In the land of Waris Shah, Muslims protect Sikh heritage

"This is the land of Waris Shah. It yields nothing but love."
Updated 30 Sep, 2019 04:13pm

Lying with our eyes closed, within the cold walls and shadows of the shrine, we heard his voice for the first time. Sain, as he was called, was singing verses from Heer, the revered Punjabi poem of Waris Shah.

Heer akhdi jogia jhoth bolay, kon ruthray yaar mananda ei
eisa koi na d itha mai dhoondh thaki, jera gaya nu morr liaonda ei
(Heer says, O jogi! You tell lies; whom can unite separated lovers
I have searched in vain but found none, who can bring back the departed)

As he sang in high notes, his voice resonated in the shrine, the dome and its surrounding — as if every soul present was remembering their own Heer. Amid the enchantment, a woman appeared. Making sure no one was watching, she diped her fingers in an extinguished charagh and placed them in her hair, a mark of submission to Waris Shah to plead for her beloved. The outer wall of the shrine read:

Waris shah mehboob nu tadon paiye
jadon apna aap ganwaiye
(Waris Shah, the beloved can only be attained
When one loses himself)

The tomb of Waris Shah. — Photos by the author
The tomb of Waris Shah. — Photos by the author

Taking the Hiran Minar exit from the Lahore-Islamabad motorway, one notices signboards reading pre-Partition names of villages — Lel Virkan, Noshehra Virkan and Buddha Goraya — that continue to exist after more than 70 years.

Our destination was Jandiala, meaning 'forest' in Punjabi. This is the Jandiala Sher Khan where Waris Shah was born and Heer was immortalised — and where now stands the shrine of Waris Shah, as lovers and newly-weds visit from all corners to seek his blessings. Ours was a visit to explore the heritage sites around Gujranwala and to fulfill our pledge to start the journey by offering gratitude to Waris Shah.

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After doing that, we set off to explore the pre-Partition heritage of the area. While visiting various sites, a marble structure emerged from amongst the trees after a sharp road turn. Seemingly unrelated to the adjacent mosque, the white edifice unfolded its enchanting glory as we moved closer.

Encircled by houses, the entrance to the building was hard to find until a man approached us and inquired about our intentions. Discovering our past affiliation with newspapers and keen interest in the site, Rashid agreed to show us around.

The front view of the gurdwara.
The front view of the gurdwara.

Ye sikhon ki masjid hai” (This is the mosque of Sikhs), he told us. “We clean it and show it to Sikh pilgrims who visit.”

Rashid was born amongst hundreds of families who came from India after Partition and settled in this region. Hardly remembering his ancestral village, to him Ambala was what he had heard it was from his mother.

“This place is similar to the mosques we left behind in our villages. It gave us shelter and is very important to us,” he said as he opened the main door.

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The facade had prominent inscriptions written in Hindi that we failed to decipher. It is when we Googled it that we came to know that this beautiful structure was actually a gurdwara known as Kharasahab or Gurdwara Mattu Bhaike.

It was an important pre-Partition gurdwara established by local affluent Sikhs after 1940 in honour of Guru Hargobind Singh, the sixth Guru, who while passing by this place showed annoyance to tobacco and asked his followers to avoid it.

This instruction later transcended into a weighty hukam (ruling) of Sikhism, “jagat jootth tambaakoo bikhiaa da tiaag karnaa” (Discard worldly ways, falsehoods and poisonous tobacco).

The samadhi.
The samadhi.

It was during the reign of Ranjit Singh that Sikhs became influential and consolidated prominent places of worship all over Punjab. Mattu Bhaike, Nowshehra Virkan and the adjacent areas were inhabited by Sikhs who migrated after Partition, leaving their buildings at the mercy of migrants and locals who, in many cases, destroyed the structures and replaced them with residential quarters.

The anterior of the gurdwara was striking — with marble, stone and glass works and beautiful wooden engravings on the doors. It had a samadhi (tomb) whose stucco work and paintings had warped with time. It used to have an idol as well, Rashid told us.

Also read: Hyderabad’s pre-Partition buildings were built mostly by Hindus. Today, they're at the mercy of developers

Despite being muddy from the outside, the interior of the building was in decent condition. It consisted of a big, tiled hall on the ground floor that had been used for different religious rituals. The surrounding wooden windows were clogged with dust as if they hadn’t been touched since its occupants left.

There were four entrance doors to the ground floor. On the extreme right were stairs going up. At the top was a small room and a dome with magnificent paintwork. The view of lush green fields from there was heavenly.

It looked like the site was regularly taken care of since nothing had been destroyed or looted. I was informed that it belongs to the Mattu clan who still lives here.

The facade of the gurdwara.
The facade of the gurdwara.

Searching for answers, we went to the Mattu Bhaike village. Not many were interested in talking about Sikhs and their gurdwara. But finally, Ijaz agreed to answer some questions.

Ijaz, in his late 40s, lived next to the gurdwara. “We have been living here for centuries,” he said, while showing us some old documents, including his lineage. “Our ancestors were Sikhs. Later, my great grandparents converted to Islam.” Yet, his cousins remained Sikh.

“Everyone was living peacefully when Partition happened. We decided to stay, but riots erupted in the neighbouring villages and so the Mattu family decided to shift their Sikh cousins and family across the border, while their homes and flocks were put in our custody until they returned.

"However, no one returned. People who witnessed Partition recall the night of the departure like it happened yesterday. The sadness still engulfs every living soul here,” Ijaz recounted as he looked towards the gurdwara.

“My grandfather used to show me the house keys given to him by his friend Inderjeet wrapped in his mother’s shawl, whom they both called bayjee. He was so protective of it that he did not let us so much as touch the house during his lifetime,” he told us.

The fading painting inside the samadhi.
The fading painting inside the samadhi.

We asked him about the destruction of Sikh and Hindu heritage sites after Partition and the Babri Mosque incident. Ijaz replied: “The gurdwara has the graves of our forefathers. Some people tried to destroy it in 1992, but the whole village came out to protect it.”

He added, “Mattus are Sikhs and Muslims. We have family across the border who are desperate to see their ancestral village. The pilgrims visited in 1960s for the first time and the entire village welcomed them with food. My grandfather said that Sikhs are his uncles and nephews; our hearts and houses are always open for them. They might be Indians but this is their land.”

“He also used to say to all of us, 'this is the land of Waris Shah. It yields nothing but love'”, Ijaz said with a smile.

For people in the subcontinent, Partition epitomises loss not just of territory, but also of identity. However, there are places like Mattu Bhaike where people refused to let go of their identity and affection towards each other.

Last month, as a goodwill motion, Pakistan handed over the Gurdwara Kharasahab to the Sikh community. With steps like these, including the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, people might finally be able to meet their Heer they have been longing for.

The view from the top.
The view from the top.

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Author Image

Saif Tahir is a researcher by profession and a photographer by passion. He is former faculty and trainer at Bahria University and Pakistan Navy War College.

Author Image

Zahida Rehman Jatt is an anthropologist and social science researcher. She is lecturer at the department of anthropology and archaeology at the University of Sindh in Jamshoro.

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

Comments (37) Closed

Aug 28, 2019 05:30pm
Good stuff
Recommend 0
Aug 28, 2019 05:56pm
Thanks for the wonderful article.
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Aug 28, 2019 07:45pm
First destroy all heritage sites, now why all the sudden urge to show them
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Ranjit Singh
Aug 28, 2019 08:20pm
Nice article. Just one point, the writing in front of the Gurdwara is in Punjabi in Gurmukhi script and not Hindi. No Gurdwara in Punjab either East Punjab or West Punjab would have writing in Hindi.
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Aug 28, 2019 08:53pm
Good news. Welcome Sikhs to worship here and the KPcorridor. Love has no boundry.
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S Menezes
Aug 28, 2019 08:55pm
Amazing story and well written.
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Aug 28, 2019 08:57pm
I was almost crying, while reading the article. I studied Heer-Waris in my MA Punjabi.The place like Jandiala, where Waris was born and Bardeke Hans, where he wrote Heer were often mentioned in class-room. Thank you, both for writing this beautiful piece and taking me back to my class-room, where I was some 40 years ago. Balraj Sahni, a Punjabi actor and writer wrote that Samadhi of MAI HEER ( mother Heer) is roofless, but when it rains, it remains dry. It is myth or reality? Well you please visit her resting place and clear the air?
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Aug 28, 2019 08:59pm
'this is the land of Waris Shah. It yields nothing but love' - beautiful article. Thank you! Pakistan's forex situation will change if Hindus and Sikhs are granted safe passage to visit these places. Thank you again.
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Aug 28, 2019 09:06pm
I am a Sikh from Indian Punjab. Our family had to move from Raiwand at partition. This article brought a tear to my eye. My heart goes to the ‘Mattu’ community.
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Aug 28, 2019 09:06pm
Saif & Zahida, Thank you for the article. We need more stuff like this. Its always a pleasure to read about our history and the love between communities.
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Gordon D. Walker
Aug 28, 2019 10:34pm
Excellent story of admirable behaviour. Gordon D. Walker Canada
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Aug 28, 2019 10:52pm
The land of Waris Shah.It only teaches peace and goodwill towards all.
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Aug 28, 2019 10:57pm
Good writeup. Kudos
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Aug 28, 2019 11:22pm
That is nice of Pakistan to protect Gurudwaras. I hope they are protecting Hindu temples too.
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Sukhvir Singh
Aug 29, 2019 01:53am
Great work. Wish you all the best !
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shekar kurudi
Aug 29, 2019 02:39am
I love dawn for publishing ancient hindu and Sikh and Buddhist, monuments which reminds citizens of India, Pakistan and citizens of Bangladesh srilanka of or common civilization. Thank very much Dawn
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Aug 29, 2019 02:50am
@Honest, when was the heritage destroyed, any evidence. No Gurdawara or Hindu temple was demolished the way Babri Mosque was pulled down by Hindu extremists in India
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T Ram
Aug 29, 2019 03:09am
I am Indian. This is a nice article. I apologise for some negative remarks by a few Hindu readers. They cant help it as they have small hearts. They also have a caste system and think they are superior in some way to other people, but I do not believe in caste system.
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Aug 29, 2019 04:20am
@Honest, "First destroy all heritage sites, now why all the sudden urge to show them" If all the heritage sites are apparently destroyed, what's this article about? Perhaps you should learn to read, and then show your RSS buddies across the border that this is what religious tolerance looks like.
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Aug 29, 2019 05:01am
let these places be kept for original owner of sikh community as these reflect affection for the followers.
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Najma Hisham
Aug 29, 2019 05:24am
Babay Nanak's first Sikh (student) was Bhai Mardana, a Muslim. The Golden Temple land was gifted by a Muslim Pir. The first man to notice and appreciate Babay Nanak's spiritual gift was a Muslim. So some of Sikhism holiest shrines are also cared for by Muslims.
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Aug 29, 2019 05:25am
@Honest, You can see with your own eyes they weren’t destroyed.
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Aug 29, 2019 05:30am
Very many thanks to the authors for the photograph of gurudwara, which is unique in architecture and design. Do not look from a religious angle but for its aesthetic value. Detailed investigative history about the design will be very interesting.
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Aug 29, 2019 05:37am
The inscriptions on the walls are in Gurmukhi punjabi not Hindi.
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Aug 29, 2019 06:48am
Agree@honest, Also please have a look at all of the Majids and dargas in India, we just dont look after them, we visit them and its open to everyone. How many muslims visited this Gurudawra?
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Aug 29, 2019 07:23am
Many thanks.
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Aug 29, 2019 11:02am
A duty is not a favour.
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Aug 29, 2019 11:09am
A superb Article.
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Aug 29, 2019 11:13am
statement: 'this is the land of Waris Shah. It yields nothing but love' .
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Aug 29, 2019 11:29am
Good write up, just a glimpse of how rich our culture is, may peace prevails
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pappu reddy
Aug 29, 2019 12:05pm
looks like a badly managed place. not a single photo from inside and no people. existence of old names of villages are considered a surprise- no wonder the despotic opinion seeps through the narrative
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Aug 29, 2019 12:42pm
Thank you writers for bringing to our notice this beautiful place of culture and religious harmony.
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Aug 29, 2019 01:43pm
Good Job
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Aug 29, 2019 05:00pm
Thanks for sharing. The clear message is that the people of the subcontinent have no animosity and share a common destiny.
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Paul Gill
Aug 29, 2019 05:01pm
A very sensitive, emotional, and wonderful article with full of amazing information. Love, respect, and salute to the author of this prose.
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Aug 29, 2019 08:20pm
Very nice writing, bought tears to my eyes. No one can feel the pain of leaving their ancestral land and leave overnight.
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Zulfiqar Manto.
Aug 29, 2019 09:36pm
@Arya, its not a myth.
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