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The Jhang of Chander Bhan

Updated Jun 17, 2013 06:12pm


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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 a 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.

enter image description hereRegardless of its resolve, the train cannot afford to bypass Jhang, a city revered by so many for so many reasons. Geographically, it is located on the banks of river Chenab, at almost equal distances from Gojra and Smaundri, but virtually and emotionally, wherever the sands sip the water, it is Jhang.

Though some ancient coins, Buddha inscriptions and hooked noses trace the city, back to Maurian times but the recorded history is almost eight centuries old. A sizeable majority believes that it was founded by Rai Sayal, on the orders of his spiritual mentor, Jalaluddin Surkh Posh Bukhari towards the end of 13th century. In the next few hundred years, all important clans like the Naul, Sayal, Bhong and Kheva ruled this land, eventually passing it over to the Sikhs. With the treaty of Bherowal in place, Jhang fell to British Empire and formed part of Pakistan in 1947. But from the Sials to Syeds, no ruler has done anything to develop the city.

Due to the proximity of Chenab, most of the residents drew their livelihood from land. The devoted farmers tilled the land and prayed for rain with inimitable desperation. But, the rains did not only bring greenery and prosperity but also floods and destruction. Besides the pleasant evenings, the river often offered floods. This cyclic pattern of construction and destruction affected the public mood. The subtle pain in the Jhangochi dialect is in fact a reflection of the sufferings inflicted on these dwellers by the rains they so painfully ask for.

The story of Heera and Chander Bhan is best told in this dialect. In the mohallah Bhabhrana Thalla of Jhang, the Hindu population lived peacefully. Kaushaliya was the daughter of one of the wealthy businessman of Jhang. Due to her gifted beauty and inherited wealth, she was famous all around the pattan (vicinity of the river).

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Love stories in Punjab are somewhat incomplete without the river, and that is where Heera and Kaushaliya saw each other for the first time, when the two families were on their way to attend the annual religious festival of Masan, across Chenab. The platonic love between the two was kindled by the dreamy desert night of Thall and the cool breeze of Chenab. While at the river both took the same boat and before they rowed across, they had already fallen for each other. The two continued to see each other before word got out. Ultimately Kaushaliya’s family raised the question of honor and locked up their daughter. With no Kaushaliya in sight, Heera’s insight headed in another direction. This introvert, self-minded lad transformed to a pain-stricken poet whose every word came straight from the heart.

When things moved beyond repair, Heera’s family sent a formal proposal for Kaushaliya but it was turned down on account of bad stars. Due to the farce reasons of religion and society, the two were separated from each other. Heera was a pampered child and this debut rejection prompted his creative self. His poems about Kaushaliya became instantly famous in the small town and soon, hers was a household name. Kaushaliya’s family requested Heera not to dishonor their daughter with his poems.

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Adhering to the request, he chose another name, Chander Bhan. While his verses celebrated Chander Bhan, the intended listener was always Kaushaliya. His songs dedicated to Chandar Bhan struck a chord at Kaushaliya’s heart. A few old men in Jhang clearly remember Heera Singh standing in the fields surrounding the Bhabhrana mohallah, reciting the Dohra (local genre of song) for Chandar Bhan. Besides the romantic tragedy and pain, the story also carries many inaudible cries and invisible tears that fell inside the heart rather than outside.

To avoid any trouble, Kaushaliya was married off to a distant village. When there were no sight of his beloved, Heera wrote following lines:

Raat kaali, taang yaar waali, sukhan yaar da badan wich teer khardkay Ik dar band, dooja darbaan dushman, turaan tez tey peri zanjeer khardkay Sutta waikh darban noo dar kholaa’n, dar kholaa’n tey dar bay-peer khardkay Heerya jehno maraz hay ishq wali, sanay haddian sara sareer khardkay


The night is dark and I have a promise to keep which pierces my body like an arrow, Firstly, the door is closed, secondly the doorkeeper is an enemy and thirdly, the chains make noise as I walk briskly, When I see the gatekeeper sleeping and attempt to open the door, the door makes the noise, Oh Heera, when afflicted by the sufferings of love, the whole body, including the bones, shiver.

While all this was happening, the freedom movement was at its peak. Like the four directions of a compass, Akali, Congress, Muslim league and the Unionists were herding Punjabis in four differing directions. For Heera and Kaushaliya, freedom, autonomy and revolution were meaningless words.

After few months, it became increasingly taxing for Kaushaliya to co-exist in the two worlds. Loving someone while living with someone else had started taking its toll and she soon withdrew to her parent’s house in Jhang.

On the other hand, parting from Chander Bhan had devastated Heera. The love that pulsated in his veins alongside his blood had now slowed down. Every second pushed him away from life and one day, after staying awake for the whole night, he slept for eternity. The same old men clearly remember that while Heera’s dead body was being carried for cremation, Chandar Bhan ran out of her house and stood in front of the procession. She embraced the lifeless body of her lover, which society and religion had never let her touch. As long as the pyre burnt, she kept on wailing and crying but then when everything burnt to ashes, she went quiet.

The story could have graduated to folklore but then India was partitioned. While Jhang formed part of Pakistan, all the Hindus of Bhabhrana mohallah left for India. God knows whether Chandar Bhan still mourns the death of Heera or if the partition itself gave her new reasons to grieve. There can be a possibility that she might have started her life afresh but regardless of these assumptions, the dusty noons and the lonely evenings of Jhang, still whisper the dohra of Heera Singh and the wails of Chandar Bhan.

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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 (40) Closed

Rev. Eldrick Jun 17, 2013 09:11pm

Thank you for writing a classic piece of writing! It is a reservoir of history!!

pathanoo Jun 17, 2013 09:42pm

God Bless you, Muhammad Hassan Miraj. You made me cry. Just NEVER stop writing.

Jay Q Jun 17, 2013 10:11pm

Interesting story .... however, I was lost in the time zones. The article started in 1853, but seems like the Heera/Chander Bhan story happened near 1947.

kamljit Singh Jun 18, 2013 12:51am

Miraj Sahib : Thank you for taking us back into time of shared and common culture of love and affection and language. Time was when Eid and Divali was celebrated together by the kids of Jhang, as told by the mother of my friend who was forced to leave her home during 'Rauley' ( lawlessness). May the leaders of the day learn not to use sect against sect and religion . While reading your writings we forget about the borders drawn in 1947. Keep it up.

Deb; India Jun 18, 2013 02:03am

You bring the fragrance of poetry in your prose, regardless of the topic or the crust of the story. More power to your pen.

Mohinder Jun 18, 2013 03:08am

Beautiful love story and historical data about Jhang. this story is becomes very interesting to me, as I was born in Jhang . Our family moved to Delhi in 1947 during partition when I was two years old.

rana Jun 18, 2013 05:42am

Correction, Jhang is west of Gojra (20miles) and Samundri(35miles) same direction(west).

PThind Jun 18, 2013 08:46am

You are truly gifted!

khan of Kalabagh Jun 18, 2013 11:35am

Speechless and spell bounded

may You grow more in stature as a writer and as a Human Being, aameen

Pamuarora Jun 18, 2013 12:03pm

The author has confirmed that Jhang is a romantic place. We used to hear very romantic and interesting stories from our elders pertaining to Jhangi people. Hindus from Jhang in India have progressed in all fields. But those romantic stories are no more there which creates real happiness in life. The partition has snatched so many goodies.

john Jun 18, 2013 01:02pm

While Jhang formed part of Pakistan, all the Hindus of Bhabhrana mohallah left for India. ...........

But after 1947, not many muslims migrated to pakistan from India and India has more muslims than Pakistan. And now all the hindus gone, muslims are killing each other. Great

Ravi Ingale from University of Pune Jun 18, 2013 01:08pm

I felt so strange that, in Muslim dominated region Hindu Love stories are still famous.

B.Ally Jun 18, 2013 01:25pm

These are heart wrenching stories of AMPUTATION of body and soul.

MK Jun 18, 2013 01:46pm

Jhang gave birth to one of the greatest 20th Century scientists. Nobody will ever eulogize that beautiful happening. But the love stories will remain unforgotten.

makraja dr Jun 18, 2013 02:09pm

wah sirjee you leave me everytime speechless Whilst I have never been to jhang one does hear about it courtesy its politics and the syeds. I had a few calss fellows from there who always wanted to escape the place but your narrative brings it to life full of emotions,happenings and emotions the ultimate one being love. Why o Why i ask always did we have to divide this great land which has or had the capacity to welcome all in its heyday it was like the Americas of its time with everybody becoming indian in the 3rd generation if not the second the classic example being akbar the great.

makraja dr Jun 18, 2013 02:08pm

@Ravi Ingale from University of Pune: Dear Ravi Love knows no boundaries. It is universal and appreciated all over the world. We who are the sons of the land appreciate it even more so. Mr Mairaj is literally living to his name meaning "Ascent" I believe only one man is enough to challenge this madness and he is one in my estimation.

makraja dr Jun 18, 2013 02:10pm

@Jay Q: Dear Jay the first part is the arrival of trains to the British India hence so It is a narration that mainly follows the far off stations the lesser places so called or so thought off that make his narration great

Muhammad Hassan Miraj Jun 18, 2013 02:34pm

@pathanoo: Thanks a million, Saheb

Anonymous Jun 18, 2013 03:00pm

@Jay The story not started from 1853, the main article does.

Aafi Jun 18, 2013 03:12pm

Enjoyed the reading. I am from Jhang(living away now) and lost in memories of my city. Yes, there are many romantic stories associated with this land i.e. Heer-Ranjha, Mirza-Sahiba etc. Apart from these srories which have a tinge of sufism, there was a great mystic poet as well ( Sulatan Bahu).

Tajammal Jun 18, 2013 03:13pm

'Jhang of Chander Bhan' is even more famous for Waris Shah's "HEER RANJHA", tomb of 'MAI HEER' is also a famous site to visit.

Haseeb Khan Jun 18, 2013 04:41pm

@Jay Q: Its a series, each piece of this series starts with the same preamble.

r.s.soni Jun 18, 2013 04:54pm

dear sir, this city of jhang separated geographically but not from our soul. so much has been told by our elders about jhang city and rural area around it, i like to see this whole district of jhang.though my grandfather was killed at masan and my maternal grandfather dadu ram who used to be head administrator of masan sat jinda kalyana gaddi particularly dusserah,was a famous annual function . all and sundry used to visit the shrine. he was killed in his village sukha.. we have forgotten all bitterness.. we believe they are our brothers. may jhang be a peaceful,prosperous and cultural city of sairaki ! about love story , really it is a great. we actually knew story of heer and ranja.only

altaf Jun 18, 2013 05:25pm

We deceive ourselves with words like this: "While Jhang formed part of Pakistan, all the Hindus of Bhabhrana mohallah left for India."

They didn't just leave. They were driven out of Jhang, They had lived there for centuries but now their lives were no longer safe and their was no future for their sons and daughters in the new country. Like the story of Heera and Kaushaliya, this story too was repeated a thousand times.

Hulegu Jun 18, 2013 05:43pm

@PThind: Agreed. MHM, you are gifted in a unique way. Never feel so many emotions while reading other pieces.

Wasif Jun 18, 2013 06:26pm

Excellent, brilliant and truly moving. Hope we can unearth more such wonderful gems of folklore from this ancient place on earth where our modern homeland exists.

NotReallyNeeded Jun 18, 2013 08:01pm

Arre aap har baar dil choo jate hain sahab.... :)

Ram Jun 18, 2013 09:48pm

@Ravi Ingale from University of Pune: You say, "I felt so strange that, in Muslim dominated region Hindu Love stories are still famous."

Is that all that struck you about this poignant piece?! I'm embarrassed. It is especially biting because I'm from the same university. Will you please desist from calling out where you go to educate yourself? I think it's being wasted on you.

Dear Mr. Miraj, sorry about that needless distraction. I should know better and should have ignored but I'm not as strong as I pretend. Thank you for a very nice essay. I look forward to more. Hopefully, someday in our lifetimes, the chains will be broken and we'll be let to take the trains freely on either side of that forbidding door. Curiously, there's a story on Pakistan Railways' troubles in today's Dawn. Perhaps it hasn't dawned on the pols that one way to rescue the system is to open it to a lot of Indians to travel. Well, my imagination is getting the better of me here. But on a serious and considered note, when can the pols (on both sides) recognize that the only way public systems will improve is when they privatize them? The same goes for PIA and Air India.

Harish Midha Jun 18, 2013 11:58pm

A beautifully crafted piece of a tender love evoking the memory of the romantic locale of Hir & Ranjha, a cultural heritage of all Panjabis. Keep writing Mairaj Saheb. You bring back to life the good old days of the Land of Five Rivers before it was torn apart by ravages of divisiveness in 1947. Hope you will, some day, write a piece about my birth place of Sahiwal, which was known as Montgomery during the Raj, Thanks and many thanks.

umesh bhagwat Jun 19, 2013 05:18am

nice article! may the spirit of love triumph over hatred and animosity.

Muhammad Hassan Miraj Jun 19, 2013 07:50am

@r.s.soni: Soni Saheb, can I have your contact details

Suraj Jun 19, 2013 11:28am

@Ravi Ingale from University of Pune: But they have given a muslim twist to all the legendary love stories. Bulle Shah Islamized Sohni Mahiwal in his narration of the original folk tale giving a Central Asian origin twist to Mahiwal for authenticity. Take Ranjha for example. He was a disciple of Baba Gorakhnath who beame an ascetic and roamed around chanting "Alakh Niranjan". However, a grave in Jhang is attributed to be his.

Alina Jun 19, 2013 12:01pm

Very evocative. Sigh!

STranger Jun 19, 2013 03:56pm

I am in my office reading this and it s bringing a choke to my throat. Jhang indeed has someting the river , the deserts . I heard that they can make a poet out of just any one . Hmmm Inshallah I will visit it in this birth. Sigh how it must have been a few decades back all families living normally / freely interacting / freely intermarrying . today people are becoming more and more small minded.

naveen Jun 19, 2013 05:19pm

Mr Hassan Miraj-Another masterpiece - i am amazed by your writings . Where do you get your inspiration from?.

AnuD Jun 19, 2013 07:03pm

Bless you!

Khalid Khokhar Jun 19, 2013 09:21pm

really wonderful Khalid Khokhar

Khalid Khokhar Jun 19, 2013 09:24pm

Really wonderful story of Jhang There is no doubt that the love lives in the veins of the people of Jhang, the religion does not matter

Mohammad A Dar Jun 19, 2013 10:36pm

Gone with the wind history of hinduism, place has alot worst to offer historically under hindrance to truth absolute hinduism as faith, than a love story.

SBB Jun 20, 2013 12:46am

@naveen: From your mom.. why don't you at least ask a good question?