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A visit to Gujranwala's Eimanabad throws new light on Babur's legacy

Updated January 04, 2017

I stood at the threshold of the gurudwara. A small plaque above its wooden door declared that it was Gurudwara Chakki Sahib, Eimanabad. The door of the place of worship was locked, while a Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag, rose from its courtyard, hoisted on a pole.

Eimanabad city, close to the Grand Trunk Road, is a splendid repository of history. Structures of several temples, now converted into houses, stand tall and proud amidst the houses. Scattered across it are remnants of exquisite havelis and palaces of nobles who once resided here.

One of these havelis was that of Malik Bhago, a corrupt noble who was reprimanded by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, on the holy man’s visit to the city.

According to legend, Nanak refused to attend the sumptuous feast that Bhago had organised for the priests and Brahmins on the occasion of his son’s wedding, choosing instead to eat at the house of a carpenter, Bhai Lalo. Infuriated, Bhago summoned Nanak to his palace and questioned him over the rebuff.

Taking some bread from Bhago’s spread, the Guru squeezed it and blood oozed out of it. When he did the same with bread from Bhai Lalo’s house, which he had summoned to the venue, it released milk.

The guru explained that this was because the bread of Bhago had been purchased by money accumulated through corrupt means and by exploiting the poor, while Bhai Lalo had earned his money with honesty.

A few streets away is the gurudwara Bhai Lalo di Khoi, where Bhai Lalo’s house once stood and where Guru Nanak and his companion, Bhai Mardana, had stayed. The metal door to this gurudwara was also locked.

The conquest of Eimanabad

Before the the city of Gujranwala emerged as a major trade hub, Eimanabad was one of the most important cities east of Lahore, lying on the route connecting Kabul in Peshawar to Lahore and Delhi. With the rise of Gujranwala, Eminabad became a small town.

In the first half of the 16th century, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, crossed the Chenab river, which flows through parts of India and Punjab (in present-day Pakistan), in search of new territory to capture. He came upon a massive city and forces unleashed terror on it, killing thousands of citizens and imprisoning many more.

The city in question was Saidpur, its name later changed to Eimanabad on the orders of its new king. Nanak’s hagiography suggests he was in Saidpur when Babur captured the city. Along with other citizens, he too was imprisoned and forced to work on a stone mill.

According to one of the retellings of this story, Nanak, a saint, did not want to use his hands to rotate the stone mill and is said to have used his magical powers to make the mill rotate on its own.

This is ironic, given that Nanak, in his poetry, has spoke vehemently against superstitious beliefs on magic. Once, when asked if he could perform magic, he is believed to have sarcastically said:

Dwell then in flame uninjured,
Remain unharmed amid eternal ice,
Make blocks of stone thy food,
Spurn the solid earth before thee with thy foot,
Weigh the heavens in a balance
Then ask thou that Nanak perform wonders

When the guards at the prison saw Nanak’s purported magic, they informed Babur, who summoned the Sikh guru to his court and asked for his blessings so he could be successful in his future conquests.

Nanak refused to bless the Mughal king, questioning his audacity to seek his blessings after conquering the land where he lived. However, even without the guru’s blessings, Babur succeeded in his conquests and in spreading the Mughal Empire.

Today, the Gurudwara Chakki Sahib is located at the spot where Nanak was imprisoned and performed this “magical” deed.

Gurudwara Chakki Sahib. (Photo: Haroon Khalid)
Gurudwara Chakki Sahib. (Photo: Haroon Khalid)

Impression of an emperor

Almost 500 years after Nanak and Babur’s meeting, India and Pakistan are divided on the Mughal emperor’s legacy. For Hindu nationalists in India, Babur is an imperialist who plundered their land, curbed religious freedoms and suppressed their traditions.

Some Hindus believe that the Babri Masjid, or the Mosque of Babur in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, was built after demolishing a structure on the Ram Janmabhoomi, or the birthplace of Lord Ram, making it a major bone of contention.

Its demolition on December 6, 1992, by a group of Hindu kar sevaks, is one of the most important political events in India’s recent history and triggered communal riots all over the country.

In contrast, Pakistan, perhaps more so after 1992, began to embrace Babur. It suited the State’s historical framework – the need to depict the superiority of Muslim culture over the Hindu civilisation.

Much like the invaders Muhammad Bin Qasim, Mahmud Ghaznvi and Mohammad Ghori, Babur became a symbol of Muslim nationalism that culminated in the creation of Pakistan.

Several roads and chowks in the different cities of the country are named after the first Mughal Emperor. The State has even named a missile after him and just two weeks ago, Pakistan tested an enhanced version of the medium-range and subsonic cruise Babur missile.

As both the states interpret Babur to suit their narratives, I look towards Guru Nanak and what he had to say about the conqueror.

His poem Babur Bani, included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikhism’s central scripture and its 11th and eternal guru, beautifully captures the destruction that the king left at Eimanabad in its aftermath.

He writes:

Bringing the marriage party of sin,
Babar has invaded from Kabul,
demanding our land as his wedding gift, O Lalo...
...The Qazis and the Brahmins have lost their roles,
and Satan now conducts the marriage rites, O Lalo...
...The wedding songs of murder are sung, O Nanak,
and blood is sprinkled instead of saffron, O Lalo.

The poem mentions that his forces did not differentiate between Muslims and Hindus. Both fell victim to his wrath, which Nanak sarcastically calls “justice” of god.

For Nanak, Babur was not a Muslim king bent upon destroying the Hindu culture and neither was an Islamic national who wanted to spread his religion over a the land.

He was simply a king motivated by greed and glory, so much so that anyone, irrespective of religion, who came in his way, was destroyed.


This article was originally published on Scroll