Killa Jevan Singh, the last village on the Pakistan side of the border
By Haroon Khalid
Having treaded the long stretch of the canal, now acting as the artillery of the city, the BRB, the mother canal comes. Crossing the bridge over it, after a few kilometers, one would come across the village of Manhiala. The next and the last village on the Pakistan side of the border is known as Killa Jevan Singh. As can be inferred from its name, this settlement derives its name from a small fort, perching on the top of a mound, within the village, which also happens to be the highest point around. Easily the top of the edifice stands 15-17 meters above the ground.
I happened to reach the village accidentally, while I was researching for Kos Minars in the surrounding areas. I was of the impression that there were two such minarets in the neighbouring regions but what I did not know was that one of them was in India. Manhiala is the destination of the other one. The distance between these two structures is 1 kos. In fact so eager was I to see the second Kos Minar that I even crossed the third embankment on the Pakistan side in my ignorance, and was only a few meters away from India when a local stopped me and guided me correctly.
This fort, which is the main attraction of this village, is now in a pathetic state. The entire body of the edifice has almost fallen, only leaving a hollow structure, like the Laxmi building at the Laxmi Chowk. However, whatever remains of the structure, suggests a splendid past, of Sikh architecture. A few arches, pillars, frescoes, sculptures, speak to us about the luxury of this building which was clearly built for residential purposes. The entrance into the relic of the fort is towards the Eastern side where still a large arch remains. This was a double storey building, however, for the most part the second portion has been destroyed. A few rooms, filled with all sorts of unwanted stuff survive here and there. Nobody is using the building, except for cows, and their dung. A few rooms are being used as storage rooms by the local people. Where that has been done, new constructions have been made, to optimize the space of the building. Old bricks have been robbed by people, to be used in their houses. All over the village, one finds houses with petit bricks. It appears that the pattern on the ground floor, composed of a combination of rooms, courtyard, and a few big rooms, was replicated on the second floor. The courtyard was on all sides of the building; however now that has been taken over by the people of the village.
There is a dome on top of one room inside the edifice which has relics of colourful Sikh guru frescoes on the wall inside. There was a small platform in the middle of the room and a broken wooden palki nearby. There is only one entrance into the room. While the locals say there was no gurdwara in the village, all the evidences point towards the fact that this was a Sikh shrine within the complex.
Facing this fort is another building which at first appears to be part of the edifice but is not. This is also an old building, made around 1939 according to the testimonies of the people. This was a triple storey building standing on top of the highest side of the mound. The top of this building is the highest part of the region from where one can see Indian villages, buildings, the kos minar I came looking for, the fence on the Indian side of the border, roads and even Indian cars if they are around. The stairs taking to the roof are in front of the main gate, which was wooden but is now missing. Most of this building is now empty space. The remaining rooms have been occupied by villagers.
Further East, there were 3 smadhs, 2 small and 1 big one. The condition of these structures is much like the buildings just visited if not worse. Of the three, the condition of the only one is recognizable. However, even its dome has fallen and it has been stuffed by bricks, and closed. Bricks from here have also been taken by the people. There are some floral frescoes on this smadh in red and green. This is an octagonal construction with a pier on each edge.
The locals say the condition of these historical buildings in the village was much better till the war of 1965. In the war, this village was taken over by the Indian forces who wrought a lot of destruction here. It is said that they purposefully damaged the fort, perhaps to prevent it from being used as a military strategic location. However, when they were returning, the elders of the locality claim that they renovated the smadhs, in the outer-skirts of the village.
These three smadhs belong to Jevan Singh, his wife, and his son Sardar Amar Singh, who was the landlord of the region during the days of the Empire. There was a protective wall around these three structures, which now has fallen. Sardar Jevan Singh was responsible for the construction of the first fort we visited. According to the British land records which now have been lost and are only available with Iqbal Qaiser, this fort was made in 1798, around the time when Ranjit Singh became sovereign of this region.
Jevan Singh belonged to the sub-caste of Sher Gill, and originally belonged to the village of Thay Pura, around 4 kilometers north of the present location, within the jurisprudence of Pakistan. Around that time, it is said that his village was subjected to perpetual raids by various people, which is why, he along with other people left it, and came and established themselves here. Principally, there are two castes here, Sher Gills, and Jut Gills. They both came along with Jevan Singh. The former were bigger landlords whereas the latter smaller. During the Partition, Jut-Gills converted and stayed back. However, their land was taken over by the government with the pretension that it belonged to the departed. They filed litigation and got the ruling in their favour. They are still found in the village, living in a poor condition.
Jevan Singh’s father played an important role in shaping the history of Punjab. He arrived at Thay Pur, from Kalkey Kasur where he made an army of his own, and captured all the land from here till Rawalpindi. At that time Pindi was a small town, and he constructed large buildings here. It was also made the capital of his empire. He died in 1804, handing over his kingdom to his son, who later handed it over to Ranjit Singh and became his ally. Jevan Singh’s progeny lived in this village till 1947, when they moved to somewhere around Amritsar.
The ruined fort and smadhs are now the only link between Jevan Singh and this village but they are too disappearing fast. Even with conservation efforts, little can now be preserved because of the immense destruction that time has wrought over it.