Tag Archives: Haroon Khalid

The struggle for Pakistan and Bhagat Singh:

By Haroon Khalid


The independence achieved in 1947 ushered a new era for India and Pakistan, but with it, also marked the end of a legacy. For India and Pakistan, Congress and Muslim League respectively became the vanguard of independence from the British Empire. Whereas there is no denying the fact that both of them played a pivotal role in achieving freedom, nonetheless there were also other parties and movements, who had the laid groundwork for these two to build on. Without their impact and achievements, perhaps these two parties would not have been able to achieve the success that they eventually did. Post independence, the credit that should have been given to the former parties was taken away from them.

In India, the Indian National Congress was generally more receptive to political activists from other parties and movements, who also were able to shake the foundations of the British Empire. In Pakistan however, all of the former movements became a relic of the impure-Hindu-mixed past, which needed sifting. We ended up with fine grains starting with Muhammad Bin Qasim, coming to Babur and Aurangzeb, and ending with Muhammad Ali Jinnah. All the other characters were just not required anymore. So whereas in India, despite their differences, the Congress government was acknowledging the contributions of Bhagat Singh, M.N. Roy and other nationalist leaders, we were purging our historical narratives of these kafirs.

Recently I met an army official, whom I would not name for my own safety, who like me also follows the history Lahore. Talking about various obscure and neglected monuments, we reached to the Shadman Chowk (Bhagat Singh chowk), where Bhagat Singh was hanged. I asked him why we couldn’t own Bhagat Singh as a son of Lahore, to which he answered that since he was a Sikh. My dear friend, he was an atheist!

However it is not because of him being a Sikh or an atheist that we fail to own him. It is because nowhere in his struggle, he talks about Hindus and Muslims separately. Neither does he only talk about the plight of just one community. He talked about an entire nation, which composed of people from all religious hues and not. So it would have hardly made a difference had he been Muhammad Aslam or Bhagat Sadiq Ram. There would have been no room from him in the historiography of Pakistan’s Independence struggle. Students of history would have continued thinking that the role of Muhammad Bin Qasim in freeing the Muslims of British India from the British Empire (secretly working for the Hindu baniya) is greater than the role Muhammad Aslam’s hanging did. To further establish the point, let us leave Bhagat Singh aside for a moment and talk about practicing Muslims who also like him, gave up their lives for the independence of their nation but were later disowned or never acknowledged by an independent Pakistan.

The Gaddar Movement is an example of one such struggle which has been thrown off into the sea to keep the boat of Pakistani Nationalism afloat. Having originated from San Francisco and other British colonies, this movement had its roots in the Punjab because of the predominant role that the Punjabis played in it. Bhagat Singh’s father and uncles were also members of this movement, and it is argued that it became the source of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. Contrary to the popular belief, there were many non-Sikhs involved. This was a massive movement which spread from USA into Canada, Mexico, Burma, Malaya and Japan. Indians living in these far away regions got together for the cause of the freedom of this land. It also found support in the Communist Russia and Afghanistan. In 1915, the Gaddaris established a Free Hindustan government-in-exile in Kabul. Its President was Raja Mohinder Pratab, whereas its Prime Minister was a Muslim, and a Professor of Arabic in Japan, Maulvi Barkatullah. He was also one of the founders of the Gaddar Party. It was his revolutionary literature that became the backbone of this movement. He died in San Fransico. Among other Muslims, who held important positions in the government-in-exile were Maulvi Ubaidullah (Interior Minister) and Maulvi Muhammad Bashi (Youth Minister). The callous treatment meted out to these towering Muslim personalities of their time leads one to question: is it then just because of the religious beliefs of Bhagat Singh that we fail to acknowledge him or is there something else?

There was another Muslim, who played an important role in this movement. This was Syed Rahmat Ali Shah, the first Martyr of this struggle. He was captured near Ferozpur, and then executed in the Montgomery (Sahiwal) Jail. His body was interred in the graveyard in front of the Jail, as nobody came to claim it in the required period. His grandsons today live a life of abject poverty in a small village on the Sundar-Raiwind road called Sultan-keh. They know that their grandfather was an important person, because their father had been called to India once, where he was given an award and a picture on behalf of his father. They say that the name of their grandfather is also written at the entrance to their ancestral village of Wazir Keh in India.

A strategy that the Gadaris had adopted was of secretly passing on revolutionary literature to the Indians in the British Army. In a lot of instances this proved to be a successful tactic, as quite a few regiments revolted against the authorities. One such example was the 5th Native Light Infantry Singapore Case, which included 2 regiments of Infantry, both of them dominated by Muslims. The Gaddar Movement was supporting all sorts of Independence struggle, which were targeted against the British authorities, which is why they also lend their hand to the Khalifat Movement. Mujataba Hussain, aka Mool Chand of the Gaddar Movement played an important role in this Singapore case, where a lot of the Muslim personnel were sympathetic to the cause of the Khilafat. Similarly there was another person from Gujrat called Mian Qasim Mansoor, a rich trader, who financed the scheme. This particular case caused a lot of problems to the authorities. Finally when it was crushed, all the officers had to face Court Martial and many of them were executed on the 2nd of March 1915.

The Gaddar Movement unlike the movement of the All India Muslim League was not a predominant Muslim struggle, but a cause for all the oppressed people of India, who wanted to get rid of the British yoke. The focus of this article has been on a few prominent Muslims in the movement to shed a light on the fact that the Muslim League was not the first political party to have attracted the Muslims. Much before this party was to become a prominent player in the Indian political sphere; secular movements like the Gaddar were already involving Muslims. However when the Muslim League came to power, it downplayed the role of all the other parties, which could have possibly undermined its thesis. However the struggle it claimed to have won single handedly would not have been possible without the sacrifices of Barkatullah, Syed Rahmat Ali, Mujataba Hussain, Mian Qasim Mansoor and Bhagat Singh.


By Haroon Khalid Just 2 days after the 3 days annual urs celebration at the Bibiyan Pak Daman, attended but hundreds of thousands of devotees, Shiias and Sunnis alike, I visited the shrine. The entire atmosphere suffered from a collective … Continue reading

The folklores of Chunian

By Haroon Khalid

This city, of immense historical importance, is towards the south of Lahore. Till 1972 it was part of the Lahore District, when after the separation of Lahore and Kasur, it was made part of the Kasur District. It still is a vital city, in economic and political terms; however, the influence that it enjoyed once is no longer exists. During most of the Mughal era it served as a Chaoni, or cantonment area. Arms and ammunition for the royal army were made here on a massive scale. Towards the Western side of the city remains of large pieces of iron are found; relics of the arms factory.

As one explores historical records and books, one would find numerous references to this city. The list is so long that it would not be possible to narrate all of them here. A few of them eliciting the significance of this city are mentioned below.

According to the Archaeology Department report, there are 7 major mounds here, categorized into two. Category A; belonging to the era after the 16th century CE, and B falling in between the 11th and the 16th century CE. Some of the latter mounds, not of archaeological importance, were formed during the massive flooding of the 18th century in Beas River. These mounds encompass the city, serving as picnic spots for the residents.

According to the Encyclopedia of Sikh Literature, Chunian is the plural for Chuni which means pearl. It is believed that this city was originally inhabited by Chodas, or the untouchables. During the Mughal era, there was a Muslim Saint known as Peer Jahania. When he came here he converted all of these people to Islam. Chunian, meaning pearls is a symbolism for the untouchables. According to this narrative the tomb of the Peer Jahania becomes the most important location of the city. This is where the Saint is said to have established himself. The tomb is accompanied by a modern mosque, in the courtyard of which is a small building, depicting pre-British era architectural techniques. This marks as the spot where the Sufi used to sit. It is empty from the inside.

In Tehrikh-e-Cambhon written by the police inspector Abdul Wahab Amritsari, he narrates a story that takes back the history of Chunian, all the way to the arrival of the Arabs in Sindh. He describes that when Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Sindh, Chunian was being ruled by a man belonging to the Cambho clan. He had a daughter and a son. This city was under the sway of Multan, so when the Muslims got hold of Multan, Chunian automatically fell in their lap. They demanded a large amount of compensation from the ruler. He retorted that since it was a huge amount he should be allowed to make the payments in installments. He was permitted to do that, but Muhammad Bin Qasim asked for a guarantee in return. The King gave him his boy, Maha Chawar, who was taken by Qasim to Arabia.

Living under Muslim influence, the boy embraced Islam. Five years later when the King of Chunian was able to pay the entire amount, the Prince was allowed to return. However, instead of being welcomed back, Maha Chawar was castigated for having abandoned his religion, and being polluted by the ‘barbarian’, by the Hindu priests. It was decided that he should be returned back or be killed. Since the boy had just come back, there was no option of him returning, so plan B was to be executed. His sister Kangna heard of the plan, and along with her brother fled the city. The army of his father kept on following the siblings, until they were intercepted at Mandi Borewala, where they were murdered. Later Muslim rulers built a tomb there to commemorate their memory. Today the mausoleum stands, known by the name of Diwan Chawali Mushahiq Haji Muhammad Sheikh. Kanganpur, a village in the tehsil is named after Kangna, according to this story. However, besides the mounds there is no building or any other such remains from that tenure in Chunian.  Most of the old buildings have been replaced by new constructions. A few of the balconies, doors, and havelis that are left, are in dilapidated state and not any further back then the Sikh era.

The present city of Chunian came into being in the Mughal era, when the royal arms and ammunition were being manufactured from here. It is standing on a mound, originally protected by a wall with various doorways. Not many are present today, and the traces of the wall are also missing. At its zenith the mound has to be about 40 feet above the ground. Tajamol Kaleem, local Punjabi poet was kind enough to entertain and show us around the city.

Towards the eastern side of the city, near the old route of river Beas there is a non-functional Jain temple. At the start of 2010, a controversy arose regarding the building. Accompanying the edifice is a Wahabi mosque, members of which wanted to take over the building and use it for its own purpose, according to Kaleem. However, Kaleem, along with other friends reached the spot, before the action could be taken, and presented the case in such a manner that the local elders refused the mosque to take over the temple. It was argued that the sanctuary was an Imanat and a Muslim doesn’t renege from his promise. At least temporarily the tension has been defused. There was still apprehension in the atmosphere when we reached the spot to take a few photographs. Hostile looks followed by a few tirades greeted us.

Nearby was the Harchoki gate. As most of the historical doors, this one is named after the historical village of Harchoki, towards which it faces. In the 18th century CE, an epic war was fought in the fields of the village, also wrapping within it the city of Chunian. This entire episode can be found in the famous book Punjab Chiefs, by Sir Lepel H Griffin.

In the early 16th century CE, when Babar was on his way to capture the throne of Delhi, there was an internecine war in Afghanistan, which led to an exodus of many Pathan tribes. They met Babar on the way, and helped him in winning the decisive battle of Panipat in 1525. As a result of their loyalty to the Mughal they were given impressive titles, and control of Bengal. In 1569, when Jahangir was borne to Emperor Akbar, after the lapse of a lot time all of the notables came to pay homage to him, expect these Pathans. Akbar angry at their insolence demanded that all of their titles and property be taken away. When they started returning to Kabul, the King realized that they were a huge asset to the Mughal Kingdom, therefore he send Abu Fazl, the composer of Akbar-Nama to console them. They were given the permission to settle anywhere, which is not near Delhi. They settled for Kasur.

At that time the ruler of Chunian was a man called Raja Rai. Pera Baloch a ‘dacoit’ from here was a source of irritation to the ruler. When the Pathans commenced making their forts here this ‘dacoit’ also started attacking them, taking away his loot in the darkness of the night. Finally, in a fight he was killed, by the Pathans, which went on to establish their authority in the region of Kasur and Chunian.

In 1720, the Pathans descended on the fields of Harchoki, along with Nawab Hussain Khan, ruler of Kasur, the mayor of Chunian, Sardar Fazl Khan, against the might of the Mughal Governor of Lahore, Abdul Smadh Khan. From the very beginning the former group was destined to lose fighting with only a force of 10,000 against an army of 70,000. The death of Nawab Hussain Khan in this battle translated into a defeat for his army in the battlefield. This historic battle however found a way into the cultural psyche of the people of Punjab. It became a symbol of rebellion against an oppressive tyrant. It is also evoked in the famous Heer by Waris Shah.

Symbolism of this battle in Heer is a useful yardstick to gauge the importance of this town in the cultural history of Punjab. Despite language and cultural barriers, Heer goes on to unite the people of Punjab under the banner of Punjabi nationalism. There is however, another folk tale originating from the city of Chunian, much larger in its scale of influence than Heer. This is the story of Sassi Punnon connecting Punjab with Sindh and Baluchistan. It is generally believed that Sassi, the protagonist in our story was the daughter of King of Bhambour. However according to an article published in Imroz in 1970, written by Advocate Syed, Sassi was born in the city of Chunian, from where she reached Bhambour in a basket as an infant, when her life was threatened by the prophecy of a female bringing shame to the city. If credibility is to be allotted to this version then this folk tale originated from this city.

Chunian today, even though donning a modern garb, represents a traditional city that has continued to hold significance over the years. Despite the fact that most of the older buildings, e.g. the Shah Jahani mosque near the tomb of Peer Jahania, and other forts and gates of the city have been lost, the ambience of the city takes one back in time, connecting its past with its present. A journey to Chunian therefore is more like a journey through time, which becomes much more meaningful if its importance has been established as a crucial city in the folk lore of Punjab.

On shaky grounds

By Haroon Khalid

Next to the planetarium, close to the old Anar Kali, a tall, cone-shaped Jain Temple greeted the visitor once. This was situated in the centre of the road, with two roads passing around it. Next to it are wooden balconies, with intricate designs on them; part of the original complex. This was one of the three Jain temples in Lahore, according to Jainworld.com. The other ones were inside the Bhatti gate and on Ferozepur road, near Model Town. The temple stood in the middle of this bifurcation of roads, which earned this junction the name of Jain Mandar Chowk. Years of religious disuse had resulted in severe depredation of the structure. It various compartments, originally used by visiting pilgrims, students and priests, are now taken up by refugees of the partition of 1947. Their interconnected rooms have been permanently closed by mortar and bricks, as the demand of privacy increased among the new occupants. Larger rooms were divided into two, or sometimes even more, and the surplus ones rented out. All of these small rooms entertain much more people, then meant to. A cycle tire repairperson had made a makeshift shop on the pavement, next to the temple, many years ago, and still sits here.

Then came the dreadful morning of 6th December 1992, and thousands of people converged towards the historical Babri Mosque, at Ayodhya, India. Within hours the Hindu fanatics, who wanted to correct the historical wrong that the first Mughal Emperor Babar committed, razed the structure. Their argument; Babar had destroyed a Hindu temple, meant to commemorate the spot, where the mythical Hindu King Ram was born, to build this mosque.

This unleashed a chain of events that had repercussions thousands of kilometers away in Pakistan. In the following days, rightist leaders in Pakistan aroused the sentiments of the people and they, in thousands, attacked various Hindu temples in the city, and all over the country. They attacked with axes, hammers, rods, guns, and even bare-hands. One of the mobs also attacked this landmark temple, and brought it to ground. Little that they knew, this was a Jain temple and not a Hindu one; a different religion altogether. The Jains are a pacifist religious group, who believe to the extent that the life of an insect or an ant is also worth preserving; but then what is the rationale behind a charged mob’s thinking. The cone-shaped structure that once served as the link between a non-Pakistani past now lies desecrated, inside a walled enclosure that was built around it. The tire repairperson still sits outside. The bifurcation was rechristened Babri chowk, in the honor of Babri mosque. However, no wagon, bus or rickshaw driver would know where the Babri chowk is; the bifurcation is still known as the Jain Mandar chowk, even without the Jain Mandar, a tribute to the desecrated temple, by the people of Lahore.

While there was a mob busy bringing down this structure, there was another charged one that took the direction of the Sitla Mandir, which was in between the Shah Alami and Lohari Gates. This was believed to be ancient temple, attended by Hindus and non-Hindus alike before the partition of British India. It was believed that a dip at the pool, which was next to the temple, could cure all skin diseases. Tara Chand, a 78 years old Hindu, living in Lahore tells me that for Diwali, a large number of people used to come to the temple, including Muslim women with their children.

The cone shaped structure is still standing and is visible from afar. It is a triple storey building, with each floor now carved up, ingeniously, to cater to the increasing population demand. One the first floor, there is a Madrassa Noor-ul-Quran. Original black and white tiles of the pre-partition times are still present. However the floor is uneven, because of severe damage wrought to it during the attack. Regardless of the predicament, the madrassa still functions, and people continue to live. There is a Mewati family living on the top floor of the temple. An old woman from the family told me that she bought that particular area for Rs. 60,000 from the head Qari at the temple. She was living here when the temple was attacked. Ironically, she told us, it was the same Qari, who ran the madrassa at that time, who lead the attack.

There were 2 other temples here too, all of which were attacked. This temple was lucky in particular as it survived the attack. There is a mosque next to this temple, which was built after the destruction of a temple here. “The mob had brought a crane with them, which they used to bring down the structure,” said the woman. She tells us about a passionate devotee who had climbed to the top of the structure damaging the temple with his axe, when the entire structure fell. “He became an instant Shaheed,” she added. The Qari continued teaching at the madrassa inside the Sitla temple, but quit a few years ago. A small plate which reads “Ya Allah” decorates the niche at the top of the structure. Its historical pool has been filled and a Jinnah park for the community has been made.

About 10 kilometers from here, inside the famous Thokar Niaz Baig, there is an ancient Hindu temple. This was the Bhadrakali Mandar, dedicated to an incarnation of the Hindu deity, Durga Mata. This was a huge complex, with various smadhs (stupas), a baoli (a huge well, with stairs that led to the base), an ancient Banyan tree, a pool and two temples. According to Tahrikh-e-Lahore, written by Kanhiya Lal, this temple used to host the largest Hindu festival in and around the city of Lahore. There is no historical account of one of the temple buildings, which served as the main one, but another huge structure with a dome was summoned by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, when he became the King of Punjab, according to Lal. This structure was never used as a temple. Now a government primary school functions in it. The smadhs have been filled, the pool covered, the Baoli lost, and the Banyan tree cut. The original temple, now houses several Mewati families that migrated to Pakistan in 1947. They have wrought various changes to the structure to cater to their demand.

A couple of years ago, when I visited the temple for my thesis the people living inside the temple were destroying the structure. When I asked them, their reason was that the structure had become weak and was a threat to the people living inside it.

An old man, who requested to stay anonymous, from Niaz Baig, told me that following 1992 a mob attacked the temple, led by a proscribed organization, based here. However, before much damage could be wrought, the elderly of the locality dissuaded them. They argued that this is no longer a temple, but serves a primary school. The school children would be the only one affected by this action. This way the temple was saved, however, severe damage was wrought to the other building, which is now it is being razed to make way for a securer structure.

Babe ki chidyian

By Haroon Khalid 
The South Asian culture is rich because of its various hues and diversities that characterize its idiosyncrasy. Bright colors, rituals and superstitions for practically every action, and numerous festivals all give a distinct flavor to the South Asian life. There is a saying that in Pre-Partition Lahore there were 30 days in a month and 31 festivals. Most of these rituals and practices are not as obvious as they were a few decades ago, however if one is willing to dig beneath the surface and explore the rich heritage of Pakistan’s unexplored rural and sub-urban life, one would end up unearthing celebrations that would leave one surprised and asking for more.

The annual festival to mark the urs celebration of Syed Akbar Ali Shah at a small village near the historical city of Chunian is one such tale of the fascinating life in India and Pakistan. The Saint had 4 sons viz. Khwaja Abdul Aziz Mast, Ghulam Mustafa, Muhammad Ashraf and Khalil Ahmad. Khwaja Abdul Aziz Mast was the eldest of them all and the heir of the Sainthood (Kadi Nasheen). He was a colorful character, who gave a unique blend to his father’s annual urs. He started calling eunuchs each year to take part in the festivities. He would treat them with a lot of love, an act which no one else was willing to extend to them, not even his own brothers. He would say that those whom no one loves, I would, which also endeared him to the eunuchs. Every year they would come to the 9 day and night celebration of the urs, dance and sing all night, collect money from their adorers and sleep all day. His brothers, in particular, Ghulam Mustafa, was more puritanical in his approach and condemned the ‘disrespect’, these eunuchs brought to the final resting place of his father. He gave his brother an ultimatum to end this ‘un-Islamic’ act. Baba Mast, as Khwaja Abdul Aziz Mast is popularly known was a man of love, who did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. He left the spot, where the Kadi Nasheen used to sit, and moved a few kilometers towards the Chunian city, next to the Balloki canal. The eunuchs also accompanied them. Gradually the pomp and splendor of the tomb also shifted to where Baba Mast had established himself, so much so that after a little while, his brother was left with no other option but to call Baba Mast back. Continue reading

Following in his footsteps by Haroon Khalid

My friend Iqbal Qaiser, a Punjabi intellectual, sometime ago, made an interesting comment. He says that the names of some people are recorded in the history because of the monuments that they have built. Shah Jahan is one such character, remembered because of the Taj Mahal and not vice versa. However, there are others because of whom some spaces become important. Baba Bulleh Shah belongs to the second category of people.

Bulleh Shah’s Murshed or his spiritual leader Shah Inayat, was from Lahore, whereas he used to live in Kasur. To meet his master Bulleh Shah used to travel frequently between the two cities. The route taken was the same Ferozpur road that drives through the Chungi Amir Sadhu, Ichra, Mozang and then Lahore. On a car today the journey is likely to take no more than one and half an hour, however in his days, when commuting toke place via, a cart, or on foot, it would have been a much more difficult task. In a Punjabi book called ‘Dhondla Chanan’ written by Iqbal Qaiser in 1992, he mentions that on his way to Lahore Bulleh Shah used to spend some time at a village called Amir Sadhu.

Upon taking a left turn from the Chungi, facing DHA, after a couple of left turns one needs to take a left on small road. This would lead us to a mosque called the Bulleh Shah Masjid. This mosque now stands on the spot where Bulleh Shah used to spend his time resting. Adjacent to an open ground, where there are two banyan tree, with a few graves under it, this mosque is no meaning a remarkable architectural construction. Next to it is a small complex, with a couple of rooms, where the current Gaddi Nasheen sits. This mosque is meant to honor the legacy of Bulleh Shah, and this is what he had to say about his adorers.

Dharam Sal dhardwaye rehnde, Thakar daware thug,

Wich maseet kosete rehnde, ashiq rehan alag

Traders (read those who cheat) live in Dharam Sal, Frauds in Thakar daware,

Uneducated live in the mosque, lovers stay aloof

Much has changed around the complex, yet with the open ground and the trees, this place retains its essence of centuries past by. Minus the buildings, the complex and the graves, the rest of the location is exactly how Bulleh Shah would have seen it.  Today not even the inhabitants of this mosque know the historical significance of this site. The name of the mosque is coincidental to them.

About 20 years ago, this place became the site of another incident. A young teenager belonging from the area decided to spend his chilla of 40 days inside a grave, just outside the mosque. This was to mark his rite of passage. His name was Baba Ilyas, who eventually became famous as Saeen Guttu. He interred the grave. A small hole was made where his face would have been, and a thread was passed through it. From the outside the string used to be pulled, and the occupant of the grave used to do the same from the inside, to confirm that he was alive. Accompanying his grave was also some food and water. After 40 days the man reappeared from the grave, alive, and became a living Saint. This incident was widely covered by the newspapers of that time.

Saeen Guttu is still alive, and I happened to meet him, when I visited the mosque. He claims to be in his early 30s, even though he looks much older. He supports a grey beard, and has round features. He was skeptical of us, as he claimed he was harassed by the authorities, once he successfully completed the chilla, so he doesn’t allow us to take his pictures. He plans on repeating the same thing, but wouldn’t disclose the details, because of the negative reactions he is likely to encounter by the authorities, he tells us. His father and grandfather are buried in the same ground, and locals pay homage to them regularly. One day he is also likely to be elevated to the same status. I was expecting Saeen Guttu to be some sort of a local Saint, but that didn’t happen. In fact the new peer was a Kashmiri Butt by the name Baba Murtaza. I asked him a few questions about the incident and this is what he had to say.

He remembers the incident of Saeen Guttu, as he was present when it happened; in fact both of them are neighbors. Saeen Guttu became a Peer but he could not handle it. He became lazy, always asking for people to do his things. He started thinking of himself as being larger than people, so eventually he was disposed, and was replaced by this gentle fellow. Baba Murtaza is a medical practitioner, or as some people would say a quack. Now finally, (as if he is doing all of us a favor) he has taken up the ‘business’ of Peer Mureedi. He was surrounded by his admirers, doing different chores for him, while he went on and on about his role as a Peer. Saeen Guttu also was one of his devotees, according to him. He remained the sole spoke-person for everyone present, while I was there.

History is replete of examples, where a prominent character is taken up by various, divergent school of thought, to bring legitimacy to their claim. The case of Muhammad Ali Jinnah would also be an interesting study in the context of Pakistani context, where all political parties (including those, which were vehemently against him) claim to be his rightful successor. The poetry of Bulleh Shah was an attempt to break away from the institutional nature of religion, however after his death, and the ascendancy of his status, the very same people he criticized have taken up the cause of his vision and claim.



Celebrating Vaisakhi at Ram Thaman By Haroon Khalid

1st of Vaiaskh in the desi Bikrami calendar falls sometime around the 14th of April every year. This date also marks the beginning of the Vaisakhi festival, known as Baisakhi too, all across the Indian peninsula. The celebration of Vaisakhi commences the beginning of the cutting of wheat all over the country. Wheat being the most important stable in South Asia is the reason why this festival is so significant to farmers in both India and Pakistan. Having purely originated from seasonal changes, Vaisakhi has been given cultural and religious hues from the local communities. The Hindus in different regions of the country pray to their local deities during this time of year. For the Sikhs however, there is a different significance. In their culture it was on the 1st of Vaisakh that the tenth Sikh Guru finalized their religion. He gathered all his followers at Anandpur, India, where he gave them the famous 5 ks of Sikhism. He also ordered them to end their names with Singh. This is how Vaisakhi, a celebration of the harvest, became a religious festival for the Sikhs. Every year, Sikhs from all over the world, flock to their religious sanctuaries to commemorate this auspicious day. The Sikh celebrations in Pakistan which begin from Gurdwara Punja Sahib, Hassan Abdal, and then move to Amenabad, Gujranwala, are part of the annual event.

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Shaheed Bhagat Singh chowk

by Haroon Khalid

There are few people who have challenged the status of Gandhi as being the most famous leaders of the Indian Freedom Movement. Bhagat Singh at the age of 23 was able to do that. This name has received immense coverage in the recent years, courtesy of the Indian cinema. Had it not been due to the recent popular Indian movies, not many people in Pakistan would have been aware of this young revolutionary, who shook the foundations of the British Imperial Empire, and gave a new impetus to the freedom struggle. His methods and methodology was a marked departure from the popular modus operandi of the Congress Party. Initially Bhagat Singh supported Gandhi’s cause, but after the sudden end to the non-cooperation movement following the Chauri Chaura incident, he was disillusioned by the non-violence of Gandhi, preferring doing things his own way. Bhagat Singh says in his writings that when the deaf can’t hear, their ears need to be pulled up; ‘To make the deaf hear’. His bombing of the Delhi Assembly was to achieve this purpose. The aim was not to kill anyone, as a low intensity bomb was used, and it was thrown at a vacant location, where minimum damage could be achieved. It was thrown only with the purpose of making their voice reach to the ears of the rulers. Gandhi rejected the ‘cowardly’ act; however both Jinnah and Nehru developed a romantic association with this young patriot and tried till the end to stop the hanging of Bhagat Singh. Continue reading

Celebrating Eid Millad ul Nabi by Haroon Khalid

The entire Mohalla has been lit defying the darkness of the night. Children, teenagers and young adults have worked day and night to decorate their Pahari, which is really a much more than the name suggests. Those with minimal resources are only able to pull together a small lump decorated with the all sorts of toys, including cars, stereos, and numerous other commodities. However with the bigger boys, there is a larger stake involved. Communities work for months, getting the donations, lighting, speakers, and symbols ready for this special day. Within Mohallas there are numerous stalls showing off their talents and hard work. What were only suppose to be symbols, emblemizing life of the Prophet has turned into a  fierce battle of who spends more money, whose decoration is more grandiose, and who has a greater turnout. This scenario when described to a Muslim from Lahore would instantaneously conjure images of celebration of Eid Millad ul Nabi. However when such a scene is described to a Hindu, he/she would also be able to relate the images to a festival that they call Ram Navami. This is the celebration of the birthday of the Hindu deity Ram. The Hindus have been celebrating this festival for centuries. Every year, on this auspicious day, they would take out processions, and entertain large crowds. Children and young adults would make a small Pahari outside their house from the money that they are donated from the people, where they would place idols and other symbols, which would relate to incidents from their deity Sri Ram Jee.

As much as the hardliners fuss about the fact of the matter remains that the concept of celebrating Eid Millad ul Nabi by taking out processions and competing in these fancy Paharis emerge from the celebration of Ram Navami. This sort of a celebration is very South Asian in origin and character and one would find no such tradition in the “Islamic History”.

Eid Millad ul Nabi is suppose to be the day of the birth of the Prophet of Islam and it is also supposed to be the day, when he died. Before this became a celebratory day, people used to give Khatams from their homes and celebrate the day quietly. In fact 75 years ago this day wasn’t celebrated at all in the pompous manner that it is celebrated today. The Hindus on the other hand have been celebrating Ram Navami in such a manner for centuries. Numerous processions are taken out and people sing, dance and make merry throughout the day. Seeing the zeal of the Hindus Maulana Syed Dedar Ali Shah led the first procession on this day on the lines of Hindu celebration. This was in 1935. The procession started from Delhi gate Lahore.

Maulana Syed Dedar Ali Shah was the Imaam of Masjid Wazir Khan. He actually belonged to a place called Alwar in the Indian province of UP, but at that time was posted in Lahore, which is where he chose to stay for the rest of his life. Maulana was of the opinion that if the Hindus could celebrate the birthday of their deity with such pomp then why they Muslims couldn’t, also commemorate the birthday of their “true” Prophet with similar zest. It is with this thought that he approached various people of his community trying to convince them in joining his procession on this day. In the first procession of Millad ul Nabi ever, there were less than a 100 people, the procession began from Masjid Wazir Khan and ended there too. For a lot of years to come Masjid Wazir Khan remained the focal point of the procession, nonetheless the percentage of people attending increased every year.

Inside of the Lohari Gate, there is a Mohallah by the name of Khadak Singh. A man named Karam Elahi from there was greatly motivated by the cause of the Maulana, so soon he commenced his own smaller procession, which used to join the main one. Similarly in the Kashmiri Sadhuan Mohalla inside the Kashmiri Gate, Inayat ullah Qadri started organizing Mehafal-e-Milad on this day, in the local mosque. This Mehfal used to began at 10 in the morning and continue till Zuhr prayers. After the Namaz they use to walk towards the Chowk outside of Delhi Gate holding each other’s hand, where they would join the bigger procession. Over time the popularity of the event increased many fold and people from the neighboring region started traveling towards the city to participate in it. They used to commute in highly decorated bull, camel, horse, etc. carts. Later as motors and trolleys became more widespread they also became part of the procession.

After the death of Maulana his son Maulana Abu Al-Hasnat Syed Ahmad Qadri became his successors. Eventually the strength of the procession reached such a level that a permanent stage had to be build outside of the Delhi Gate, where the procession would gather and the speaker would address the people. This platform became the famous Millad Chowk outside of the Delhi Darwaza. A major boost was given to the event, when on 16th of April 1973 the Governor of Punjab, when Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar addressed the crowd. This was the first time that any Government representative had recognized the day. During the Islamization policy of Zia this day was made a National Day and celebrated at the Government level. This way its popularity spread all over the country. Maulana Inayat ullah Qadri was the third leader of this event. He died recently at the age of 80 on 20th February 2002. Among the many famous families of Lahore that are devoted to him, one is the Shariff family, which is also the reason why he and this event received immense Government patronage during the era of Zia, when Nawaz Shariff was the Chief Minister of Punjab.

There are, nonetheless, two school of thoughts, regarding the celebration of this event. One that belongs to the Ahl-e-Hadith and Deobandi inspiration believes that this is outlandish and doesn’t conform to the spirit of Islam. The dancing and singing that this event includes are all vulgar activities, according to them. The other school of thought includes the rest of the groups, including the Shii, who are happy with the way things are. It is this antagonism that was witnessed on Eid Millad ul Nabi in the year of 2010, in Faislabad and Dera Ghazi Khan, where there is a strong hold of the former school of thought.

Even though this event finds its origin from a Hindu tradition, this doesn’t mean that the celebration of the event should be banned on the basis. In the name of Eid Millad ul Nabi ordinary people find a way to vent their frustrations, doing something positive, which is celebrating life. The significance of any festival is not in what is being celebrated, but on how it is being celebrated. In the drudgery existence of ordinary people, there should be more celebrations like this for this society to grow healthy. Secondly this event could also become part of the common heritage and tradition that join the people of India and Pakistan and therefore can act as a bridging force in bringing peace to South Asia. The people working for this very cause should draw inspiration from commonalities like these to bring the people together.


The day Himalaya cried by Haroon Khalid

Today, more than 3 decades have passed to the death of Zulifqar Ali Bhutto; however we still haven’t been able to, as a Nation-State, establish his real stature in the character of Pakistani history. Not that for any politician, it is possible to have universal acceptability across the board, nonetheless there are people in the history of humanity, who have been able to get themselves acknowledged from all hues of various sects, and ideologues. People may disagree with their methods, their opinions, but they are unable to deny them their niche in world politics. Politicians or reformists like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Nelson Mandela all conform to that league of individuals, who altered the course of events, and as a result left indelible mark in the history books. Does Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto belong to that exclusive group of people? This is a question for the political science pundits to answer, however what we can say that even today Bhutto remains the most controversial names in the political history of Pakistan.

For some, he represents the liberator, who, for the first time, made the down-trodden realize their strength. To others he emblemizes a beacon of hope and change, which quickly blew off, once the winds of power blew in. There are people, who think of him as a Pan-Islamic Muslim leader, who had immense foresight, and was capable of uniting the Muslim countries on a single platform. Some qualify him as the first real populist leader of Pakistan, who gave politics of the country its contemporariness, before which it was a vocation only for the elite to be played in drawing rooms. I have met and read about people who believe that had, Bhutto not been assassinated, the condition of Pakistan would have been much better than the nightmare it finds itself in today. I have also come across people, who believe that it was due to Bhutto’s impractical socialist economics that the period of rapid growth and development, which had begun during Ayub’s tenure ended, which makes him the culprit who cut the roots of development, which were expanding fast during the military regime. In between these myriad and heavily guarded points of views lay the real significance of this slain leader, the truth. The purpose of this article however is not to form a consensus across these various shades of thoughts, neither is it to establish a permanent unalterable opinion of Bhutto. It is to rather underscore, the cultural implications of this watershed event. The impact it had on the people. What Bhutto meant to the people.

Having grown up in an environment where hagiography of Bhutto was a daily routine, I still was never able to ever grant any individual that larger than life status. However over the years that I have spend under the shadow of these narrations, I have come across a number of stories, which force me to draw similarities between lives’ of much acknowledged Saints and Bhutto. The first instance of course is his Mazaar at Garhi Khuda Baksh, which could also be called the Makkah of a new religion that may be, coined PPP. Devotees from all over the country fill into this tiny village, throughout the year, and in large numbers during the times of the death anniversaries. All the activities that take place there are similar to the ones that are taking place at the tomb of any Saint.

Around a year ago I was researching for an article that I wrote on Wasti Ram, who’s Smadh still exists, outside the wall of Lahore Fort, facing the Minar-e-Pakistan. I read that during that time period Ravi still used to flow from nearby. Every year the river would inundate causing havoc for the inhabitants of the city. When Wasti Ram (a Hindu Saint) settled at that location, where his smadh stands, the river changed its course. Here a natural event is related to life of an individual, to establish his authenticity as a chosen one in front of the people. I hear a similar story resonating from Sindh, which easily elevates the status of Bhutto from a politician to a Saint, attributed to perform miracles.

The Indus throughout its course was once inhabited by a species of crocodile called Gavial, also known as the Indian Gharial. This reptile has a sleek but long snout, and can grow up to a height of 4.5 m. In mature male Gavials, who are bigger than the counterpart, there is a bulbous mass known as the ghara, right at the tip of the snout. The Indian Gharial, which was unique to South Asia, is extinct in Pakistan. No scientist has seen one for over 25 years now. In 2008 it was reported that someone had seen a Gavial in the Nara Canal, which sprouts from the Sukkur Barrage. As a result, a team of scientists from WWF, which included Dr Masood Arshad reached the spot to confirm the claim. They spend days going up and down the 100 kilometer Canal, during low flow of water but found none. To make sure, they interviewed around 8-10 people from the local fishermen community. The eldest of them narrated that the last Gharial was killed when Bhutto was hanged. If this statement contains any veracity than today also marks the death anniversary of the last of the Gharials. There is no need to point out that this is an apocryphal claim, however the underlining is the cultural tones that this statement illuminates. A larger event is related to the death of a politician, similar to the case in Wasti Ram. My uncle Dr Masood Arshad pointed this event out to me, when I was telling him of another Bhutto story that I heard.

A couple of months ago, I was having a discussion with an Uncle of mine, Tahir Manzoor. He told me that around 1995-6, while he was sitting in the chamber of a lawyer from Gujranwala, Malik Basit, he happened to meet a person, who voluntarily gave up talking after the hanging of Bhutto. The person would only communicate through writing, citing that in a country where a leader like Bhutto can be hanged, there is really nothing much to talk about. My Uncle however had no whereabouts of that person, and neither Malik Basit. It was told to me that the age of that person was somewhere around 35 then. I asked a few PPP people around, but nobody knew about him. I also asked a few people in Gujranwala, but in vain. After much effort I found the number of Malik Basit. Malik Basit, who is a member of PPP still practices law there and has his chamber 152, is in the District Courts Gujranwala. He also has some land in Kot Bhutta, which is nearby. Malik Basit confirmed that this man Abdul Bari Rajput, who belonged to the village of Amenabad, had relinquished talking after the murder of Bhutto. He used to visit his chamber regularly, and would never write until spoken to. He would keep a small pad and a pen with him all the time, and would retort in Urdu anybody’s queries. He would intake minimum food and drink. During the early days of PPP in power, the Health Minister from Gujranwala was Chaudary Ishaq. Abdul Bari was attached to him, as a worker of the Party. Sadly, Abdul Bari recently passed away, and did not utter a word till the day he died.

To Gujranwala, also belonged Parvez Yaqub, aka Parvez Masi, who immolated himself for the release of his beloved leader. He died on 1st October 1978. When Bhutto was imprisoned, there was wide agitation throughout the country, in which students were the vanguards. Universities and colleges were shut down in Sindh. From Lahore, Faisalabad, and Gujranwala, party workers performed self-immolation, of which Yaqub Masi became the first one to die. He was followed by five others. From Lahore, a female Begum Naseem also tried to burn herself outside the Mochi Gate, but she was saved by the spectators. She still lives here.

From Gujranwala, let’s travel to Lilyani, Kasur to meet another fanatic, Rana Muhammad Jamil. He was introduced to me by my friend Iqbal Qaiser. Rana Jamil belongs to a well-off landlord family from Lilyani. His father was a Patwari. All his sons, with the exception of Rana Jamil have well to do jobs in the Government and other organizations. His son runs a successful local business. Representative of his family also are part of the District Council. Even today all of them are loyal to PPP, however in his love and devotion for the party Rana Jamil surpasses all. He is still alive, and roams around the streets of Kasur, with a PPP flag in his hand, and another one draping his shoulder. Still raising slogans in favor of PPP, he openly abuses Zia-ul-Haq, Musharraf, and Nawaz Sharif. This makes him a source of entertainment for the children, and a source of embarrassment for his family. He is known to go to PML-N meetings, where he slurs the party and its followers, which no one, however, seems to mind. Not even the police and the local MNAs and MPAs escape his tirade.

Every year on Bhutto’s and Benazir’s death anniversary he travels to Garhi Khuda Baksh on public transport and attends the celebration there. According to him, he was present in Karachi, when the bomb blast almost killed Benazir. At the time of the funeral he declared his allegiance to Zardari, only if he follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, a trait, he doubts the President has. In his 70s, this man is popular around this area.

Before Bhutto’s assassination, while he was still kept in jail, Nusrat and Benazir Bhutto once traveled to Kasur, to visit the tomb of Bulleh Shah. On their way back, they stopped over at his khoti for tea, a crime for which he was later picked up by the authorities. After being missing for a couple of months, he was found naked in Lahore by his family. He has been mentally unstable since then, which nonetheless has not been able to put away the smile on his face. He narrated to us the following verses:

Bhutto Larkane wala

Baba Sewan alea

Zardari nu saai rasta wekha

Baba Sewan alea’

Bhutto ceased to be a politician the day he died. He became a legend, got incorporated into folk tales, myths, and became a cult, a creed, even a caste. Many people use the name Bhutto at the end of their names. This devotion which only increases over time is akin to how many reformers were made Saints after their death. Bhutto already seems to have achieved that level. Therefore to me, it’s not important to establish his right position in history. History is for mortals, and he has broken that barrier. He is part of a legend. No matter what status historians give him, Bhutto would remain to be a source of inspiration for many. For many years to come, people would keep on singing his songs, and narrating the events of his bravery. His devotees would always keep him alive. I am not sure that such myths and legends are attached to the group of leaders mentioned in the beginning of this article, but if they are not, than doesn’t Bhutto even surpass them?







A visit to Bhagat Singh’s village

by Haroon Khalid

Amongst the numerous Punjabi patriots that have been borne over centuries, arguably, Sardar Bhagat Singh’s personality stands as the tallest in stature, fame, and sacrifice. However, a strange event occurred after the death of this son of Punjab. The land that he called his mother got divided into two parts. This partition not only divided land but also mentalities, families and heroes. A strong sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ were forged, to invoke patriotism, justifying the partition, or the betrayal, fueling nationalism. What is Indian is anti-Pakistani and vice-versa.

In this division of history, where does Bhagat Singh stand? He was an Indian when he died, but can he become a Pakistani after Pakistan, based on his ancestral village. Logic has it that he should become an Indian like Allama Iqbal became a Pakistani. We know that Bhagat Singh was an atheist. Can Pakistanis even dare to own atheist heroes? Now that is a path I am frightened to tread on. Continue reading

The Holy Pets

by Haroon Khalid

There are many practices in our society which are religious and have their origin in Hinduism. The Mazaar culture and the aura of the saint, his miracles, and other features of his life, represent a closer Hindu connection. One such mazaar is the tomb of Peer Abbas, situated in the heart of the Pattoki town. This is a huge building which is now under the Auqaf department. Completed recently with the help of magnanimous devotees, the edifice attracts people from all over Punjab.

Peer Abbas is also famous as Peer Abbas Kutteyanwala, which means one who has dogs. During his lifetime, the Saint kept company of dogs who followed him everywhere he went. It is said that whatever Peer Abbas was given to eat, he used to hand it over to the dogs. His nephew, Jafar Kazmi says, his uncle had named all his dogs but those names weren’t conventional; they were derived from government offices, specially associated with the Department of Police. SP, AC, Commissioner, Havaldar, Inspector, Judge. Continue reading

Kos Minar by Haroon Khalid

In the outer-skirts of the historical city of Lahore there is an obscure kos minar, still standing proudly, with half the base missing, reminding one of the grandeur, power, wealth, and culture that once was bestowed to the Mughal city of South Asia. Another such structure is also present near the canal, in Lahore.

Kos Minars were initiated by the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, a note of which is also present in Abu Fazl’s Akbar-Nama. These were solid structures constructed on the ancient Grand Trunk road around 30 feet long. The purpose of these minars was to demarcate the road from the environs. These are called kos minars because they were constructed at a distance of every one kos¸ which is roughly around 3 kilometers. These were initially constructed from Agra to Ajmer via Jaipur in the west, then from Agra to Lahore via Delhi in the north and finally from Agra to Mandu via Shivpuri in the south. After Akbar, his descendants continued the policy of ornamenting the Grand Trunk road with such constructions, which were raised all the way from Peshawar to Bengal. These must have been around 3000 such structures, but in the context of Lahore we can talk about just two.

The first one is standing in the middle of a rice field in a village in the outer skirts of Lahore called Wara Gujrana. Despite its partial ruin state, the minar still manages to capture the imagination of the viewer taking one back to the dynastic days, when such constructions would have been a sight of delight for the wanderers traveling through the treacherous forests of Punjab. Besides the minars, caravanserai, and wells were also constructed with the royal edict. It is reported that before these kos minars were constructed, Banyan trees used to play the role of measuring distance and demarcating the road. Exactly opposite this minar towards Lahore, one would spot an ancient Banyan tree, which could have been the original marker. Further west around kos from this tree is another Banyan tree, and if the kos minar, and the other two Banyan trees are seen from above, they would appear to be in a straight line.

If the straight line is continued towards the eastern side there is, yet, another kos minar, roughly around one kos from here. For the course of this research it was not possible to visit that minar as it lay on the other side of the border. The minar is clearly visible from the high point at the Killa Jevan Singh, at the village with the namesake. This is the last Pakistani village, before the Indian Territory begins.

Despite the conspicuous presence of the kos minars the Banyan trees and the caravanserai, there were absolutely no signs of the original Grand Trunk road. The road which is now known as the GT road is at a considerable distance from the location. The thoroughfare, which was used throughout the ancient times, up to the days of Mughals is no longer functional. The GT road today is not the original GT road constructed during the tenure of the Mauryun Empire.

The third minar is located next to the railway track, close to the point where the tracks that go to Amritsar and Multan part ways. Unlike the earlier two minars, this one is not prominent and is, in fact, difficult to track in the hubbub of the city. There is considerable distance from the minar at the Wara Gujrana and this one, or so it seems because the extant road between these structures is not straight but makes a triangle. If, indeed, the perpendicular distance between these minars equal to one kos then we have in the environs of Lahore three consecutive minars. More work at a structured level needs to be done to see if these three minars are 3 consecutive kos minars, right now, it is a matter of conjecture.

The Grand Trunk road has played a crucial role in the history of South-Asia. It could be called the ‘Great Wall’ of South-Asia. In fact we can proudly say that it was more effective than the Great Wall ever was. It played a crucial role in facilitating trade in India, first build during the Mauryun Empire. At that time the Indians were trading with the Greeks and this road was a huge leap forward in terms of progress. However, the real master mind behind this ingenious civic creation was the Afghan Sher Shah Suri. He not only made a proper road out of the mud track that existed at that time but also straightened it, where the bends were much cursive.

Akbar the successor of Sher Shah Suri understood the vital role that this road played in the economics of India strived to make it safer for the travelers by erecting kos manars, caravanserai, etc. His successors, primarily Jehangir and Shah Jahan, played a vital role in further establishing the GT road.

Besides the economic factor, another very important aspect of the Grand Trunk road was administration. The government needed an effective transport system to govern better. Official message carriers were sent from one end of the country to another with urgent messages. For the purpose of achieving more speed, new horses and messengers were available at these caravanserais and manars, where, either, the messenger had some water, rested for a while, before resuming his/her journey, or relayed the message to the next messenger. In this way, the kos minars also acted as check points, where usually the horse or the rider or both would get changed. Such a method guaranteed a faster postal service.

We know from the remains of a caravanserai at the nearby village of Wara Gujrana that there was a caravanserai here; therefore this particular kos manar must have been during its time an important check point.

I am the Banyan Tree by Haroon Khalid

During the course of my research for this article, I approached Salman Rashid who had an interesting story for me from the epoch of Alexander. It was a letter to Aristotle by Alexander when the latter was with Porus in India. The letter tells that once two old Indian men came to Alexander during his stay here and told him that at some distance from this spot were two trees, which could talk. One of them was male, while the other female. After mocking the two old men, Alexander decided to visit the trees, and found them to be actually communicating.

I recently visited the famous Banyan tree, known as the Bodhi tree in local language, at the village Abal Muri, near Mid Ranjha, district Sargodha. It is a popular tourist spot, also manifested by the names of the visitors written on the stems of the tree. The tree has also been the focus of a number of research articles and documentaries.

What makes this tree so special is its huge size. It is a forest within itself occupying an area of three acres. In fact it is not just one tree anymore, but a number of trees sprouting from the mother trunk which, however, no longer stands. Branches emerge from within the ground, from other trees, connect to other branches, giving a forest like effect. Banyan trees roughly grow up to 2000 years and hardly above that. As the main trunk of the tree no longer exists, the age of the tree can easily be estimated to be above 2000 years. If the story about the talking tree is true, this could have been the tree the letter talks about.

Banyan trees have an interesting mechanism of expanding. From the branches of the trees rope like structures called boughs fall towards the ground and upon touching the ground they become a branch. This way the tree keeps expanding even long after the death of the original tree. That is what has happened to this tree.

Boughs of Banyan tree have earned a special place in Indian tradition. Myths pertaining to Banyan trees are commonly found in almost all of Indian religions. Seals dating back to Mohenjadaro also depict Banyan tree, leading researchers to conclude that the reverence of Banyan trees in Hinduism could have been borrowed from the indigenous religion of the Indus valley.

Elements of indigenous culture fuse with the layers of framework of religion. The same is the case with rivers and trees in Hinduism. During intense Indian summers, the mammoth size of the Banyan tree provides a dense shade. My elders inform me that during the summers the villagers had lunch under the Banyan tree of the village. In such an atmosphere, it was only inevitable that the Banyan tree became a part of the Bhagavad Gita: “of all trees I am the banyan tree, and of the sages among the demigods I am Narada.”

Banyan tree has a semi-divine status in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It is believed that spirits known as yaksas inhabit Banyan trees; people come and pray to the Banyan tree to get the blessings of the spirit. Also if someone cut a Banyan tree it is believed that the spirit would inhabit their residence. Even though the interpretation is given purely religious colours, the cultural element behind the thought was visible in many rural Pakistani Punjabi houses, at least during the early years. It is believed that even Muslims shouldn’t cut Banyan to respect its sanctity. Now however, the situation has changed and one hears a number of stories about people cutting Banyan trees at their villages and towns.

The Buddhists believe that it was under a Banyan tree that Buddha attained enlightenment and that is why they call it Bodhi tree meaning ‘tree of enlightenment.’ It is believed that during his meditation, when the demon Sujata came to corrupt him, it is the guardian spirit of the tree that came down for his protection. Therefore, falling leaves from the trees and sagging boughs become as symbols of the guardian spirit. Many Buddhist monks and Hindu priests meditate under a Banyan tree for days. In the earlier Buddhist tradition, a Banyan tree even became a symbol for Buddha himself.

A Muslim Banyan Tree:

By Haroon Khalid


During the course of research for this article I approached Salman Rashid who narrated to me an interesting story allegedly to be from the epoch of Alexander. It is a letter to Aristotle by Alexander when the latter was with Porus in India. In the letter he tells Aristotle that once two old Indian men came to Alexander, during his stay at Jhelum, and told him that at some distance from this particular spot are two talking trees. One of them is male, while the other its counterpart. After mocking the two old men he finally decided to visit the trees, and found them to be actually communicating.According to Salman Rashid this letter was not originally written by Alexander, but after his death.


Now if Alexander or his impostor can narrate about a talking tree, then I would also dare to tell a story about a Muslim tree. This is the famous Banyan tree, known as the Bodhi tree in local language, at the village Abal Muri, near Mid Ranjha, district Sargodha. It is a popular local tourist spot clearly manifested by the names of numerous visitors written on the stems of the tree. The tree has also been the focus of numerous research articles and documentaries. What makes this tree so special is its huge size. The tree is a forest within itself. Some years ago when the local land administrator measured the size of the spread of the tree it came to be around 3 acres. It is not just one tree anymore but a number of them sprouting from the mother trunk which, however, no longer stands. The various branches of the main tree are so numerous giving a forest like effect. It is a beautiful spectacle of nature’s aesthetic. It is reported that Banyan trees roughly grow up to 2000 years and hardly above that. As the main trunk of the tree no longer exists the age of the tree can easily be estimated to be above 2000 years. If the story about the talking tree were to be true this could have been one of the trees.


Banyan trees have an interesting mechanics of expanding. From the branches of the trees rope like structures called boughs fall towards the ground, and upon touching the ground they become a branch. In this method the tree keeps on expanding even long after the death of the original tree. This is what has happened in the context of this tree. Boughs of Banyan trees have over the years earned a special place in Indian tradition.


In the South Asian cultural imagination banyan trees have played an important from the beginning of civilization here, and that is why myths pertinent to Banyan trees are found commonly in almost all of the Indian religions. Seals dating back to Mohenjadaro depict Banyan trees leading some researchers to the conclusion that they were treated as sacred entities even back then. In the framework of any religion pragmatic requirements of the culture become fused with mythology. That is what has happened in the case of rivers and trees in Hinduism. In the intense summers of India the mammoth size of the Banyan tree provides a dense shade for people. My elders inform me that during the summers all of the villagers used to have lunch under the Banyan tree of the village. In such an atmosphere it was only inevitable that the Banyan tree became a part of the Bhagavad Gita. This is what it has to say about Banyan tree:


‘Of all trees I am the banyan tree, and of the sages among the demigods I am Narada.’


Banyan tree, in this manner, has taken over as a semi-divine status in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It is believed that spirits known as yaksas inhabit Banyan trees; therefore people come and pray to it to get the blessings of the spirit. Also people would never cut such a tree, because if they did, it is believed that the spirit would inhabit their residence. The cultural element behind the thought was visible in many rural Muslim Pakistani Punjabi houses, at least during the early years of the country, and to a certain extent even now. It is narrated that even the Muslims of Pakistan never used to cut these trees, because of its sanctity. Banyan trees also used to regularly accompany larger Hindu temples.


The Buddhist believe that it was under a Banyan tree that Buddha first received enlightenment and that is why they are called Bodhi trees, which means trees of enlightenment. It is said that during his mediation, when the demon Sujata came to district him, the guardian spirit of the tree that came down from the tree to protect Buddha. Falling leaves from the trees and sagging boughs, subsequently, became symbols of the guardian spirit, thus reverent. Many Buddhist monks and Hindu priests come and settle under a Banyan tree for meditation. The Banyan tree also served as an important pilgrimage spot for Buddhists and Hindus. In the earlier Buddhist tradition a Banyan tree became an emblem for Buddha.


After the partition of India, even though the Hindus migrated from this land, the culture and tradition, which is behind the formation of many religions, remain and now takes on a new face incorporating itself into Muslim tradition. It is for this reason that I call this tree a Muslim tree, primarily, because it is incumbent for us to have a Muslim history associated with this tree to still deem it to be special. According to folk tale a Muslim Syed Saint came and planted this tree. He is said to be buried under this tree, and as long as his grave remains under it nothing can happen to the tree. There are many more Muslim graves under that tree too, all of them with a story, trying desperately to link Islam with the indigenous culture and beliefs. It is not alright for the tree to be Hindu or Buddhist, it has to be ours, and it has to be Muslim.

Where the land changes its nationality

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 Continue reading

Reliving 1992 by Haroon Khalid

Finally, the High Court of Allahabad passed a judgment regarding the ownership of the place where the Babri Mosque stood. There has been a mixed response to the decision. Some have hailed it as an end to communal violence, for now at least, whereas others deem it fit to herald the downfall of the secular credentials of the Indian state.

There is no denying the fact that the demolition of the Babri Mosque was a horrible incident in the Indian history, where a group of extremists showed disdain for the culture, heritage and religious sensibilities of a nation. Continue reading


by Haroon Khalid

On the 19th of February 1958, a man in his mid-sixties jumped on the railway track near Shahdara, with the intention of killing himself. He was being watched by his young daughter, who was 5 at that time. Police recovered three letters from the corpse. The first letter stated that Zainab should look after his two daughters, the second was his will, in which he donated his entire possession to a mosque, and the last letter stated that he should be buried as a Muslim in the village of Nurpur on Burki road. Only his second wish came true.

Heer-Ranjha, Romeo-Juliet, Sassi-Panno are all stories/myths, shrouded in mystery, oblivious to the criterion of chronology, however this story of Boota and Zainab is real. The love story of Boota and Zainab has touched many hearts. Shaheed-i-Muhabbat, a Punjabi feature film made by Gurdas Maan, Muhabbat a novel by Ishrat Rahmani, another novel Zainab Jamil, and Hollywood movie The Partition are all tributes to this couple. Continue reading

Temple wrought with stories

by Haroon Khalid

Lahore is ever expanding, mercilessly eating away any village or town that comes in its way. Many towns and villages like Niaz Beg, Hanjarwal, etc, which were historically well outside the city are now deemed as part of Lahore. However, even after being incorporated by the phenomenon that is Lahore, such places have managed to retain their past, culture and identity as something that is different from the city itself, and that is what makes this new city of Lahore so interesting and endearing. Whereas most of these settlements do not predate Lahore and were never historically as significant as Lahore, there was nonetheless one such locality, which is believed to have existed even before Lahore did. Its significance chronologically exceeds that of Lahore. This town is Ichhra.

In the popular culture Lahore’s origin is tied to the Hindu mythologies. There are historians who argue that before the walled city of Lahore became Lahore, Lahore actually was the locality of Ichhra. A very interesting observation is presented to substantiate the thesis. Mostly what we find in the appellations of the doors of a walled city is that the gates are named after the city which they face. The Delhi darwaza of Lahore is named so because it faces Delhi, so is the case with the Kashmiri darwaza. There has been some controversy regarding the name of the Lohari darwaza. It is argued that the Lohari darwaza points towards Ichhra. Lohari could be a primeval name of Lahore in this case, and Ichhra would be that historical city of Lahore. Continue reading

Unexplored heritage

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. Continue reading

Bradlaugh Hall: A symbol of a revolution

by Haroon Khalid

From 1900 till 1947, for almost half a century the famous Bradlaugh Hall of Lahore situated on the Rettigan road, remained a symbol of Revolution for the entire British India. Charles Bradlaugh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Ajeet Singh, Bhagat Singh, and Jawaharlal Nehru all towering figures of their times have been associated with this hall. What should have been preserved as the museum of political revolution in Lahore lies in shambles near the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences today. There is a huge lock on the entrance of the hall placed there by The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). The gloomier aspect is that not many people of the city today are aware of the political, cultural and social significance of the Bradlaugh Hall. There are a few people who are actually aware of its existence.

Rettigan road in the late 19th century was occupied by massive British bungalows. This was the elite section of the town. Charles Bradlaugh, an English Parliamentarian, advocate of Indian freedom from the British yoke, bought a piece of land here. Bradlaugh unlike his fellow British conservatives belonged to a different school of thought. He was one of the most famous atheists of his time who refused to take the oath on Bible when elected in the Parliament. He was also one of those Parliamentarians who advocated that the Indian people should be allowed to choose their own fate; in the Parliament. His resolution was accepted. Continue reading