Founded in first century BCE by Raja Salvahan, the Rajput ruler of Sialkot, Eminabad was once a fairly prosperous town.
Eminabad, a small town in central Punjab near Gujranwala, has some wonderful Muslim, Hindu and Sikh architecture of historic significance, besides the 'havelis' built by the Diwan family, who once ruled Kashmir and migrated to India in the turmoil of 1947.
One of the oldest towns in this part of Punjab, Eminabad has been through its share of ups and downs in history, and in the course of these vicissitudes, it saw its name changed many times.
The town is said to have been founded in first century BCE by Raja Salvahan, the Rajput ruler of Sialkot. The original name of the town is unknown, but its oldest name was Saidpur in the 16th century, when Babur invaded this part of Punjab and sacked the town in 1521. That was the time when Guru Nanak was also present in Saidpur.
In the hymns of Guru Nanak, we find eyewitness accounts of the havoc in Saidpur during that period. Guru Nanak and his companion Bhai Mardana were taken as prisoners along with the population of the town. Later, a meeting was held between the guru and King Babur. Inspired by the spirituality of the guru, the king released all the prisoners of Saidpur.
After that event, according to Sikh legend, the guru and his devotee Bhai Lalo stayed at a heap of shattered pebbles. This site, known as Rori Sahib, is located on the outskirts of present-day Eminabad.
According to the Gazetteer of Gujranwala District, Sher Shah Suri demolished Saidpur and founded a new city on his own name as Shergarh. Ultimately, it was Emin or Ameen Beig – a general of Humayun – who ransacked the garrison of Sher Shah Suri, and so a new town was raised on the name of that general in the reign of Akbar.
Travel writer Salman Rashid, in his book Gujranwala the Glory That Was, gives the reference that in 1610, William Finch, an English merchant mentioned Eminabad as a fair city.
Over a hundred years after that, Eminabad remained prosperous due to its location, fertile lands and the Mughal Empire, which safeguarded this area of Punjab from the invaders. In Mughal times, Eminabad became the headquarters of a Parganah in Lahore governorate, bringing in a revenue of 900,000 rupees.
However, taking advantage of the administrative weakness of Mughal Empire (which swiftly exposed itself after Aurangzeb), anti-state elements began rising in various parts of the country, including Punjab, where Sikh gangs created a chaos.
In 1738, Jaspat Rai, the Diwan of Eminabad, was killed in a battle with such a band of Sikh bandits. Later, Lakhpat Rai, the brother of the deceased Diwan, inflicted a crushing defeat on Sikh bandits, and brought a large number of outlaws to Lahore, where they were executed outside Delhi Gate. The place is known as Shahid Ganj.
By the second half of the 18th century, the Mughal administration had weakened so much that it was incapable of protecting many parts of the state from rebels and invaders. The reign of Shah Alam II faced countless attacks, mainly from Ahmed Shah Abdali, Marathas, Hindu Jats of Bharatpur and the Sikhs who had trampled all over the administrative authority between Lahore and Delhi.
In 1760, Charat Singh, the grandfather of Ranjit Singh took over Eminabad. Later, in the time of Ranjit Singh, the town was bestowed on Dhyan Singh, one of the three brothers from Jammu who served Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Going from Saidpur to Shergarh to Eminabad over the course of three centuries, the town entered the late 19th century developed as a fairly large establishment, flourished with all available facilities and signs of power and wealth. Here, it was the dawn of a new era of prosperity and exposure to modernity.
In 1880, a railway line was laid, linking Lahore with Rawalpindi. The line passes by Eminabad, so the town also got a railway station, ushering in a revolutionary change the in the mode of transport in this part of Punjab. Through Lahore – the nearest major city and the hub of education – the people of Eminabad came closer to business and employment opportunities.
Like many other suburban towns of Punjab, the Hindu population of Eminabad was wealthier than the others. They had large business setups across various parts of the country and superior jobs in state institutions, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir.
From what's left of the gardens, havelis and temples of Eminabad, it is not that hard to imagine the old, fortuitous days of this town. Although much of the splendor has eroded with time, the architecture still boasts signs of its former glory. For instance, the remaining facades of the three- and four-storey havelis of the Diwan family still fascinate. There are multi-cusped arches decorated with stucco and cut bricks, intricately carved jharokas, windows and doors.
Visitors to the Diwan havelis have people like Professor Dr Ghulam Abbas to thank for their experience. A fine arts professor, Dr Abbas climbed up a ladder to wipe the dusty fresco paintings on the remaining facade of Diwan's haveli. Then there was Tanvir Aslam Rawn – a student of fashion design but fascinated by the history of Eminabad – who shared with me everything he knew about the various versions of local history, though it wasn't possible to draw a clear historical sketch of the Shiva temples that grace the skyline of Eminabad.
The way these structures are being used these days, is a worrying aspect. With the exception of one, where a local Muslim prayer leader has taken his residence, most temples are being used as cattle yards, and decades of negligence has eroded some superb Hindu architecture.
One of the prayer chambers was locked up with goats inside, while another hosted a fodder-cutting machine running on full throttle. There is no hope for the restoration of these sites, which are still sacred to some people.
In fact, we cannot even hope for the restoration of that historic mosque in the eastern vicinity of Eminabad, which according to eminent architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz, dates back to the Lodhi period (1451-1526). That makes it one of the oldest surviving mosques in Pakistan. The mosque is a valued national heritage, but the heritage is crumbling and none cares.
—All photos by author