Imagining lahore, p.23

Imagining Lahore, page 23


Imagining Lahore

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  Open conflict erupted soon after, when Khurram was informed about the royal treasury being removed from Agra. Capturing the treasury would mean a shift in the balance of power. It is believed that it was once again Nur Jahan who engineered this move with the intention of bringing to the fore the cold war that was being fought between father and son. Strategically, it was Asaf Khan who was given the responsibility of removing the treasury from Agra, thus making sure that the news reached the rebel prince. Khurram fell for the bait and marched towards Agra to capture the royal treasury.

  Mughal forces led by Mahabat Khan, an old friend of the emperor’s, and Prince Parvaiz routed the rebel prince’s army, forcing him to retreat to the Deccan. With the success of Parvaiz under the guidance of Mahabat Khan, a new player had entered the battle of succession, where each of the contestants was supported by powerful allies. Parvaiz’s triumph was short-lived as Nur Jahan, now threatened by the growing power of Mahabat Khan, raised doubts about his loyalty, forcing him to rebel against the emperor. As a result, both the emperor and the empress were captured by Mahabat Khan’s forces.

  Once again it was the genius of Nur Jahan that came to the rescue. Despite being under watch, she managed to reach out to her allies, asking them to prepare a force that would rescue them from Mahabat Khan. The latter was defeated and eventually joined hands with Khurram, abandoning his former protégé, Parvaiz. Isolated and left in the wilderness, Parvaiz died of excessive alcohol consumption in 1626. Some accounts suggest he was poisoned by Khurram. The final battle was to be played out between Prince Shahryar and Khurram, or between Nur Jahan and her brother, Asaf Khan.

  Security officials at the entrance to Jahangir’s mausoleum, just outside the city of Lahore, ensure that no visitor enters without a ticket. Within the complex, there is a sarai, a royal inn, flanking which are the mausoleums of Jahangir and Asaf Khan. While most of the visitors entering with me headed to the mausoleum of the emperor, located in the middle of a vast garden, with four tall minarets at each end of the rectangular building, I headed in the opposite direction, towards the mausoleum of Asaf Khan, who in all practicality ensured Prince Khurram’s ascension to the Mughal throne.

  While the garden around Jahangir’s mausoleum was neatly trimmed, the grass at Asaf Khan’s was overgrown. The mausoleum itself had a dome at its apex, though it had lost the tiles and mosaic that had once covered its facade. Built for the most powerful person in the Mughal court after the emperor, this building once depicted wealth and power. While the mausoleum of Jahangir was regularly looked after, and renovation was under way at the mausoleum of Nur Jahan, the mausoleum of Asaf Khan remained untouched. The kingmaker is not the same as the king.

  Events unfolded quickly following the death of Emperor Jahangir in the hills of Kashmir, from where he was returning after having failed to recuperate from his illness. The empress quickly summoned a meeting of all the powerful nobles, perhaps to garner support for Shahryar to succeed his father. Asaf Khan refused to attend the meeting. Instead, he had her ‘imprisoned’ within her tent. The empress was thus rendered powerless. Despite the surveillance, she is believed to have leaked a message to Shahryar in Lahore urging him to collect soldiers and come to her rescue.

  Hearing about his father’s death, Shahryar declared himself the emperor in Lahore. His greatest advantage at this point was his strategic location—in Lahore, where the royal treasury was located. Taking over, he began distributing wealth to garner support for himself. It is estimated that the prince gave away 70 lakh rupees.42 However, despite his frantic and desperate efforts, he was able to win over only a few nobles. Perhaps if the empress had been close to him, the situation might have turned out differently.

  Meanwhile, Khurram was in the Deccan and at least three months away from Lahore.43 Asaf Khan quickly sent a rider informing him about the emperor’s death and asking him to seize the Mughal throne. Asaf Khan realized that with multiple contestants, he would not be able to hold the Mughal throne without the prince for much longer. It is here that he made his master move.

  On 29 October 1627, Dawar Baksh, Khusrau’s eldest son, was declared emperor of the Mughal empire, supported by Asaf Khan and his allies. They headed towards Lahore where, at a little distance from the city, they confronted the forces of Shahryar and routed them. Shahryar was subsequently captured and blinded. The path was now clear for Khurram to declare himself emperor of the Mughal Empire.

  Having been assured of his imminent coronation, Khurram passed an order to his father-in-law that changed the course of subsequent Mughal successions. Still on his way, Khurram ordered the execution of Shahryar, Dawar Baksh, his brother and the sons of Daniyal, a brother of Emperor Jahangir who had died much earlier.44 Thus, in one blow, all possible claimants to the Mughal throne were eliminated. Never before in the history of the Mughal succession had such an act been committed. A new precedent had been set. It can be said that Aurangzeb was simply following in the footsteps of his father.

  I parked the car in front of a small shrine dedicated to Major Shabbir Sharif, a Pakistani solider who had posthumously received the highest military gallantry award, Nishan-e-Haider, for his heroism during the 1971 war. It was a modest structure, where a few visitors had gathered on a Sunday morning as they came visiting their dead relatives.

  The graveyard, Miani Sahib, the oldest and largest in the city, extends on both sides of the road. There is an entire network of roads within the graveyard spread over several acres. At the edge of the road where I parked, a vendor of rose petals had set up his stall. The fragrance permeated the air as he sprinkled water on them. There were also incense sticks and chadars with Quranic inscriptions that one could offer at the graves or at one of the many shrines that dotted this graveyard.

  Deep within the graveyard, I came across the grave of Dulla Bhatti, a simple cemented structure under an old tree. A board next to it identified its occupant. There was no sign of devotees or visitors, no rotting petals or faded chadars. This was not the grave of a Sufi saint or one of those who, for one reason or another, emerged as Sufi saints after their death, but of a rebel, a landlord from Pindi Bhattian, a town 150 kilometres from Lahore.

  Hanged outside the Delhi Darwaza of Lahore on the orders of Emperor Akbar in 1599, much like his father and grandfather before him who were also executed by the emperor, their bodies left hanging, Dulla Bhatti’s public execution was meant to serve as an example to the people of the city. However, numerous legends narrate how even in the face of death he stood defiantly, cursing and abusing the emperor residing in Lahore Fort.

  Watching the spectacle was the dervish poet of Lahore, Shah Hussain. Many have claimed that he was sympathetic to Dulla’s cause and was his associate. At the time of his execution, he is believed to have engaged in a verbal duel with Ali Malik, the Mughal officer in charge of the execution, who threatened him. Prophetically, Shah Hussain predicted that Ali Malik would be killed by the order of the emperor on the same day.

  Later, when Ali Malik presented himself at the court of the emperor, Akbar ordered him to recall everything the rebel landlord had uttered before his execution. Giving him a verbatim response, Ali Malik recounted all the profanities Dulla Bhatti had intended for the emperor. Offended, the emperor had him executed the same day for responding literally to his question.45

  There is no historical evidence to suggest that Shah Hussain and Dulla Bhatti actually knew each other. What relates them is their rebellion. While Dulla Bhatti rebelled against the political organization of the increasingly centralized Mughal kingdom, Shah Hussain rebelled against religious hegemony. He was a Malamati Sufi, belonging to a particular Sufi tradition that challenges conventional normative societal practices. It throws topsy-turvy notions of purity, halal-haram, the sacred and the profane, religiosity and the lack of it.

  Shah Hussain is believed to have once abandoned his prayer, which he was leading for a congregation of devotees, after coming across a verse from the Quran stating that God is closer to a
believer than one’s jugular vein. If God was closer to him than his jugular vein, then He understands his intention better than him, he rationalized. Why then is there a need to express his love for the Divine through ritualistic obligation?

  Leaving the mosque, he headed straight to a barber, cut his beard, the symbol of his religion, and went to a tavern and got himself a flask of wine, following which he procured for himself a set of ghungroos and began singing and dancing in the streets of Lahore,46 all activities deemed ‘impure’. His songs were immortalized in his verses as folk singers, musicians and other dervishes sang them, from one generation to another, earning him the status of one of the greatest Sufi Punjabi poets along with Baba Farid, Guru Nanak and Bulleh Shah.

  His devotees made him a Sufi saint after his death, turning his grave into a shrine, a symbol of purity, even though he spent his entire life challenging the same notions. In the years to come, he, along with Mian Mir, emerged as the patron saint of Lahore. His annual urs, celebrated in spring, is attended by thousands of people. Here they dance, sing and consume hashish, revering the ‘Sufi saint’ in a non-conventional, non-ritualistic manner, attuned to the philosophy of Shah Hussain.

  In precolonial Lahore, where religious boundaries were fluid and the courtyards of shrines, temples and gurdwaras were shared, the adherence to a non-ritualistic devotional form allowed members of all backgrounds to express their devotion to Shah Hussain in their own particular manner.

  Buried next to Shah Hussain is his beloved Madho Lal, a Hindu boy to whom he is believed to have been devoted. So ‘pure’ is their love that their distinct identities have merged and the shrine is today popularly referred to as ‘Madho Lal Hussain’. This is a popular recurring theme in the Punjabi Sufi tradition, where the devotee and the beloved, seeker and divine, become one, if the love is pure. Using the traditional Punjabi symbols of Heer for the devotee, and Ranjha for the beloved, the divine, Shah Hussain recited the following:

  Calling upon the name of my beloved

  I myself became Ranjha

  Call me Ranjhan for I am no longer Heer

  To devotees who grew up listening to songs of Radha’s devotion to Krishna, Heer-Ranjha appeared as an extension of their own tradition.

  The situation began to change as Lahore ‘modernized’ under the colonial regime. With Western education and an increasingly communal consciousness, the concept of religiosity also changed. Any tradition that diluted religious boundaries came to be looked down upon as an ‘impure’ interpretation. The educated, burgeoning middle class began moving away from such Sufi shrines. Also, Sufi saints who upheld a more conventional interpretation of religion, such as Ali Hujwiri, became prominent in these changing times. Reflecting the changing sensibilities of the city, Data Darbar became the most popular shrine of Lahore, supplanting that of Shah Hussain.

  In contemporary Lahore and across Punjab, Shah Hussain has a unique significance and has been a symbol for leftists critical of the hegemonic role that Punjab plays and the conservative interpretation of religion for political ends. He is celebrated by various Punjabi nationalist groups, such as the Punjabi Adabi Board, a conglomeration of progressive Punjabi writers, poets and intellectuals. Every year on the occasion of his urs, along with malangs and dervishes, there is also a small presence of leftist intellectuals at his shrine.

  In a similar manner, Dulla Bhatti too has acquired relevance in the contemporary context as a symbol of Punjabi nationalism, which has been overshadowed by a Pakistani identity. Dulla Bhatti is someone who draws together the different religious groups residing in Punjab. Along with Muslims, he is also celebrated by Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus. Much like Shah Hussain, Guru Nanak, Baba Farid and Bulleh Shah, he is a symbol of a Punjabi identity, predating its Pakistani construct. While the latter otherizes, the former brings together distinct religious traditions under one umbrella.

  Every winter, on the occasion of Lohri in Punjab (not in Pakistan, though), which is celebrated in the middle of January as the indigenous month of Poh concludes and Maghi begins, people gather around bonfires in their villages and communities and sing songs of Dulla Bhatti’s bravery. These are tales of his exploits—how he robbed the corrupt Mughal nobility and distributed the spoils among the poor. These are tales of how he salvaged the ‘honour’ of young girls from lecherous powerful men, about how he became their godfather and organized their weddings.

  The most popular of these songs tells the story of Sundri and Mundri, two Brahmin sisters. It narrates how a local landlord once caught sight of them and expressed his desire to marry them against the wishes of the sisters and their father. The distressed father approached Dulla Bhatti, who became their godfather and married them off elsewhere. Another popular version of this folk story is that it was Emperor Akbar who fell in love with the beautiful girls and wanted them in his harem. Dulla Bhatti came to their rescue and had them married to suitable grooms on the occasion of Lohri, blatantly defying the emperor.47

  Sundri Mundriye

  Who will save you poor one

  Dulla Bhatti is here for you

  The Dulla married off his daughter48

  There are several such apocryphal folk narratives that talk about how Dulla Bhatti, a landlord from Pindi Bhattian, humbled the mighty Mughal emperor on numerous occasions. Once, it is said, Akbar was passing through a forest in Dulla Bhatti’s area and was captured by his forces. He was brought to the landlord’s court, but instead of saying that he was the emperor, Akbar insisted that he was only the court jester. Through this pretence, Akbar managed to save his life. On another occasion, it is said, Dulla Bhatti’s forces got hold of Prince Salim. Dulla Bhatti let him go, saying that his battle was with the emperor and not his son.49

  These might be folk tales with little historical credibility, but they do reflect the devotion the people of Punjab felt for Dulla Bhatti and the pride they took in his bravado in the face of the mighty Mughal Empire. A similar folk narrative suggests that he grew up with Salim, raised by his mother, Ladhi. When Prince Salim was born, after a lot of prayers, a soothsayer predicted that for him to become a powerful leader, he needed to be fed milk by a Rajput woman who had given birth on the same day.50 It turned out that Dulla Bhatti, a Rajput, was born on the same day and hence Salim was handed over to his mother, Ladhi, with several gifts.

  Perhaps the emperor was trying to achieve a dual benefit from this arrangement. The landlords of Pindi Bhattian had been in a state of rebellion against the Mughal Empire for two generations. Both Sandal Bhatti and Farid Bhatti, Dulla’s grandfather and father respectively, had lost their lives fighting Akbar. In this manner, it seemed Akbar wanted to win the loyalty of this family.

  As Salim and Dulla grew up in the same house, Ladhi kept the family’s weapons locked away in a room, never letting Dulla know how his father and grandfather had lost their lives. The story further suggests that while Salim thrived in academics, Dulla was better at physical exercise. Sitting on a tree, a young Dulla would aim for the pitchers of women with his catapult. Once, when he broke one, the woman mocked him saying that instead of exhibiting his bravery on these harmless pitchers, he should avenge the death of his father and grandfather. A distraught Dulla reached home, where his mother reluctantly opened the locked door. Thus began Dulla’s rebellion.51

  Folk tales apart, historians have identified the rebellion of the Bhatti clan to be a result of the centralization of the Mughal Empire. The nascent empire, bequeathed to a thirteen-year-old Akbar on the death of his father, was, towards the end of the sixteenth century, expanding in all directions. After throwing off the yoke of his advisers, Akbar embarked upon a process of military expansionism that made the Mughal Empire one of the greatest of its time. He began with extending it over Rajputana, followed by Gujarat and Bengal. After his success in the east he headed west, as Kashmir and parts of Baluchistan fell under his sway. The Deccan was added to the empire towards the end of his life.

  As it expanded in all directions, the empire needed a
new mechanism that would allow a powerful emperor to control such a vast territory. Akbar opened up the Mughal court to Rajput and other Hindu nobles, much to the chagrin of his Central Asian brethren.52 He began to patronize the eclectic Chisti Sufi order, paving the way for the religious syncretism that came to define the Mughal court. He abolished the jizya tax and revoked the pilgrimage tax on Hindus. Land grants were awarded to scholars of all religions, while Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and other non-Muslim scholars were invited to the court for discussions.

  It is for these reasons that Akbar today is imagined to be a champion of religious tolerance, the opposite of Aurangzeb. There are, however, several recorded events that undermine this ‘tolerant’ image. The emperor was known to project himself as an orthodox Sunni leader as well. For example, his Rajasthan campaign was referred to as jihad, holy war, to remove ‘signs of infidelity’.53 Throughout the 1560s there were various incidents when the emperor gave permission to forcibly convert certain non-Muslims. Members of a heterodox Islamic sect called Mahdawi were persecuted. Many puritanical Sunni clerics such as Makhdum ul-Mulk Abdullah Sultanpuri and Shaikh Abdun Nabi were patronized. His anti-Shiite sentiment, at least during the early years of his rule, was exhibited when in 1567 he ordered the exhumation of the body of Murtaza Sharif, a Shiite scholar, from an enclosure next to the mausoleum of the famous poet Amir Khusrau in Delhi.54

  Explaining these contradictions, Munis D. Faruqui, an expert on Mughal history, has suggested that Akbar often resorted to his traditional Sunni credentials when he felt threatened by his half-brother, Mirza Hakim, who had declared a parallel empire in Kabul and posed a threat, if not militarily then ideologically, to the emerging Mughal Empire under Akbar.

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