The ‘Indian’ tomb of ancient Athens
By Majid Sheikh
The ancient Punjabi warrior king Porus and Alexander the great
Among the Rajputs of Lahore, especially among the Khokhars, a curious custom is still alive. Before being buried, the elders of the clan cut a few strands of hair from the deceased and burn it before burial. It was this curious custom that set me off on the trail of the Khokhars.
The Jhelum River in Punjab, Pakistan
The Khokhars have lived from antiquity on the banks of the River Ravi right up to the banks of the Indus. They have ruled Lahore many times, only to be thrown out by powerful invaders. Each time they surprised even the strongest adversary by the speed with which they rebound. Today they are the largest and most powerful Rajput clan of the Punjab. The Khokhars were originally Hindu of the Kshatriya warrior caste. They were also known as ‘Datts’ in the Jhelum region and still maintain many Hindu customs. Muslim Khokhars are known as Qutb Shahi Khokhars. There is a fair sprinkling of Christian Khokhars, equally proud as Hindu, Muslim or Sikh Rajputs.
An 1876 engraving of Khokar rajputs, from theIllustrated London News
Here an interesting tale hangs, and one that I have narrated before, and will briefly do so again at the end of this piece. But my story this time starts from Athens in Greece. In my student days I hitchhiked to Europe to find, in central Athens, a small sign that was the replacement of an earlier and older one, outside the ‘tomb of the Indian’, which read: “Zarmanochegas, an Indian, a native of Bargosa, having immortalized himself according to the custom of his country, here lies.”
Who was Zarmanochegas? There is considerable material about this person in the books by Mcrindle, by H.A. Rose and by Vincent Smith, at least enough to piece together a reasonably accurate picture of this mysterious person, for he was an ambassador sent from Lahore by the great Raja Porus in 327 BC. We all know of Raja Porus as the man who faced Alexander, and on being defeated insisted on being treated as ‘a king by a king’. Knowing several Rajputs friends, his is not a surprising comment.
The Punjab and it's surrounding areas in 1903. The historical home of the Khokhar clan.
Let us focus on Raja Porus first. He belonged to the Chandarbansi family, and as the Khokhars were the rulers of the Punjab even 200 years before Alexander came to the Punjab, the probability of him being a Khokhar is exceptionally high. We know that Porus was the fourth successor of the Khokhar Kshatriya Raja Kaid Raj, and as Hystaspes states that he was a contemporary of the Persian King Darius, it is obvious that Porus was a Khokhar Rajput. Now to this custom of hair burning.
When Alexander left the sub-continent, Raja Porus sent an embassy to Emperor Augustus Caesar, for he was known as the most powerful Raja of the Doabs between Ravi and Chenab of the Punjab, with influence right up to the Hindukush. The embassy remained in Athens, and when on learning of the death of Alexander, the loyal Khokhar Rajput announced that he would commit ‘johar’ as was the order of Porus the Great of the Punjab.
Samarkand in Uzbekistan Jasrath was captured and brought here after Shaikha Khokhar's defeat in 1398 A.D.
Mcrindle describes the cremation: “He prayed and sprinkled himself with a libation and cut off part of his hair to cast into the fire. He ascended the pile … lay down on the pyre and covered himself with robes. When the flames reached he did not move, as is the wont of a brave Rajput, until the sacrifice was auspiciously consummated according to the custom of the sages. He was from the town of Loh (Lahore) along the Ravi”.
Panoramic view of Pharwala Fort, traditional seat of the Gakhar Clan(The fort is in a bad shape, being situated in the Kahuta area)
The Khokhar Rajputs originate from Persia and are descendants of the Persian Emperor Jamshed, the man the Parsi community venerates. Clans of Rajputs exist from Iran to the Punjab, including the tribes of Jadeja, Khokhars, Pahalvi, Kamboja, Rathore, Chibh, Bhats or Bhatti, Samma, Virks, and other such clans.It were the Khokhar Rajputs, known as Datts in the Jhelum area, that accompanied Alexander as trusted guards back to Greece. It goes without saying that he did not trust his own Greek guards given the politics of that age. After he died in Alexandria in Egypt, they settled along the Arabian coast, and traded.
The Battle of Karbala:7 Punjabi Dutts/Khokhars
(Hussaini Brahmins) were slain in the battle.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prophesied the slaying of his grandson Hussain at Karbala, and had requested the Datts and their sons, with whom he traded, to protect him as he would not be around. That promise the Khokhar Rajputs, all Hindus, kept, for at Karbala seven Datt brothers were slain.Their ancestors are known as Hussain Brahmins and in a curious miracle of sorts they are born, even today, with a slit across their throats.
The Indian actors Sunil Dutt and Sanjay Dutt are from that tradition. In an earlier piece I have dwelt in detail on this famous family that left Lahore in 1947. I once met, in a remote
Sheikhupura village, a Hussain Brahmin with a huge leather-bound book, registering the births and deaths of true Syeds. He claimed he had just walked through the wired fences on the Indian border. That is a tale I did not lump, but you never know.
As we pass through history, we see the Khokhar Rajputs emerge in the shape of the Raja, or Puru, from where the Latinised version Porus comes, of Lahore by the name of Jaipal. His clash with the Afghan invading force of Subuktagen in 988 AD led to a series of battles. After a number of defeats against the forces of Mahmud, his last being in November 1001, and the Great Puru, the Khokhar Rajput ruler, Raja Jaipal, committed ‘johar’ outside Mori Gate along the banks of the River Ravi where today stands a huge banyan tree just behind the fish market. No monument marks that place of the great man of Lahore.
Raja Jaipal:The Warrior Punjabi King defended the boundaries of Punjab fiercely.
This act of ‘johar’ spurred the Rajputs to collect a force of 30,000 Khokhars in 1009 AD under Raja Anandpal to face the invading Afghans. The brave Rajputs went into battle bare-headed as a mark of respect for honour lost and smashed the Ghazni forces. Their bravery and valour became part of Punjabi folklore, and a huge portion of eastern Rajputana was renamed Khokhara. Bhera for a long time remained their capital. It was then a 21-gate city. Today it is a dismal ruin, and one that Pakistan should retrieve and show the world their history.
Razia Sultana marches with an army of Khokhars to recapture Delhi
Over the centuries the Khokhars won and lost Lahore a number of times. In 1395 the famous Sheikha Khokhar of village Thakkar, 13 miles from the banks of the River Chenab, raised the banner of revolt and captured almost the entire of the Punjab. He captured the Lahore Fort. He ruled Lahore wisely and his son Raja Sheikha Khokhar ascended the Lahore throne in 1427 AD. After that they captured and lost Lahore almost 15 times, each time rising to power when least expected.
Shahabuddin Ghouri: was murdered in Sohawa/ Dhamayak in 1206 CE in the Jhelum district by the Khokhars
hroughout the Moghal period and the later Afghan and Sikh periods, the Khokhar Rajputs of the Doab between Lahore and Gujrat kept the fight on to keep their lands free from foreigners. They even battled the British when it came to the end of the Sikh period. From the ‘johar’ in Athens to the ‘johar’ of Jaipal, to the battles of 1857, these sons of the soil have never relented. No wonder Maharajah Ranjit Singh once said: “Raab tay Khokharan toon darr lagda aye” – I fear the Almighty and the Khokhars.
DAWN: Sunday, 26 Sep, 2010