by Haroon Khalid
Many historians believe that original city of Lahore is not the walled city of today but in fact the locality of Ichhra a few kilometres from the area. Various evidences are shown to prove this thesis, one of which is that the oldest Hindu temples exist in the locality.
Right now we would not delve upon the already established evidences but would try to look at new traces that can shed some light on the history of the city. In popular myths and legends it is believed that the city of Lahore originates in antiquity. A popular myth is that this city was founded by one of the twin sons of Sri Ram and Sita, Lahu whereas the other son established the twin city of Kasur.
In Lahore Fort there is a small temple attributed to this son of Ram, called the temple of Lahu. Keeping beliefs and myths at bay, the first concrete historical evidence of the city comes during the tenure of Mahmud Ghazni, who is said to have attacked the city, and defeated the Hindu King Jaipal. Al Beruni in his famous Al-Hind mentions of this city. This is the beginning of the 11th century CE. If we are to prove that Lahore is older than one thousand years, we need to substantiate our claim with real evidence, and given the hypothesis that the original Lahore finds its origin from Ichhra, we need to look for evidences around that locality.
One such testimony could be hidden under the tomb of Shah Jamal, which is next to this small town. The fact that the Saint rests atop a huge mound leads us to believe that there could be traces of an old establishment there. However, now that this tomb has been constructed and has thousands of devotees, one cannot talk about looking at hints here. Maulvi Nur Ahmad Chishti in his seminal work talks about a small locality known by the name of Daulatabad, situated in between Central Jail, and Mozang. However, he also states that all traces of that settlement have been lost. In his work he also mentions that the tomb of the famous Saint Syed Abdul Sani is situated near this area. Chishti says that now only five forts are found here. All the subsequent historians bought Chishti’s thesis, and denied the existence of any remains of Daulatabad.
Recently, while working on a chapter in his Encyclopedia of Lahore, Iqbal Qaiser located the tomb of Syed Abdul Qadir Sani, flanked in between the Birdwood road, and Waris road. There is no trace of the five forts mentioned by Chishti anymore, just the tomb. This sanctuary is located in an empty plot of land, which now falls under the jurisdiction of the army. While he was looking around for traces of anything else, an army man approached him, and offered to show him around. He told him that nothing lies here, and that the real treasure lies across the Birdwood road where the office of provincial Health Development Centre stands. On being taken there, he came across two huge mounds, taller than the building itself, standing right in the middle of the complex.
Our initial reaction was that they were the remains of the destroyed forts but the sheer magnitude of the mounds, and the presence of various layers presented a different story. This led us to the conclusion that these have to be the remains of the lost town of Daulatabad. Amongst the various layers, one was composed of modern bricks, which came in vogue during the later Sikh and early British period – burnt bricks, bigger bricks, perhaps from Mughal era or earlier, and fibers of wood having been buried for a long period of time. Pieces of pottery can also be seen scattered all over the place. Clearly, we are talking about a city built, destroyed and rebuilt many a times. These are the remains of not just the forts but an entire town. This is where the history of Daulatabad and antiquity of Lahore converge.
Given the proximity of these mounds to the town of Ichhra, our hypothesis is that buried in between those mounds is the ancient history of Lahore. We believe that archaeological excavation at the site would take the history of Lahore further back from the date that we start right now. If our hypothesis is correct, this could be the most important discovery in the history of the city.
However, there is urgency. This entire area came under the sway of the Pakistan army, after the creation of the country. In 2001, they decided to sell it to get funds for the creation of a new GHQ at Islamabad. However, the Government of Punjab intervened, claiming that the property belongs to them; therefore the army can’t sell it. Now the land across the Birdwood road, where the tomb of Syed Abdul Qadir Sani stands, is under the army, and the place where the mounds lie, is under the control of the Government of Punjab. The government at the moment is expanding the offices here and has already gotten rid of some mounds. If the Department of Archaeology doesn’t intervene anytime soon, then these mounds would also be lost, taking us back to square one.
A question to be answered is: what is the town of Daulatabad. There are two possible answers to this particular question. There are two Daulats in history that can be attributed with the name of this town. One of them is Daulat Khan, who was the Governor of Lahore, during the tenure of Ibrahim Lodhi, before the arrival of the Mughal conqueror Babar. Many historians believe that the name of this town is derived from this Governor. Naqoosh Lahore Number relates that there was a Sarai Daulat Khan, Bagh Daulat Khan, and a Fort here, which fell into disrepair when Humayun was ousted from India.
The second Daulat is Daulat Shah, son of Syed Abdul Qadir Sani. According to Chishti, his real name was Syed Ghayasuddin. Daulatabad is named after his nick name, Daulat Shah. He was born here, became famous here, and was later interred here. Maulvi Nur Ahmad Chishti claims that the Khanqah of Meer Yaqub, and the well of Meer Yaqub were also present here. The five forts that he mentioned and claimed to have seen in the late 19th century CE were named as following: Killa Meer Mohammad, Killa Meer Arshad Khan, Killa Kafiat Khan, Killa Nawab Meer Mahmud, and Killa Meer Akbar. The first three of these are named after the sons of Syed Abdul Qadir Sani.
These forts were isolated during the raid of the Afghan King Shah Zaman. Later, during the tenure of Ranjit Singh, this locality was taken over and used for military purposes. This policy was perpetuated by the subsequent British and Pakistani governments. In 2001, for some reason that only the military can explain, these forts were razed, and so was the history associated with it. The unanswered questions regarding the origin of Daulatabad and Lahore are buried somewhere in between these two mounds. Therefore it is our plea to the Archaeology Department and other organizations working for the preservation and promotion of culture of Lahore, to take notice of this dire situation, and work towards commencing excavation at the spot.