore and Delhi because at that time Rawalpindi was the gateway to Kashmir and people from India used this route to visit Kashmir, Jammu and Poonch areas.

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Since Rawalpindi and Taxila remained the centre of Gandhara civilization, some historians said that people lived in this area since then, and so the bazaar could also be there in those times because the old city mainly developed around the market.

Maharaja Gulab Singh who had established the Dogra Raj in Kashmir in 1820 was also awarded Jagirs (big land holdings) by the then Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh in Behra and its adjoining area on the bank of River Jhelum. Some historians in their books had linked Purana Qila at one end of the Raja Bazaar as the office of Maharaja Gulab Singh who used to manage his land holdings in the plains of Punjab from here.

The city also served as a transit place for Maharaja Gulab Singh and his descendants till the end of the British rule in the subcontinent. When Poonch was merged in the princely state of Kashmir, the properties of Maharaja of Poonch, Raja Moti Singh were also handed over to Wali-i-Kashmir in 1914.

There is a historic Poonch House in Rawalpindi’s Saddar area where Maharaja Hari Singh, the great grandson of Maharaja Gulab Singh, used to stay till partition.

As Rawalpindi was the gateway to Kashmir and people from all over India used the route to reach Srinagar and other parts of Jammu and Kashmir, there were many saraays (inns) around the Raja Bazaar.

While moving towards the Fawwara Chowk from the Purana Qila side there was a Qasi Gali (lane) where the rich and affluent people, mostly visitors to Kashmir, used to make a brief stopover to enjoy dances and songs.

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The traces of dancing floors were there up till the 1980s and 1990s, but now most of them have been converted into stores of crockery.

Next to the Qasi Gali is the Mocha Bazaar, a wholesale market of hardware and paints while next to it is a cloth market known as Katra, which used to be the stable for the horses of Maharaja’s cavalcade.

Opposite to Qasi Gali and Katra is the wholesale Madina Cloth Market, while in the middle of the Raja Bazaar is the Mughal Saraye and the wholesale market of clothes, electronic goods and household goods.

The famous Namak Mandi and the Dalgaran Bazaar, dealing in the wholesale of grocery items and dry fruits, also links to the Raja Bazaar. It was said that before partition, the Namak Mandi was the place from where public transport for Srinagar used to function. Initially in the late 18th century people used to travel on ox-driven carts which had been replaced by the tonga (horse cart).

Then another major market at the end of the Raja Bazaar at its western side is the Narankari Bazaar, dealing in a variety of items and a major attraction for the shoppers from Rawalpindi, Hazara and Kashmir.

Raja Bazaar culminates at the Fawwara Chowk which is linked with a number of main bazaars including City-Saddar Road, Bara Market, Trunk Bazaar and Kashmiri Bazaar dealing in a host of products. One can get almost all things of daily usage from these markets, and this is the reason that shoppers, besides from the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, from Azad Kashmir and Hazara Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa used to visit these markets.

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