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Gulyana: Punjab’s crumbling 900-year-old village

Updated Jun 20, 2015 03:59pm

Gulyana, a 900-year-old historic village of Potohar, is located 10 kilometers south of Gujar Khan. The landscape here is dominated by old buildings, havelis, temples and Sikh samadhis which were erected before the birth of Pakistan.

During my frequent visits to the village, I met many oral historians who narrated stories from the pre-partition times. Of these, Gulzar Khan, 85, was one of the more well informed persons.

Gulzar gets up early in the morning and goes to sit with his friends under the old banyan tree in the village, recalling memories of the pre-partition days. He still remembers his old Hindu and Sikh friends from childhood. In the community, he is greatly respected for his knowledge of history and oral traditions of the Potohar region.

In fact, he is considered an expert on the oral history of Gulyana village.

Sikh samadhis in Gulyana.
Sikh samadhis in Gulyana.
A closer view of the Sikh samadhis.
A closer view of the Sikh samadhis.
A Sikh haveli in Gulyana.
A Sikh haveli in Gulyana.
A Sikh haveli.
A Sikh haveli.
Gulzar Khan of Gulyana Village.
Gulzar Khan of Gulyana Village.

During my conversations with him, I learned that Gulyana was predominately inhabited by Hindus and Sikhs before the partition. Diwan Prithvi Chand, Tek Chand and Bakhshi Moti Ram were the notable Hindus of this area, who controlled the business of Gulyana and its neighbouring towns.

I was amazed at his descriptions of the minutest details on the nobility and the monuments of Potohar.

From the names of rivers, hill streams, lakes, monuments to dignitaries and tribes, I recorded everything that Gulzar shared with me. He also knew the names of an entire list of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh merchants and philanthropists in the area. Two of the eminent Sikh merchants of Potohar, Bali Singh and Tara Singh, belonged to Gulyana; they built schools, hospitals, havelis, temples and gurdwaras.

Explore: The havelis of Potohar: Pakistan's opportunity to promote heritage tourism

Today, the buildings constructed by the Hindus and Sikhs break the skyline of the village. There are about four havelis, one temple and two samadhis, all preserved very poorly.

The haveli of Tara Singh, which still stands out in the landscape, is three-storeyed and noted for its wooden windows and ornately carved doors. The main entrance to the havelis is decorated with floral designs.

The main entrance to the Tara Singh Haveli.
The main entrance to the Tara Singh Haveli.
A carved wooden door in the Tara Singh Haveli.
A carved wooden door in the Tara Singh Haveli.

The two samadhis lie one kilometer east of the village. Of these, one is larger, with shikhara (superstructure). The interior of the samadhi is decorated with paintings depicting Sikh and Hindu mythologies.

On the southern wall is the painting of Baba Guru Nanak, with his two companions Bala and Mardana. And, on the western wall are depictions of Ram and Sita with Hanuman and Laxman. Hanuman, the monkey god, is shown paying homage to Ram and Sita.

The southern wall depicts the stories of Krishna, with gopis (milkmaids) and Radha. The northern wall depicts Shiva with his wife Parvati and Vishnu with Lakshmi.

Depiction of Baba Guru Nanak with Bhai Bala and Mardana.
Depiction of Baba Guru Nanak with Bhai Bala and Mardana.
Floral painting in a Sikh samadhi.
Floral painting in a Sikh samadhi.
Paintings of Rama and Sita with Hanuman in a Sikh samadhi.
Paintings of Rama and Sita with Hanuman in a Sikh samadhi.
Floral painting in a Sikh samadhi.
Floral painting in a Sikh samadhi.
A depiction of Radha and Krishna in a Sikh samadhi.
A depiction of Radha and Krishna in a Sikh samadhi.
Shiva and Parvati.
Shiva and Parvati.

On the western and southern sides of the samadhi are three old wells, two of which are still used by the locals for irrigation. On the northern side is another small samadhi. Gulzar Khan and Abdul Rahan (another oral historian in the village) confirm that two Sikh notables were buried inside these samadhis.

To the west of these Sikh samadhis stands a Hindu temple. Intricate floral designs decorate the interior of this temple.

A Hindu temple in Gulyana.
A Hindu temple in Gulyana.
A closer view of the temple.
A closer view of the temple.
A painting inside the Hindu temple.
A painting inside the Hindu temple.

The temple is believed to have been built by Bakhshi Moti Ram, who was the grandfather of Tek Chand. According to Gulzar Khan, Tek Chand embraced Islam after the partition. He had three sons, Roshan, Bhera and Shal, who migrated to India.

Sadly, all of these magnificent buildings lie in complete neglect; the locals use the samadhis to store firewood. The walls are decaying and so is their glory. There is an urgent need to initiate their preservation and appoint a night watch to protect this heritage from vandalism.

Until that happens, these structures will die a slow death and eventually, so will Gulzar Khan's stories.


—Photos by author


Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro is an anthropologist and teaches tourism, globalisation and development at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad.

He can be reached on Facebook.