If you walk up Tehsil Bazaar as one turns from Bazaar Hakeeman, towards the end on the left is a Jain Manzil. This was the meeting place of the Jains of Lahore till 1947, when they fled the city where once they ruled and thrived. Their brutal end no one recollects.

My last visit to this place was in the company of Haji Sheikh Mubarak Ali, the tailor-cum-religious person who built a mosque in the 500-yard long bazaar which already has five mosques, a Jain Hall and a Hindu temple. He took possession of this place in 1947, only to opt for a house along the same street. In the Jain Hall today milch animals live with the walls full of animal dung plastered to dry. It was a sad reflection of our tolerance for others, just like in the Babri mosque frenzy the famous and beautiful Jain Mandar of Lahore was demolished. Immediately, a cleric moved into the place but only to flatten this historic monument.

It reminded me of an Indian friend who when on a visit I drove to his ancestral home in the old walled city of Bhera, only to find donkeys tied up in their house temple. My guest cried and wanted to return immediately to Lahore and did not speak on the way back. I suppose if the same was done to a mosque my reaction would be the same. But then we all have cultural and heritage connections to every monument of our land. As a young reporter I interviewed the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and started the session with the smart question: “What is culture?” He took a long puff at his cigarette and replied: “Everything that exists in this soil”. That took the wind out my youthful exuberance.

So by that definition this Jain Hall is part of our culture and heritage. For that matter the destruction of Lahore’s Jain Mandar was like the Taliban destroying the statues of Bamiyan, or the knocking down statues in Kabul Museum, or in Syria, or the tragic bombings in Sri Lanka. We just cannot look the other way or ignore this virtual blasphemy.

But then as I focused on the Jain Hall in Tehsil Bazaar my research took me on a long journey back in time when old Lahore was entirely Jain and Buddhist. In a way my feeling is that the people of Lahore did not support the caste-based system of the Brahman Vedic variety, which had set aside the “purity and simplicity” of the original belief system and introduced idolatry.

We know for certain that Lahore was important enough for Siddhartha of the Sakia clan to visit and stay for three months here. He was to be known as Gautam Buddha. An educated guess, based on historic references, points to him staying in Mohallah Maullian inside Lohari Gate. Experts believe this is the oldest mohallah of the pre-Akbar ancient walled city. Remnants of a Buddhist temple still exist there. The Buddha set aside all Hindu ceremonies, abolished Brahman priesthood and sacrifices both human and animal. We know from Chinese scholars that as the caste-based religion was pushed eastwards, all the lands from Afghanistan to the Punjab were ruled by Buddhists. Buddhism was in a way a revolutionary equity-based system that has influenced the entire world in ways we do not care to study. But then such are belief-based systems.

But the sharp differences led to the birth of a ‘compromising’ version, Jainism, which was a sort of compromise between the Buddhist and Hindu Brahmans. As the Jains of the Punjab and Lahore were primarily Vasaya, a mercantile class, they divided their followers into two sects, they being Saraogi and the Aswal. Very soon Lahore became a city of Jains who started to spread to Delhi and Rothak. Here the version of Jains and Lahore has two main pointers, though they are not specific, they being the Greek historians and the Hindu ‘shastras’, with the latter being more bound by fiction and myth.

But the Jains have an abiding presence in Lahore and the Punjab. The holiest of Jain shrines, the Baba Dharam Dass, is in Pasrur while the Vijayanand Suri ‘samadhi’ is in Gujranwala. These were frequented by Bhabra community whose main occupation was trade. There are Bhabra bazaars in Rawalpindi and Lahore has the famous Gali Bhabrian as also a ‘mohallah’ called Thari Bhabrian. The Jains of northern India are essentially of Punjabi origin with Wazirabad once being a major centre.

Among the greatest of Jain rulers of the sub-continent was Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 BC) who after seeing a lot of killings left his throne and went into the forests with Jain monks. There is a long list of incidents in Greek accounts about Alexander being impressed by the honesty of Jains. For those interested the Lahore Museum has an impressive collection of Jain artefact, mostly donated by the great Sir Marc Aurel Stein when he worked in Lahore’s Oriental College. His amazing expeditions to Central Asia, especially his discoveries of the Mogao Caves near Dunhaung where he discovered the world’s oldest printed text, are amazing.

The greatest loss to Lahore in 1947 was of the highly educated Jains of Lahore. In the late 1800s a lot of Jains from the Punjab were taken to Africa by the colonial railway builders, where they also established huge business houses. The three basic principles on which Jainism is based are knowledge, analysis and purity in practice. The very word Jain is taken from a Sanskrit verb ‘Ji’, which means to conquer, and it is the conquest of the Self that for them is the sole conquest worth pursuing. For that matter the very first world the Almighty ordained on our Holy Prophet (PBUH) was ‘Iqra’, which means the same. Their canvas of analysis is that only ‘humans’ and the ‘universe’ exist, with the former being ‘the Self’ and the universe being ‘the non-Self’. The universe can be conquered only if one conquers the Self, or the Ego.

Within the old walled city, so research tells us, were over 12 Jain temples, of which only one remains, that is near Chuna Mandi. The others were either destroyed in the riots of 1947 as they were located near Shahalami Bazaar, which is where most Jain merchants operated and lived. Sheikh Mubarak Ali told me a gruesome story of how this area was surrounded and locked up and set alight in the Partition riots. Everyone inside perished.

The events of 1947 deprived the walled city of its varied population. The last of the four great Jain ‘Pattavalis’ was Lohacarya (14BC-38AD) who spread the Jain religion in the Punjab after settling in Lahore. Where exactly he stayed no clue exists. But we do know that some of their leaders were of the Suri, the Sethi and the Bhandara clans. Mind you Lohacarya was the 28th guru after Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, and who completed Jainism. I cannot claim that this religion was completed in my city, but what is certain is that it had a major role in its completion.

As far as the history of Lahore goes I have found the ‘Vaka’ of the great Jain Rsi Rugha written in 1792 of immense value, for it covers the period of Raja Bhoja (674 AD) right up to the death of Aurangzeb (1707 AD) and his succession. That Lahore was once a great Jain city, then a Buddhist city, and then a Hindu city till the dynasty of the great Jayapala was eliminated by the invader Mahmud of Ghazni in 1021 AD.

So every time you walk up Tehsil Bazaar spare a though for the historic Jain Hall and the glorious history of the Jain population that once thrived here eons ago.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2019

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