A historic enclosure at Pilibhit

As we are celebrating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Gandhi Ji, this small square has an interesting connection with him.

Gateway of the park pic by Rehan Asad

Story of the neglected Ram Swarup park

Pic & Text |Rehan Asad

Located in the middle of the city, an old park without any plaques has an interesting story of its past. The gateway of a historic Ramswarup park got a recent facelift by a compromised municipal budget in a small city of Western Uttarpradesh (Pilibhit).  With few of the old remnants visible on the flank, almost the major portion of it has vanished with time. You will find traditional ear cleaners with red turbans wrapped on their imitating nineteenth-century occupational paintings left by the company painters. A small stall for exchanging torn currency & a man sitting for the repair of bygone days watch. This is the sight one can find in the front of Ram Swarup park located close to the ruined 19th-century colonial gateways build by British magistrate Drummond. Little is known about the exact date when this park was built. However it’s crumbled left kiosk with a cupola, the only left lakhori bricks structure in the historic square seems to be at least more than a century old. One could imagine its beauty when the nineteenth-century commercial enclave was adored by four beautiful gateways, & the square was nicely planned in the proximity of Northern & eastern gateways of Drummondganj.

The only remnant of old construction pic by Rehan Asad
Ram Swarup Park, July 2019, by Rehan Asad
Ram Swarup Park, July 2018 by Rehan Asad

It seems to be an extension of Drummondsganj. As we are celebrating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Gandhi Ji, this small square has an interesting connection with him. With a launch of famous non- cooperation movement Gandhi Ji took a tour to the small cities of United Provinces. On 31st December 1921, he visited Pilibhit after completing his tour to Shahjahanpur. He made several meetings with both Hindu & Muslim revolutionaries. The congress committees were formed even in the remotest corners of the district. It was here at this park, the father of the nation gave a speech to the audiences. From here he moved to neighboring district Lakhimpur. According to the district Gazette (1960), the visit made a huge impact & large number of British goods & clothes were boycotted. Along with the town, the village Sardarnagar (Amaria) & village Khamaria (Bisalpur) tahsil also witnessed active participation. Many of the youngsters from the district were arrested & jailed. Among them, my great grandfather, Sheikh Aminuddin & his cousin Sheikh Zakiuddin from village Khamaria were also arrested & put in district jail. Later on, they were shifted to District Jail of Lakhimpur for the next six months. The square of the historic park was surrounded by narrow lanes on its southern & eastern boundaries with old shops. Eighty eight-year-old Urdu writer & social worker Mr. Shams Jilani, a resident of Richmond City, Canada who was born (1931) at Pilibhit recalled that the square was known as Simons park in those days. Most of the shops were owned by the Punjabi Muslaman community. Still, the alley is filled with roadside hand-dyeing outlets, printing press & few old cloth stores running from generations.

Alley of Ram Swarup Park Pic by Rehan Asad

Another elderly resident of the city Ali Nazar Khan alias Abba Ji told: “I was seventeen years old when we were blessed with the gift of independence on eve of 15th 1947. I was among one of those who were engaged by municipal board to write on the gateway of the park “Yaume Azadi, with its date & year in Urdu script. The park was renamed after one revolutionary who laid his life in independence struggle as Ram Swarup Park”.

Portrait of Mr. Ali Nazar Khan, Pic by Rehan Asad

Slowly with the time, the boundary wall & gateway of the park crumbled. The enclosure left strayed for a long time. Till the last year, it was filled by the filthy waste material even though the new boundary walls & gateway has been erected. Fortunately this year some clearing of the waste took place even though the ground appears deserted. All the old plaques, construction dates have been lost in the ruins of the old buildings. Close to it, even the remnants of the Drumondsganj Northern gateway seem to be disappeared with time. The rest vanishes in history except the few heritage lovers & aged chroniclers were aware of the stories of its lost time.

Ram Swarup Park, July 2018, pic by Rehan Asad

Masjid Sheikh Kabir, a lesser known 18th century mosque at Pilibhit

Background: Masjid Sheikh Kabir is one of the foremost among the undocumented remnants of 18th-century Ruhela monuments at Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh. It seems to be one of the earliest constructed mosques of Ruhela settlement at Pilibhit. Prof. Iqbal Hussian cited Kabirpur in district Bareilly as the settlement named after the prominent Ruhela officer of Nawab Ali Muhammad Khan, Sheikh Kabir who rose to higher ranks in time of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Syed Altaf Ali Barelivi, a 1931 history graduate from Aligarh Muslim University wrote in a Biographical account of Hafiz Rahmat Khan titled “Hayate Hafiz” that Sheikh Kabir was among the earliest friend of Hafiz Rahmat Khan and accompanied with him from Tor Shahmatpur to Rohilkhand on the invitation of Ali Muhammad Khan in 1739. The Pashtun history expert https://twitter.com/Pashz7  told me that Tor Shahmatpur is now the part of Mardan District in North West Frontier of Pakistan.  A small locality in Pilibhit city Kabir Ganj was also named after Sheikh Kabir.

The roof of the verandah has been replaced in modern times, & part of it was renovated by Sheikh Wasi Ahmad Alias Muhadith Surti during late 19th century| Rehan Asad

Description of Mosque: In Pilibhit as common with other Pashtun settlements in North India, each of the chief ( Sardar) has a mosque after his own. I was not able to find the exact date of its construction but it was constructed somewhere in between 1740 to 1750 as it predates from the construction of the Grand Jama Masjid in 1769. This mosque was built by Sheikh Kabir who was among one of the leading Ruhela Sardar during the time of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Its located approximately one kilometer east of the Jama Masjid with its main gate located on the court road. The current name of the mosque derives due to the presence of the Bel (Wood Apple) trees present in the orchard of old graveyard lying on the eastern and southern flank of the mosque. With few modifications added in the later days, the main body of the mosque retained its old structure. Located on the plinth, the main section of the mosque is accessed by the ten steps from the northern gate. The old vaulted roof of the verandah seems to replaced during modern renovation. Five arched facades leads to the inner section of the mosque. The inner section still retains its vaulted roof, the arched facade for the entrance, mihrab & taakhs on the wall. Traditional lime mortar (Surkhi Chuna) has been used as the cementing substance for connecting  Lakhori/Kakiya (small) bricks.

The central arched entrance to the inner section of mosque| Rehan Asad
Mehrab of the mosque in inner section/Rehan Asad

All the three ends were surrounded by the gardens that have been replaced by thick human settlements by the centuries except the eastern end. The main entrance that might be added later on is now located on the Northern side of the structure. Built on the pattern of the late 18th century mosque on first floor, the Northern wall gave space to the couple of shops. The verandah open in the courtyard and this section has been replaced by the later stage renovations. It was in 1871, one of the notable students of Mufti Muhammad Masood Muhadith Dehalvi of Fatehpuri Masjid, Sheikh Maulana Wasi Ahmad alias Muhadith Surati opened a school of Hadith in the premises and extensions of Sheikh Kabir mosque. Sheikh Wasi Ahmad was buried outside the prayer section in the premises of the mosque in 1913 after his death. It was from here the second name of the mosque derived as Muhadith Sahab Ki Masjid. Interestingly while I was exploring for the mosque, I came to know that great Urdu legend Ale Ahmad Suroor offered his Friday prayers during his childhood days with his father Maulvi Karam Ahmad in this mosque when he was deputed at Pilibhit during Colonial days as a postmaster. During 1974, this was narrated by the legendary poet to my father when he got a chance to meet him at the home of Prof. Ansarullah Nazar Sahab at Aligarh. The crossroad near the mosque also derived the name Belon Wala Chauraha from the nearby Bel (Wood Apple) trees standing in the graveyard of Sheikh Kabir Mosque.

One of the few Wood apple trees left in graveyard close to the mosque/Rehan Asad
Multiple shops were opened in the southern wall of the mosque| Rehan Asad

The local community is not aware of more than two and half centuries old mosque carries many layers of the historical timeline with it. The cupola shaped merlons sandwiched in between the parapet shaped design on the walls of the mosque are some of the remnants from its old construction. More popular as Belon Wali Masjid, except the old generation, hardly people could recall it as Masjid Sheikh Kabir.

Legacy of Mian Tufail Ahmad

A Karachiwalla’s connection with his ancestral hometown Pilibhit in Uttarpradesh.

Mian Tauseef Ahmad

Pics & Memoir by Mian Tauseef Ahmad, compiled by Rehan Asad

Mian Tauseef, a seventy- two years old retired squadron leader of Pakistan Air force social media shares consisted of a larger chunk of Indian history, culture, poetry, & Bollywood. His profile introduced him ” Squadron leader (R) Mian Tauseef Ahmad, b 20 Oct 1947, Arain settled in Karachi came from Pilibhit, Rohilkhand, UP“.  He was born two months five days after the 15 August 1947 when the Indian subcontinent gained independence from British rule. His birthplace Pilibhit was located on the fringes of Western Uttar Pradesh close to the Indo-Nepal border. His ancestors belonged to the “Arain tribe” of eastern Punjab who migrated to Rohilkhand in the late 18th century. It was famines & political unrest caused by Bhatti Rajputs that forced a small part of the tribe from Punjab to relocate in Terai plains of Himalayas. By the time of partition, this small Punjabi diaspora of approximately around ten thousand was distributed in eighty villages of Pilibhit, Bareilly & Nainital districts of United Provinces. As an agrarian tribe, they were stratified as cultivators (Kisans), middle-class landowners (Zamindars) & few of the elite landlords (Rich Zamindars). With Indian partition, almost half of the youngsters moved to the newly created Pakistan & mainly settled in Urdu speaking cities of Sindh with few families in Punjab & NWFP. His father Mian Muhammad Tauseef was born in July 1922 in village Dheram, District Pilibhit & mother Qayum Al Nisa Begum was born in village Karghaina, District Pilibhit in October 1928. A British army recruit Mian Tufail who also took part in WW II moved with his family members from Pilibhit to Lahore in December 1947.

In his reflective account he shares a biographical account of his late father Mian Tufail Ahmad, ancestral connections with Pilibhit in India, story of their migration to Pakistan, his struggle, education & upbringing among the diverse cultures of Punjab & North West frontier as an Urdu speaker with roots from small fringe town of United Provinces.

Mian Tauseef Ahmad wrote: My late father Mr. Tufail Ahmad was from a kissan (small farmers) family of Arain tribe in the Village Dheram, Amaria Block, Pilibhit located in Uttar Pradesh, India. Before the abolition of Zamindari in 1952, our small village was under the zamindari of one Hindu Zamindar. I am told that his representative would visit the village twice a year just to collect Malia (the government tax). After 15 August 1947, it came under All India Congress Government and by 1951 all Zamindaris were abolished and the land belonged to the farmers. The farming land in Uttar Pradesh was measured in Bighas. My grandfather late Mr. Barkat Ali owned a hundred bighas of land. Now the official record of farming is kept in Hectares and one Hectare is equal to 20 kanals. There are almost 80 villages of Arians in District Pilibhit, Bareilly & adjoining Nainital District. The majority of these Arains are called Sirsawal Arains because of their affiliation from Sirsa (Now in Haryana) from where they migrated in 1783 AD.

Left to Right Prof. Mian Shafeeq Ahmad with his elder brother late Mian Tufail Ahmad

 My late father was first in his small village to join the Primary School. It was located in Madhopur, a village that was 6 kms away from our ancestral home. He passed his class V in 1932. He completed his middle from Government School of a small town Jahanabad, District Pilibhit. It was due to an incident during a football match at Government High School Jahanabad of District Pilibhit where some students surely including my late father misbehaved with the referee. As a result, they were expelled from admission & barred to be admitted to any school of Bareilly division.  So he joined Islamia High School Muzaffar Nagar & completed his matriculation from the same school.  Coming from Urdu medium background & once expelled from middle school delayed his matriculation. He matriculated at the age of twenty in 1942. He also motivated his younger brother Shafique Ahamd for the studies who is now a retired Professor & settled in Florida USA.  After completing Matriculation in 1942 AD from Islamia High School Muzaffar Nagar in First Division, he was misled by a recruiting agent and joined the British Army as a Havaldar Clerk. His Corp was ASC. Later he repented it because there was no release from the Army during WW II. He was one of the earliest recruits in Defence forces from his locality as there was no tradition of joining Defence Forces among Arains who was prospered by the landholdings.  In 1942 when he was under training at Bareilly his marriage was arranged. He got a single day leave & his Sikh Company Commander gave him an optional leave on the birthday of Baba Gru Nanak Dev. Later on, I used to cut jokes with him by saying that this might be the reason we have certain habits resembling the Sikhs. He got four transfers for three and a half years. Trained at Bareilly, then first posting at Karachi Cantt, second at Ferozpur and fourth at Lucknow. On 6th August 1945, the USA detonated the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and second on Nagasaki on 9th August that ended WWII. Now the release from the Army became open. My late father immediately applied for release and it was granted.  Based on his education, he was rehabilitated as Assistant Welfare Officer and placed at Lucknow.

Late Mian Tufail Ahmad with his wife Qayum Al Nisa Begum, 1993

 For the first time, he took his family that includes my mother & my elder sister late Fatima who was born in January 1945 to Lucknow. I was yet not born. In the mid of 1947, the situation started to deteriorate particularly in the cities so my parents came back to their village. Before leaving Lucknow my late father bought edible Attar from Ms. Iqtida Khan Muqtada Khan so from August to December 1947 he sold it to the local sweetmeats marts.  This was the time when I was born on 20th October 1947.  My father waited till the mid of December and finally decided to migrate to Pakistan, a dreamland for the Indian Muslims. My parents with two children reached Lahore on 25 th December 1947. My father reported to his ex-unit at Jehlum. He was converted to Upper Division Clerck & send to serve the industries department at Lyallpur now Faisalabad. We were allotted temporarily a house in Mohalla Khalsa College. We remained at Lyallpur for five years. My father used to go to a place Mae Di Jhuggi to his office.  Although I was a child of four years I still remember the road leading to Kohinoor Textiles Mills and the bullock carts carrying cotton. I also remember that the majority of residents in our Mohalla were Punjabi speakers and my father told me that they were Punjabi speaking Pathans from Amritsar. There was no mosque in the vicinity so all the people made efforts to make a masjid. My father occupied an Ahata, kept four buffaloes in it and with the help of a servant used to maintain them and also sold milk to the local Halwais.

Portrait of Mian Tufail Ahmad , 1986

I don’t remember personally but as I was told that in 1949 my late father picked up a quarrel with a Pesh Imam (Cleric who performs prayers in a mosque) who allegedly indulging in some unwanted activities and my late father stabbed and injured him seriously right in the masjid during Isha prayers. The local police arrived and arrested him. My late mother used to tell us that this was one of the toughest days of her life. It was the time when my younger sister was about to be born.   It was after 15 days his release was arranged and the Punjabi friends helped him a lot. He had to approach the family of the injured person and offered him a reasonably good amount by selling the four buffalos. This was the time when my younger sister was born and she was named Masooda which means a person of good luck.

Now my late father was fed up petty local politics. He returned to the self-studies. He did Adeeb Fazil, then Bachelors in English language and went to Sialkot to got admission in MA (English) in Murray College Sialkot. During the evenings, he used to serve as Accountant in a surgical instruments firm. He completed his MA Previous from Murray’s College. I vividly remember first we used to live in Sialkot Saddar and then in Ghazipur/Talwara.  Ghazipur was small village of Jutts (a sturdy &  respectable caste in Punjabis). It was pretty difficult to pull on economically with the family of six members and he continued with his MA classes so in MA Final he moved to Rawalpindi where we had some well-established relatives from Pilibhit connection.  One of them Mian Faheem ud Din was Deputy Military Accountant General & his brother In law Abdul Khaliq Jillani was Accounts  & Audit Officer in Military Accounts. My father took admission in MA Final in Gordon College Rawalpindi. It was in January 1956 that my late father joined GHQ as Assistant Superintendent on basis of BA. Thus we started living in Tench Bhata a suburb of Rawalpindi. I remember the celebration of 23rd March 1956 when Pakistan was declared Republic. It was in May 1957 that my father took me for admission in class 6 he submitted an affidavit that I had not studied in a regular school so I was given a test in Urdu, Math and General Knowledge which I passed successfully. I studied in Cantonment Board High School Lalkurti Rawalpindi. The headmaster of the school, Mr. Ansari was very efficient gentleman. I studied in that school up to class eight. Some of the teachers I remember were science teacher Mr. Samiulla, Urdu teacher Mr. Sabir , English teacher. It is no more a village rather a suburb. As my father was serving in GH Q and we were allotted a JCO quarter in Victoria Barracks just opposite Convent School and very close to Lalkurti Rawalpindi. Then my father applied for the allotment of small property in exchange what was left in India and he was allotted five acres of fertile land and a house just in the beginnings of Bazar Garhi Daulat Zai part of big village Garhi Kapura Tehsil in District Mardan. The house was left by one Ram Singh but was   occupied by some local family but it was the time when Martial Law was imposed by General Muhammad Ayoub Khan and things were moving very quickly.  My father exerting the influence of GHQ got both his properties vacated. He himself got posted at Air Headquarters Peshawar and we started living in Garhi Kapura. It was in 1961 I was admitted in class eight in Government High School Garhi Kapura. I was the only Urdu Speaking student in the school and called “Panhguzeen” a Pashtun word meaning Refugee. I picked up Pashto very quickly. Our headmaster was Sir Fida Younas from the nearby village Galyara who was a towering personality in a small school. I studied in this school for two years and then my father decided to shift his family to Peshawar Saddar. A house was allotted right on the city saddar road near Green Hotel opposite General Post Office. The street was known as Donga Gali. I got admission to Government High School one of the best in Peshawar Cantonment. I passed my matriculation from there. Among our teachers, Mr. Husnain Naqvi was an outstanding personality. He was remembered as an iconic educator in Peshawar Saddar. I passed SSC in 1964 and my late father had a desire that I should become an agricultural scientist. I was taken to Agriculture College Peshawar for admission and after a short interview with the vice-principal Dr.  Roghani I was admitted. The most interesting part of the interview, it was started in English and came to an end in Pashto.  Dr. Roghani remarked that I spoke Pashto perfectly but Tauseef is not a common name among the Pashtuns. Dr.  Shamsul Islam Ali Khan was the Principal of Agriculture College. United States government was kind to Pakistan & our Agriculture College of Peshawar was associated with Colorado State University. The majority of the faculty members hold Doctorates in various disciplines. Every student was given scholarship and the scholarship of the boarders was double than the day scholars. It was my hard luck or laziness that I did not succeed there. My late father said that if you had the talent you are likely to succeed in any field. I  pray for his departed soul. It was August 1965 and Indo-Pak battle had yet not taken place. My father decided that I should go to India and meet my relatives as my paternal uncles; Nani (Grandmother), Khalu (Uncle) & Khala (Aunt) were alive then. Not hardcore but skirmishes were taking place in Dara Haji Pir in Kashmir. I raised my concern to my late father but he told it was common between India and Pakistan since 1947. So it was on 30 August 1965 that I departed for Bareilly by Hora Mail which used to depart from Platform No.4. I reached Bareilly the next morning and was received by my Khalu Haji Amir Ahmad. I was still staying with my Nani when one of our relatives who had a radio run with battery informed that the battle between India and Pakistan had commenced. It was on the evening of 6th September 1965 that a constable from Police Station Amaria came and informed that I was under house arrest. Two of my relatives gave guaranty that I would remain confined to the village Karghaina. It was just a formality otherwise I used to roam all the areas of Rayeenwara (a local term used for Arain villages in Pilibhit). So I remained with my ancestors up to February 1966 till the Tashkent Declaration took place. The other mishap happened in the land of ancestors; I lost my Pakistani passport for which FIR had to be lodged in the Police Station of Amaria, a small town of Pilibhit near my mother’s ancestral village. Finally, my Khalu Haji Amir Ahmad went to Pakistan Embassy Delhi and got a new passport issued for me. In February 1966 I returned by land route of Ganda Singh  Hussaini Wala. Here during stay six months at the ancestral village of my mother in Pilibhit, UP, I also learned a little bit of Hindi Language.

From left to right, the portrait of all four brothers, Mian Tauseef Ahmad, Mian Tauqeer Ahmad, Taufeeq Ahmad, & late Tanveer Ahmad, 2002

I finished my Intermediate (FA examinations) in 1967 & took admission in Government College Peshawar. It was a great experience to stay for two years in this institution. Mr. Mosa Khan Kaleem was the principal. It was during the General Yahya Khan regime when I started my career as upper-division Clerk in Accountant General NWFP Office.  I must mention here that I was already rejected twice Inter Services Selection Board aka ISSB. After serving AG Office for one year and four months one of my colleagues. A friend informed me he had listened on the radio that Pakistan Air Force was in need of Education Instructors directly to be inducted as Flight Sergeant. He also informed me the basic requirement was BA/BSc in Second Division. I immediately reported to PAF Information and selection center located on 3 The Mall Peshawar. Flag officer Nazir Mirza was Officer in Charge who reviewed my documents & passed to the wing commander who was Director of Education. I very well remember it on 28th April 1971. After basic Intelligence tests and primary medical examination I, Fazal Karim, Mosam Khan, and Ajab Khan were sent the School of Education for basic training of 6 weeks. I was transferred to the Central Technical Development Unit, PAF Base Faisal as Ian in charge of the Library. On 16 December 1971 when the Pakistan Defence Forces surrendered at Dhaka, there was an urgent need of Education Instructors at PAF Kohat because all the Bengali Education Instructors and Officers were demobilized. I was posted to recruits Training School Kohat now known as PTTS . From June1972I to June I974 Base Commanders Kohat were Grp Capt  H MC Misra, Grp Capt Nazir A Mirza, Air Commodore M Afzal Khan.  I taught English and Pakistan Studies there for two years and then I was transferred to Air Headquarters Peshawar in Central Library from November 1972 to September 1973. In September 1973 I was back in teaching at Kohat.  Once again I was transferred to Central Library Air Headquarters Peshawar. I  must mention that my late father was  GSO III aka  Gazetted Staff Officer at Air Headquarters Peshawar and  I was unmarried so he got me twice transferred to Peshawar. I got married to Sarwat on 28th December. They were our relatives & connected with our small Pilibhit based Arain tribe in Pakistan.  They lived from 1950 to 1974 in Kocha Hari Singh, Main Bazar Kohat. They later shifted to Lahore and lived in Gulberg III. I completed four years as Flight Sargent & four years as Warrant Officer. Then as an Education Instructor at Peshawar. Now I completed 8 years so I was eligible for Commission so applied for it & my good luck that most Education Instructors were on Deputation to Libya.  I was selected easily and send to the College of Education Kohat for six months. It was the time when Zulfiqar Ali  Bhutto was hanged on 4th April  1979 and everybody felt it very badly. In this College Group Captain Kiyani later on, Air Commodore Kiyani and Group Captain Nizam and Flt Lt Masroor Ahmad  Siddiqui were good teachers. I  graduated as a Flying Officer and transferred to Directorate of Studies PAF Academy Risalpur but one of my ex comrades then Warrant Officer Rao Ayoub (now a big tycoon as a property dealer in Malir Cantt, Karachi)  played dirty politics and I was posted to  PAF Base Samungli. Now I realize that people were against me but Allah was very kind to me otherwise I would have never seen Balochistan and enjoyed my three years stay at Quetta. My first Base Commander was  Air Commodore Aziz known as  Aziz Tao and second Base Commander was then Air Commodore Akhtar Bukhari later on AVM Bukhari really a good commander. Begum Bukhari was a German lady of a cultivated taste. All students used to go to Quetta for studies. She asked me to establish a school up to class 5 so we were successful in establishing the school. My son Ehtisham Khan was born on 18th August 1981at PAF Base Samungli. I stayed at PAF Base Samungli (Quetta) for three years. In 1982 my father was retired from Peshawar. I served Air force for thirty years & got retirement in 2001. A year after my father left the world in 2002 at the age of ninety. I joined one private Air force training center & served there for the next ten years.

Mian Tauseef in his uniform
Mian Tauseef Ahmad with his wife late Sarwat Tauseef visiting Sikh pilgrimage

In the flashback, the memories of my six -month stay visit to India, the land of my ancestors are still fresh in my mind. The connection with the hometown where I was born seems to be inseparable. This is the memoir of the man who left India along with his parents at the age of three months. He was brought up & educated in Punjab, & Khyber Pakhtunwala. For six months, during his teenage, he stayed in India, his birthplace & land of his ancestors. In addition to Urdu as the first language, he fluently spoke Punjabi, Pashtu, English & Hindi. Where many of the smart city residents felt embarrassed to affiliate with the mofussil towns of UP & Bihar, Mian Tauseef proudly associates with the small town of Pilibhit on the other side of Radcliffe line. Where many of his relatives from Pilibhit Arain diaspora in Pakistan finds chauvinism with their ancestral roots of Colonial zamindari of United Provinces, he is proud of his roots from the Kisan(Farmer) grandfather.

Crumbling legacy of Drummond at Pilibhit

A mid-nineteenth century British magistrate whose efforts gave the first modern school to the small city of United Provinces

Text & Pictures by Rehan Asad

Among the four gateways, this western one is in better condition. Though the minarets and many other features were lost. Tthe roof is still intact.

The western gateway of Drummond Ganj.

Pilibhit is located fifty-five kilometers south of Bareilly is North Eastern most district of Rohilkhand division, Uttarpradesh, India. In 1879, Pilibhit was created as the separate district from Bareilly. Little is known of the main city before the settlement of Ruhela Afghans especially when Hafiz Rahmat Khan who made it as the capital of Rohilkhand in 1740. Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol 11 (1886) by Sir William Wilson Hunter wrote about the market Drummond Ganj that was named after a former District Officer having the substantial number of goods shops located at the main part of the city. This beautiful market was built by the British magistrate Honorable R. Drummond at Pilibhit. There were around three hundred twenty shops enclosed in the four gates. The gateways were arranged in a pattern that gave an appearance of the cross. The northern and southern gateways were approximately two hundred fifty meters apart.

The Northern gateway that has been completely lost. Only the few side wall are left as the traces.

The eastern and western gateway were approximately a hundred meters away from each other. Ten meters away from the Northern gateways, the connecting roads to the gateways intersect to form the crossroads.

The eastern gateway that is opening towards the station road and the market around it.

Made up of Lakhori/small bricks and red lime (Surkhi Chuna), the outer plaster has carved floral designs that have been lost in most of the gateways. Each gateway is beautifully designed in an Indo Saracenic pattern with arches, Taakhs, and minarets. The roof has the vaulted appearance but not like a dome.

Only on the western gateway, the roof has been survived. Its made up of small concave vaults supported by iron grids.

The inner walls of the gateways have the curved enclosures fitted with wooden frames with the doors that lead to the chambers. The outer section also has similar arched curves that have the opening for the windows of the first floor chambers. The income generated from this market was endowed for promoting education among the locals of the community at Pilibhit. I was not able to found the construction date of Drummond Ganj but an approximate idea can be built by the reference where it has been cited. One of the oldest references is the Stewart report of the Public education of North-Western Provinces published from Benares in 1859. The report quoted “The Pilibhit school is maintained by the local funds, the proceeds of the Ganj built by Hon’ble R. Drummond, for many years, the joint magistrate of Pilibhit, Rs 15, the pay of the master of Tahsil, amalgamated with Anglo-Vernacular school is the only item of the expenditure which defrayed by the Government“. From this account it appears, that Drummond Ganj was constructed before the formation of District in 1879 and even before the mutiny in 1857. Mr. Shahbuddin, a senior citizen from Muslim Khatri (Punjabi) community whose great grandfather, Sheikh Jiwan Buksh build a grandiose haveli closeby Drummondganj before 1857 narrated the similar version of its construction as an endowment for the educational cause for the locals. The book life and works of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan by GFI Graham (1885) also reflected on the educational inclination of Drummond. The book cites “In 1864, Hoble R. Drummond presided over an educational meeting at Badaon that was attended by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and the latter also delivered a speech in the convocation“. Later in 1908, H.R. Nevill Gazette also talked of Drummond Ganj endowment that covers the expense of the Pilibhit School. It was after his great contributions towards the education of the Pilibhit, the government high school and later on the intermediate College was named as Drummond Inter College.

Almost thirty years before during our childhood days, the four gateways of Drummond Ganj were in better condition. The southern gateway that was facing towards the road to Bareilly was popular among locals as “Bareilly Darwaza”. The ground floor has the number of shops occupied by the tenants. The first floor was occupied by registry department issuing death & birth certificates. Among the four gateways, it was completely intact during those days.  During the year 1999, I visited this office thrice to get a death certificate of my late maternal grandfather.

The Southern gateways that also houses many government offices till the year 2000. Now completely crumbled. Also popular among the locals as Bareilly Darwaza.

Though shabby and stinky, it was not expected to crumble down completely in the next twenty years. With time, the government offices have been shifted to newly constructed larger office spaces in civil lines. In the last two decade, the vaulted roof has fallen down. The shopkeepers secured their own space but the surroundings of the gateways degraded with time. Most of the shopkeepers sitting in these historic gateways are either Hindu Banias and Muslim Khatris ( Shamsi/Punjabi Muslims) who form the major bulk of trading community from the time of Ruhelas and later on Britishers. When the beautiful building of the first government school was raised in 1915, it was named after Drummond as an acknowledgment for his great efforts.

This building was raised in 1915 as the permanent allocation for the high school. It was named as Drummonds school as an acknowledgment for the great man whose efforts lead to the first school at Pilibhit. After independence, this was elevated to Inter College in 1952.

A tablet in the Hindi language hanged in the main hall of Drummonds Inter College. It articulated the efforts of Drummonds to create an endowment from Drummonds Ganj that facilitated in the construction of this school. Though some historical inaccuracies are also noticed in information. It says the school was inaugurated by Hon’ble R. Drummond, the magistrate of Pilibhit in 1915. From the references that I cited in the article showed that R. Drummond was the magistrate of the Pilibhit before 1857.

After independence, it was raised to the senior secondary level and documented as State Government Drummond Inter College. Unfortunately, the local civic authorities became dementic regarding the legacy of Drummond that endowed the money for running the first educational establishment of the city for almost a century ago. This is a real unfortunate face of many crumbling monuments in small cities. A small effort in this direction can help to save our heritage.

References: 

  1. Hunter, William Wilson. Imperial Gazetteer of India... Vol. 11. Trumbner & Company, London, 1879.
  2. Henry Stewart Reid, Report on the state of Popular education, in the North Westen Provinces, for 1856/57 and 1857/1858, Published under the authority of the Government, Benares, Medical Hall press, 1859.
  3. Nevill, H.R. (1909), PILIBHIT:  A Gazetteer of the District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, VolXVIII.

Marking remnants of Karghaina Building at Pilibhit

The story of honorary magistrate Maulvi Shiekh Abdul Haqq

Text by Rehan Asad| Pictures by Tabish Akhyar

The main entrance to the building. Its located at the start of the western boundary. The passage on this entrance was wider than entrance on the southern boundary wall. The gate at the entrance was removed when some of the sections had been sold out in 1950.

The western boundary of the building that now had shops and few flats on the first floor.

Close to the western part of the city, Karghaina building is located in Muneer Khan locality of Pilibhit having around twenty houses, and roadside shops. From its destructured appearance, it’s difficult to visualize, that a century before it was one building. It came into existence in 1902. Built by an Arain landlord, Sheikh Abdul Haqq of village Karghaina whose father held a zamindari estate of three whole villages and shares in many other villages in Pargana Jahanabad. An old grove with an area of approximately four acres existed here that was purchased by Shiekh Abdul Haqq from a Pashtun named Natthu Khan. Born on 27 Dhulqaida 1281 Hijri (1860), he was the eldest son of Haji-Sheikh Qudrat Ali. Shiekh Haji Qudrat Ali stayed at Hijaz for more than three years when he left for the Hajj in 1880. He also stared a Madrassa at Village Karghaina that continued to be managed by his middle son after his death. The eldest son, Sheikh Abdul Haqq was sent to Pilibhit for studying Darse Nizami under the tutelage of great Islamic scholar of the nineteenth century, Maulana Wasi Ahmad who was also known as Muhaddith Surti.  A famous Islamic scholar from Rampur Maulvi Salamatullah was appointed for homeschooling of other two sons at village Karghaina. After the death of his father, the villages were divided among three brothers.

A family tree of Haji-Sheikh Qudrat Ali prepared by Tabish Akhyar in 2011. It traced most the descendants. Some of them relocated to Pakistan & USA and Canada.

Leaving behind his ancestral haveli at Village Karghaina, Shiekh Abdul Haqq relocated to the city.  It was due to ancestral association with the village, the building was named as Karghaina Building. As an Islamic Scholar, Zamindar and businessman he was quite active in sociopolitical life.  He was also nominated by the Imperial government as an honorary magistrate.

The building was constructed as seven separate apartments connected with each other. The entrance to the building was through two paved streets fenced by the gates at the entrance on the western and southern side. The apartments were divided into main residential section (Zenan Khana), baithaks (Guest lodges), and servant quarters. It also had areas in shape of the park for female members, gardens, and section with planted trees of different varieties.

The entrance at the southern boundary of the building.  The entrance was bounded by the big gate that has been removed now. Here the road/passage is narrow. This was mainly used by family members. At the end on the right side, a small park was made for the female family members.

In the center of the building, an apartment of around two hundred square yards was Baithak/ Drawing room of Shiekh Abdul Haqq. This apartment can be accessed from both sides. A separate section served as the guest lodge of his only son, Maulvi Anwar Ul Haqq. At the end of the street of southern entrance, a park of six hundred square yards was made close to the female apartments of the building. This was specifically allocated for the females of the household so they could enjoy the walk and relaxed in open air within the building.  It has cement benches, fountains and paved galleries. Each of the apartments had the same design. Hall rooms with high ceiling supported with timber and iron grids as a beam.

The verandah (dallan) having similar in design with its front facade supported by the pillars connected by the arches. Then one extended verandah covered by the shade of wrought iron and supported by thin iron rods.

Wrought iron was commonly found in early 20th century North Indian construction. It was introduced in the late 19th century.

Outside a brick-lined courtyard with a raised platform (Chabutra) at one corner. Every apartment has a small area in the courtyard for the plantation of the trees such as pomegranate, guava, mango, and flowers commonly rose.

An element of local architecture of early 20th century. Taakh and a slab below used as a lack for placing items.

One of the small units lying on the left flank of the Western entrance was given to the mason who supervised the construction.

The present occupant purchased it from the custodian properties when he moved to Pakistan in 1947. During the lifetime of Shiekh Abdul Haqq, the building was the center of socio-political activities. The notable Islamic scholar of twentieth-century Imam Ahmad Raza Khan visited Pilibhit eleven times in his life and stayed at Karghaina building as an honored guest of Sheikh Abdul Haqq. My late grandmother who was a small child during those days had faint memories of his stay. After Friday prayers, the scholars, Urdu poets, and other influential people used to have a leisure time at the residence of Sheikh Abdul Haqq. The first annual convocation of the community meeting was held at the same place on 17 February 1917 that was also attended by the envoys sent by Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi from Punjab. During Muharram and Rabiul Awwal feast and congregations were organized at the building. He passed away in 1936 and the funeral prayer was performed by Maulana Hamid Raza Khan, the eldest son of Ahmad Raza Khan. He was survived by one son, Maulvi Anwar Ul Haqq and four daughters. On his death, he left behind a flourishing business, one whole zamindari village, and Karghaina building. Unfortunately, the son was more like a mendicant and low aptitude for managing worldly matters. As a result, he was deceived by many of his close friends. Many time people from close circle asked for the loans in name of performing charity, going for Hajj pilgrimage or joint ventures for new business and losses were suffered on his pocket. Many of the apartments were sold by Maulvi Anwar Ul Haqq after the abolition of zamindari in 1945 to 1950.  Most of them were purchased by the zamindars of his community who relocated to the city after the abolition of zamindari system. Maulvi Anwar Ul Haqq passed away in 1963.

This was the residential section of Sheikh Abdul Haqq. The constructed area was around fourteen hundred square yards. Sheikh Usman Hussain a zamindar of Village Udaipur took it on rent in 1945. Later on, it was divided into three separate houses. The main part was purchased by him. His son Mr. Irfan Hussain made some modification. Most of the descendants of Mr. Irfan Hussian relocated to the United States and Canada after attaining higher education from AMU in 1970.

Most of the descendants of second owners had migrated to major cities of India and in western countries after attaining higher education. Some of them also moved to Pakistan in the decade of the 50s & 60s. All of the units had been reconstructed except the two of them that still retained one hundred ten years old construction. One is owned by the descendants of Shiekh Nazeer Ahmad, a wealthy landlord of the district who once owned a Daang estate having more than ten villages. The second one is under the occupation of the great-grandson of Sheikh Abdul Haqq who provided these pictures. This section was taken on rent by the Municipal board to run a female junior high school during the lifetime of Sheikh Abdul Haqq.

The arched facade supported by the thick pillars became the part of a middle-class urban dwelling in the early 20th century. It was imbibed in local architecture from the early days Colonial buildings.

I also had two connections with this place. First I was born and brought up in a house that was once a cultural center of this building, the guest lodge/baithak of Karghaina building. I still remember its thick walls, high ceilings, Taakhs and other elements of old construction. It was bought by my father in 1975 from one of his grandsons. Second, one of the daughters of Shiekh Abdul Haqq was my maternal great-grandmother. The stories of its heydays were passed by my Nani (maternal grandmother) who was the oldest among all third generation descendants of Sheikh Abdul Haqq. As born in 1908, she saw the days of Maulvi Sheikh Abdul Haqq when Karghaina building was one of the vibrant and lively addresses of the town. Maulana Anwar Ul Haqq was survived by four sons and two daughters. The eldest son and both of the daughters moved to Pakistan.  From all children’s of Maulvi Anwar Ul Haqq, only two sons are alive and rest of them took a journey to next world. May Allah bless all of them?

This section is located by the right of the southern entrance. Spread over an area of one thousand square yards, it has the garden with plantation of different varieties of trees. The part of it was also used a stable for horses and parking of carts and vehicles.

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.

The grave of Rabia Zamani, the mother of Hafiz Rahmat Khan.

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.

Grave of Hazrat Akhun that was reconstructed by the local community members three years before.

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.

Masjid Malik at Pilibhit: Exploring an eighteenth century remnant of Malik Shadee Khan

Background: On the left flank of the old district hospital near chowk bazar, Pilibhit stood a small beautiful mosque widely popular among the locals as Malik ji ki Masjid. The area around it is also known as Gher Malik. The verbatim meaning of Urdu word “Gher” means encircling. For the above context, it is used to mention the compound. Elliot mentioned in Gulistane Rahmat, Malik Shadee Khan as the cousin of Hafiz Rahmat Khan, who was a son of his uncle, Shahdad Khan. Shadee Khan played a key role in the establishment of Ruhela confederacy from the time when Daud Khan was seeking fortunes in Kateher merely as an adventurer. It was same Shadee Khan who placed Ali Mohammad Khan, an adopted son of Daud Khan as Ruhela leader when the latter was assassinated by Raja Deeb Chand of Kumaon in 1720. The rulers of the independent princely state of Rampur were the direct descendant of Ali Mohammad Khan. As cited in “Hayate Hafiz” and “The rise & fall of the Ruhela Chieftaincies in 18th Century India“, the Ruhela Cheif, Hafiz Rahmat Khan accommodation existed in front of historic Jama Masjid and it includes family apartments, court, and havelis of other prominent chiefs.

Description of the monument: Malik Ji ka Gher is now occupied by densely populated homes that were mainly constructed during the Colonial period. The nearby old District Hospital and Tehsil were built on the site of Rohilla chief Palace.  A Turkish Hammam is still present in the ruined condition between these two buildings.http://www.rehanhist.com/2017/12/30/18th-century-hammam-turkish-bath-at-pilibhit-the-last-remnant-of-rohilla-chief-palace/. It seems that mosque was the part of the Malik Shadee Khan apartment that once existed on the place that is still known among the local as Malik Ji ka Gher. The main section of the mosque has been renovated recently but fortunately, one of the main pieces of evidence has been left. The vaulted roof and domes have been replaced by the newly constructed slab. However, the boundaries and entrance to the main section remained untouched. Three arched gateway leads to the inner section of the mosque in which the central one has a tablet depicting the name of Malik Shadee Khan with the date in Hijri as 1172 (1758 Gregorian). The verse written at the top of the tablet seems to Persian and it was difficult to read the words due to whitewash on the engravings. However, the term “Masjid” is readable.

The closer view of the text engraved on the tablet. The second, third and fourth words is the name of the Ruhela leader, Malik Shadee Khan. Below is the date in Hijri i.e., 1172. The above lines seem to be a small description of the Mosque where I could understand the third-word “Masjid”

Central entrance to the main section of the mosque. The tablet located above in the picture has text engraved in Persian.

The courtyard of the mosque has some old graves on the left corner. The caretaker told that most of them date back from the old Ruhela days. Some of them have dates engraved on them that have been lost due to the repeated whitewash of the tombstones. The walls and mihrab (niche) in the inner section of the mosque is the part of the old construction that has been plastered during the renovation.

 

The old graves in the outer section on the left side of the main courtyard.

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The inner section of the mosque showing Mehrab “niche”.

References:

  1. Husain, Iqbal. The Ruhela Chieftaincies: The Rise and Fall of Ruhela Power in India in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press, USA, 1994.
  2. The life of Hafiz Ool Moolk, Hafiz Rehmut Khan, Written by his son, Nawab Mustujab Khan Bahadoor, and entitled Gulistane Rahmat, Abridged and translated from Persian, by Charles Elliot, London, 1831.
  3.  Ali, S.A.,(1933) Hayat I Hafiz, Nizami Press, Badayun. An oriental Biographical account of Hafiz Rahmat Khan.

 

Guari Shankar Temple at Pilibhit: Reminiscence of 18th Century Rohilla days

Two beautiful gates were constructed by Rohilla leader Hafiz Rahmat Khan at four centuries old temple in 1769.

Text by Rehan Asad| Pics by Shahnawaz Said Khan & Rehan Asad

More than a century old railway station of Pilibhit displayed the description of two late 18th century monuments

Pilibhit, a small city located fifty-five kilometers south of Bareilly is the headquarter North Eastern most district of Rohilkhand division, Uttarpradesh, India. Pilibhit was created as the separate district from Bareilly almost one hundred thirty-nine years before in 1879. The late historian Iqbal Ghani Khan wrote in his research article Afghan cities and town in North India (C1720-1800), “the Ruhela decision to set more permanent structure in the form of the mosque, city walls, palaces, bridges, and markets was seen in the growth of Pilibhit under Hafiz Rahmat Khan in 1760 (Khan, 1991)”.  Other than the origin of the River Gomti from Pilibhit District, it has few monumental remains of the mid-eighteenth century when the city was founded by Rohilla Cheif. A mosque was built on the pattern of Shahjahanabad Jama Masjid and another flank of Rohilla courtyard also houses a large temple (Khan, 1991).

The grand eastern gate of the temple depicts beautiful signs of the Indo-Saracenic architecture. It’s difficult to differentiate from tall minarets whether it is of mosque or temple.

My ten years old click when the temple and gateways were painted with the mix of white and golden.

The inner entrance of the temple

One of the foremost among them was Gauri Shankar Temple ( Mandir). Located in the western quarters, a place of antiquity, on the banks of River Khakra, the temple dates back to the eighteenth century. It was the ancestors of priest Har Prasad who were passing for the Pilgrimage four centuries ago. Here at the stop on the way that was once surrounded by the thick forest, the caravan stayed overnight for the rest. As per legendary story during the night, the priest saw the idol of Shiva in the dream. Miraculously, in morning, they found the statue of Shiva placed in proximity to the tent. This is how the temple got the name Gauri Shankar (Integrated with the name of the wife of Shiva and his own name).

Southern gateway: the simple arched design, floral with taakh add to its beauty. The mendicants are waiting for their alms from the visitors.

In 1769, when the Jama Masjid was constructed two beautiful gates were added by Hafiz Rahmat Khan on the Eastern and Southern end of the temple. The inner section of the temple was reconstructed by Rao Pahar Sigh, the Diwan of Rohilla chief. Fortunately survived to date, these two grand gates build in Indo Saracenic style are the testimony of the syncretic cultured of Rohilla reign.  Even during the mutiny, British officers failed to incite communal divide when Rohilkhand came for the small time under Khan Bahadur Khan. Professor Iqbal Hussian from Centre of Advance Studies, Aligarh Muslim University quoted that this was the outcome of the syncretic environment created during the Afghan rule in the late 18th century North India.

The Jama Masjid of the same time that was depicted above on the wall of Railway station. Both monuments lie in the western quarter of district that was once the main section of the town during the late 18th century. The Gauri Shankar Mandir is located 500 meters North West of the mosque.

An aerial click of the mosque by Shahnawaz Said Khan. From the roof of the mosque, the beautiful eastern gateway of the temple can be visualized.

References:

  1. Gauri Shankar Mandir. Retrieved from http://pilibhit.nic.in/aoi.htm
  2. KHAN, IQBAL GHANI. “AFGHAN FORTS AND TOWNS IN NORTH INDIA (C. 1720-1800).” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. Vol. 52. Indian History Congress, 1991.
  3. Husain, Iqbal. The Ruhela Chieftaincies: The Rise and Fall of Ruhela Power in India in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press, USA, 1994.

18th Century Hammam (Turkish bath) at Pilibhit: The last remnant of Rohilla Chief Palace

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 inner section of Hammam. Some of the arched medieval style ventilators of outer chambers are still intact.

The outer section of the Hammam from where Hammam can be accessed by its main entrance. This section is heavily damaged.

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).

Congregational mosque (Jama Masjid) built in 1769 by Hafiz Rahmat Khan almost a decade after when the residential complex and the Hammam was built.

Beautiful gateway of Gauri Shankar temple build by Hafiz Rahmat Khan in the same year 1769 under the supervision.

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.

One of the chambers from the inner side of the Hammam. The pictures were taken from the open ventilators. Displays vaulted roof with Taaq/wall shelf and arched open ventilators.

Outer chamber of the Hammam. The entrance door and ventilators are still preserved.

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 dispensary that was built on the site of 18th-century Rohilla palaces in the ruined state. The tablet on the structure has the inscription written in English ” King George V memorial Dispensary opened by Commissioner Rohilkhand Division”. The name of the British commissioner has faded.

The names of the noble city dweller who contributed to the establishment of the first dispensary of the city are also fading in this ruined structure. Starting from the highest donor of 1000/ INR to lower one of 100?

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.

Acknowledgments

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.

References:

  1.  Ali, S.A.,(1933) Hayat I Hafiz, Nizami Press, Badayun. An oriental Biographical account of Hafiz Rahmat Khan.
  2. IQBAL HUSAIN, The Rise, and Decline of the Ruhela Chieftaincies in 18th Century India, Oxford University Press, 1995.
  3. 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).
  4. Nevill. H.R. (1909), PILIBHIT:  A Gazetteer, VolXVIII of the District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.