This palace is a tremendous piece of art of the people of Chiniot. Some people call it as the “Taj Mahal” of Chiniot. Like Taj Mahal, this palace also reminds us the fact that this world is not reliable. The walls, rooms and the courtyards of this palace are a proof of mirages and there we find a reality.
The proprietor of this palace, Umar Hayat was an ordinary person of the “Khoja” caste who came and settled here in Chiniot during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. But he was bestowed him with so much wealth which made him distinguished than others. The source of his wealth is also a secret because no one has given any authentic information about his source of income. Some people say that he was a successful trader and in his life he always earned profit. But some people also say that he was a gambler. He was also fond of race and he earned a lot of money in this way. Now people do not think about the source of income of a person, but in those days it was a social rule that a person would not on the basis of his wealth but on the basis of his honest and respected occupation or source of income. Umar Hayat earned a lot of wealth but he could gain a respectable status in the society.
He often used to regret that neither his wealth could be used for any good purpose nor it could be given to needy as alms so that it would become a source of God favor and kindness for him. Once some persons of the administration of “Anjuman-e-Islamia” made a contact with Umar Hayat and requested for donation. When Umar Hayat informed about the origin of his wealth, they went away saying that they had only need the wealth which is earned in a right way. Umar Hayat was a man of strange kind. He used to sit in the gate of his mansion wearing bracelet of gold and silk garments, but he could not manage how to spend his wealth. One say a famous carpenter of Chiniot, Elahi Bux passed from there and laughed at the strange condition of Umar Hayat. This laughing was a like a whip for Umar Hayat. He asked Elahi Bux that he was just an orinary and why was he feeling so proud? In reply, Elahi Bux said that he had the wealth of art, which is stronger than any other power. It was another attack on the pride of Umar Hayat. He made Elahi Bux annoyed and asked, “Your art is nothing before my wealth. If you are so much proud of your art, I challenge you. I will show the power of my wealth and you will show the power of your art.” Elahi Bux became agreed as it had become a matter of respect of life for him. In this way the construction of this great building started.
The construction was started in 1923 A.D. The only son of the Umar Hayat, Gulzar Muhammad was still in the lap of his mother when the construction of this palace was started for his residence. No one knew that Gulzar Muhammad will be buried in the same castle without having any kind of pleasure of youth. Syed Hassan Shah was appointed as the supervisor. According to some tales, it is said that he was Hassan Shah who was the real cause for the construction of this palace. He tried his best to find the best artisans of Chiniot to build this tremendous building. Umar Hayat seldom used to come here and made fun of the hard working and straddle of the artisans. Particularly, he made fun of Elahi Bux Pirgha. Pigha was the caste of Elahi Bux. Still there are many families of “Pirgha” caste in Chiniot. Whenever Umar Hayat came there, he tried to demonstrate his wealth. He offered that if a person only fixed a single brick, he would pay him the wages for the whole day work. Behind his this offer, he just wanted to earn name by offering huge amounts to different people. Umar Hayat became immortal because of the construction of this wonder, but the persons who made hard struggle to construct this building are losing their identity. The most important characters are of Elahi Bux Pirgha and Raheem Bux Pirgha. Both were cousine and there was no one in Chiniot who would compete with them in “carving” on wood. “Mian Allah Ditta” was the name of the father of Elahi Bux Pirgha. This family gave a new and novel touch to the field of wood-carving in Chiniot. It is the same family who started to construct “Tazia”. The famous taziae of “Shadi Malang” and “Rangraze” was prepared by Elahi Bux Pirgha and Raheem Bux. We can get a proof of their intelligence and mastery in the field of wood-carving that all the designed made in the Umar Hayat Mahal (Palace) were the creation of their own mind. Because in those days there no design-books or models.
Elahi Bux Pirgha was not only expert only in wood-carving but he was jack of all trades. Their children are still working and making the name of their forefathers more famous. The work of brick-fixing was performed by “Mistri Ahmad Din” who worked with the cooperation of many laborers and workers of “Rajaan” (the name of a locality in Chiniot). Stucco-work was the fruit of the hard work of the famous masons of Jalandher, “Mistri Niaz Ahmad Jalandhri” and “Mistri Ghulgm Ali Jalandhri”. The halls of “Jamia Mosque Garha” and Islamia College, Chiniot were also constructed by Mistri Niaz Ahmad Jalandhri”. Wall-painting was performed by a famous painter John Muhammad. His relatives may be found in Kamangraan locality. Besides John Muhammad, his nephew, Ghulam Mohauddin also worked here who also took part in the renovation of Wazir Khan Mosque. Besides these famous artisans and masons, there were hundred of many other laborers who made the dream of Umar Hayat true. But, these days, no one knows them. It’s a tragedy that we remember the tremendous monuments and buildings but we forget those who are its real creators.
If we divide the time by days and nights, we can say that the Umar Hayat Mahal (Palace) was built in ten years. There are different tales and stories about the starting and ending dates of the Umar Hayat Mahal (Palace) and are different to each other. But one thing is authentic that in 1928 A.D, its structure and outer designing had been completed because in the gazetteer of District Jhang of 1929 A.D. it is stated:
“House built by Sheikh Umar Hayat is a sort of local wonder as it cost more than 2 lakhs of rupees and rises high above all other buildings.”
But the work of wood-carving and wall-painting in inner side were continued. Even in 1935 A.D. when Umar Hayat died, this work was still uncompleted. We can get its proof from the window of main gate, which is still uncompleted. It means that after spending so much amount and struggle, the artisans did not lose heart. Elahi Bux Pirgha got over the confliction of wealth and art. With the death of Umar Hayat, the pride of his wealth also finished.
At the time of death of Umar Hayat, his son Gulzar Muhammad was thirteen of fourteen years old. He and his mother got a huge amount of wealth and property in heritage. But, there were also the shadows of misfortune hovering on the pleasures of these mother and son. The wodow of Umar Hayat, Fatima Bibi belonged to Pindi Bhattian (a town near Chiniot). She was not of a famous family and that’s why the family of Umar Hayat did not like their marriage. His wealth sowed a seed of jealousy and envy in their heart. She had to face a lot of difficulties after the death of her husband, but this brave and courageous woman did not lose heart and remained busy in the training and education of her only son. Gulzar Muhammad was the center of all her thoughts, wishes and pleasures. The poor and needy persons of Chiniot remember her as a kind and generous woman. There are many hand-pumps and well in the city which were erected and built on her order. When Gulzar Muhammad came of age, Fatima Bibi decided to celebrate the marriage ceremony of Gulzar Muhammad in order to regain the pleasures of Umar Hayat Mahal (Palace). The rituals of marriage were fully enjoyed by all and sundry. The whole city was happy because of this marriage ceremony. There is no more example of such a tremendous marriage ceremony in the history of Chiniot. Fatima Bibi opened her coffers for the arrangement of the marriage. All the needy and poor were given large amount of wealth. It was announced that anyone who would watch the smoke, rising from the hearths, think oneself invited into this party. But the fate had made other decisions. Fate had replaced happiness and the pleasures of marriage for sadness and death. And the whole happy marriage ceremony turned into a terrible accident. The flowers of his marriage bed turned into the flowers of his coffin. On the very morning of his “walima”, when Gulzar Muhammad entered into the bathroom to take bath, he could not come out alive. It was his last step which led him towards death. The gas of the coals which were fired to heat up the water could not be exhausted because of the problem in exhausting system. The bathroom filled with this poisonous gas and Muhammad Gulzar died because of suffocation. Some people think that his enemies killed him by poison because, before going to bathroom, his wife gave him a betel-leaf which Muhammad Gulzar spat after a short time and its signs were found on the door of the bathroom. But none could find the reality. The death of Muhammad Gulzar is still a mystery. Poor Fatima had lost all the wealth of her life. Now the sadness was hovering upon the Umar Hayat Mahal and the whole city was sad at the death of Gulzar Muhammad. The people who came to enjoy the party of the marriage of Gulzar Muhammad were now offering his last prayer.
Despite the fact that all the relatives disliked but Fatima decided to bury his son in the same house. Life did not let him to live here but death became a source for his living in this house forever. The reason behind this decision was that Miss. Fatima Did not wants the great Umer Hayat palace to be occupied by their relatives who ever hate and felt jealousy for Umaer Hayat and because this palace was built for Gulzar Muhammad so she wanted to make it his lasting residence. Miss Fatima could not maintain herself after this dreadful accident and died few months after her son’s death. She was also buried in the side of her son in the same palace because of her will. Young widow of Gulzar Muhammad had already gone, so all the relatives of Umar Hayat distributed his wealth and property among themselves. They left this grand palace thinking it ominous
Chronology of Umer Hayat Palace
1892 Birth of Umer Hayat Wohra
1920 Birth of son (Muhammad Gulzar) of Umer Hayat
1923 Foundation stone of Umer Hayat Palace was laid down
1928 Construction of Umer Hayat Palace was completed
1935 Death of Umer Hayat, founder of the palace
1938 Marriage ceremony of Muhammad Gulzar was taken palace
1938 Death of Muhammad Gulzar on the next day of his marriage
1939 Fatima, wife of Umer Hayat died
1940 Anjuman Islamia tried to establish an academic institution but could not word
1948 Orphanage was established by Muhammad Amin Sehgal in Umer Hayat palace
1950 Orphanage shifted to its new building vacating the palace
1970 Local government of Chiniot demolished two upper stories of the palace
1990 Library was established and taken in official confinement
1990 Reconstruction of the palace taken place
1991 Inauguration of research and cultural center in Umer Hayat Palace