Every time I walk out of Mori Darwaza, I look to the right at the open ground and imagine the place where over 1,000 years ago the ruler of Lahore stood and committed ‘johar’ in true Rajput tradition after being defeated by the Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghazni. The last stand for Lahore was on.
Just 10 years before this bizarre incident, Ghazni was part of the Lahore Dynasty’s kingdom. Ever since our city and land was repeatedly invaded and exploited by Persian-Turko-Afghan foreigners over the last 1,000 years ago, we have had just two periods of local rule. The first was an 81-year Punjabi Sikh rule from 1768 to 1849 and then the present 73-year period of Pakistan.
The cumulative effect of constant violent exploitative foreign rule - which brought with it foreign languages and its divisive pidgin creation – has resulted in our mindsets being ‘terminally’ communal. It seems our ‘rational mind window’ is firmly shut. This is despite the plurality of communities, religions, traditions, languages and cultures that our land is famed for. This fact brings forth the proposition as to who ruled our city and land before it was invaded. Sadly, very few are interested in that critical part of our history, though we know that only we ourselves are fierce defenders of our land and have a history of immense bravery and loyalty to the soil.
So this column is about the last dynasty of Lahore before the Turko-Afghan invasion of 1021 when the city was burnt and flattened. Ironically, another six Muslim invaders followed and they all destroyed our beautiful city. The Hindu Shahi dynasty of Lahore ruled over the north-western portion of the sub-continent, the entire Gandhara region that is today’s Pakistan, and beyond in the north-eastern portion of today’s Afghanistan including Kabul. So this massive stretch of land was ruled from three capital cities, they being Lahore, Peshawar and Kabul. The time period of their rule starts from 850 AD to 1026 AD when the last helpless ruler fled to remote Kashmir, only to be assassinated by his own soldiers.
Before them ruled the Turk Shahi rulers and before them the Kshatriya Dynasty. But in this column our interest is in the Hindu Shahi, the last rulers before foreigners took over our land. The Turk Shahi were Buddhist rulers and they proved an obstacle to the eastward expansion of the Arab Abbasid Caliphate. The last Turk Shahi ruler was Lagaturman who was deposed by his Brahmin minister Vakka Deva in 850 AD, and so the Hindu Shahi Dynasty came about with their original kingdom stretching from Kashmir to beyond Multan and “the kingdoms of Punjab and Kabul were one”, at least so claim all the accounts of Al-Beruni, as also Al-Utbi as well as Pandit Kalhana. All three ancient chroniclers agree on the geographical extent of the kingdom of ancient Punjab of the last dynasty before Lahore finally fell and was razed to the ground.
If we study the ancient poetic works of Mewar of the reign of Khoman the First (812-836), we have a lucid description of the invasion of Chittor by Arab Muslims from Khurasan. Their finest poetic work is called ‘Khomana Rasa’ which describes the rulers of Lahore coming to the assistance of Mewar and driving out the invaders. The opening line of one poem states: “Lahore and Mewar were Rajput rivals always, but are one when foreigners pollute our sacred soil”. It is amazing how loyalty to the land in those ancient times was paramount.
The Hindu Shahi rule over Lahore right up to Kabul and probably the largest kingdom of the land till then started with the rise of the Brahmana ruler by the name of Raja Bachan Pala. This was the last dynasty of Lahore those reign was over-run by the Turko-Afghan forces of Mahmud and the Georgian slave renamed Ayaz was made an official of Lahore. So before we describe the kingdom the Hindu Shahi, a word about the Turko-Afghan Ghazni rulers.
The Samanids left the working of their provinces to their Turkish commanders, and of them was a ruler of Ghazni, a former slave doorman named Sabuktagin, joined the armed forces and took over in 977 AD. He extended his borders and after 12 years he started trying to take over the Lahore kingdom of Punjab ruled by Raja Jayapala.
This Brahmana chief established his dynasty in the early 9thcentury through Raja Bachan Pala, who died in 866 AD and his son Raja Ram Singh took over. On his death in 890 AD his son Raja Bir Singh. On his death Raja Hut Pala took over in 936 AD. It was during this dynasty that the kingdoms of Kabul and Punjab amalgamated and on the death of Bhima Pala the ruler of Punjab, Raja Prithvi Pala, became the ruler of Punjab and Kabul. Then started the reign of Raja Vakka Deva, followed by his son Raja Kamala Varman and then came the great expansionist Raja Bhima Deva. He was the one who established three capitals so as to run affairs ‘locally’.
He was succeeded by his son Raja Jayapala, who was the first of the Lahore rulers to take on Mahmud of Ghazni, after the Turkic Sabuktagin, attacked Ghazni. A series of huge battles followed in which Jayapala was defeated defending Peshawar. He returned to his last remaining capital, Lahore, where out of Rajput shame of defeat in battle he walked through the ancient Mori Darwaza, stood on the banks of the River Ravi, sprinkled himself with ‘ghee’ and committed ‘Johar’, the ultimate Rajput self-sacrifice, call it suicide. From then onwards we see his son Raja Anand Pala took over the war against foreign forces. On his death the new ruler was Raja Trilochana Pala, who tried to stop Afghan forces at the Margalla Pass near Rawalpindi. His elephants panicked and he moved to Bhera, then a major trading town.
From there he withdrew to Lahore and in 1021 was totally crushed. The forces of Mahmud out of sheer vengeance flattened the city. He captured almost 200,000 slaves, mostly women, which he then set off to sell in the slave markets of Samarkand and Constantinople (now Istanbul). Trilochana Pala moved to Kashmir and his son Raja Bhima Pala was killed by his own soldiers. The last non-Muslim dynasty of Lahore and the Punjab came to an end.
So for 1,000 years the Punjab and Lahore were enslaved to foreign forces. There are many ways of analysing what exactly happened to our ancestors. We notice three basic trends, all of which need deep empirical research. First is the need to analyse the movement of our commodities, including slaves, that were available in plenty in the sub-continent beyond Afghanistan. The role of financiers is of paramount importance. That is still the case.
The second area of research is the role of traders and commodity stockists, especially of wheat, cotton, indigo, spices, fabrics, woolen shawls, pottery and animals. Profit and patriotism never do mesh well. The third area is the treachery of power seekers, which in our times comes in the shape of changing loyalties. Betrayal destroys many a ruler. So the next time you happen to be in or near Mori Darwaza, do pause to think of the fate of our patriotic past rulers. Surely some monument or plaque is needed to remember our glorious past.
Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2020