Punjabi Heroes that History Forgot

Nazar Khan November 16, 2003

Punjab is one of the earliest civilizations (Indus valley 4-5000 BC) which had well planned streets and a drainage systems. The Aryan (1500 BC) are said to have destroyed this civilization. But the Caucasian Aryans did improve the pigment of the dark skinned

local Dasas and introduced horse and chariot to Punjab. Except for the elephant, we still continue to have all those possession in our villages intact till today - churkha, dhol, earthen ware and ox-cart. Those were the days of the Mahabharta and Ramayana.

Punjab has always been a place of small independent principalities and villages living quietly in their own agrarian way of life. The waters of five rivers irrigated its fertile lands providing a stable means of livelihood. But this prosperity invariably proved to be a liability when its peace was broken by the outside invaders – both from the East and from the West. While the rulers often did cave in easily, brave Punjabis did rise and fight for their land. This is the story of those heroes whom our history has forgotten.

When Alexander (325 BC) wanted to cross river Jhelum, he had to face Poros from Mandi Bahauddin. Poros fought bravely. But eventually, Alexander’s horses won against the Poros’s elephants. Thereafter, they became friends. Alexander finally crossed Jhelum hundreds of miles South at Athara Hazari. For some reason, while the Punjabis still name their sons after Alexander, I have yet to hear some one called Poros. Thereafter, Punjab became a part of the Eastern empires of Chandra Gupta and Ashoka with Taxila becoming a center of Buddhism.

As centuries roll by, we hear about the two folk heroes of Punjab - Raja Rasalu and Puran Bhagat, sons of the Raja of Sialkot (100-200 AD). Raja Rasalu was a handsome prince who dallied with the pretty maidens, went hunting, killed giants, robbed the rich and gave it to the poor. He had a horse ’’fauladi’’ and a parrot ’’Shadi’’ always resting on his shoulder. Puran, the younger brother was more saintly. He rebuffs the advances of his mother-in-law, Leena, and leaves home. He becomes a symbol of goodness and is called Puran Bhagat. And so as the history moves on, Punjab is again broken up into small principalities until conquered by the Gupta empire around 400 AD. This is time of the Puranas.

The next intruders are the Iraqi Arabs (Ommayeds and Abbasis (712 AD) who capture Southern Punjab upto Multan. They rule for 150 years; but Islam comes to Punjab much later through the non-Arab Sufi saints of Turk, Persian and Afghan origin.

After the Arabs, Mahmud of Ghazni (1018 AD) descends from the North West. Raja Jaypal of Shahi Dynasty faces him at Attock. Mahmud has 1500 horses and Jaypal has 300 elephants. It is a bloody fight where Jaypal loses. But Jaypal’s sense of honour and pride is such that instead of returning to Attock, he chooses to burn himself at the funeral pyre. As Mahmood advances, he shows no mercy even the Muslim states of Multan and Talamba. His Turko-Afghan successors like Qutbudin Aiback, Altimush and Razia Sultana are better; and during their time, art and literature flourishes. These are the times of Guru Nanak and Kabir. Data Gunj Bakhsh comes to Lahore with Mahmud Ghazni’s son, who was governor of Lahore.

The next invader Taimur (1370 AD) is held by Shaikha Ghakkar, the Chiefton of Salt Range. Shaikha fights bravely but Taimur prevails. The moment Taimur leaves for Dehli to end the Tughlaq dynasty, Shaikha again captures Lahore. On the way back, Taimur again takes back Lahore but takes with him Shaika’s son Jasrat. On the way to Farghana, Jasrat escapes, returns through the arduous terrain and again re-captures Lahore. During this period, we hear of a peasant revolt led by Sarang (1419).

Then after a 100 years, Babar (1526) comes to defeat the Afghan ruler Ibrahim Lodhi. In his Babar Nama, Babar describes the bravery of the Jats and Gujjars who had fiercely resisted him at Sialkot. Then Dulla Bhatti of Pindi Bhattian revolts and holds against Akbar for ten years. The peasants are asked not to pay the tax and revenue. Finally, Akbar agrees to let the land be a hereditary right, a departure from past where all land belonged to the king.

At the time of petering out of the Mughal empire, Nadir Shah (1736 AD), the Persian ruler, moves into Punjab on his way to Dehli. At the Indus-Jhelum Doab, the Khattars, Ghaebas and Gakkhars fight him. After he crosses Jhelum, the Gondal Rajputs take him on. Najabat, a poet of the time, writes about the accounts of velour by Dhilloo and Saidoo. After crossing Gujrat, when he reaches Chenab, Mirza Qalandar was waiting for him. When he reaches Ravi, Khoja Yaqub is there to fight him. He spares Lahore from rampage. But when he reaches Dehli to put an end the reign of Muhammad Shah Rangeela, he goes to the Jamia Mosque and takes out his sword – a signal for pillage of Dehli. 20,000 are killed and the booty includes the Peacock throne and Koh-e-Nur. Mir Taqi Mir, who was then 16, explains this gruesome brutality in his verses.

Ahmed Shah Abdali (1747), founder of the first Pashtoon state, is the next pesky visitor. Mir Manu fights him and repels him though he manages to capture Sialkot and Pasrur. Finally, Abdali ends the reign of Azuddin Alamgir.

The Punjabis go on aggression only once – when they have their very own empire for forty years under the efficient rule by Ranjit Singh 1799-1839) and the empire extends upto Kabul and Kandhar. After the death of Ranjit Singh, the British find an opportunity to capture Punjab. Ahmed Khan Kharal of Rai Nathoo (Neeli bar between Sahiwal and Multan) at the age of 80 takes up arms against the British in the 1857 mutiny. Then Bhagat Singh (1926) is instrumental in beginning a labour and peasant movement in Lahore. Lala Lajpat Rai, Sher-e-Punjab, loses his life in this struggle. The British radically transform the landscape of Punjab by introducing a canal system, railways and cantonments. They set up seminaries and churches and introduce a new faith in the area.

Punjab became a part of the Western Empires about six times – Greeks, Arabs, Afghans, Turks, Persians and Pashtoons. And it became a part of the Eastern empires about four times – Chandra Gupta, Ashoka, Mughals and British.

Punjab produced brave soldiers like Poros, Jaypal, Ranjit Singh, Shaikha, Jasrat, Dilloo, Saidoo, Ahmed Khan Kharal, Bhagat Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai and Mirza Qalandar. Its romantic heroes like Raja Rasalu, Puran Bhagat, Sarang and Dulla Bhatti live even today in the memory of village folk. Its Sufi saints and poets, who preached a message of love, include Amir Khusrao, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Data Gunj Baksh, Baba Fareed, Bahaudin Zakaria, Bulleh Shah, Sultan Bahu, Mian Mohammad and Shah Hussain. Not only great men but the Punjabi folk lore has strong willed women who dominated their beloveds – in the tales of Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, Mirza Sahiban and Sohni Mahiwal.

All invaders who came to this land had one basic human failing – a greed for wealth. And their wrath was indiscriminate – irrespective of religion, race or creed. The attacks and occupation by the foreign rulers has had a deep impact on the psyche of the Punjabis – their threshold for subjugation has increased. They continue to readily accept a man on the horse back the moment he appears on the horizon.