Sanjay Leela Bhansali has given us several larger-than-life movies in the last two decades. Known for his opulent sets and foot-tapping music, the director has left a mark on his audience with each film. And his upcoming web series, Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar does not seem like an exception to this rule.
The series is based on the lives of courtesans in the red-light district of Lahore’s Heera Mandi during the British Raj. Interestingly, the area still exists, and here, we have listed some interesting facts about it. Read on.
1. Heera Mandi, allegedly named after the Prime Minister of Lahore’s Sikh Kingdom, Hira Singh, was initially a grain market. The mandi underwent a transformation when visits from courtesans started in the area.
2. In the Mughal era, women from Afghanistan and Uzbekistan were ‘brought‘ to the region, where courtesans were initially associated with music, dance and other cultural pursuits. Over time, women from the Indian subcontinent joined, performing classical dances like Kathak for the Mughals, establishing the market as a cultural hub during the 15th and 16th centuries.
3. Also known as Shahi Mohalla or Royal Neighbourhood, this red-light district is situated next to the Lahore Fort. Originally developed as a residential area for royal court attendants and servants, it later became home to courtesans.
4. Heera Mandi‘s association with sex work began during Ahmad Shah Abdali’s invasion when his troops captured women from sacked towns and cities.
5. With the eventual decline of the Mughal period, the courtesan house in the royal palace was destroyed during foreign invasions. This led to an increase in sex work.
6. The Heera Mandi, during the day, seems like a regular market known for its food, khussa shops and musical instrument stores. However, as night falls, a different element of the area reveals itself.
7. Once a center for performing arts ruled by emperors, Heera Mandi transitioned to serving wealthy city residents or ‘raaes’, earning the nickname ‘Bazaar-e-Husn‘ or ‘Market Of Beauty.’
8. These houses were originally established by the British for the recreation of soldiers in the old Anarkali Bazaar. However, they were relocated to Lohari Gate and then to Taxali Gate. During Zia-ul-Haq’s rule in Pakistan, several efforts were made to eradicate sex work, but they were unsuccessful and the courtesan houses were shifted to other parts of Lahore.
9. The stories of Heera Mandi’s courtesans became famous in the fiction world. Anarkali, a courtesan from the Mughal court in Lahore, engaged in a forbidden romance with Prince Salim. It is said that his father sealed her in a wall, where she died. This instance allegedly inspired K. Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam.
Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar is set to be released in 2024 on Netflix.
Picture in the feature image has been taken by Frank Horvat (source: Brown History).