Saturday, 19 October 2019

106 - A Tour of Bhera City 1: Four Hindu Temples & A Gurdwara in Bhera

Bhera is a very old and important town of Punjab. It always has been an important administrative and commercial centre. In the days of Mahood Ghaznavi, it was equal to Lahore in importance. In almost all times, since its establishment,  it has retained its importance and significance. 

In the official Gazetteer for the district Shahpur 1917, gives the folloiwng account of the history of modern Bhera:
The original town stood on the right bank of the river, and in former days must have been a place of considerable note, for Babar, in his autobriography, when speaking of his designs on Hindustan, talks of the countries of Bhera, Khushab, etc. and again in describing Hindustan itself he defines the limits of the empire as extending from Bhera to Behar. Some idea of its size may also be gained from the fact that it paid so large a sum as two lakhs of  rupees to purchase its safety, when the troops under Babar, disappointed of expected plunder in Bajaur, arrived before it in A.D. 1519. Soon after this, says tradition, the adjoining hill tribes descended and destroyed the city. The ruins of the old town still remain, and are known by the name of Jobnathnagar. It is identified by General Cunningham as the capital of Sophites, or Sopheites, the contemporary of Alexander the Great. The same author speaks of it as the refuge, and for some time the capital, of the Brahman kings of Kabul, expelled about the end of the 10th century by the Muhammadans. 
The new town of Bhera was founded in A.D. 1540, during the reign of Sher Shah, near a spot where a holy man calling himself Pir Kaya Nath had for some time been established, and where his followers are still residing round the tomb of their spiritual father. The place appears rapidly have attained to its former size and importance, as it is one of the few places mentioned by name in the description of the Lahore Suba given in the Ain-i-Akbari, from which we also learn that it was the centre of a mahal which paid a revenue of nearly five lakhs of rupees, and was one of the few spots in the whole empire where money was coined. After being plundered and laid waste by Nur-ud-Din, as mentioned before, the town was repopulated by the Chiefs of the Bhangi misl, to whose share it fell in the division of the territory acquired by the Sikhs. Its appearance has been greatly improved under British rule. 
Bhera is a place of considerable though now somewhat stagnant trade, its position as the terminus of a branch of the railway making it an emporium for the trade of the country to the south. A large colony of Khojas and Pirachas, Muhammadan converts from Hinduism, are settled here, and carry on a traffic with Kabul and countries beyond it. Rice, gur and sugar are imported from Jullundur Doab; country cloth is exported to Kabul, Multan, Derajat and Sukkur. European cotton goods are brought from Amritsar and Karachi. Henna dye is exported to the value of a lakh of rupees yearly. The town is also famous for ironsmiths and stone-cutters as well as woodcarvers; and excellent felt and soap manufactured, the former being exported in large quantities. 
This long history has left its indelible marks on Bhera, especially on its architecture. Its mosques, shrines and beautiful houses are remnants of its glorious past. But it is such a vast subject that even a whole book will perhaps not cover it wholly. In this post, I shall only cover a few religious buildings that still remind us of multi-religious society of pre-1947 Bhera. According to the census of 1941, Hindus formed about 21.7 % and Sikhs 1.66% of the total population of 20,219 persons. Bhera had several temples, I recently visited four of them which are comparatively in a better condition. 

During my visit to Bhera my friend Mr Nayyar Abbas, accompanied us and took us on a whirlwind tour of the town and in a short time showed us many historical places. Nayyar sahib has a great interest in the history of Bhera and has a lot of information about its past, architecture and important persons. Anyone interested in a tour of Bhera and learn about its architecture would enjoy his company. He can be reached at

To the north-west of Bhera, just outside the town, is located a temple that is known as Baoli wala temple. Perhaps a baoli (stepwell) existed at some time. Now there are no traces of any baoli. Mr Nayyar told me that floods in the river destroyed any such baoli a long time ago. This temple was constructed about two decades before independence and the Chopra family built it. Not much is known about the Chopra family, except that they were big landowners and rich people. The temple is located in an open space and unoccupied, that could be a reason for it to be in reasonably good condition. This temple is located towards the river Jhelum at  32°29'24.64"N, 72°54'2.08"E.  

Baoli Wala Mandir (22.07.2019.)

An aerial view of the temple. (Photo provided by: Mr Nayyar Abbas, Bhera).

A closer view of the temple.  (22.07.2019.)

Lower portions are not in good condition, but Spire is still in good condition. (22.07.2019.)

A view from the west. (22.07.2019.)

A dusty road passes beside the temple. (22.07.2019.)

A view from the south, of this square in shape temple. (22.07.2019.)

The atmosphere around the Baoli Wala temple is peaceful and serene. (22.07.2019.)

The lower portions are now crumbling in the absence of any repair or maintenance. (22.07.2019.)

A set of stairs leading to the basement, which is now filled up with debris. (22.07.2019.)

A corridor around the main room of the temple. (22.07.2019.)

One of the doors of the main hall. (22.07.2019.)

Another corridor around the temple. (22.07.2019.)

One of the four doors of the temple. (22.07.2019.)

The basement of the temple. (22.07.2019.)

Nayyar Abbas. Without his guidance, it was not possible to see so many things in just two hours. 

Another temple that we visited is known as Gulab Garh temple. Once this temple too must have stood outside the walled city in the east. But now it is surrounded by the houses of expanding Bhera. Sadly the temple is in bad condition and is nobody takes any care of it. The temple is located off the Bhera - Malakwal Road at: 32°28'47.06"N ;  72°55'9.99"E.

My Nayyar informed me that Sahnis, who were a prominent family of Bhera built this temple. Probably sons of Gulab Devi. in honour of their mother built this town. But when, it is not clear. May be at the beginning of the last century. However, he provided me two links of webpages, where the history of Sahnis can read.

On this page, Ms Indira Parischa, tells the story of Sahnis to her niece, Neera Burra in Delhi just five days before her death in May, 2017. She was 100 years old at the time of her death.
My Dadaji's (paternal grandfather) family belonged to Bhera in Shahpur district in Punjab; Bhera became part of Pakistan after independence. All of his family called him Lalaji. He was Prof. Ruchi Ram Sahni (5 April 1863 - 3 June 1948), a well known scientist who taught Chemistry in Government College, Lahore. he was best known for popularizing science. He used to given public lectures on street corner and in villages in Punjabi to make ordinary people understand scientific issues. My grandmother was Ishwari Devi, who was called Beji. She was an Anand and belonged to a well known family of bankers in pre-Partition Punjab. 
 In an article in Wikipedia, about Prof. Ruchi Ram Sahni, the following information is given:
Sahni was born on 5 April 1863 at Dera Ismail Khan a city on west bank of Indus River (now in Pakistan). His father's name was Karam Chand Sahni who was a merchant and his mother's name Gulab Devi who belonged to a money-lending family of Pind Dadan Khan. A downfall in the business led to the family being left without much money forced Sahni to strive and fend for himself. While at high school he was influenced by the Brahma Samaj and joined it leading to clash with his mother and estrangement from family. Ruchi Ram Sahni was a brilliant student he completed his matriculation from Government School Lahore in 1881 and BA in 1884 in which he stood first in the University in December 1885. Sahni visited Presidency college, Calcutta as a trainee meteorologist under Henry Francis Blanford and guest student in 1885 where he interacted with leading personalities of Bengal. In 1886 he took up a position of assistant professor of chemistry at the Government College at Lahore and worked there until 1918. 
The above two passages, show the close connection of Sahnis with Bhera and also gives us an introduction of Gulab Devi, being the mother of Professor Ruchi Ram Sahni. However, I could not find any information about the history of the temple when it was constructed.  

Gulabgarh Temple, Bhera. (22.07.2019.)

The temple is not in a good condition and the surroundings are also in a state of neglect. (22.07.2019.)

A closer view of the Gulabgarh Temple, from south-west. (22.07.2019.)

A view from the south. (22.07.2019.)

A view from the east. (22.07.2019.)

At the north-eastern edge of the city, another old Hindu temple exists, known as Shiva Temple. Not much is know about it. However, Nayyar Abbas thinks that the temple was constructed in 1897. The temple is located at 32°29'2.05"N, 72°54'42.74"E.

Mr Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro, in his article "The falling temples of Bhera", provides the following information about this temple:
Another Hindu temple is located in Nagianwala Mohallah. This temple is dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction whome the Yogis worship to annihilate their ego. The temple is believed to have been built by the Nath jogis who are the Shivite renouncers and take the Shiva as their first guru. The jogis were famous for their ascetic practices to kill their ardour (tapas).
Shiva Temple in Bhera. (22.07.2019.)

 Another view of the temple. (22.07.2019.)

The main entrance. (22.07.2019.)

The threshold and the geometrical designs at the entrance. (22.07.2019.)

The backside of the octagonal building. (22.07.2019.)

The temple was built with small bricks, which were according to Nayyar Abbas sahib, was used before 1910. 

Steps of the temple. (22.07.2019.)

The more modern design and concrete work, suggests that the entrance was made much later than the original temple. (22.07.2019.)

We have noted above the following details in the Gazetteer of the district Shahpur, 1917:
The new town of Bhera was founded in A.D. 1540, during the reign of Sher Shah, near a spot where a holy man calling himself Pir Kaya Nath had for some time been established, and where his followers are still residing round the tomb of their spiritual father.
Now luckily the Smadhi of Pir or Guru Kaya Nath still exists, including some other remnants of this historic Tirath Asthan (place of pilgrimage). Now a family is living in a house beside this samadhi and apparently, the current occupants take some care of the samadhi. However, I forgot to ask about their views on this shrine. This shrine is located at 32°28'49.62"N, 72°53'59.10"E

Samadhi of Pir Kaya Nath, Bhera. (22.07.2019.)

تعمیر کردہ
موتی لعل سبھروال سکنہ بھیرہ
     بکرمی  ۱۹۸۱        1924 AD
Constructed by
‏Moti Lal Sabharwal, resident of Bhera
Bikrami 1981 - 1924 AD

Nayyar sahib sent me two pages of an Urdu book "Tarikh-e-Bhera", the book provides the following information about this Tirath:

Tirath (holy site) or Marhi (samadhi):- Near the existing Bhera, there is famous pilgrimage site of Pir or Guru Kainath. It is commonly known about him that he was a son of Pir Ratan Nath, whose shrine is at Jalalabad. A well known legend about him says that about 2100 years ago Ratan Nath went to piligramiage to visit the source of river Godavari, where many companions were present. When food was about to be distributed, Ratan Nath demanded double of his share. But all the pilgrims present there refused to do so. He caressed his body and suddencly a child appeared. That child came to be known as Baba Kainath. This strange child grew up and acauired fame greater than his father, who created him. On this site a fair started to be held twice a year. Once the 14th of the moon in the month of Phagun and second on Shivratri (22 March). In both fairs, people came to pay their homage from Multan, Lahore, Peshawar, Jalalabad and even Kabul. The custodian of this holy site was Laher Nath. 
Who led a life of comfort and luxury. He wore a robe, embroided with the threads of gold, wore necklaces of gold and diamonds. Generally all the people, without a distinction of cast or creed, respected him. This holy site is near Paracha rice mills, outside the Haji Gulab gate.
 Inside the city, exists a holy site, known as Jhuggi Jogian (cottage of jogis). Its custodian was Pir Gopal Nath. After him Pir Bhopal Nath became the custodian. 
A very special feature of this Hindu holy site, is a Shiv Ling, beside the samadhi(22.07.2019.)

The samadhi inside the tomb. (22.07.2019.)

Trees near the asthan, a big pond existed here in the past. (22.07.2019.)

Traces of a well. (22.07.2019.)

A view of the samadhi and the adjoining house. (22.07.2019.)

Unlike Hindus, who formed nearly a quarter of the population of Bhera in 1941, Sikhs just 335 in numbers, formed less than two percent of the total population. But they also constructed a beautiful gurdwara for their small community. It is located in the centre of the town in the main bazar. It is located at  32°28'56.50"N, 72°54'41.15"E

Currently, this building is being used as an Imam Bargah. Its history is not known but the caretaker of the Imam Bargah informed me that their elders told him that the building was still under construction, when they arrived here in 1947. The floors were incomplete and the walls were not painted. 

The main entrance of the Imam Bargah, formerly a gurdwara. (22.07.2019.)

ਧਨ ਗੁਰੂ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਸਿੰਘ
دھن گرو گوبند سنگھ

Dhan Guru Gobind Singh

ਧਨ ਸਤਿ ਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ
دھن ستًِ گرو نانک

Dhan Satt Guru Nanak

A lofty tower on the roof of gurdwara. (22.07.2019.)

A cupola on the two-way stairs. (22.07.2019.)

A complete view of the tower. It is not normal to have such a tower in a gurdwara. (22.07.2019.)

Another view of the tower. (22.07.2019.)

A closer view of the upper portion of the tower. (22.07.2019.)

Cupola above the main entrance. (22.07.2019.)

The darbar hall of the gurdwara. Now it is used for majalis (gathering to hear sermons)(22.07.2019.)

A gallery above the main hall. (22.07.2019.)

Another view of the hall. (22.07.2019.)

Beautiful decorations in typical Shia traditions. (22.07.2019.)

Another gallery above the hall. (22.07.2019.)

A view of the first floor from the roof. (22.07.2019.)

A view from the gallery. (22.07.2019.)

A taazia in the gallery. (22.07.2019.)

One of the caretakers of the Imam Bargah with children. (22.07.2019.)

A view of the Bhera from the roof of the gurdwara. (22.07.2019.)

Another view of the town. (22.07.2019.)

A narrow street in front of the gurdwara. (22.07.2019.)

Bhera is such a wonderful town that you need many days and help of a person, fully acquainted with the past and the present of the city. And above all has an eye to see the architectural beauty of this town. Without exaggeration, there are dozens of buildings that are worthy of preserving and studying. I saw a few which I shall share with you in my next post.  

Tariq Amir

October 19, 2019.
Doha - Qatar.


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