Friday, October 2, 2009

Bhera, Talhi Wali Masjid and Alexander of Macedonia

Bhera ? Oh you mean some place on the interchange of Lahore Islamabad Motorway M-2 and rest station - this is all most Pakistanis know about Bhera. But surprisingly Bhera is much more than that. What Alexander of Macedonia had to do with Bhera, I will talk about it a little later. But first Bhera and the Talhi Wali Masjid.

The childhood of mother was partly spent in Bhera and her elder sister was also married in Bhera – so obviously we brothers heard lot about it from our mother. One day, when I was around 10, my mother told me that the next day she was going to Bhera with her brothers and I would be accompanying the entourage as well. This news completely took me off guard and I remember could not sleep the whole night. The next morning, two of my paternal uncles, an aunt and her younger daughter arrived and myself and my mother joined in. My uncle’s newly bought Volkswagen started rolling in on the almost empty road and the trees running away with us, but couldn’t catch up with us and every tree that I saw lagged behind in the twinkle of an eye. I don’t remember what all I saw en’route, but I vividly  remember the hills around Chiniot and the twin bridge made of steel girders over River Chenab (the bridge has since been replaced by a new concrete one).

We reached Bhera (located in Tehsil Bhalwal of District Sargodha) and remember entering a huge gate and a paved alley with small shops on its both side. Our car then stopped in front of a mosque known as Talhi Wali Masjid (so given the name for a Sheesham tree in its courtyard). On its opposite side, was an old house with finely carved projected wooden windows – our destination. We were heartily greeted by our aunt, uncle, their four sons and a daughter. After being served with tea and sweets, myself and my aunts daughter were taken out for “familiarization visit”. One of the shop sold “Pateesa and Pehnian” made of “desi ghee”. We were offered Pateesa as part of the Bherian hospitality. Since my uncle had lot of land in the suburbs of Bhera, he had a horse too – something the land owners possessed instead of Pajeros and Land Cruisers then. So we had a ride in the alleys of Bhera and then finally returned. Then we had a yummy lunch and after some rest, we bade farewell and headed towards Lahore. I was later to visit Bhera many years from then and took my wife and son to show them the grand house and the Masjid. To my utter dismay the paved alley had been heavily encroached and could not afford our car inside. Another surprise came when I found that the upper story of my aunt’s house had vanished. Upon inquiry I was told that the 1992 floods had devastated the city and because of the 4-5 feet water standing in the city, the upper story gave in. That was a big jolt to my childhood memories of Bhera.

Now comes in the Alexander of Macedonia. He had fought his famous battle with Hindu ruler Porus as far back as 326 BC and it was during this battle that Alexander's famous horse Bucephalus was killed. Alexander had ridden Bucephalus into every one of his battles in Greece and Asia, so when it died, he was grief-stricken and founded a city in his horse's name. Alexander stayed for four days at Bhera before crossing the river Jhelum for the fateful battle. Chinese Buddhist traveler Fahien who traveled through India from 399 AD to 414 AD, mentions Bhera in his book. He crossed the river Jhelum from Bhera which was great state at that time. Bhera also emerged as an important place during the Mughal rule. Mughal emperor , Zaheer Ud Din Babar mentioned about this town in his famous book "Tuzk - e - Babri".

The name Bhera has many origins.  The most commonly agreed upon "Bhera " is a Sanskrit word which means a place where there is no fear. The ancient Bhera mounds were known as Barrian, which once flourished on the west bank of River Jhelum. Old Bhera was situated on the right bank of the River Jhelum, on the opposite side new Bhera is located. There are heaps of ruins. Its markets and streets can be seen on the other bank of the River Jhelum. The new Bhera is located on the left bank of river Jhelum near southern Salt Range. River is located about one kilometre from the town. Bhera was almost destroyed in 1545 because of the disputes among the Pathans. Realizing its strategic importance and location being the left bank of the Jhelum, it was none other than Sher Shah Suri who rebuilt it. He camped at the left bank of river Jhelum, near Qaimnath's hut, and constructed the first building there. He also constructed the onion-domed Shahi Jamia Mosque, which exists even today and rivals the Shahi Jamia mosques of Delhi, Agra and Lahore in beauty. During Sikh regime 1799, the mosque was used as a stable by Sikhs. The mosque consists of 3 large domes, one central and two on sides. Small bricks have been used in the construction.

Like all old cities,  Bhera was also built as a fortified city with eight gates around the city namely Multani Gate, Lahori Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Kabuli Gate, Peeranwala Gate, Chinioti Gate, Loharanwala Gate and Hajji Gulab Gate. Only four gates have been able to survive to date, Peeranwala Gate, Hajji Gulab Gate, Loharanwala Gate and Qabli Gate are damaged now. During the excavation of the Greek city of Bhera by Dr M Salim of the Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, many a artifacts of iron age, Achaemenian, Greek and Maurayan period have been found. Painted pottery dating from 800-600 BC and a terracotta elephant have also been found. Soak wells, 10-feet high, were found in Bhir mound.

Bhera was once a place of learning and people from other areas came here to learn about medicine and geography. Besides many Muslim saints passed by Bhera which became famous in the whole of Asia. Hazrat Meeran Sahib was one such saint, who worked for the transmission of Islam in the area. His shrine is located in the western part of the town near river Jhelum. Businessmen and scholars arrived first and then Gaznavi, Ghori, Aibak, Babur and Ahmed Shah Abdali passed by the city to attack the great Rajas and Marathas. During Mughal period, caravans from Central Asia, Kabul, Qandahar and Peshawar used to cross the river to go to Lahore, Delhi and other parts of India. Caravans from Kashmir used to reach Bhera along with the river. During the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar, Bhera had a royal mint for minting gold and silver coins. Bhera remained famous in handicrafts and cottage industry , daggers , sword , cutlery , walking sticks , wooden furniture , carved doors , cotton blankets , silk loin cloth, hand fans , earth pottery and edible delicacies. During English period , Bhera was so renowned for wood carving that carpenters from here were taken to England to carve some of the doors of Buckingham Palace. Today Bhera is known for its Mehndi (Lawsonia Alba) , Phainian and Pateesa.

Today, this once thriving city lies in shambles and has been utterly neglected. The old buildings have been dilapidated, specially after the 1992 floods, when the whole city was submerged under many feet of water that eroded walls and roofs of havelis. It is a misfortune that there is no official or public awareness about the treasure of the past.


S A J Shirazi said...

Envy you Jalal. Again I say that I should have written about this rural town in my neighborhood but you have written it better. Pateesa and Pehnian are still found there. BTW, you know Bhera is famous all over Punjab for Pehnian!

As far as Alexander is concerned, I think differently. He might have touched but never stayed in Bhera. I have discussed some of Alexander's initiatory in my Salt Range article. Please have a look some time.

Bhera City said...

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Bhera City

Bhera City said...

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Bhera city said...

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Tariq Amir said...

I also visited this place a couple of years ago and saw some of the old gates of the city and the Sher Shah Suri Mosque. Which is in a good condition. However, do you have any information about a mosque of Tughlaq era?


Tariq Amir