One of the things that fascinates me about Lahore is its resilience against all odds. It has been completely decimated a number of times, only to rise again. Famines, invasions, plagues, let alone tyrants, have come and gone. Lahore still stand.

The plague of our times is the unbelievable levels of corruption. Hopefully the people will conquer this one day for the city to emerge equal to the popular slogan ‘Lahor, Lahor Aye’. In this piece our interest is in just one of many times it has been completely flattened, only to rise again, each time better than the last. In the year 1241 the city experienced the complete destruction - the total levelling of the city and the killing, or enslaving, of each and every person of Lahore – and then the first planned rebuilding of the fort and the city. Both events took place in the 13th century with a gap of 27 years, a time period in which the city became a haunted place.

But then the military importance of the city, because of its location on the River Ravi and on the road to Delhi, as also its major grain market, virtually forced the rulers to rebuild this city. First let me touch on the city’s destruction on Dec 22, 1241. It seems in place to describe what Lahore looked like then. The outer walls of the city, as most probably also the fort, were thick mud walls.

The city’s main southern gateway was Lohari Gate. To the South-West was a small hole, now called Mori Gate, from where the Hindu population took their dead for cremation on the River Ravi, which flowed outside. Probably the cremation ground was at where today is the old fish market, for just behind it Raja Jaipala committed ‘johar’ for losing to Mahmud of Ghazni. The population was surely not more than 60,000 persons, of whom well over 75 per cent were Hindu. When Mahmud invaded, and decimated Lahore in 1021, the city was 100 per cent Hindu. Since then every decade has seen a one per cent decline of that communal ratio.

To the East, near the grave of Mahmud’s Georgian slave ‘Malik’ Ayaz, was the gateway facing Delhi. The remains of that gateway’s top can be seen in a crossing to the east of Kucha Katyalan. The last time I visited that particular place it seems like only the upper brickwork was visible and fast disappearing as bricks were being fast removed by the encroaching trader classes. The main gateway to the north was near where today stands Paniwala Talab. The entrance to the West has been located just behind the Chowk Tibbi police station on the edge of Tehsil Bazaar.

That was the city then, full of gardens and water wells and almond trees and a huge harbour outside, which was, most probably, then called Khizri Gate. If you went to the fort you headed westwards outside the mud walls, and the harbour entrance headed southwards. So with five gateways was Lahore then in 1242 when the Mongol scourge descended.

What happened can be seen in the description of Firishta in ‘Tarikh-e-Feroz Shahi’. Also a poem by Amir Khusrau touches on that tragedy. In Delhi the ruler was Bahram Khan, one of the sons of Queen Razia Sultan. He had been put on the throne by the Turk officers of the Royal army, who had revolted after accusing Razia of having an affair with her ‘habshi’ Lord of the Stables, Malik Jamaluddin Yaqut. The ‘habshi’ met a sad end near Bhatinda, while she met her son in battle and was killed at Kaithal.

The governor of Lahore was Malik Ikhtiaruddin Qaraqash, a very competent military commander. In 1240 the Mongols under Tair Bahadur, the commander the Mongol Qa’an (Khan) Og’tai of Herat, Ghazni and Afghanistan, they being separate countries then, invaded Punjab. Originally they attacked Multan, only to meet resistance. So the Mongol hordes headed for Lahore. The fort and the city were very poorly provisioned. The Mongols were in league with the city’s traders, all of whom had Mongol passports to do trade in areas controlled by them.

The traders of Lahore conspired with the Mongols and when things got completely out of hand, the governor escaped after telling his followers that he was going on a night attack. The defenders fought well after the traders had managed to let in a lot of the Mongols. There was wholesale slaughtering. Everyone was either killed, or made slaves for sale in the Central Asian markets. At the end the traders were also slaughtered. The walls were all demolished and each and every house knocked down and dead bodies thrown in the wells of the city. For the next decade it “remained the haunt of crows and jackals”.

In 1266, on the death of Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah, the son of Iltutmish, his minister Ghiasuddin Balban took over as the Emperor of India. He placed his nephew Sher Khan as the governor of Lahore, who died four years later. To avoid conflict among his ministers, his son Muhammad Qaan-al Mulk was made viceroy of Lahore and Multan. The young prince was a man of great taste and his advisers included men of learning and taste, including Amir Khusrau and Khawaja Amir Hasan. It is not known who exactly advised him to rebuild Lahore on a grand scale, but the finest architects were called from Iran and work started. Portions of the fort were rebuilt in 1268 in burnt brick, while the city had brick pillars with very thick mud bricks between. The height of the walls were that of “ten men” and was wide “enough for a horse to ride on”.

In 1285 news came of another Mongol invasion, this time led by their Mughal sub-tribe. Prince Muhammad rushed to Multan and defeated them. But then a Changzi leader by the name of Timur Khan led his 20,000 horsemen reached Lahore to loot it. At that time Prince Muhammad rushed from Multan and faced them on the banks of the Ravi at Lahore. When the prince was saying his ‘Zuhr’ prayers, a band of 2,000 horsemen attacked him and he was fatally wounded. His tutor Amir Khusrau was captured. Where exactly this took place is a matter of speculation, but it was surely just a mile or two from the city and its fort. Once Balban’s army arrived the Mughals fled. Balban was grief-stricken and died within a few months of the same year.

So the history of Lahore in this period tells us a lot about the city being destroyed and rebuilt. The Mughals returned again under Babar to yet again completely destroy Lahore in 1524. The curse of the Mongols and the Mughals was evident, that is till Akbar rebuilt a much expanded city and its fort in burnt bricks just 40 years later.

The rebuilding of Lahore as we know it today is another story. But then seven times in history has the city been destroyed and rebuilt. Today the old walled city is in the process of being very slowly destroyed as a historic city to convert it into a wholesale market. When traders become rulers, all they know is to sell the State, at least 700 years ago the Italian sage Machiavelli said so.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2018

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