Residential architecture in ancient times has seen a huge contrast in comparison to its modern contemporary paradigm. The change has been caused mainly due to the shift in the predominant family-living typologies; with a shift towards smaller nuclear families with a range of 3 to 4 members, in comparison to joint families, which would go up to 20 members under a single roof. Certain families continue to follow the age-old tradition, living in large multi-storey residences with three generations under their roof. The large scale private homes which were aesthetically pleasing, large in scale, and have still been maintained well in terms of their visual quality is that of Havelis. The number of Havelis, as well as private residences, are predominantly present in the Capital of India: Delhi. These Havelis have remained intact in terms of the ancient architectural language that they showcased, and due effort has been given to preserve and maintain them for the coming generations to revel from.

Haveli Dharampura: A Ruins to Glory transformation

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Before_©2021 Haveli Dharampura / https://www.havelidharampura.com/gallery/album/accomodation-at-haveli/haveli-inside
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After _©2021 Haveli Dharampura / https://www.havelidharampura.com/gallery/album/accomodation-at-haveli/haveli-inside

Haveli in Dharampura consists of distinctive features, attributed to the ornamental style of the Late Mughal era. While the ground floor with a grand entrance and first floor were constructed at the same period, the second floor was a clear later addition in the mid-20th century. As per historical references the Haveli’s construction can be dated back to 1887 AD, originally designed to be both residential and commercial; with Shops on the ground floor opening out to the street, and the remaining floors designed as residential spaces. 

The Haveli existed in a ruined condition, overloaded with unnecessary additions on every floor, along with badly organised rooms that were further subdivided into smaller rooms. Unkempt service connections, blocked doors and windows, large patches of dampness and long vertical cracks in the walls added to the issue at hand.

However, due to the work done by Mr Vijay & Siddhant Goel over 6 long years, under regular and personal supervision; the Haveli was refurbished, and is now a boutique hotel; that gives its residents a feel of the Mughal era through the architectural beauty of the Haveli clubbed with the amenities of the present era.

Namak Haram Ki Haveli – A traitor’s Mansion

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Within the narrow lane _©wp-admin / https://shahjahanabad.eheritageproject.in/namak-haraam-ki-haveli/

Located in a narrow alley on Property No. 316, Kucha Ghasi Ram Lane, Katra Neel, Chandni Chowk, Central Delhi; Namak Haram Ki Havel was owned by one of great Maratha warrior Jaswant Rao’s most trusted companions: Lala Bhawani Mal Khatri Shankar, who later deserted him and went over to the British side. Thereby he was infamously known as namak haraam (a traitor) and hence, the name given to this haveli.

Today, the haveli is broken down and subdivided into many small shops, and only a fraction of the area is used for a residential program. There are two entrances to the haveli, one from the Phool Wali Gali (Flower Lane) and another from the side of the Fatehpuri Masjid. Mr Govind Prasad Bansal owns the residential remains of the haveli, along with a crockery godown in the complex, that houses 14 flats on the first floor around an open courtyard. A tunnel connecting to the Red Fort allegedly existed under the courtyard, that was covered in cement only a few decades ago.

While most of the residential structure has been renovated for the safety of the inhabitants; besides the stone-arched gateway, carvings on the wall and a few wooden doors, little of the original haveli remains intact today. The Kachchi Sadak has transformed into a proper road as well.

Approximately 60 to 70 rooms of the haveli on the road have been converted into shops or godowns, that deal predominantly in coal and iron. Iron shutters have replaced the original wooden doors of these rooms, however, the wooden ceiling that was fixed in the 19th century remains intact. The baoli (stepwell) in the complex has now been converted into a godown that is inaccessible to the general public.

Mirza Ghalib’s Hakimon ki Haveli: A famous writer’s home – small and nondescript

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The Urdu Maestro’s Habitat _©Nilesh Korgaokar / https://www.flickr.com/photos/nileshkorgaokar/16829898252

Famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib lived in this Haveli for most of his life post his time in Agra. The spartan two-storeyed haveli located in Gali Qasim Jan, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk; is in shambles, present day. Ghalib wrote his Urdu and Persian ‘diwans’ in this haveli, as his poetry reeked of the crumbling Mughal Empire’s decadence. Known as a man of many words and little material possession, his home bears testament to this very fact, with a simple design consisting of semicircular arches and exposed brickwork that is comparatively less ornamental than its other counterparts.

The haveli also has a chowk (an open courtyard surrounded by rooms on all sides). Until the late 1990s, the structure was in a state of ruin with informalised encroachments from neighbouring shops. However, the structure is now renovated and continues to be maintained as it remains under the watchful eyes of Ghalib’s many followers. Ghalib’s haveli is one of the more prominent Havelis of the Walled City and can be visited any time of the day. 

Rai Lala Chunnamal ki Haveli: A merchant’s mansion still mostly intact.

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Old from the outside, Young within _©https://www.chunnamalhaveli.com/
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Old from the outside, Young within _©https://www.chunnamalhaveli.com/

While the exterior of the Haveli is covered in dust and soot caused by the traffic, the interiors showcase a grandeur that is lost in time. Chunnamal Haveli, built by Lala Chunna Mal is one of the most prominent structures of Chandni Chowk. With an extremely high income in those days, it was no surprise that the owner could maintain the 128-room lavish three-floor residence keeping it up to date with fancy carpets, chandeliers, paintings and watches. 

The bustling streets of Delhi-6 and Chandni Chowk’s charismatic beauty, historic & cultural aura makes the ambience comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. Where the clock has stood still for centuries, the cultural epicentreint of the Mughal and British Dynasties in India. Chandni Chowk has a festive tone throughout the year, and the Haveli is also famous for being a Film Shoot Locations for Bollywood & Hollywood movies both.

Haveli of Zeenat Mahal: A Girls government school that was once an empress’ mansion in Old Delhi

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Stuck in Time _©Stuti Bhadauria / https://nomadographer.com/2018/06/28/lal-kuan-zeenat-mahal-old-delhi/
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Stuck in Time _©Stuti Bhadauria / https://nomadographer.com/2018/06/28/lal-kuan-zeenat-mahal-old-delhi/

A structure long-forgotten Zeenat Mahal haveli is situated in Lal Kuan, in the back lanes of Chandni Chowk left off Fatehpuri Masjid. Its gates tower over passersby who are unaware of the history of the area. A part of the first-floor façade appears frozen in time, with the intricate jaali work still intact. 

One can never be certain where exactly Zeenat Mahal begins and ends. The palace is probably 100 metres in length and many hundred more in-depth. A part of the structure has been altered beyond recognition and is home to a government school today. As per residents, the palace belonged to one of the wives of a Mughal emperor and was later bought by the Maharaja of Patiala who took the initiative of developing it into an all-girls government-run school. 

Once inside the gates, one can view the intricate brickwork that forms the dome and is still intact today. An ornate iron spiral staircase still serves those going up to the first floor that houses shops and godowns today.

The mansion has fallen prey to encroachment by fishermen and shopkeepers, but the 2 red sandstone jharokhas above the main entrance gate reminds one of its original architectural charms. The Mansion is situated close to Lal Kuan Bazaar, an area that is renowned for the kite shops in it. At one point in time, the haveli was inclusive of fountains and waterways, however, they no longer exist. It is said that an announcement would be made to alert the residents who would congregate by the haveli to greet the Begum.

This is a historically important place since Bahadur Shah Zafar spent his days hereafter surrendering to the British. However, due to the encroachment, and sheer lack of empathy for the heritage; the haveli is in a dismal state.

Khazanchi Haveli

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Intact Detail _©http://www.indianheritagesites.in/delhi/90/haveli-gali-khazanchi.html

The Khazanchi haveli lies in ruins, like many others of Shahjahanabad. The whitewashed archways are unclean due to the dark dirt. The haveli belonged to Emporer Shah Jahan’s bookkeepers and accountants and was used to stash away coins and mohurs, the money in those times. As the haveli needed to be close to the Red Fort, the Haveli happens to be close to Chandni Chowk’s entrance.

Although deteriorated and vandalized, the haveli retains its elaborate architectural detail. It is accessed through an elaborately carved foliated arch with a pointed arch doorway in its recessed scallop. The upper level has a covered jharokha with three openings, leading to a massive courtyard consisting of a linear water body. The courtyard is surrounded by large foliated arched entryways, along with a double-storey bay of smaller arched openings, supported via Shahjahani columns on the rear side. A raised plinth with detailed carvings is present as well, which is suggestive of a basement’s existence. The interior areas have maintained many ornamentations such as stucco motifs, ornate stone on the walls, the Shahjahani columns and Pattis on the plinth. The second floor is an addition to the colonial period.

Begum Samru’s Palace: A young prostitute’s mansion

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Unadaptive Reuse _©http://olddelhiheritage.in/haveli-samru-begum/ / https://in.pinterest.com/pin/460352393135627127/

Standing in front of the Bhagirath Palace is the haveli of Begum Samru. The structure that once had a gorgeous garden and nine majestic fountains is now a dilapidated structure covered with a mesh of wires on all sides. The haveli was a four-storeyed palatial structure of stone and marble built with a healthy confluence of Greek, Roman and Mughal architectural styles, along with winding staircases and sprawling terraces. 

Begum Samru’s husband, was the influential Walter Reinhardt Sombre; who in 1765 was in charge of a professionally trained mercenary army as well as an estate holder in Sardhana, a principality near Meerut. He enjoyed successes in wealth and political clout. Begum Samru’s haveli is one of the largest examples of neglect for structures bearing any historical significance.

Seth Ram Lal Khemka Haveli: An attempt towards Restoration

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Conservation is the first step _©https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/old-delhi-haveli-chandni-chowk-jama-masjid-kashmere-gate-5147800/

Seth Ram Lal Khemka Haveli is situated a few kilometres away in Chhota Bazaar, Kashmere Gate and is a great example of the changes restoration can bring forth. Bagla’s haveli has 40-plus rooms and is one of the few heritage properties to have been restored lately. In collaboration with conservation architect Aishwarya Tipnis, the two individuals spent five years close to Rs 60 lakh on the process of restoration. The Haveli received its tag of being a Grade II notified heritage property in 2010, however, it was not given any incentives. Devkinandan Bagla spent two years getting permission from the Archaeological Survey of India and MCD.”

Tipnis and her team used old and edible materials such as gur, urad dal, methi powder and lime plaster for restoration. The verandah was built in 1840, however, the haveli is older than that since lakhori bricks were used. 

Haksar Haveli: Kamala Nehru’s childhood home

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Abandoned and Ruined _©sodelhi / https://so.city/delhi/article/haksar-haveli

Haksar Haveli has a major historical significance along with being a landmark of Chandni Chowk, however, it is barely recognizable anymore. The Haksar Haveli was previously a huge, sprawling residence, and after being sold off to a certain property dealer, the area was subsequently divided up, rented out and parcelled off into a quasi-residential and commercial quarter. Situated in Sitaram Bazaar, bang opposite Chawri Bazaar metro station, it takes an effort to discover the haveli. 

Former PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s wife: Kamala Nehru, was born in the once lively and bustling Haksar Haveli, to parents Jawahar Mal Kaul and Rajpati Kaul, both of whom were Kashmiri pandits that had migrated to Delhi. The haveli was also where former Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamala Nehru tied their wedding knot in 1916 when Delhi’s political heavyweights congregated for the event. All houses and buildings in the area are in close proximity to each other, adding to the surroundings’ animation. Indira Gandhi was said to have broken down when she visited the haveli and saw the state of her mother’s maternal home.

With the increasing number of high-rise multi-storeyed buildings, metro train stations and malls, the Delhi with no major construction has been termed as ‘Old Delhi’. Unfortunately, the institutions in charge do not believe in the old-is-gold concept and have failed to preserve any of these heritage landmarks in the area.

The Naughara Havelis: Mansions + Jewellery Shops owned and well preserved by the Jain community

A Jewel from within _©https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/old-delhi-haveli-chandni-chowk-jama-masjid-kashmere-gate-5147800/

Naugraha haveli is situated in a relatively quieter corner, in a pocket where nine extravagantly painted Jain Havelis sometimes turn into jewellery stores. Naugraha; which means nine houses, dates back to the 18th century. The small street consists of ornate entrances and teal doors.

Just off Kinari Bazaar, and surprisingly quieter in comparison to its chaotic neighbour. The Haveli is also easy to miss, however, there’s more to the place than meets the eye. The houses have a traditional ornamental appearance on the exterior but within, they’ve all been renovated to look modern. While the door that looked most inviting is kept shut, the second-best door has a flight of stairs that take the visitor into a jewellery shop. 

To Conclude

The Havelis of Delhi are representative of rich history, architectural styles and details. While conservation architects and a few current owners of these structures are making efforts to preserve the architectural language and aesthetic quality of it, the majority of these spaces lie in ruins, whitewashed and unpreserved. It is only with the joint effort of government organizations, conservation architects, private owners and cultural heritage activists; will these places be kept intact as habitual spaces representative of the history and rich past of New Delhi. Hope remains for the restoration of thousands of other Havelis in the streets and by-lanes of Shahjahanabad (Delhi).

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Author

A final year architecture student, currently studying in SVKM-NMIMS Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, Mumbai, he has allied interests towards architectural photography and writing. Having a penchant for films and philosophy as well, he is of the belief that architecture and design have the ability to capture the most pivotal moments in life itself.

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