Tag Archives: Punjabi

100 Years Ago Today: The Lahore Division takes the field at Battle of Ypres

Soldiers of the Lahore Division of Britain’s colonial Indian Army went into action in Belgium for the first time on October 24th 1914. CN writer Christopher J. Harvie discusses a critical moment in the First Battle of Ypres.

Lahore Division

Eventually contributing over one million troops, the British Indian Army would become the largest source of volunteers from the Empire. The first units to the Western Front in 1914, parts of the Indian Corps of Indian Expeditionary Force A, arrived at a most desperate moment.

In two months of open warfare costly battles had been fought back and forth in the hinterlands of France and Belgium. Constant contact had worn the armies down, shrunk their reserves of manpower and turned the war into not much more than a grappling match.

Ypres became a grinding battle of willpower more than anything else.  Through heavy rains along ground already wet and miserable and days growing colder, villages, woods and shallow trenches were taken and retaken.  For almost four weeks of assaults and counter attacks, wearied men on both sides continued to hammer away at each other in a dogged and brutal fashion.

(“First Light of Dawn”, author’s post If Ye Break Faith)

Gone by this point were the sweeping, grand manoeuvres of large armies in the field. The conflict had now devolved to isolated skirmishes, both sides attempting to probe for the weak link that would open the ground wide again.

By mid-October, the low-lying, difficult terrain of Belgian Flanders was the only place remaining where either the Germans or the Allies might break through. The remainder of the front had settled into mutual defensive works or would be deliberately flooded by order of the Belgian King. To date, the BEF had incurred 57,000 casualties and in some places around the Ypres area of operations were so depleted as to be at a 12:1 numerical disadvantage.

India Arrives

On October 20th 1914, the Indian Cavalry Corps with the 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) Divisions began to reach the front. With an immediate need to shore up the thinly held salient, the 3rd Division, having arrived first, was broken up. Individual brigades and battalions were sent where they were most needed. The Division would be blooded almost simultaneously in three separate engagements at La Bassée, Messines and Armentières.

Despite the home garrison being in the predominantly Punjab city of Lahore, which is now within Pakistan, the 3rd Division (referred to by its nominative “Lahore Division” on the Western Front to avoid confusion with the BEF’s 3rd Division) was composed of battalions of wide backgrounds including men of Baloch, Dogra, Ghurkha, Pathan, Punjabi and Sindhi heritage.  It came into its pre-war organisation during Kitchener’s reforms of the Indian Army in 1904, as part of Northern Command, with the Jullundur, Sirhind and Ambala brigades

“Where is my Division?”

The deconstruction of the Lahore Division wasn’t a discourtesy; at this point larger formations were of little use and these troops as with some British units became detached and used as “flying squads” to shore up the line during a very fluid situation. Lieutenant General Wilcox, GOC Indian Corps, noted in his diary in late October how the Division was taken apart:

“Where is my Lahore Division? Sirhind Brigade detained in Egypt. Ferozepore Brigade: somewhere in the north, split up into three or four bits. Jullundur Brigade: Manchesters gone south to (British) 5 Division (this disposes of only British unit) 47th Sikhs: Half fighting with some British division; half somewhere else! 59th Rifles and 15th Sikhs:In trenches 34th Pioneers (divisional troops) also in trenches 15th Lancers: In trenches. Two companies of Sappers and Miners fighting as infantry with British divisions. Divisional Headquarters: Somewhere?

(With the Indians in France, London: Constable, 1920)

With his brigades stretched so far apart and attached to other commands, General Wilcox was a Corps commander without a corps to command.

No Reserves

The soldiers of the Division had grown a domestic reputation as formidable warriors. Now as they entered a European battlefield for the first time, they proved themselves deserving. Desperately outnumbered and under pressure of constant German attacks, the Lahore Division in the localities it was set to defend held ground and went into counter attacks which helped solidify the British line outside of Ypres, the critical rail and road juncture of Flanders whose possession could dictate a heavy advantage.

Britain had no reserves ready to deploy. The Regulars were all but spent, most of the Territorial’s were still assembling and the large volunteer force to become known as “Kitchener’s Armies” had barely begun to train. The addition in late October 1914 of two trained and motivated divisions quite possibly staved the disaster of collapse at Ypres. By month’s end the Indian Corps had suffered 1,565 casualties.

For Valour

Not two weeks after his 26th birthday, Sepoy Khudadad Khan and his machine gun team were facing a severe German attack, October  31st 1914. He remained at his post despite wounds and the loss of the other men of his detachment,  keeping his gun firing-the only remaining machine gun in action- only leaving after the enemy had bypassed his position believing him dead. For his actions, Sepoy Khudadad was awarded the Victoria Cross, the Empire’s highest award, himself being the first South Asian recipient of the decoration.

“The Jewel of Punjab”

Today, Lahore is the capital city of Punjab Province in Pakistan, known affectionately as “The Jewel of Punjab.” It lies close to the border with India. The city was a place of contention and violence during partition in 1947  but exists now as a thriving commercial and cultural centre.

This article was originally published in Centenary News

‘I belong to Ranjha’ – the syncreticism of Lahore’s Shah Hussain

Raza Rumi

I am cross posting my piece here.

Lahore, the ancient city of Loh, the age-old halt for invaders, is also the home to eclectic Sufis. Men and women who shed conventions and discovered newer planes of spirituality found a home in this city. The merging of centuries’ old Indus valley bastion – the Punjab and its primordial language – with core strands of Islamic Sufism was a unique moment in South Asia’s cultural evolution. And, no one can better represent the composite soul of Lahore than its poet and Sufi master Shah Hussain, whose identity has forever fused with his Hindu disciple Madhu Lal. Those who seek Lahore’s Mela Chiraghaan or Festival of Lights still frequent the 16th century shrine of Madhu Lal Hussain.

Shah Hussain’s father, Shaykh Usman, was a loom weaver, and his grandfather Kaljas Rai (Kalsarai) was a convert to Islam who gained the confidence of the state during the reign of Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Shah Hussain Lahori was born in 1538 AD near Taxali Gate, Lahore. His early religious education was followed by induction into the Qadiriya order by Hazrat Bahlul Daryavi at a very young age. As a devout Muslim in his early years, he gained a formal outward knowledge and imbibed the spiritual moorings of Lahore, including the blessings of Hazrat Usman Ali Hajvery, aka Data Saheb, whose shrine has guided scores of saints, fakirs and yogis for nearly a millennium.

Read the full post here

Savign Punjab on Punjabi connection (a must-visit blog)

A dear friend and a former colleague Sukhie has started a lovely blog that brings together the Punjabi connections spread far and wide. This new post is worth a look:

Saving Punjab
A Sikh architect is helping to preserve cultural sites in the north Indian state still haunted by 1947’s heart-wrenching Partition

* By Geoffrey C. Ward
* Photographs by Raghu Rai
* Smithsonian magazine, September 2009

Read more here

First Gurmukhi course concludes

First Gurmukhi course concludes
By Ali Usman
LAHORE: The graduates of the first Gurmukhi Certificate Course were awarded certificates on Wednesday after the completion of the course at the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (PILAAC).
The Gurmukhi Learning Certificate Course – the first course of its kind in Pakistan to teach the Gurmukhi script of Punjabi commenced at the institute last month. Some 35 students were registered for the course, of which 21 qualified the final examination. Gurmukhi is the universal script used for writing Punjabi, and is quite close to the Hindi script. In Pakistan, the Shahmukhi script (also called the Persian script by some) is used for writing Punjabi.
The aim of the course was to equip the students with the basic skills of Gurmukhi and making them able to read and write the script. The course instructor was eminent Punjabi scholar Jameel Paul. Speaking at the ceremony, Paul said Gurmukhi was the universal script for writing Punjabi. He said there were around 100,000 Punjabi websites, and only two used the Shahmukhi script for the language. He said by learning this script, the poetry of great Sufi poets like Baba Fareed, Shah Hussain, Waris Shah and Bulleh Shah could be written in Gurmukhi and the people living in Eastern Punjab could learn about this rich Punjabi treasure. PILAAC Director Dr Abbass Najmi said the institute would keep organising such courses in future.
First Gurmukhi course concludes
By Ali Usman
LAHORE: The graduates of the first Gurmukhi Certificate Course were awarded certificates on Wednesday after the completion of the course at the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (PILAAC).  Continue reading

The splendours of Anarkali (Lahore)

Thanks to Isa, I have found this video. A must see for all those who can understand Punjabi and appreciate the nuances of Lahore and its magic. The poem is entitled Tu ki janay bholiyae majay anarkali diyan shanan. This is a humourous poem in an earthy tone using folklore.

A lost legacy – Ustad Daman’s Dera in Lahore

Ustad Daman’s Dera was regularly visited by the intellectuals of his time who would mix with the masses — a culture missing these days

By Ammar Ali Jan

A tiny room below a mosque in the midst of the infamous Bazaar-e-Husn. The empty room is filled with only two chairs and a bed with spider webs visible all around. No sign or tribute on the entire street for those who lived and visited this room-cum-house. Yet, it is this house that witnessed one of the giants of Sufi tradition, Shah Hussain, as well as the legendary Punjabi poet of the 20th century Ustad Daman.

The room, which is now called ‘Ustad Daman Academy’ has great historical significance for the cultural scene in Lahore. Shah Hussain resided in it and wrote much of his poetry from here. In those days, it was known as Hujra-e-Shah Hussain, named after the great Sufi poet.

Later, Shah Hussain left the house in pursuit of the Sufi way. However, during Ustad Daman’s life, this place reached mythical popularity with artists, poets, writers and common people all of who visited this place frequently.

Some of the bigwigs that have been to this place include Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib, Akhtar Sain, Qamar Yorash, actor Moahammad Ali, ‘Queen of Melody’ Noor Jahan besides many others. The culture that developed at Ustad Daman’s place included not only renowned thinkers, but also common people who would come to share ideas with those who had accomplished many milestones in their respective fields. Continue reading

Surjit Singh Lamba arrives in Lahore

From the Daily Times

LAHORE: Indian writer and poet Surjit Singh Lamba, the first non-Muslim to publish an Urdu book, Quran-e- Natiq, arrived in the city on Saturday evening.

Lamba, a great admirer of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, published his first book, Nazre Khusro, in 1975. The book contains Amir Khusro’s Persian ghazals translated in Urdu, which is a rare and pioneer work in Urdu literature.

He published his second Urdu book, Quran-e-Natiq, in which he highlighted the message of love and unity of mankind – preached and practiced by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Literary circles all over the world have praised the book.

The Urdu Academy, Delhi, has given ‘Linguistic Integrity Award’ to Lamba for the book in 2004. He has done intensive research on Iqbaliat and Islamiat and has delivered extempore lectures in India, Pakistan; and the US – fostering universal brotherhood and interfaith harmony. Continue reading

Mela Chiraghan starts today

From the NEWS

MELA Chiraghan (the festival of lamps) will start Saturday (today) at the shrine of Hazrat Shah Hussain (RA), adjacent to the Shalamar Bagh.

It is one of grand events in the provincial capital and hundreds of thousands of devotees from all over the country take part in the festivity. Traditionally, devotees light Chiraghs (lamps) at the shrine.

Shah Hussain, commonly known as the poet of love, was born in 1538 AD. He was a radical thinker and his poetry and writing spellbind the audience at the shrine illuminated by thousands of lamps and candles.

“Mai ne Main Kinon Aakhan,” “Mahi Mahi Kookdi”, “Rabba Meray Hal Da Mehram Toon”, “Mandi Han Kay Changi Han Sahab Teri Bandi Han” and “Mein Vi Jhok Ranjhan Di Jana Nal Meray Koi Challay” are among some of his famous kafees.

He was the first Punjabi Sufi poet whose writings were a mixture of five languages i.e. Punjabi, Pothohari, Hindi, Persian and Arabic. His kafees are so simple that one understands his message without any difficulty. “Knowing God by knowing ourselves” is the main theme of his poetry. His work is romantic and has all symbols of rich romantic traditions.

Dr Mohan Singh Diwana collected 163 of his kafees and according to his findings, Shah Hussain was a true scholar and intellectual. Some researchers wrote that Guru Nanak was the first poet who wrote kafees in Punjabi language but, the kafees of Shah Hussain, Bullhey Shah, Sachal Sarmast, Khawaja Ghulam Farid and Pir Qutab Ali Shah are gems of Punjabi literature. The present marble-domed memorial of the Sufi, situated at Baghbanpura, near the Shalamar Gardens, does not appear to be old. It is said that after his death in 1599 AD, Shah Hussain was buried at Shahdara, situated on the western bank of the Ravi. But a few years later, the tomb was swept away by a flood. Then, it was shifted to the present site.

About 50 years ago, the festival was held on the lawns of the Shalamar Gardens, but the government of Ayub Khan banned it and it was shifted to the shrine of Madhu, a disciple of Lal Hussain. His kafees have been sung by lovers of Sufi poetry for centuries. His poetry will continue to mesmerise the next generations with its message of peace and love.

Drummers perform at the shrine and youths and women dance to a deafening beat. Besides the grave of Shah Hussain under the same dome, there is a grave of Madhu Lal, a son of a Hindu Brahmin, with whom the saint was deeply attached. Therefore, a large number of Hindus also come to attend his Urs.

Devotees, sitting in and around the shrine, attribute a number of karamat (miracles) to Shah Hussain. One may or may not believe them, but none can deny the literary genius of the saint. Even today, his poetry attracts a great audience.

The festival attracts a large number of artistes who sing his kafees and dance to the drums. Locals said the shrine was a focal point for celebrating Basant before partition. Maharaja Ranjit Singh used to celebrate the festival of Basant at the tomb. Once, Maharaja gave robes of honour to all his cabinet members and ordered them to reach the tomb in Basanti dresses. The infantry was ordered to dress in the same colour and stand on both sides of the road from the Fort to the tomb.

One of the attractions of the festival is its bazaar. In the past, it was a major point of buying and selling, but presently it has been reduced to the sale of general goods, toys, edibles, garments and bangles.

“On the first day of the Mela, processions which come to pay homage to the great saint are worth seeing, especially after dusk. One is possessed by the drumbeat and feels like dancing dhamaal with dervishes,” Muhammad Naeem, a resident of Gujranwala, said. He said he come to Lahore to attend the festival every year.

“I came from Nawabshah with my family to participate in the festival,” a half-naked young man, sitting beside a small fire, said. He was wearing chains of big and small stones and putting ash on his body. He said he and his group worshipped fire and they attended the festival every year.

Hundreds of people were sitting in the graveyard around the shrine, while a large number of people were also seen sleeping on the graves. Tents were erected in the open place around the shrine where hundreds of people, mostly youths, were openly smoking Charas and drinking Bhang. Some were filling cigarettes with Charas, some were puffing at them and others were preparing Bhang. The festival will continue till Monday.


In response to a question by Danish Mustafa I am posting this fabulous article by a leading scholar-poet found here.
By: Najm Hosain Syed

From his book: Recurrent Patterns In Punjabi Poetry

In the new Lahore lies buried Shah Husain and with him lies buried the myth of Lal Husain. Still, at least once a year we can hear the defused echoes of the myth. As the lights glimmer on the walls of Shalamar, the unsophisticated rhythms of swinging bodies and exulting voices curiously insist on being associated with Husain. This instance apparently defies explanation. But one is aware that an undertone of mockery pervades the air – released feet mocking the ancient sods of Shalamar and released voices mocking its ancient walls. Husain too, the myth tells us, danced a dance of mockery in the ancient streets of Lahore. Grandson of a convert weaver, he embarrassed every one by aspiring to the privilege of learning what he revered guardians of traditional knowledge claimed to teach.

Then again, fairly late in life, he embarrassed every one by refusing to believe in the knowledge he had received from others, and decided to know for himself. He plucked the forbidden fruit anew.

The myth of Lal Husain has lived a defused, half-conscious life in the annual Fare of Lights. The poetry of shah Husain which was born out of common songs of the people of the Punjab has kept itself alive by becoming a part of those very songs. In recent past, the myth of Madhu Lal Husain and the poetry of Husain have come to be connected. But the time for the myth to become really alive in our community is still to come.

Husain s poetry consists entirely of short poems known as “Kafis.” A typical Husain Kafi contains a refrain and some rhymed lines. The number of rhymed lines is usually from four to ten. Only occasionally a more complete form is adopted. To the eye of a reader, the structure of a “Kafi” appears simple. But the “Kafis” of Husain are not intended for the eye. They are designed as musical compositions to be interpreted by the singing voice. The rhythm in the refrain and in the lines are so balanced and counterpointed as to bring about a varying, evolving musical pattern. Continue reading