PESHAWAR-Beautifully decorated and carved wooden structures and impressive jaali work constructed in the Central Asian architecture makes Sethi House an attraction for local and foreign tourists in the heart of the old walled city of Peshawar. While Peshawar is home to a number of historic places that attract visitors, Sethi House is one such place whose construction had taken 49 years to complete during the pre-partition era of the subcontinent. Sprawling over 30 marlas area, this house had been constructed by Sethi Karim Bakhsh, who started working on it 1835 and its construction got completed in 1884. It comprises a double basement, a ground floor and top floor. The main courtyard on ground floor is surrounded by wooden balakhanas and its beauty lies in the wooden work as most of the construction is of high-quality wood. Sethi family were mostly traders and they had migrated from Jehlum, Punjab to Peshawar in the beginning of the 19th century.
The main entrance of Sethi House also had a freshwater spring in the past, although it does not exist today. The main entrance opens into the courtyard. The House is located in Mohallah Sethian inside the old walled city of Peshawar. Sethian Mohallah also has several other historic houses constructed by Sethi families and which depict the architecture of Gandhara and Central Asia. Speaking to The Nation, Bakht Muhammad, from the KP Directorate of Archaeology, said that so far the government had spent Rs50 million on the conservation of Sethi House.
He added that there is a double basement called “Sard Khana” which is around 17 feet underground. Also, another interesting mode of water supply is a well, which had been dug on the northern side in the house. “This water well had been dug in a way that water could be taken from it from any floor of the house,” he added.
Sethis were businesspersons and they used to do businesses in Central Asian regions, this is why their house architecture is also influence by the Central Asian style. “Even today we have their business documents, but their script is not in local language as it resembles Russian,” he added.
He said government took possession of the Sethi House in the year 2006 and started conservation work on it 2009-10. Nowadays, it is open as for public and declared as a museum.
Discussing the architecture of the house, Bakht Muhammad said that wooden decoration techniques is the main attraction wherein there are carvings and artwork on it. Also, the house is mostly built of wood and even the roof is made of wood. Another element in the construction is jaali work. A jaali is the term for a perforated stone or latticed screen, usually with an ornamental pattern constructed through the use of calligraphy and geometry.
“Sheesha kari and colourfu sheesha is also one of the elements in the house while one antique element in the house used to be a hand-held fan, which would provide air to the entire house when someone would wave it,” he added. Because much of it is constructed from wood, the house is cold even in summers. The entire Mohalla Sethian is important in terms of visits by foreign and local visitors but Sethi House is in particular the focus of attention.
A student is charged Rs20 per visit while an adult is charged Rs50 as entry fee. Moreover, visitors are also charged for each photo and video that they make in the house. Bakht Muhammad said that recently a movie was also filmed wherein actors and actresses came from Karachi for the shooting.
Down memory lane