Tag Archives: Kasur

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.

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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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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