Tag Archives: Shah Jahan

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.



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.

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