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Where time stands still…

Punjab is known as the land of serene forts, gregarious people and extravagant lifestyles, thereby inviting numerous tourists every year who come to enjoy its rich cultural and historical heritage. Despite this, the state doesn’t score high on tourism, perhaps because the structures that stood the test of time couldn’t stand the test of people’s memory.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 25, 2013 13:23 IST
Mehakdeep Grewal
Mehakdeep Grewal
Hindustan Times

Punjab is known as the land of serene forts, gregarious people and extravagant lifestyles, thereby inviting numerous tourists every year who come to enjoy its rich cultural and historical heritage.

Despite this, the state doesn’t score high on tourism, perhaps because the structures that stood the test of time couldn’t stand the test of people’s memory. Nevertheless, there are marks of history remaining in the state that have yet not been discovered by many.

Though the Punjabis might be trading their simple rustic lives for urban ways, the state’s history must not be forgotten. We take a look at structures, monuments and places with historical and aesthetic value that are yet to be explored.

Shahi Samadhan: The resting place of the royals

Location: Patiala

The tombs of Baba Ala Singh — the founder of Patiala — and his clan are located in the heart of the royal city. It is believed that the ancestors of Baba Ala Singh migrated from the deserts of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan to Punjab.

At present, his tomb (which was laid in 1822) is home to countless pigeons and almost no tourists. Made of arched panels, a marble-crowned dome and a red sandstone pinnacle, the tomb is majestic, to say the least.

Inside, inscriptions marking the reigns of the various rulers give a peek into history. Though the calligraphy on the arches has started to fade, it nevertheless provides lovers of history with essential bits from the past.

Sanghol: Back to square one

Location: Khamano (Fatehgarh Sahib)

The village, also known as Uchha Pind Sanghol, holds a special place in the archaeological atlas of India, as antiquities from the Harappan civilisation (1720-1300 BC) such as pottery, bangles, terracotta cakes, stones, copper chisels, micro beads of gold, human figurines and three stupas of Lord Buddha were found here. The bricks of the stupas are considered to be at least 2,000 years old.

Excavations from this village have yielded a rich treasure of as many as 117 beautifully carved stone slabs. Scholars have explained them as ‘Kushan sculptures’ of the Mathura School of Art that flourished in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Some of the sculptures have been displayed at the Sanghol museum, which also houses ornaments worn by the Muslim women in that time period.

Mai Banno Temple: Steeped in mystery
Location: Banur (district Patiala)
There is a famous myth associated with the temple that says Mai Banno, a singer and the daughter of a cloth dyer, had cured Tansen, a famous court singer of Mughal emperor Akbar, with her raag. The temple was then constructed in the honour of Mai Banno.

It is also believed that Mai Banno would get the heavens to pour by singing a melodious raag called ‘Megh Malhaar’, and that she even had the power to light lamps with the singing of the raag ‘Deepak’.

A story also goes that Mai Banno had defeated Tansen in a singing competition. All singers, irrespective
of their genre or belief, come to pay their obeisance to the singer at this ‘Mecca of musicians’.

Saragarhi Memorial: Tribute to the gallant
Location: Ferozepur
The Saragarhi Memorial had been built in memory of the incredible 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment (currently called the 4th Sikh regiment) of the Indian army who died while defending the fort of Saragarhi in Wazirstan on September 12, 1897, against an attack by 10,000 Afridis and Orakazais tribesmen.

The battle at Saragarhi is one of the eight stories of collective bravery published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It has been mentioned as one of the five most significant events of its kind in the world.

A memorial gurdwara at Ferozepur was built by the Indian army to honour the war heroes. The gurdwara was declared open in 1904 by Sir Charles Revz, the then Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. An ex-servicemen rally on Saragarhi Day is organised every year on September 12 to commemorate the bravery of the soldiers.

Qila Mubarak: Of the lady who ruled
Location: Bathinda
The fort is believed to have a 2000-year-old legacy, having been built by Raja Dab during 90-110 AD. In 1705, it was visited by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikhs, in whose memory a small shrine was built inside the fort by the Maharaja of Patiala in 1835.

Built originally of mud bricks, the fort has a square plan with 32 small and four large bastions placed at the corners that stand witness to the history of its capture by warring luminaries such as Mahmud Ghazni and Prithviraj Chauhan. Once called ‘Tabar-e-Hind’ (gateway to India), some historians believe that it was here that the first and only woman emperor Razia Sultan, ruler of Delhi, was incarcerated on her defeat at the hands of Malik Altunia, the then governor of Bathinda.

Qila Mubarak therefore remains the only historical landmark reminding progeny of the heroics of the woman emperor who ruled between 1236 and1240 AD.

Serai Nurmahal: An ode to love

Location: Nurmahal Nurmahal was constructed by the Mughal emperor Jahangir between 1605 and 1627. It was named after Noor Jahan, his wife, as it is assumed that she had spent some of her childhood years at this place.

Serai Nurmahal is a fine example of oriental architecture of the Mughals and their sense of kinship with the Rajput kings and Kachchawahas of Punjab. The entire structure of this magnificent monument is in the definite form of a quadrangle consisting of 140 cells and spread out over four gateways.

It has been built with red bricks and marble and its spandrels are beautified with lotus medallions. The main attraction of the serai is the filigree work and tiles decorated in beautiful patterns.

Takhat-i-Akbari: The king’s playground

Location: Kalanaur, Gurdaspur

This place has unparalleled historical importance attached to it, for it is here that Akbar was coronated in 1556 when he was all of 13 years of age. The coronation ceremony took place on a magnificently built double-tiered brick platform, known as the ‘Takhat-i-Akbari’.

A visit to the Takhat-i-Akbari in Kalanaur almost transports one to the days of the Mughal rule. Once considered as the ‘Lahore of Indian Punjab’, at a short distance from the Takhat-i-Akbari is a place which is linked to Akbar’s childhood. There is a playground nearby where it is believed that Akbar would spend his time as a child with his friends. A famous saying goes, “A person who has not seen Lahore should see Kalanaur”.

Payal Fort: Cinematic appeal
Location: Ludhiana
According to historians, about 770 years ago, a Muslim named Faqir Shah Hussain settled here on a ‘tilla’. Soon, his followers came as well and settled here. When the land was being dug out to build houses, there was found an ‘anklet’ (payal). So, Faquir Shah Hussain named the place Payal. During 1766, Maharaja Amar Singh of Patiala made this city a part of the state of Patiala.

He also got a fort built with the co-operation of the Mughals in 1771 and named it the Payal Fort.

Later, Maharani Sahib Kaur conquered the citadel from the Mughal hakumats. The citadel still exists and the serai of this citadel, known as Serai Lashkari Khan, lies close to the fort in Sri Manji Sahib Kottan. This citadel is popularly also called the ‘RDB fort’ after the film Rang De Basanti was shot here.

Tombs of Mohammed Momin and Haji Jamal: Sparking musical notes
Location: Nakodar
The tomb of Mohammed Momin was erected over the mortal remains of Ustad Muhammed Momin, also known as Ustad Muhammed Husseini alias Hafizak, a ‘tambura’ player in the service of Khan-i-Khanan, one of the ‘navratans’ in the court of Akbar in 1612 AD.

The tomb stands on an octagonal platform and is approached by a flight of steps on two sides. It is square from the inside and octagonal on the outside.

The tomb of Haji Jamal is close to the tomb of Muhammed Momin. This tomb was raised over the mortal remains of Haji Jamal, a pupil of Ustad Muhammed Husseini, the tambura player in Shah Jahan’s reign.

Bajwara fort: Singer’s discovery
Location: Bajwara village, about 3 km to the southeast of Hoshiarpur
Bajwara is said to have been founded by three immigrants from Ghazni, one of whom, Baiju Bawra, a renowned singer, gave his name to the town. It is mentioned in the ‘Ain-i-Akbari’ (a detailed document recording the administration of emperor Akbar’s empire, written by his vizier, Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak) as a ‘mahal’ (palace) out of 36 mahals belonging to district Hoshiarpur. Todar Mal, Akbar’s revenue minister, is said to have broken up the town into small divisions as a punishment to the inhabitants for not showing him due to respect.

Bajwara was also the base of the Afghans when they were warring against the hill chiefs.

Later, Sardar Bhup Singh Faizullapuria, who was ousted in 1801 by Raja Sansar Chand, held Bajwara. The latter built a fort here, which was taken by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1825. The fort was utilised as a military prison in the earlier year of the British rule but was later dismantled.

Place where a treaty between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Lord William Bentinck was struck: Friendly accord
Location: Rupnagar
A historic meeting between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Lord Willam Bentinck, the then Governor General of India, took place at Ropar on the banks of river Sutlej, under a peepal tree on October 26, 1831.

Lord William Bentinck was the first Governor General to foresee a Russian threat to India. Hence, he was eager to negotiate friendly relations with the ruler of Punjab — Maharaja Ranjit Singh — and the Amirs of Sind. His earnest desire was that Afghanistan should be made a buffer state between India and any possible invader.

As an initial measure, an exchange of gifts took place between Lahore, the capital of Punjab and Calcutta, which was also the seat of the Governor General. It was then followed by the meeting of Bentinck and Ranjit Singh at Rupnagar amidst much splendour. The Indus Navigation Treaty was concluded between them that opened up the Sutlej for navigation.

The ancestral house of freedom martyr Sukhdev Thapar: The home of the brave
Location: Ludhiana
The ancestral house of Sukhdev Thapar, who was hanged to death along with Bhagat Singh and Rajguru inside Central Jail, Lahore, on March 23, 1931, by the British Government is located in Naughara Mohalla, Ludhiana. There is also a bust installed outside the house that explains to passersby about the martyr who was born in the house on May 15, 1907.

The house has been declared a national property by the state government. Sukhdev was a part of the trio who believed in radical ways to flush out the Britishers, making famous slogans such as ‘Inquilab zindabad’ and ‘Long live the revolution’. Sukhdev had even taught youth at the National College in Lahore.

Kos Minars: Guiding towers

Location: Along the GT Road

The Kos Minars or medieval milestones were erected in the 16th century by Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri and later by the Mughal emperors. These minars were constructed on the main highways across the empire to mark distances.

The pillared structures are around 30 feet tall and stand on a masonry platform built with bricks and plastered with lime. Though not architecturally impressive, being milestones they were an important part of communication and travel in a large empire.

One can see the Kos Minars flash past the roadside, standing tall like a sentinel some distance away in the fields. Each Kos Minar was equipped with a horse, a rider and a drummer to relay messages back and forth with speed.

This being only a peep to arouse your curiosity, you can now go ahead, take a re-look at history and return better informed!

First Published: Dec 25, 2013 11:01 IST