A forgotten shrine near Lahore stands witness to the havoc wreaked by Ahmed Shah Abdali

Till a few years ago, there used to be an annual urs at the shrine, as is the custom at all Sufi shrines.

Updated 10 Jan, 2019 01:01pm

There is a flurry of construction activity in the narrow alleys of Hanjarwal village, 14km from Lahore, with barely a trace of any old architecture that might give a hint of its age.

The Ravi river, which once used to flow at the base of the mound near this village, has gradually meandered away. On the road connecting Lahore with Multan in the south, the only traces of this village’s age is a shrine — Pir Hanjar — and a few bricks that are the remnants of what was once a serai or resting place for travellers.

But Hanjarwal village was established centuries ago. According to British settlement reports, it came up in the early 17th century, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

A few kilometres away is the town of Niaz Baig, which finds a mention in the official records of Emperor Akbar’s reign. Unlike Hanjarwal, this town was protected by a boundary wall.

While these walls have disappeared, perhaps razed in the aftermath of the 1857 uprising, when the walls of Lahore were also destroyed by the British possibly to avoid a similar rebellion, there are still remains of a couple of gateways that once allowed entry into the town.

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In the 18th century, hearing the news of an impending raid by the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali, it is likely that several occupants of this Muslim-majority village and numerous other vulnerable villages descended upon Niaz Baig for safety. They are likely to have had ties with its residents because of the town’s proximity to their settlements.

Abdali had attempted to capture Lahore, but its gates were shut and its protective walls had successfully kept his forces at bay so far (he eventually captured the city). His soldiers were getting impatient, and to keep them busy, the king started raiding hamlets, towns and villages in the vicinity.

Travelling via the Ravi, and disembarking at the base of the mound of Hanjarwal, the Afghan soldiers relieved their boredom by raiding the village.

With the walls of Lahore holding firm against the Afghan king’s assault, perhaps Abdali did not want to be rebuffed by the better-protected Niaz Baig. His next target was another unprotected village, 17km further south. That was the unfortunate village of Maraka.

It is believed that the Afghan forces did not spare a single soul here and later even burned down the entire village.

The village of Sikhs

But why was this severe treatment reserved for Maraka?

This was also the time when Mughal authority in Punjab was fading away and local independent warlords were filling the vacuum.

Among these warlords were warriors who came to be known as the Sikh Misl, who used to regularly harass Abdali’s forces as they returned to Afghanistan after their regular raids into Punjab and other parts of North India.

The Afghan king was informed that these “dacoits” lived in this Sikh-majority village. This is believed to have led to the brutal raid.

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At the site of the old village now stands a graveyard. Located on the top of a little mound, it is dotted by several banyan trees.

Scattered all over the graveyard are shards of pottery and remains of blackened bricks, some in clusters, deformed by the blaze that was said to have been lit to burn the village down.

This is the graveyard for new Maraka village, which was established a little distance away from the burned down village by a few residents who were away when the Afghan forces struck.

In local folklore, Bodh Singh and his son Jasa Singh helped populate new Maraka, becoming legends in the process.

A small structure was constructed in the middle of the new village to honour everyone who had died at the hands of the Afghan king. It was called shaheedan da smadh or the smadh of the martyrs.

Shrine still exists

A few years ago when I visited new Maraka, I met an old Christian woman, who was a pre-Partition resident of the village. Several low-caste Sikhs who stayed back in Pakistan in 1947 converted to Christianity at the time, a religion they retain.

It is likely that her family had Sikh roots, which was possibly why she was aware of the legend of Bodh Singh and Jasa Singh.

Through her, I found out that the structure raised to commemorate the martyrs of Maraka still existed. But now it was in the form of Muslim graves, as opposed to a smadh.

Related: How shrines helped indigenise Islam and Christianity in South Asia

Till a few years ago, I was told, there used to be an annual urs or festival at the shrine, as is the custom at all Sufi shrines.

While the story of Abdali’s raid and the subsequent construction of this monument were not popularly known, the memorial had acquired a new meaning.

I was led to a house inside of which the two symbolic graves of the shaheedan da mazaar lay. While the significance of the shrine had been forgotten in the past few years, the space was still neatly maintained.

The owner of the house had taken it upon himself to protect the sanctity of this sacred place, which stands testimony of the havoc caused by the Afghan King in Lahore and its outskirts.

Cover photo: Wikimedia Commons

The article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

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Author Image

Haroon Khalid has an academic background in anthropology from Lums. He has been travelling extensively around Pakistan, documenting historical and cultural heritage. He is the author of four books — Imagining Lahore, Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva and A White Trail.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (35) Closed

Jan 09, 2019 04:43pm
Abdali was honoured by naming a Pakistani missile on his name.
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M. Siddique
Jan 09, 2019 05:45pm
Such articles depicting the historical facts are always interesting to read. Every village, town and city in Pakistan has its own story to tell.
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utpal kumar basu
Jan 09, 2019 06:58pm
good article . thanks dawn. also thank you haroon rashid saheb.
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Jan 09, 2019 07:04pm
To me article without photographs is not a complete article.
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wasim rathore
Jan 09, 2019 07:11pm
Thank you Haroon Khalid for your always interesting articles. Keep it up!
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Jan 09, 2019 08:30pm
Great read. Thanks
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Jan 09, 2019 09:02pm
Nice and good article! History is intriguing but painful...
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Jan 09, 2019 09:13pm
what good he did for the people of Lahore? The author should also write about this.
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Tahir Chaudhry
Jan 09, 2019 09:22pm
Very interesting. Thanks.
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Jan 09, 2019 10:16pm
@Author- it would help to frame the discussion with some pictures to substantiate your argument and establish your point.
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Mohsin Malik
Jan 09, 2019 10:36pm
@jay He did nothing. He attacked, looted and then retreated back to Afghanistan. His forces attack Lahore many times over the course of many years for financial reasons.
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Jan 09, 2019 11:09pm
@M. Siddique You are totally correct.. the history and stories of these towns are amazing. Thank you Dawn, Thank you Haroon for these stories.
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Jan 09, 2019 11:22pm
Ahmed shah Abdali was king of Pukthuns and proud of him
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Jan 10, 2019 12:09am
While I recognize Afghan forces where at times heavy handed, Abdali and those brave allied soldiers (Abdali's Mughal's and Nawab's forces) who fought the Marathas in the 3rd Battle of Panipat (the biggest battle of 18th century) were heroes and will always be remembered as such.
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Peace Now
Jan 10, 2019 12:34am
Abadali was saviour
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Jan 10, 2019 01:01am
Very good article, very much required to remind the history.
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Jan 10, 2019 02:48am
Enjoyed reading! Well done!!
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Jan 10, 2019 05:42am
Great article. And we should wonder a Pakistani missile is named after him?
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R K Dubey
Jan 10, 2019 08:55am
Excellent article ,thanks Haroon Khalid.
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RK Singh
Jan 10, 2019 09:34am
Is Abdali a hero for Pakistan?
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arshad javed sandal
Jan 10, 2019 09:43am
Thanks Haroon for the old story of Hanjarwal and Sofi Hanjar. Also Abdali forces burning Maraka, is new for others living far from Lahore. Have you ever studied the sacrifice of Peer Muradia of Sialkot . If so please narrate.
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Lord Ickenham
Jan 10, 2019 09:46am
For a moment I thought you were referring to your missile by the same name
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Jan 10, 2019 10:47am
Abdali no doubt was a powerful and just king.
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Jan 10, 2019 11:25am
@SATT Abdali was born in Multan is what is now Pakistan so what do you mean? He was a Pashtun overlord and you forget that even Mahmoud of Ghazni made Lahore his second capital. Lahore has been part of many kingdoms at different times.
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khan saheb
Jan 10, 2019 11:41am
Abdali our pride... Yours truly #Pakistani_Pashtun
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Jan 10, 2019 12:40pm
Some photographs of the village, graveyard and shrine would make the article more interesting to read.
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kabir khan
Jan 10, 2019 03:02pm
It is of course a good article and provides information...
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Shafiq Chughtai
Jan 10, 2019 05:00pm
Very enjoyable read. Would live to read in urdu
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Jan 10, 2019 05:43pm
Very interesting. Can the writer give source for the information. I would like to read it.
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Jan 11, 2019 12:39am
Very good info Sir. Sad thing is we have named one of our missile after Abdali.
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Sanjeev Yadav
Jan 11, 2019 02:34pm
Always great to read you.
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Jan 11, 2019 02:45pm
Ahmed Shah Abdali was a honorable man, a wise commander and a just ruler. He left us a heritage that still lifts our heads up high with confidence and justified pride.
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Jan 11, 2019 09:55pm
Another beautiful article by Haroon Khalid!
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Jan 12, 2019 12:16am
An example of an hero becoming a plunderer. The subcontinent history is full of them. The difference is that the hero of one is a traitor or another.
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Jan 12, 2019 09:16am
Thanks for the article. History is the most important subject. History has a tendency of repeating itself. Chittisinghpura massacre.
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