Photos and text by Rehan Asad|The 18th century Hammam that was functional till 1977 now lamenting for its decaying fate
Passing through the busy street traffic of cycles, motorcycles, rickshaw and newly started battery driven Tuktuk (Wagon Rickshaw) at Pilbhit as usual with small cities of Uttar Pradesh (India), one can find this unnoticed 18th-century monument located approximately three kilometers from Railway Station. It’s a Hammam (Bath) located on the right flank of old District hospital building. At a glance, one might considered it as an appendage of early twentieth-century hospital building but the exposed small bricks cemented with lime mortar (Surkhi Chuna) of the ruined structure and medieval arched windows will definitely give a trigger to any history buff to probe it more.
The site where the old district hospital and tehsil building is located was once the power center of Rohilkhand in the late 18th century. This was the site of the residential quarters (Mahal Sarai) and Diwan (official court) of Rohilla chieftain, Hafiz Rahmat Khan. It was in 1741, the Rohillas under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Khan seized complete Katehar from the imperial (Mughal) authorities who were controlling the territory from Bareilly. The newly added Pilibhit was given in Jagir to Hafiz Rahmat Khan who further expanded the Rohilla control in the Terai plains of the Himalayas. By the early death of Muhammad Ali Khan in 1748, the vast territory of Katehar along with plains of Terai and hilly towns of Kumaon was divided among different leaders. In absence of his sons who was taken as the hostage by Ahmad Shah Abdali, Hafiz Rahmat Khan was appointed as regent of newly established empire. For the next twenty-six years, the man was the most powerful leader of the Rohilla empire. Although busy with wars, he gave a considerable attention to his Jagir. As cited by Khan (1991), the mosques, markets, city walls, gardens, bridges, and Palaces were built at Pilibhit. He further added that the merchants and bankers were provided with the special concession to facilitate business at Pilibhit. A big mosque (Jama Masjid) and the temple (Gauri Shankar) that fortunately survived till date in the western quarter of the city is a testimony of its heydays that was sketched by Khan (1991) in his article titled Afghan forts and towns in North India (C1720-1800).
After the death of Rohilla chief in 1774 at Mirpur Katra in Rohilla Oudh war, the seven of the twelve surviving sons of Hafiz Rahmat Khan escaped to Pilibhit. The Nawab Oudh doubt the uprising from the defeated end so Abyssinian Army general, Siddi Bashir was dispatched on 26, April 1774 to the makeshift capital of Rohillas. On 28, April, Shuja Ud Daula himself came along with Colonel Champion and encamped before the Deoha river. The Abbysinian general was exploring the town to recover the treasure of Rohilla whom they believed was hidden in the royal buildings. Unable to find the hidden treasure, the Abbysinian general ordered to raze all the Palaces and residential complexes. In disappointment of not receiving any immediate financial gains that were required for the expense of British ally in the war, the town was ransacked. All the male and female descendants of Hafiz Rahmat Khan family were imprisoned and next morning presented to camps of Shuja Ud Daula at the banks of Deoha river.
Fortunately, the Hammam (bath) survived the massive destruction of 1774. When a district hospital was constructed on the ruins of the old structure in 1936, the structure was preserved in its original shape.
The Hammam (bath) was functional till 1977 having four to five working chambers that were beautifully designed on the medieval pattern providing the transition from the hot and humid chambers to the cool and dry chambers outside. It served as the public path for the locals and run by Hajjams (traditional barbers). With changing time, the tradition of public baths was lost and the building was left absconded once its function was lost. In last forty years, it was damaged by trees grown up in the nearby crevices of the old building. The piling of the waste material inside the chambers completely closed its access to the chambers. The beautiful structure is now lamenting for its fate that served the public of Pilibhit for more than two centuries other than its historical significance.
Thanks to my friend Shahnawaz Said Khan who gave his valuable time for exploring all the 18th-century monuments at Pilibhit during my vacations in June/2017.
- Ali, S.A.,(1933) Hayat I Hafiz, Nizami Press, Badayun. An oriental Biographical account of Hafiz Rahmat Khan.
- IQBAL HUSAIN, The Rise, and Decline of the Ruhela Chieftaincies in 18th Century India, Oxford University Press, 1995.
- KHAN IG. AFGHAN FORTS AND TOWNS IN NORTH INDIA (C. 1720-1800). In Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 1991 Jan 1 (Vol. 52, pp. 313-321).
- Nevill. H.R. (1909), PILIBHIT: A Gazetteer, VolXVIII of the District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.