For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April in 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.

The history of the city is spread over thousands of centuries, if not more. Known for names as Meesan, Myesthan, Mool Ashthan, Kasht Pur, Hans Pur, Bagh pur and Sambh Pur, Multan was probably the most famous city of Punjab at one time. Every name of the city has a background story, which turns out to be more fascinating than the other, hence every name rightfully deserves a mention.

The first description of Multan is found in Munshi Abdul Rehman’s book, “Ayena-e-Multan” which endorses its existence some 80 centuries from today with the name “Myesthan” or “Meesan”. The verse explains . . .

Adam ba Sarandeep, Hawa ba Jeddah wa Iblees dar zameen Meesan uftadand

Adam at Sarandeep, Eve at Jeddah and Satan disembarked on the land of Meesan

While the location of Adam and Eve has been mutually agreed, the whereabouts of the devil have caused quite a debate. One group of historians insists that in order to off-set the devil, many saints made Multan, their home, hence the name of “city of saints”. The other group, however, believes that after landing here, Satan found the place unfavorable so he crossed Chenab and went on to Muzaffar Garh.

Another name is derived from the mythological tale of Samba. According to legends, Jambawati was one of the many wives of Krishna, the Hindu god. When all the other wives had had children but Jamba remained childless, she pressed her husband to seek divine help. Krishna too, wanted a son, so both consulted sages. Jambawati was told to head to the northern mountains and Krishna was advised to wander into the southern woods.

For months, both implored superior deities until, Krishna came across Shiva and Parvati. He instantly asked for a son and the wish was granted. Months later, when the son was born, he was named Samba, another name for Shiva. Multan was named Samb Pura after him.

On growing up, Samba did take on the features of his father but, sadly, not his qualities. He was a handsome prince with a bad temper and an inflated ego, who would exploit his resemblance and ridicule others. When word reached Krishna, he cursed him to a disease so that people could distinguish between the two. Samba pleaded but the curse had already taken effect and he suffered from leprosy. After a lot of pleading, Krishna advised him to pray to the Sun god for mercy. It took 12 years of consistent supplications before Samba was cured. To commemorate his devotion, he built a temple to the Sun god in Multan. From the Greek general Scylax to the Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang, the temple impressed anyone, who visited Multan.

The structure had a golden dome with the idol placed right under the dome. Cast in gold, it had red rubies for eyes and was donned with precious metals. The dome and the doors were beautifully carved and lavishly decorated. The temple attracted thousands of devotees and housed at least 10,000 augurs and Dev-Dasees all the time. The faithfuls visited from all corners of India, offered huge money and shaved their heads as mark of reverence. Due to the temple, the city was also known as Mool Asthan. The story of Kashyap Pur and Harnakashap is also a derivative of Hindu mythology.

Multan also claims to be among the fateful where Alexander, received the fatal wound. While the detailed account of the event is not documented, it is said that during the course of the battle, Alexander received a deadly blow of a sword which unsaddled him. It was here that his lucky shield that came from the Greek temples and was witness to his every victory also fell to the ground. The great warrior lay on the ground, helpless and bleeding. It was his fall that so grievously provoked his men that it tipped the battle in his favor. Alexander’s army fought with more valour and soon the fortress was with the Macedonians. The king, however, died en route to Babylon.

While the city was familiarising itself with the sharp Greek features, the Huns attacked it. Under the generalship of Toorman, they conquered the city but soon left it with a governor. Though the city was first visited by Muslims under the famous general Muhallab, it was finally won over by Muhammad Bin Qasim in 712 AD. When the war booty from Multan, reached Hajjaj Bin Yousuf, he named the place, ‘City of Gold’. The young general did not do any harm to the temple; however, he did built a mosque close by; the ruins of which can still be seen today.

After few centuries, Mehmood Ghaznavi also passed through Multan. The Afghan king spared the Bamiyan for the Taliban but did attack the city and ransack the temple. Lost in time, the real site of the temple is now unknown. With the defeat of Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Multan, alongwith India, formed part of the Dehli Kingdom.

The sultanate of Dehli paid special emphasis towards frontier cities and treated Mutan as such. This was a golden time in the city’s cultural history, during which Khusrau lived here too. A series of buildings were initiated and soon Multani architecture started making its mark. From the southern port of Sindh to the northern cities of India, Multan had started coming up as a famous city on the caravan route. For economic reasons, Moghuls also focused on the law and order situation of the city. The Sikh rise timed with the Moghul fall and the final showdown for Multan was staged between Muzaffar Khan Saddozai and Kharak Singh. The Nawab had ruled for a long 39 years and his army had fought bravely, but because fortune is blind, within days, the flag of the one-eyed Ranjit Singh fluttered at the Multan Fort.

[To be continued…]

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