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Sundar Mundariyay

Published Feb 25, 2013 02:07pm


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For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.

Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have a few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.


-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/
-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

The train whistles away from Choohar Kahna and halts at Safdarabad. From the jungles of Sheikhupura to the reservations of Lyallpur, the whole place was once called Sandal Bar, one of the five bars of Punjab. Bar is the local name for the area that lies in between the rivers. Free spirited and generous, the inhabitants of this area bear the signature of this environ. Their temperaments remind one of wild plants, and their moods identify with the flowing rivers. When invaders made it a routine to loot and plunder Punjab, Baris were the first to resist. From the Moghuls to the British, they lived up to the tradition of resistance. It was the free spirit of these people that irked the imperialists to either belittle them as Jaangli or, in a subtle manner, eliminate them from history.

As a result of this, the locals resorted to a unique method of preserving their history. To avoid this abduction, they converted their history into rhymes and poems. Instead of writing them in words and publishing them in books, they encrypted these stories into lullabies to keep them safe in their hearts. These songs were synchronised with the rhythm of windmills, the spinning wheels of cycles and the beats of a heart. This practice saw the chivalry of forefathers travel from generation to generation, and saved of heroes from dishonest historians. When the train stopped, I got down looking for the market of Dhaba’n Singh, which was originally Safdarabad and found this song:

Sunder munderiyay Tera kon vechara Dullah Bhatti wala Dullay dee dhee viyahee Ser shakkar payee

This was a lohri, a song for many occasions. Some sang it on weddings, others celebrated the birth of a precious son and for many others it marked the change of seasons. There was a time when all the boys gathered in front of a house and sang loudly:

Dabba bharya leeran daa Ayeho ghar ameera’n daa

The box is full of rags, This house belongs to a rich man

When the door opened, they sang the lohri and demanded shagun. The returns were sugar, chickpeas or at times, gurr. Nobody returned from the lohri party without a gift for it was considered a bad omen. But that was different; those were the days when festivities were neither Muslim nor Hindu and people departed from each other by a simple rab rakha. Those who greeted with a Khuda Hafiz were not called back and corrected with an Allah Hafiz, an Arabian influence.

Lohris was declared un-Islamic in the early 50’s and no efforts today, can locate it in Punjab. A few years ago, the song once again reverberated in Pakistan through an Indian flick. Taken by its melody, Punjabis had difficulty identifying with the song and the pangs while disassociating from it. The tune sounded familiar and the words touched the heart but somewhere someone frowned so the head shook a strong “No”. Two men, aged and wrinkled, on both sides of Ravi, wept bitterly; Charhda Punjab and Lehnda Punjab

The character of Rai Abdullah or Dullah Bhatti is another feature of the Bar. His mention, in the lohri, has a history. Dullah rescued a poor girl from the wrath of a landlord, raised her and married her off as his own daughter. The grandson of Sandal Bhatti, who had Sandal Bar named after him and the son of Farid Bhatti, Dullah was a scion of the Chandravanshi Rajput’s Bhatti clan, who lived in Punjab some four centuries ago. When Akbar ascended the throne, his first priority was eliminating the rebellions. Sandal and Farid Bhatti, a father-son duo that headed the Bhatti clan, offered stiff resistance to the Empire. He ordered the arrest of both and subsequently hanged them.

On growing up, Ladhi, the mother, told Dullah the fate of his father and grandfather. Angry young Dullah vowed to avenge and ruin the Moghuls. He refused to acknowledge the writ of the Moghul Empire and stopped paying any levy. Meanwhile, he raised an army and started attacking Royal Convoys, Pro-Moghul landlords and men of authority. On the other hand, the love of Anarkali had distanced Saleem from his father, so he also encouraged Dullah’s activities and formed an alliance. Another tradition reveals that at the time of his birth, Saleem was undernourished and Ladhi nursed the young prince for some time. Regardless of reason, the alliance soon forced the Moghuls to shift the capital to Lahore.

Irritated by the daily ambushes, Akbar dispatched two of his able generals; Meerza Ala-ud-din and Meerza Zia-ud-din with the command of over 12000 troops. The army reached Dullah’s village but could not find him. Due to his Robin Hood personality, Dullah was popular amongst masses. Akbar had ordered the generals to bring Dullah, dead or alive and failing that, bring the women of his house to the court. In obedience of the orders, the army secured the women and started marching towards Lahore.

When word reached Dullah, he charged back. The two sides fought with courage but the Moghul army was soon on the run. The generals begged Ladhi for their life, who then ordered Dullah to forgive them. After the shameful defeat, the Moghuls invited him for talks and deceitfully arrested him. Upholding tradition, he was kept for a while at the Shahi Qila and was hanged in front of Kotwali, a police station now marks the place. His funeral was administered by the Sufi poet, Shah Hussain. The story of this son of the soil spans from the graveyard of Miani Saheb to Dullewala in Bhakkar District. Moghuls had thought that burying Dullah would suppress the rebel soul but the Chughtais knew little of the Punjabi tradition. Written on the lines of Mirza Saheban, the mothers of Punjab sang the epic of Dullah to their children for quite few centuries.

With partition, everything changed … forever. Now the famous men from the lineage of Dullah Bhatti have stopped riding horses and have taken up trade. They are famous for saving democracy rather than honor, and as far as lullabies are concerned, the children no longer sleep with their parents, they prefer their privacy.


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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

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

Comments (43) Closed

Baighairat Kafir Feb 25, 2013 03:16pm
Dear Muhammed, You deserve Nobel Peace Prize for this beautiful work! really! My eyes are still wet!
Nitin Feb 25, 2013 02:57pm
Hello Muhammad Hassan Miraj Thank you very much! I have listened to this song all my life and have sung it on many occasions my self. The sad part is I never knew the history behind it and I believe very few people does. Good to know history of Punjab is safe with people like you and is not adulterated with religious bias. God bless!
kinjal Feb 27, 2013 08:43am
superb it is
Masood Hussain Feb 25, 2013 03:19pm
The popular folk story about Dullh Bhatti is that Dullah was killed in a fight between Dullah and his beloved'sbrothers.wallah-o-aalam.,Any way I appreciate the efforts of Miraj Sb. at research.
Nasir Feb 27, 2013 09:28am
Once again a real masterpiece. I really wish you publish all your essays in a book to preserve this often untold history of our dear homeland.
zizi Feb 25, 2013 02:40pm
For some cattle hurderers..... buffalows are bigger than brain.... what else to say.....
HinduKush Feb 27, 2013 06:34am
Nehru was Gandhi's hit man. A war criminal.
shiva Feb 27, 2013 06:19am
You seriously think so? You would still have found another set of excuses to whimper about!!
Kanwarpal S. Dhugga Feb 25, 2013 03:51pm
Beautiful article, Mr. Miraj. The Lohri song you discuss was sung by children in the charhda Panjab until relatively recently when they went from house to house asking for Lohri for about a month before mid-January (that is, until Maaghi, the first day of the month of Maagh). I am in my fifties now, living in the USA but remember fondly going out with a group of children every evening asking for Lohri shagun. It is ironic, indeed, that the song is no longer remembered in the place of origin. Heroes are heroes, transcending religious boundaries. You are doing a great job in documenting anecdotal, historical events in a beautiful manner. I read your column regularly. Well, I have an incentive as my mother's family migrated from Sialkot after the partition. I still long to visit her village and hope my wish is fulfilled within this lifetime.
bhukh Feb 25, 2013 03:54pm
This famous Lohri song,sang in India also.Though now a days Lohri is celebrated as a camp fire at night but I rarely see any kids going out to collect Lohri. Though I remember in late sixties when Lohri was celebrated with full zest,some of Anglo Indians with English accent would also join local boys to collect Lohri gifts from the locality.Their accent was enjoyed by locals.
Mudassir Feb 27, 2013 05:16am
thumbs up Mr. Miraj.... very well written...
rajeev Feb 25, 2013 05:12pm
GOOD effort! We share the same history
DS Feb 27, 2013 04:52am
Great..I have sung this song during my childhood while going from door to door for collecting lohri. How sad that in name of what is islamic and what is unislamic...self styled custodians of religion and their satraps are destroying a cultural heritage.
DS Feb 27, 2013 04:46am
uchak Feb 25, 2013 07:33pm
It is better for Pakistani's not to remember their Hindu ancestors. Such lohris and songs and traditions just bind them to their jahilya past. It is better to forget them and forge a new Pan Arabic identity. Pakistanis are not Indians and have nothing to do with Hinduism or its past. What is gone and it is gone for a good reason so let us all forget it and go ahead into the future as proud muslims (and not be rpoud of the strong traditions of these Rajputs et all).
Khan Feb 27, 2013 02:28am
Bulls eye :)
Khan Feb 27, 2013 02:30am
Actually the whole of Pakistan has grievance against Punjab & Islamabad which is run by punjabis , including our former east pakistan so correct your knowledge.
Zak Feb 25, 2013 08:21pm
If Nehru hack not carried out travesty of justice by occupying kashmir against there wishes then humanity by all would be all around us as 2seperate nations living in peace. One selfish egotistical man set the course towards conflict and impoverished India and pakistan
Malveros Feb 25, 2013 11:32pm
This is just awsome. Love these stories.
Panjabi n USA Feb 27, 2013 12:22am
Reason not to miss Daily Dawn, Nice try to revive relations between two anguish brothers. Good job Miraj sahib.
Panjabi n USA Feb 27, 2013 12:16am
Reason not to miss daily dawn...a hope to revive relations between two brothers. Good job Miraj Sahib.
Sardar Chatha Feb 26, 2013 12:10am
Dulla Bhatti might have been forgotten in Pakistan but here in Indian Punjab he is a hero and has as much folk appeal as Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Numerous songs have been sung on him and many films have also been made on Dulla Bhatti. Kuldip Manak's song is immortal and which has been remixed over and over again. Just search RDB Dulla Bhatti... you would see the passion with which the song was written and sung. Its ironic how the mughals are heros of present day pakistanis but the real sons of the soil are forgotten. Our real heros are Bulle Shah, Dhulla Bhatti, Bhagat Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh etc Punjabis always had grievances against Delhi(the mughal capital) and today western punjabis have them towards (i)slamabad!! Rab Rakha
Mr No Religion Feb 26, 2013 12:13am
Should Pakistani be proud of Dullha Bhatti or Mughals?
Rao Feb 26, 2013 12:33am
Wonderful piece.....
Nidhi Feb 26, 2013 04:42am
This is b'ful.. Although I sing this song every Lohri, I never knew the history behind this song..
Baber Khan Feb 26, 2013 04:50am
I thought your blog was a weekly feature, but somehow it has taken longer this time. Oh how feverishly I wait for it! History mingled with folklore, but as usual, you match any epic writer of the past glory!
Ajaya K Dutt Feb 26, 2013 04:58am
Beautiful. Taken back to the days when barefoot we would sing this song on unpaved streets during Lohri, which was not Hindus, Sikh or Muslim festival but a "Punjabi" festival, for all to sit aournd a bonefire and I could not get that warm feeling ever again.
dr makraja Feb 26, 2013 05:02am
Subhan Allah sirjee
vjaiswal35 Feb 26, 2013 05:50am
Dear Muhammad Hassan Miraj Saheb, Thanks for reminding of old days. I am a product of semi old days. born in 1935 and my father being a senior civil servant, I have seen some golden days when there was total peace and all the people of India lived in harmony and understanding. I remember my mother was equally excited and busy during holi, diwali, Id, shabe barat, Christmas or Parsi festivals. Hindus and Muslims all lived in common muhallas and I remember during Rozas the fakirs roaming around the lanes and waking up every one at early morning at 3:30. Today also I get up with the sound of azaan but the sounds comes very faint and from far. As children in school it was so common to have friends of all religion and we were so conversant with the customs and marriage ceremonies procedures of each other. The hate and the hate sowed by some for their personal gains have seriously destroyed our peace our life and our heart bleeds for the old days. Vinod (
Vatsyayan Feb 26, 2013 06:56am
Wow........Miraj sahab dil khush karta tussi......
Susan Feb 26, 2013 07:11am
Just beautiful to know the context - very lyrical, insightful and I have learnt a lot from your essay. Thank you for writing this
Lalit Vijay Singh Feb 26, 2013 07:12am
Country roads take me the place i belong.
naveen Feb 26, 2013 08:31am
Amazing writing -Thanks a lot for writing
Bikkar S BRAR Feb 26, 2013 11:19am
Dear Miraj Sahib. Excellent! We celeberate Lohri here in Adlaide and Dullah Bhatti is rememebered with this song. Unfortunately, a few narrow minded peole are robbing the whole community from their rich heritage and history. Fortunately, look at the grace of God who created great people like give heriatge and history to the current generation on both side of the fence. BS Brar
Kayenn Feb 26, 2013 11:28am
Sometime back couple of ladies from Lahore were enquiring whether Lohri and Basant were religious or cultural festivals.... They had been told not to celebrate this festivals....... There it goes....
Raj Feb 26, 2013 12:32pm
Very moving story so dear to all free men and women. Enjoyed it very much.
Shrirang (Navi Mumbai) Feb 26, 2013 01:40pm
Hats Off man, Thank you for a beautiful words,
Koi-Kon Feb 26, 2013 01:48pm
Kanwarpal Saheb, You are most welcome
Koi-Kon Feb 26, 2013 05:20pm
Baber Saheb, It is a weekly feature, It is uploaded every Monday night / Tuesday morning.
Atheoi Feb 26, 2013 03:35pm
Keep it up.
mansi Feb 26, 2013 04:25pm
Indians think the same about Jinnah. BTW, thinking humanity == Muslims is the reason muslims are despised so much.
Sarwan Singh Feb 26, 2013 04:25pm
"Jeonda reh oye Hassan Meraja, Tenu Rab diya rakhan. " In India millions know the story of Dullah Bhatti as their was a film made in sixties.
Sarwan Singh Feb 26, 2013 04:36pm
I had sung this song till early sixties with decorated chhajjas. And when we got good gift, some gur, rewadiyan or a piece of wood for the fire: We will shout ; "Aakho mundyon Kanga, the rest will reply , Eh Ghar bada Changa." etc or some time "Aakho mundyon Hukkah eh ghar Bada Bhukha."