Lost Islamic Heritage of India's Punjab
In India's Punjab, the once vibrant symbols of the Islamic history and culture in the form of buildings, forts, dargahs and mosques, are in disrepair and require immediate attention from the authorities to repair these decaying structures. Only few of the monuments are being protected by the Archaeology Survey of India such as the Serai Amanat Khan in Amritsar and Takht-e-Akbari in Kalanaur Gurdaspur.
My previous blog highlighted the work done by Amardeep Singh who has chronicled the gurdwaras and historic Sikh architecture of Punjab, Pakistan. And in this blog, I want to highlight some of the important places in central and east Punjab that have significant Islamic heritage sites which the Muslims lost as a result of Punjab's Partition.
We start with author Subhash Parihar's book "Some Aspects of Indo-Islamic Architecture". First published in 1999, the book has number of photographs of the forts, dargahs and mosques of India's greater east Punjab region (comprising of present day Punjab, Haryana and Himachal).
(Important cities of Punjab with Islamic monuments - Courtesy Subhash Parihar)
Subhash Parihar writes about the importance of Mughal tombs in Hisar as the last surviving architectural specimens of Humayun's period. The monuments of Kalanaur include the historical place where Emperor Akbar was coronated. The gardens of Nakodar and Sirhind provide significant insight to the Mughal architecture and design.
The author writes about the great calligrapher of Taj Mahal, Persian noble Amanat Khan who built a beautiful glazed mosque and a serai in Amritsar district. Serai Amanat Khan is a village in Amritsar not too far from Lahore. The glimpse of its pristine glory can still be seen with tiles filled with mosaics of turquoise, yellow, green, blue, violet and orange motifs.
(Entrance gate at Serai Amanat Khan - Courtesy The Tribune)
As a result of Punjab's partition, most of these monuments have become inoperative and the encroaching towns and villages seem to have no interest in restoring these structures. The same holds true for the dilapidated state of gurdwaras and temples in west Punjab. During the peak of the Mughal empire, number of gardens were established by Shah Jahan in Sirhind, east Punjab. Only one of these gardens, the Aam Khas Bagh barely survives as shown below.
(The ruins of Aam Khas Bagh built by Shah Jahan in Sirhind)
The glazed tile decoration of Mughal Serai built by Itmad-ud Daula in Doraha, the tombs of Ustad and Shagird at Sirhind, the mosque in Fatehabad built by Jehangir, the Serai Nurmahal decorated by colorful motifs built by Begum Nur Jahan are just some of the heritage sites that the author illustrates in his book. Islamic heritage was more prevalent and concentrated between Lahore and Delhi than any other part of pre-partition India and the author has chronicled each of these historic places in great detail.
(Stylized motifs depicting birds and flowers in Nurmahal, Punjab, India. Courtesy Subhash Parihar)
If we take just Sirhind as an example, the city lying between Delhi and Lahore was the most prosperous city during the Mughal empire. Its prosperity was reflected by hundreds of monuments showcasing the beauty of Mughal architecture. It had about 360 mosques, gardens and tombs decorated with fine calligraphy, marble and red stone tiles. Maharaja Karam Singh of Patiala (1813–45) had gurdwaras constructed in Sirhind in memory of the young sons of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji who were martyred in this city by the Mughals. He changed the name of the district from Sirhind to Fatehgarh Sahib, after the name of the principal gurdwara.
(Tomb of Shagird, Sirhind Fatehgarh Sahib, Punjab, India. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
In Doraha, Ludhiana district, Punjab is a Mughal Serai and fort built by Emperor Jehangir to help the caravans traveling from Kabul, Lahore and Delhi.
(Mughal architecture at Doraha, Ludhiana, Punjab, India. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
In our myopic quest to cleanse the past of the "other" community, we have committed a grave mistake in reducing our own heritage to just few monuments and have ignored the rest that too have contributed and enriched our culture. Communities often coalesce around their own historical narrative and the monuments that don't fit into that narrative are often ignored or are deliberately left to decay.
We have seen this in Pakistan where the gurdwaras and temples are in very bad shape. Unfortunately, the same sentiment exists in east Punjab towards Islamic heritage. This cycle of apathy can only be disrupted if we as Punjabis collectively consider these monuments as our own and not belonging to someone else. The mindset of "otherization" has to stop and we can only come out of this if we remove the prejudice from our hearts and minds.