…on the trail of a literary giant
…and a magnificent temple
It was one of the days from the signature foggy spell that envelopes and obscures mainland Punjab during late December to early February. It was definitely not a day for inter-city driving, but I had to bid farewell to Multan and join Lahore office the next day. It was not at all a day to deviate from the main highway and explore some forgotten route or landmark, a luxury I do treat myself with, while driving on long routes. But the opportunity that offered itself to me at the gates of Multan, was all enchanting, and ‘tucking it under the carpet’ on that fateful day would have been sheer sin. Javed, a partner from Multan was willing to travel with me, and Javed, dear readers, hails from Malka Hans, one forgotten town on Sahiwal – Pakpattan road. I knew Malka Hans with the scripting references to a Punjabi language giant. These were the very grounds where the seeds were sown for an ever enchanting and epic poetic tale. This was the place associated with Heer of Waris Shah, for the latter chose it to be his abode to deliberate on and compile the former. The air was already drenched with the folk aroma and my eardrums were resonating with the enchanting hymns from Heer as I welcomed Javed to be my travel companion and we set out on a journey into the foggy haze of Punjab through the very mist of times.
Just outside Multan’s borders, in the wee hours of the day, a thick blanket of dense fog enveloped us. It will not be an understatement if I say
گاڑی کو گاڑی توکیا سڑک تک سُجھائی نہیں دے رہی تھی
(the plying traffic aside, even the road weren’t visible to the eye!). Driving just under 40, we were on a constant guard, and later on I was to realize that we didn’t do anything, not even conversing, until the first halt was made. Just ahead of Mian Channu, we surrendered to the urge of a warm and cozy breakfast at a wayside ‘truck-driver’ hotel. Lavishing a treat of anda and tandoory paratha, it was when we were sipping the blissful siplets of tea (and in Urdu it shall get translated as جب ہم چائے کی سُرکیاں لگا رہے تھـے), talked about the impending trip and the broad outline of ‘Malka Hans Excursion’. The warmth of the breakfast had energized us to resume the journey with a new zeal. There was slight improvement in the visibility and as we got relieved from ‘lookout on the toes’ posture, Javed opened up. He talked about his native place, in carefully selected knowledge packets and an enticing tone that kept my appetite endearing to embrace the place. It was a bit before noon that we arrived at Sahiwal and took the road leading to Pakpattan. Post Sahiwal, it was a little over 20 minutes drive to the destination. In it’s profile, Malka Hans appeared to be just another village on the inter-city routes in rural Punjab. Here my readers, who are fond of history, would differ with me and to honour them we shall have a brief preview from the layered folds of the past, and dear readers, I promise it will be brief.
Malka Hans has been the territory of Hans tribe, which saw its true rising during the times of Alamgir in 17th century CE. The area between Sutlej and Ravi was called Nakka Country. Aain e Akbari gives us a scanty detail of this area which was called the suba of Multan that included Multan itself, Dipalpur and further up north-west Degh Ravi. In Nakka country, a little north west of Pakpattan, Hans resided as simple zamindars. We are told that it was in the court of Alamgir that a learned man, Sheikh Kutb Hans attained some influence as a teacher. Alamgir is said to have bestowed upon Sheikh Kutb, a Sanad and several villages as Jaagir that formed part of the Taluka of Kutbabad (a site little south of present day Malka Hans). Kutbabad with the fertility of three streams of Para, Sohag and Dhaddar added to the riches of Sheikh Kutb who grew in money and power. During the decline of the Mughal Emplire, Hans became more of independent rulers like other clans in the region. It was during this time, around mid of 18th century CE, that Waris Shah, a great Punjabi poet is believed to have arrived in Malka Hans. Waris Shah, during his stay here was to compose Heer, to be regarded as a milestone in Punjabi literature. The Hans rule on the area was first interrupted during the invasion of Multan by Hari Singh. It was later to be occupied by the Baharwal Sikhs, who in the garb of assisting Hans in their fight with the Dewaan of Pakpattan took over the Hans territory. There was yet another brief rule of the Hans till the area was taken up by the Nakkai Sikhs and was later annexed by Ranjit Singh. As Punjab was eventually taken over by (East India) Company Bahadur, Malka Hans was ceded to be part of the Lahore Government.
I was ‘family guest’ of Javed in Malka Hans, a status that transported me directly to the bethak of their ancestral house, and somehow invisibly initiated a never ending sequence of welcome pleasantries, and in a village, dear reader, it gets translated into only one thing, infinite and plentiful courses of edibles constantly landing on your plate, that you don’t have an option to refuse, not even politely. We had to extricate ourselves from the ‘homecoming hospitality’ in order to secure time for the sole purpose of my excursion into that country, visiting the very sole of Malka Hans. Javed’s friends accompanied us through the winding maze of streets as we arrived at our landmark, a mosque; a mosque associated with a giant from Punjabi literature, the mosque of Waris Shah. Waris Shah’s Mosque was a three domed structure that contained the original architectural base, though the outer face was glazed by the recent tile work that had almost entirely obscured the original colours of the façade. On the inside, the prayer court gets naturally divided into three chambers by the giant arches of the overlying domes. The mosque had a simple and elegant structure. Back in the times of Waris Shah it must have been a social and religious hub for the people of the village. People who flocked the mosque courtyard whenever the great poet came out to recite the couplets, couplets from an enchanting symphony of words, a symphony he composed in the seclusion of a room attached to the mosque, now very dearly preserved as Hujra Waris Shah. It was in all humility that I stepped inside the Hujra…
Here, before describing to my readers as to what actually stood there, I shall first write a few lines about what I would have loved to discover. I had imagined a room of sun baked bricks, confined to some narrowed down measurements, allowing nothing more than a semi darkness to prevail. A window on the side not facing the sun, through which the sunlight trickled, illuminating a sitting space curled up around the window. A sitting space that would move towards a corner by the nightfall to become the writing platform, above which hung an alcove ornately carved into the wall to accommodate an oil lamp. Bedding mat neatly rolled up to one side facing a wooden writing deck decorated with the writing accessories; the quills and scrolls and the nib-dips. The ever enveloping dimness of the exterior being an ideal setting to stimulate an inner imagination. The twilight of a flickering lamp creating an aura under which the masterpieces are born; masterpieces like the “Heer of Waris Shah”. Dear reader, I must confess that my imagination was interrupted by a room that had been completely recycled. The newer version wore, in quite a ‘modern’ style, the formula of concrete, cement plaster and the tiles glazed in the shining bright shade of white. The ground level was raised through the times as layer after layer of earth had piled up making the hujra more like an underground bunker almost two levels down the surface. Having encountered the flight of down-winding stairs one comes across the actual room which indeed has narrow confines. The floor was carpeted and had a prayer mat laid almost in the center, and was devoid of any furniture or features.The only compensation was a window towards the corner, surviving with some ancient aesthetics. A window, dear reader, that has been a source of sunlight and our imagination as described a few lines above. Atop the hujra, at ground level is constructed another room, the entrance of which announces the recent renovation (distasteful recycling would be a more appropriate expression here) as part of a political stunt, local bodies type. The tiled patterns on the walls do bear a few of the couplets from “Heer”. In quite a contrast to visiting the workroom of an avid writer and poet, one encounters the arrangements as if visiting a shrine. Nevertheless, some compensation (if it is the right word to describe) was found as Javed and I visited the small library of the mosque and discovered a photocopied version of the Heer compiled by Waris Shah in manuscript. The original version, ironically has been taken away by the Punjab Archaeology Department (god knows why) to be confined to a place inaccessible to general public.
As we strolled our way around the mosque and hujra of Waris Shah, I caught a glimpse of a temple shikhara that was quite prominent just across the rows of intervening houses. At first sight it gave itself away as some ancient Hindu temple, and here, one of Javed’s friends intervened to inform me that the place was an old temple-residence complex of a Hindu merchant from the times of Waris Shah. The real twist in the tale was the daughter of the merchant named Bhag Bhari, who inspired our saint Waris Shah through her looks and was herself inspired by him. Bhag Bhari in a way, became the inspiration of the magnificent story of Heer compiled by Waris Shah. As the tale was being told, I got the clues that the events were inspired by the screening of one of the recent Punjabi films of Indian origin. Regardless of Bhag Bhari and her presumed role in the qissa of Heer, I was more inclined to explore that temple cum residential compound that must have had a history to unfold. The giant temple was found to be an evacuee property now, divided into compartments with different allotees residing within its confines. The general verdict was that we might not be welcome by the people to come in and explore the ruins of our interest. Here Javed came to our big rescue; inspired by the confidence of his fathers department (Mahkma e Auqaaf to be precise) we were welcomed as the department reps for a swift survey to check the present state of the temple features. As we stood by the main entrance to the temple compound, I was captivated by this magnificent jharoka on the upper story just above the gate. As we were ushered inside, a world of magnificence and finesses was to embrace us. It was a huge building covering an area a little less than a hundred acres. They say, at its glorious times it was a five story structure, but now what we saw was a two story building, with the top floor crumbling and almost in shatters. The main attraction was the exquisite wooden artwork and the floral patterns with elegant carvings and paint. Just above the entrance to the inner chamber was a balcony with extensive wooden carvings of the mythological characters. On the inner side by the wall were these pictures depicting scenes from the shastras with their colours faded to time. The rooftop of the adjoining structures leading to the balcony had collapsed and in order to capture the faded colours I had to display some balancing skills coupled with the stability of camera zoom.
As we crossed the main chamber and entered another household, it was discovered to belong to a friend of Javed’s friends and we embraced a ‘warm welcome’. In this compound were two prominent structures; the temple shikhara, a giant three story tower and the main shrine of the temple that was reported to be a samadhi of one Daya Ram who was in turn reported as the founder of the Parnami sect of Hindus). The samadh had lost itself to the cruel hands of time and neglect. Even within the confines of a household, it was strange to note that the walls could not survive the cruelty of graffiti that had blasphemously molested it. The building with its ancient walls, the floral frescos with faded yet bright and deep colours, the wooden frames, facades, jaharokas and murals stood there in all exquisite detail. With or without the colorful story of Bhag Bhari, the temple had its own beauty and a captivating trance and in that, dear reader, it was worth a thousand journeys. Though without much of the historical references, this temple-complex gets popularly mentioned as Parnami Mandir. S A Sherazi in his blog on Malka Hans mentions that this temple was built by one Mahant Darbara Singh sometime during late 17th or early 18th century CE. This place is also reputed to have housed a grand boarding school (a paathshala) for religious students from the old times. People in their conversations still narrate the tales of a grand annual festival that used to be housed at the temple until a few years after the partition.
The fog started to have a dense descent again as I was preparing to resume my journey by the ‘sundown’ (the term is used just for the sake of expression as the day had not seen the face of sun even for the slightest lapse of time). I had plans to split my journey at Okara if the visibility did not permit me a drive through and through to Lahore. Ahead of Sahiwal, the road proved to be very kind to me and I embraced Lahore a little short of midnight. That night as I entered the gates of Lahore, I did that half heartedly as a part of my soul was left behind near Pakpattan. In the days to come I was to revisit again and again, the ancient town of Malka Hans in my thoughts and dreams. I have been so grateful to Javed all this time, and as I write these culminating lines, in all humility pay my gratitude to that dear friend for having me set up with his native place. For now I know, dear reader, and I know it with one certainty, that in the heartlands of Punjab as you take up the route from Sahiwal to Pakpattan, there is this exquisite abode named Malka Hans. I have seen it and I have relived it whenever I have listened to the Heer of Waris Shah, and whenever I have appreciated the aesthetics of ancient architecture. And I shall keep reliving that beauty for, dear reader, it’s a joy forever…