Chandigarh Sector 45: A blast from the past
The anachronism of fashionable wares being sold under the awnings of ancient buildings and motorcycles parting the crowd in jam-packed alleys like Moses parting the Red Sea transports you to another era.
Walking through the labyrinthine lanes of Sector 45, you cannot help but observe that the sector is a beautiful study in contrast with new buildings vying for attention with ancient ones. The anachronism of fashionable wares being sold under the awnings of ancient buildings and motorcycles parting the crowd in jam-packed alleys like Moses parting the Red Sea transports you to another era.
The sector is as different from the rest of Chandigarh as day is to night. The reason for this jarring dissonance is that it wasn’t designed à la Corbusier but houses a large chunk of the urban village of Burail. Former Housing Board chief architect Saroj Grover says the remaining sector was built by the central government and the housing board.
Burail: Then and Now
Established during the Mughal reign, Burail village is approximately 900 years old. Rashid Malik, proprietor of a halal chicken shop here, says, “My ancestors settled in Burail in the Mughal era. We are Malik tellis, for generations our family has been in the oil business.”
Lore has it that the village was named after wrestler Buda who laid its foundation stone. “Before independence, Burail was Ambala district’s most populous village and fell in the Kharar tehsil,” says Joginder Singh, vice-president of the Pendu Sangharsh Committee.
“A feudal system called the bavni, operated here in the olden days. Around 52,000 bighas of land was divided into 14 pattis (subdivisions) and each division was manned by a numberdar and a revenue officer called jaeldar. And the people spoke Puad.”
“The red line of the village was drawn in 1883 and encompassed 89 acres. The land was acquired by UT in the 1950s and became a part of Chandigarh without being uprooted in the 1980s,” he adds.
“The whole area was once covered with dense mango groves. So thick were the tree canopies that one couldn’t make out day from night,” recalls Singh. ‘Chapria aam,’ arguably the largest mango tree spread over an acre, grew only a wee distance away in Sector 33. It belonged to numberdar Teerath Singh. Unfortunately, the tree withered away after it was struck by lightning twice. Today, the village has transformed into a concrete jungle and it’s impossible to find a single mango tree.
In the pre-Chandigarh era, the sector also had a number of lakes such as ‘Suraj Kund,’ ‘Gangiani lake’ and ‘Madiyan waala Doba.’
“The village had three sarpanches (village heads) before the municipal corporation took over the sector,” says Ranjit Singh Saini, 74, retired principal of Government Model High School, Sector 28. “The first sarpanch Phuman Singh enjoyed a tenure of 30 years.”
The Indira connection
The people of Burail were in the vanguard of India’s freedom struggle. Chaudhari Bhopal Singh (1919-1987), general secretary of the Chandigarh Territorial Congress (1966-1972), is arguably the most famous freedom fighter from the village. “It was only because of his efforts that Burail is in the Union Territory today. He saved the four villages of Burail, Baterla, Badheri and Attawa from being uprooted,” says Joginder Singh.
“In 1978, Prime Minister Moraji Desai ordered the dissolution of 22 villages so that Chandigarh could expand. The people of Burail did not want to lose their land and requested Bhopal Singh to intercede. He convinced Indira Gandhi to include Burail in Chandigarh and thus it became the first urban village,” says his grandson Mohan Singh Rana, an advocate at the district courts.
Gurmakh Singh says he recalls seeing Indira Gandhi in the sector in the 1980s. “It’s one of the most vivid memories of my childhood,” he beams.
A blog on Chaudhari Bhopal Singh by Sanjay Badhan mentions Singh as one of the leaders against whom the British issued warrants during the Quit India Movement. When Gandhi asked the leaders to surrender, Bhopal Singh disguised himself as a farmer and returned to his village, the present day Sector 45, and surrendered to the police near Kheda Mandir. “My uncle, Narata Singh, joined Subhash Chandra Bose’s Azaad Hind Fauj. I have heard that his ship was bombarded, he never returned,” says Ranjit Singh.
The sector was also home to social revolutionary Santa Singh, who made it his mission to prevent female infanticide in pre-independence India. His son, Pyara Singh, 68, a retired chief engineer, says, “My grandfather asked the midwife to inform him whenever she was asked to kill a female child. Upon receiving the exact location of where she had buried the child, he got the thanedar from Chandimandir on his horse to the house near Morni Khoo and led him straight to the child’s corpse. Female infanticide rates fell after that as people feared imprisonment.”
“Santa Singh was also awarded a certificate by Chandigarh’s chief commissioner MS Randhawa for his social work in 1968,” he adds.
At 7 feet, the centenarian (1871-1971) stood out in the village. “People always assumed he was straddling a horse when he was actually just standing or walking,” recounts Pyara Singh.
Burail has produced a slew of national and international-level champions. While Chaudhari Sughan Singh and Mahinder Singh were kabbadi champs, Jasvir Singh and Inderjeet Singh excelled in javelin, while Tara Singh was a star basketball player.
Today, Bhopal Singh Stadium plays host to youngsters practicing cricket, hockey, football and kabaddi. “The stadium is built on a lake called Samadhan Talab,” says Kishori Lal Gupta, president of Burail People’s Social Welfare committee. “We’ve been holding annual hockey matches here since 2003 as a tribute to Kartar Singh Saraba, who was hanged by the British at the age of 19.”
Land of opportunities
“The original residents of the sector are very well-off since the UT acquired their land. The sector mainly houses a number of migrants from UP, Bihar, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, whose population is at least three times that of the locals,” says councillor Kanwarjeet Singh. Jabir Ali, who sells mangoes, says he’s prospered since he came here in 2015.
“I stay in this sector because the real estate prices are affordable,” says Sudarshan Kumar from Haryana, who sells ice cream.
“There are many skilled workers in the sector, who do embroidery and stitching for bigger shops,” says Manoj Kumar, a boutique owner.
“The sector has the largest motor market in Chandigarh and claims to sell second-hand vehicle parts imported from Dubai. It’s also a scrap market as old cars are stripped of their parts and disposed here.
With history dating back to a millennium, it is no wonder that the sector is a treasure a trove of folklore. Lore has it that the Pandavas stopped at the the Suraj Kund lake on which Suraj Kund Shiv Mandir was built much later.
The 450-year-old Shiv Mandir is famous for its natural Shivling. Vijay Prakash Shastri, the priest, says, “The temple used to be on top of a hillock in the olden days and it was very difficult to reach it due to the dense mango forests. The archeological department excavated ancient pillars from the temple, which are now exhibited at the Chandigarh museum.”
Lore says a few men tried to move the Shivling to Attawa but were unable to dislodge it. In frustration, one of the men hit it with his axe only to have milk gushing out. Another version says the men were struck dead by lightning as soon as they hit the Shivling.
Burail Fort: The fallen bastion
The Burail Fort, said to be a 900-year-old Mughal structure, is lost in a mishmash of squalid hovels, houses and shops. It is no surprise then that even the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) is ignorant of its existence. Its rich history survives in the memory of only a few residents. Their accounts too vary for want of documentation. No one recalls the name of the Mughal emperor who commissioned its construction.
Back in the day, the fort had four minarets capped by domes, but only two of them stand today. You can spot the fort’s battlements but only if you look closely. Jai Singh Saini, 80, says, “There used to be at least eight wells in the fort. The ‘morni khoo’ (peacock well) was very famous because of a large ornamental peacock on it. Only a couple of wells remain now.”
“It is a matter of great shame that the fort is not a part of the national archives,” says Joginder Singh, general secretary of Burail People’s Welfare Association. “The government’s apathetic attitude is responsible for the sale of the fort to private parties.”
However, councillor Kanwarjeet Singh says, “The land was legally registered in the name of the people who sold it. They were well within their rights to sell their property.”
Legend has it that a cruel Mughal faujdar, Rustam Khan, used to occupy the fort in the 18th century. He had issued a diktat under which newly-wed women had to spend a month in his chambers before going to their marital homes. The locals appealed to Khalsa warrior Banda Singh Bahadur, to free them from Khan’s tyranny. Banda Bahadur sent an army under his general Baj Singh Bahadur, then governor of Patiala. This army defeated Khan and routed the Mughal forces from the fort.
Banda Singh Bahadur and Baj Singh Bahadur went on to establish the first Sikh kingdom after defeating Nawab Wazir Khan, the governor of Sirhind, in the historic battle of Chappar Chiri near Sirhind in 1710.
Guru Shahidi Kila Sahib gurudwara at the fort with its plaque commemorating the Sikh warriors is perhaps the sole testament of the fort’s pre-independence history.
The gurdwara is built on the spot where Baj Singh Bahadur’s brother Sukha Singh and his comrades died in 1769 in a battle against the Mughals. More than 1,000 soldiers are said to have died in this battle, which isrecorded by historian Giani Gian Singh.
(With inputs from Rajanbir Singh and Ribha Sood)