Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Pooran Bhagat


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.

Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.


Pooran's well. -Photo courtesy of Raja Fiaz Ullah Khan Mangral

The deserted railway stations of Nizamabad, Baigowal, Aggoki and Sambrial depress anyone who has seen trains in good times. After moving past these stations, the rail enters the city of Sialkot. Established in 1880, this station was once a busy junction of trains going to Jammu or coming from Gurdaspur. During the pre-monsoon season, when Punjab turned into an oven and people rushed to the mountainous Kashmir, this station was a busy place.

With the Hindu Pani, Muslim Pani echoing around the whistling trains, the British officers were escorted by their native staff. Making ways for the masters and ensuring the maintenance of their 'untouchability', this staff was the best protocol of its time. The train, no more plies between the two seasons now; it is more of a transit between two parts of the city. The feeble railway line finishes abruptly after crossing the cantonment and no more connects to Jammu, even on the map.

Sialkot is home to such a successful lot of people that it appears as the “Promised Land” of God. Poets like Iqbal and Faiz, authors like Rajinder Bedi and Zulfiqar Ghose, journalists like Nayer and epic writers like Narendar Kohli, jurists like ZafarUllah Khan and politicians like Gulzari Lal Nanda, screen heroes like Waheed Murad and real life heroes like Rajendar Kumar, sportsmen like Zaheer Abbas and Shehnaz Sheikh don the mosaic of the city with over-achievements. Before one is taken aback with the awe of the city, a mob, and an unruly one at that, is heard. A group of deaf and dumb cannibals making incomprehensible voices, charge at two of the city’s own sons, Mughees and Muneeb. The mob lynches them and one is instantly reminded of the balancing act of God.

The history of the city is told in many versions and in many dialects. Someone links the hooked nose to Greek features; others take the Scythian coins to support their version. The name of Raja Sill and Raja Salwaan also echoes in between the mentions of references from Mahabharat. Too many stories are supported by too little exhibits and in Sialkot, its only one, the Fort. Dating back to 2nd century, the fort decays at a fast pace. The local population has been constantly drawing bricks from the thick walls, now there is hardly anything left to be taken out.

In one part of the fort, Lady Anderson High School celebrates its 85th anniversary. The school was founded in 1927 in the area known as Tibba Jalian. The net weavers dwell in the place. The red painted countenance of the school exhibits the blue board on the top with the name of the school written in Urdu. Inside the headmistress office, a long list of names covers the eventful nine decades; names like Miss Mukhan Lal scroll down a spate of 85 years, just few inches away from Miss Fazeelat Choudhary. The school was named after the wife of the Deputy Commissioner Anderson and saw many curricular and extracurricular activities. The city is lucky to have a rich history of educational institutions.

Murray College is one such institute where the hollow corridor awaits the brilliance of its former students’ to-date. The other educational pride of the city is the Jesus and Marry Convent, which was established in 1856. This was the first mission school in Punjab and the second in British India. The artificial, glossy yet thought-provoking system of education it introduced, influenced the cultural sphere of India at large. These institutes, much like the residents, radiate calmness and antiquity.

The temple of Shahwala Teja Singh is an important landmark of Kashmiri Muhallah. Before 1947, it was an eventful place with a general ambiance of prayers and religiosity. The temple and its surroundings beamed hope, afforded comfort and transacted needs and blessings. Now, the days of Dusehra, Deewali and Holi are just like ordinary days in the solitude of these bricks, where kids play cricket with wickets drawn on these walls. Wary of their significance, these walls once stood arrogantly and admitted unsaid prayers. The city harboured many religions but provoked lesser sects. It once proclaimed the peaceful co-existence of medieval times. The cathedral built in 1852 stands alongside the Gurudwara Bairi Saheb. The Gurudwara was built at the meeting place of Baba Nanak with Hamza Ghose, a local saint, some parts of the Gurudwara were damaged in the aftermath of Babri mosque.

The streets with the name of Rangpura, Zafarwal and Naikupura are a meshwork of memories and no one can get out without help. Perhaps, even now, there are some people who are so deep struck within the nostalgia that they do not want to get out. In the heart of the city, all streets converge on the Clock Tower. On one side, the raised platform displays a board, Bhishmbar Das and Sons Furniture house. The customers and the keepers both have long gone, only the words inscribed on the wall stand as a reminder of the past …

A road from the Clock Tower leads to the cantonment. Sialkot has a special affinity for the military, and indeed a meaningful one. Few soldiers have their homes and fewer have their hearts stuck in the city. But, more about the cantonment and its history later, now the Qissa of Pooran.

Going to Chaprar, is a place called Gulbahar. A well here is the focus of many needy and childless couples. This is called Pooran’s well (Pooran Di Khuee). The Raja of Sialkot, Salwaan, who is said to have restored the fort, had two wives namely, Loona and Ichran. Ichran gave birth to a prince who was named, after much consultation, Pooran. The pundits told the king that to avoid bad fortune; Pooran needs to stay away from the palace for 12 years. The prince was sent to a deserted place, along with the requisite staff. After a period of 12 years, Pooran returned to palace. He went to his mother and then to Loonan, the stepmother. Mesmerised by the young man Pooran had grown into, Loonan lost her heart and tried to seduce him. Pooran refused and left Loonan, desperate and angry. When Raja Salwaan returned, Loonan made up the story of how Pooran had tried to rape her and filled the gaps with tears. The Raja, anguished by the story, ordered Pooran’s limbs to be amputated, and the mutilated body thrown into the woods.

Pooran was thrown in this well after the gruesome torture. For 12 years, Pooran stayed inside the well. One day Guru Gorakhnath, the famous Jogi, on his way back from Shiwalak, passed by the well and heard Pooran. His apostles took out the dying prince. Guru healed the limbs of Puran and exalted him spiritually. After a few years, Pooran was a bhagat – his spiritual powers earned him the fame of a saint. The word was out and it made its way to Loonan, who was still, without child. On hearing about Pooran Bhagat, she along with the Raja, walked up to the well. The Bhagat prophesised the birth of the prince, simultaneously asking Loonan about the reality of Pooran. Shocked and grateful, Loonan revealed the truth and eventually Pooran revealed his identity. The Raja begged Pooran to return to the kingdom but he told them that the kingdom was now the right of the prince to be born. He spent the rest of his life near the well. Raja Salwaan constructed a large compound in the vicinity of the well of which only ruins remain. Childless women travel from places as far as Quetta and Karachi to put Pooran’s well to the test. Faith, in the hour of need, divorces reason.

The rail now moves to Shakar Garh, Zafarwal and Chawinda. It sits for a while on the banks of River Ravi, in the confines of Darbar Sahib Kartarpura, much like a confession box, recalling past times and shedding tears in the waters of Ravi, before puffing smoke in the quests of newer destinations.

Oh Qadir, how my father treated me Nobody does that to real sons (Qadir yar – Qissa Pooran Bhagat)

Note: The citizens of Sialkot and its businesses reflect each other. These reflections gain clarity on the surface of life in the Cantonment. The train will stay for some time to see these images.


The author is a federal government employee.



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (29) Closed

Honest Babe Oct 08, 2012 06:55pm
Many Muslims would not drink water touched by a Hindu and many Hindus would not drink water touched by a Muslim, thus water carriers would should "Muslim Pani, Hindu Pani".
Surjit Kohli Oct 09, 2012 06:45am
Miraj Bhai, You have not mentioned the famous Scotch Mission High School, the center of primary education for many of celebrities you have mentioned. Your pieces are full of nostalgia and they take you back to Punjab of one's childhood. It is a splended missionery job of historical importance you have taken in to perform. God bless you.
ajay Oct 09, 2012 04:40am
the story of pooran bhagat has been kept alive in north india through nautanki. i myself have seen the story enactected scores of times. but i never knew the story had its origin in sialkot.
uthmanmalik Oct 09, 2012 04:11am
I doubt if it was because of Muslims not willing to drink the Hindu-pani. Just recently an American Hindu businessman and also a friend politely declined to share a glass on his religious reasons with me.
Koi-Kon Oct 09, 2012 11:41am
The nataks by Ashiq Jatt are still part of village fairs in this part of the world as well..but yes they are more substantially preserved on the other side
Gulshan Oct 09, 2012 02:47pm
Pasrur was mentioned Too. Let us talk offline. My email is Thanks for your response, Qadeer.
sb Oct 08, 2012 08:35pm
Thank you.
Gulshan Oct 08, 2012 08:36pm
My birth place, Naushera Distt, Sialkot, never seen it though. Family moved when I was about 30 months old. Krawale is a nearby village/town my mother had mentioned. Anybody reading my comment, if you are from that area or know someone from there, please write a few lines about Naushera as to how are things there at present and how far it is from the nearest international airport. Will deeply appreciate that.
Koi-Kon Oct 09, 2012 01:33am
Yeah, very rightly elaborated. In fact, pre partition, there used to be separate dining room for Muslims and Hindus. They both wont touch each other`s food items and they respected it. Mughees and Muneeb were two young boys of 14-17 years of age who left their house early morning to play cricket and somehow ended up in being held up by a mob and subsequently killed. The incident was so traumatic that Supreme Court had to take notice and send the whole police hierarchy behind the bars. It was one of the dark days in the history. They ran inside the rescue building but the mob pressurised rescue workers to hand them over. There are rumours that these boys tried to rob a family or few individuals but even if they did so, lynching by a mob was not the punishment they deserved.
Saleem Mir,MD Oct 09, 2012 03:13am
An absorbing read even for a person who has spent childhood days in Sialkot and still finds himself roaming in its streets though sitting thousands of miles away in USA. Little wonder that Puran Nagar, a famous residential area in Sialkot is named after Puran Bhagat. Khalid Hassan, a reputable journalist and prolific writer who did not tire writing anything and everything about Sialkot lived in Puran Nagar . At a stone's throw lived another distinguished English poet admired both at home and abroad Taufiq Rafat who translated Qadir Yar's rhyming story of Puran Bhagat from original Punjabi into English. This is a creative magic in the soil of Sialkot even to this day as we see one towering poet,play writer and columnist Amjad Islam Amjad and another TV host Hamid Mir both inspired by its water and air.
Zeeshan Oct 08, 2012 02:42pm
Thanks...a treat to read
kamaljit Singh Oct 08, 2012 06:17pm
Hassan you made me to be glued to the screen even when I was getting late to my work. Waiting more treats like this .
Saurabh Bhardwaj (Patna) Oct 09, 2012 04:38am
Great article. Some lines are drawn in the anger by some, which we all are following. Anyway now nothing is going to change. whenever our glorious past is elicited as its been done here, heart gets filled up with emotions. Thanks M Hasan Mirja. Time for whistle the train towards other such destinations.. waiting .!!
Ray Oct 09, 2012 12:50pm
Again a beautiful piece of writing reminding us of a place and time in history.
Qadeer Oct 09, 2012 11:35am
Are you talking about Noushera Kakey Zian near Pasrur, Distt. Sialkot. And your mother is refering the small town Karawala that is also called Klasswala if things are like that then i'm from there:)
Masood Hussain Oct 09, 2012 02:20pm
Can see history moving in front my eyes.Reminded of a film "Pooran Bhagt" when iwas seven or eight years old Later read the story in poetry by Qadir yar .In my confused state as i am in now, Ithought Kartar Pur Darbar is on the main line Amritsar and Beas river.
Muhammad Asam Butt Oct 09, 2012 10:32am
It has been a pleasure to read the history of city to whom I belong, a proud Sialkoti from Kasmiri Mohallah (Tibba Tanchi) and Murrayite.
Koi-Kon Oct 09, 2012 11:57am
The pre partition society, to the horrors of many of us today, was comfortable with this discrimination. In a way, they respected the religious sensitivity of the others. The Sikhs would arrange the halal meat cooked by Muslim chef during Sikh weddings in separate dishes and similarly, Muslims would not smoke tobacco in front of the Sikhs, in an attempt to avoid any hurt. Similarly, Muslim and Hindu families lived with this divide. Now, A whole debate can be started with this point but the aim is to seek convergences not divergences. The conflicts have left deep scars on hearts and minds on both the countries. Though Dawn has very carefully highlighted the fact that these are the views of the author, I would still supplement that if someone thinks differently, he is entitled to that opinion.
Koi-Kon Oct 09, 2012 01:26am
Thank You,
murali Oct 09, 2012 05:59am
Miraj ji's writings take us effortlessly into a sweet nostalgic zone and fan us with tender feathers of warmth and love. For sure, there are not too many narrators of eras gone by, like him in the subcontinent. God bless you.
zaheer Oct 10, 2012 05:01am
"Comfortable with this discrimination".........I think you have never experienced an act of discrimination where the victim was yourself.
RPK Oct 09, 2012 03:58am
Are there Hindu Ashque (tears) and Muslim Ashques. Lets do the chemical tests on these tears and find out is there any difference. Or lets interview the widows, the mothers, the children and so on, who have shed tears for centuries for Hindu Muslim enimity and know much more about this 'Pani" business.
rana Oct 10, 2012 03:55am
it is said that muslims,hindus and sikh lived with each other peacefully and respected the diverse beliefs of each other.The enmity or hatred was created by the colonial powers who ruled by The divide and rule is said the first riot between the muslims and hindus occurred during british rule.Mr.Hassan your article was mesmerising and i hope to read more on the history of Pakistan.
Hermes Oct 09, 2012 09:21am
Great Read.. Keep them coming Sir.. I certainely am planning one trip to tilla Jogiyan after reading your one peace..
Neer Nayan Oct 08, 2012 06:49pm
Read the deeply moving article with a lump in the throat. ALLAH TAALA bless you, Miraj Bhai!
Bilal Altaf Oct 09, 2012 03:20pm
Keep writing, the history of towns along the rail track is immensely rich, perhaps the new generation might develop a taste to read about the lands where our ancestors have been dwelling for centuries!!
Tahir Chaudhry Oct 08, 2012 06:19pm
Thanks, Mr. Miraj for such great narations.
sb Oct 08, 2012 05:20pm
Superb Mr. Hassan! Thank you for bringing us to Sialkot, a place that many of us have heard of but cannot relate to (yet). I had a difficult time understanding the point about Mughees and Muneeb and Hindu Pani and Muslim Pani - can you please explain further? Thanks!
azhar Oct 08, 2012 02:05pm
Good writing indeed ......