Last week a social media piece put me on the trail of the origins of Roshnai Gate, the gateway that joins the fort to the city. As the person sending the piece is a distinguished writer and journalist of a clan living in Zaman Park, Lahore, which includes our current prime minister, I decided to investigate and hence this piece.
Though I disagree with the conclusion regarding the gate’s name as passed on by the honourable writer’s relative, yet the discussion and research that followed is tantalising. So first let me put forth what the message stated: “It is mentioned in ‘Tazkker-al-Ansar’ that Pir Roshan’s grandson, Ahad Dad, was killed in battle fighting against the Mughal Army in 1626 AD. His severed head was sent to Emperor Jahangir in Lahore who ordered it hung at one of the gates of the fort.”
The gent goes on to claim: “Jahangir too has recorded the incident in ‘Tuzk-e-Jahangiri’. This is how the gate acquired its name ‘Roshnai Darwaza’ after the movement started by Pir Roshan. The head was later retrieved by our ancestors in Jalandhar and buried it in Kabiristan-e-Shaheedan in Rasta (Akhund) Mohallah”.
One additional detail might also be of interest, and that being that he claims that Pir Roshan’s grandson, Karim Dad, was married to Nawab Saadullah Khan, a Minister of Emperor Shah Jahan. Her son Nawab Lutfullah Khan is referred to as Mian Khan, who was the Governor of Lahore and he built a house inside the walled city known as ‘Mian Khan de Haveli.’ He claims that it still exists in the old city. He is sadly mistaken for the traders of Shahalami Bazaar have knocked it down recently with the authorities ‘deliberately’ ignoring what was going on. The same is the fate of the nearby ‘Haveli Danishmandan’ which belonged to the same family.
My interest sprung, firstly, from the fact that this family lineage is the same as that of my dear friend Shahzada Tahir Azam’s family, who built and owned ‘Haveli Mian Khan’. This ‘haveli’ Tahir volunteered to save if given a free hand, but the authorities just did not respond. Trader pressure is invariably Lahore’s loss. Incidentally, Tahir’s father, Major Azam Khan, was the first cousin of King Zahir Shah Khan of Afghanistan. So the Waziristan connection is clear.
But before I put down my take of Roshnai Gate, let me explore just who was Pir Roshan (1525-1585). This amazing Pashtun warrior, distinguished poet, freedom fighter and a Sufi belonged to the Ormur tribe of Waziristan. His full name was Bayazid Pir Roshan and though his mother tongue was Ormuri, he was fluent in Pashto, Persian and Arabic. He is known as the founder of the Roshaniya Movement, called the Rokhanian (the Light) in Pashto, which had a mass following starting from the 16th century. His major literary contribution was ‘Khairul Bayan’, the oldest known Pashto book. Many blind followers believe it was a ‘sort of’ revealed book to explain the importance of ‘Surah-e-Rahman. But then so was the case with Shah Waliullah’s book ‘Lam’at’. For those interested look up Dr Parvez Mahjur Khweshki’s discourse.
So from blind belief let us return to bare facts. The people of Waziristan pride themselves for their constant battles against foreign invaders. Over 2,200 years ago they fiercely battled the Greek invader Alexander and almost overwhelmed him. Never before in battle had Alexander experienced so many casualties. To survive he struck a treaty of ‘friendship’, only to betray them one night by massacring the sleeping Pathans. Dr Akbar Ahmad’s description of that battle is a masterpiece.
When Mughal Emperor Akbar invaded Waziristan he collected a small army and battled them, only to be defeated. Akbar’s grouse was their opposition to his ‘Din-e-Elahi’. To counter his hold over the Muslims of the area, several books were written to counter Pir Roshan’s ideas. In the end the Mughals formed an alliance with the Yusufzai Pathan whose ‘lashkar’ killed Pir Roshan and most of his sons.
One of his sons, Pir Jalala escaped to Chitral where he died in 1601. However, his followers in Waziristan, Tiral, Kurram, Nangarhar and Loya Paktia continued the struggle for well over a century. The philosophy of Pir Roshan had a very strong Sufi influence, which for its time was a radical way of thinking. His claim was that the Burki clan were ‘Ansars’, whose name came about because they lived in the Barak area since Greek times.
One source claims they were not ‘Ansars’ but descended from Baraki Tajiks, which has considerable credence given that they spoke the Urmar language till quite recently. Amazingly Pir Roshan advocated that the Quran clearly teaches us that education was an Islamic priority, and that women were equal to men.
Here it would be of interest that the sons of Pir Jalala fought against Mughal armies time and again, and in one battle they killed Raja Birbal at Bir Gali in Swabi in the present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 1587. One claim is that the city of Jalalabad is named after Pir Jalala. It is claimed that Pashto if written in the Arabic or Persian scripts could not cater for a lot of sounds. Thus it was that Pir Roshan innovated 13 characters to make up for that deficiency.
After Pir Jalala’s death his nephew Ahad Khan took charge of the battles which went on for many years and left the Mughals totally harassed. The Mughals used a number of allies from tribes in Kabul to the Rajputs of Punjab, only to find the Roshannai forces inflicting immense damage and then disappearing to another remote area.
On Emperor Jahangir’s death there was a general revolt among Pashtuns against Mughal domination. It was only on the death of Akbar in 1605 that a truce in perpetuity was evoked that the descendants of Pir Roshan were provided with a lot of land in Jalandhar, which to fulfil Islamic injunctions they purchased from local landlords from the blood-money the Mughals paid them. Thus it was that Basti Danishmandan and Basti Sheikh Dervish as well as Basti Baba Kel sprung up. It was at the fort of Baba Khel that the Basti Pathans, much to their credit, fought off the rising power of the Sikhs.
Now let us return to the original reason this research was undertaken. It has been claimed that as the severed head of Ahad Khan was hung at the gateway near the river as it flowed then and the Lahore Fort, which we today call Roshnai Gate, it was known after Pir Roshan and his followers. There seems no reason this should be so because even Dullah Bhatti and his father were hung up there and skinned alive, as were hundreds of other freedom fighters of the land. That part of our history we love to ignore for purely communal reasons. It speaks of our ignorance of our true worth, instilled by a thousand years of foreign influence.
Roshnai Gate is the 13th gateway of old Lahore and it was named because all those coming to Lahore at night needed lamp lights (devas) to see their way from the river edge to the fort and the city onwards. The light (roshni) provided by oil lamps gave the gateway its name. This name has been there for centuries much before the head of Ahad Khan was hung there.
Yes the Roshaniya Movement is an important part of our history, but the origin of Lahore’s 13th gateway has nothing to do with the death of Ahad Khan and his head, and I say this with no disrespect to the Pathans of Zaman Park, including our present prime minister.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2018