Exploring Gher Kandahar at Pilibhit: An eighteen century Pashtun settlement

The new construction of the mosque. The inner praying chamber is approximately seven-meter in length and thirteen meters in breadth. The courtyard is around thirteen meter by twelve meters.

This eighteenth-century bridge on Khakra river connects the Pilibhit city with adjoining village Chandoi. Even after the fall of Ruhela, the zamindari rights of the village continued to be retained by the Pashtun family. The road connecting the village with the city is named after the early twentieth-century zamindar, Asghar Yaar Khan. Approximately two hundred meters on the western side from the main road after the crossing of the bridge on the Asghar Yaar Khan road, a secluded mosque is located on the bank of the river.

1914 tablet inscribed on the road before the start of the bridge. It was named after the local Pashtun Zamindar, Asgher Yar Khan.

According to the documents, the locality was named as “Gher Khandhar”. Within the premises of mosque, there is an old graveyard, with some graves having prominent tombstones. The surroundings have been covered by trees, shrubs, sugarcane plantation and mango orchards.

 

 

The original eighteenth-century structure was completely damaged by 1900 and the new mosque was constructed by Asghar Yaar Khan in 1902 over the ruins of the old structure. In 1994, the third construction took place as the second one was also crumbling. At someplace, the boundary wall of first construction is quite evident.

The main area of interest for the history lovers is the graveyard where it is widely believed that the resting place of the Ruhela Cheif, Hafiz Rahmat Khan mother is located. Close by two small graves has been directed towards the minor sons of Rahmat who died at early age. Hafiz Rahmat Khan was at the Abdali camp with his son Inayat Khan and other major Ruhela allies during the third battle of Panipat. When the news of his mother death reached also present among the allies were Oudh Nawab Shuja Ud Daula.  According to Hayate Hafiz (authored by Syed Altaf Ali) Rabia Zamani, the mother of Hafiz Rahmat Khan passed few days before the third battle of Panipat at Pilibhit in the year 1761. Ahmad Shah Abdali and other allies send most of his senior leaders to offer condolences in the camp of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. He also cited that after his return from the Panipat, the Ruhela leader first visited the grave of his mother at Pilibhit.

One of the son, Himmat Khan who passed at the age of tweleve few months after the battle of Panipat was also buried here. In 1972, one of the descendants from Ruhela lineage (Great-grandson of the Hafiz Rahmat Khan grandson, Arshaf Khan) who came from Karachi to visit his ancestral city. He got repaired the grave and fixed the white stone tablet on the tombstone. Near the entrance to the praying area, there was an old open-air grave made up of small bricks. Few years before, the local community repaired the grave and constructed a roof of brick and concrete slab. According to the oral history narratives, this grave is attributed to 18th-century mendicant and scholar Akhund Faqir who was highly revered by the Ruhelas.

The ruined original boundary wall of the premises showing Kakiya/Lakhori bricks cemented with red lime (Surkhi Chuna).

Most of the residents left the place during partition. By 1970, the remaining residents relocated from Gher Kandahar to the city. The praying area and premises remained deserted till 1993. Due to its deserted situation for almost more than two decades, it also became popular among the locals as “Jinnat Wali Masjid”.

The volunteered members of the local community took an initiative and prayers has been started. By 1994, the new building was constructed by the collaborative efforts.  In the premises of the mosque and surrounding area, there existed a thick plantation of trees and shrubs that include North Indian rosewood ( Sheesham), Mulberry (Shahtoot), Neem, and Jujube (Beri).

Pavement road connecting it to the main Asghar Yar Khan road. Up to 1947, there was some settlement present in the front of the mosque that is now replaced by trees, groves and agricultural land.

The old graveyard, mendicant tomb, surrounding trees and its location by the side of the river add the sense of serenity to the location. Sometimes people from different faiths also visited here with a belief of fulfilling their wishes (Murad). Its old boundary wall and old graves in the premises has many narratives behind its historical timeline.

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