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If only walls spoke

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An important battlefield for centuries, Dipalpur is now a quite and peaceful town. It is situated at the distance of 25 Kilometres from Okara on an old bank of River Beas in Bari Doab. Dipalpur is famous in the history as an outpost that has played a significant part in the defence of Delhi kingdom against Mongol invasions in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

History of Dipalpur dates back to ancient times. The coins of Sakas (Scythian) period found on the site suggest that the place was inhabited in 100 (BC). After Multan this is probably the oldest living city in the Subcontinent. General Alexander Cunningham writes that the place figures out in works of Ptolemy under different names. As per the tradition, Dipalpur was named after Raja Dipa Chand once he captured it. Dipalpur once used to be the first fortification in the way from Khyber to Delhi. In 1285, Muhammad Tughlaq son of Emperor Balban was killed in a bloody battle with Mongols and the famous poet Amir Khusuro was taken prisoner in Dipalpur. The dilapidated tomb where Muhammad Tughlaq rests stands neglected in a silent corner of the town, for removed from the noisy haunts of men.

Under Ala-ud-Din the town became the headquarters of Ghazi Malik. Feroz Shah Tughlaq visited the town in fourteenth century. Mughal Emperor Akbar made it the headquarters of one of the sarkars (revenue district) of Multan Province. The town lost its importance during colonial era. Partition changed the face of the town and it witnessed the new demographic and socio economic order in 1947. It is now a market town and tehsil headquarters of Okara district.

Dipalpur in the past was surrounded by a fortification wall, rising to the height of 25 feet and strengthened by a deep trench and other defences. When and by whom this fort was constructed is not known but it was renovated, repaired and improved during the rule of Feroz Shah Tughlaq and later by Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan who was the governor during the time of Akbar. Feroz Shah Tughlaq constructed a grand mosque, palaces and excavated a canal from river Sutlaj to inundate the trench and irrigate gardens around the town.

Wide and airy tunnels linked the royal residential quarters inside the fort to the adjoining gardens outside. There were 24 burgs (musketry holes) on the fortification wall, 24 mosques, 24 bavlis (ponds) and 24 wells in the town in its hay days. The trench, ponds and tunnels have been filled but at places the location of the trench can still be defined. Most of the wall has been razed. Two of the four massive gateways with pointed arches also exist though they are badly damaged and their wooden doors have vanished. The coats of cement have marred the architectural importance of the gateways.

Inside the walled city that is a vital living part of Dipalpur, dismayed, I looked around and thought that I have entered a big and confused jungle of houses. The remains of once magnificent buildings of olden period adorned with beautiful wood engravings serve to relive the dullness of the domestic architecture. The whole area has a homogeneous urban texture that has survived for centuries. The narrow and winding streets lined by redeveloped and shoddily built new houses give Dipalpur a mean and gloomy look. The old character of the city is eroding due to erection of new structures and unsuitable repairs.

Besides doors with decorated latches, jharokas, bay windows and cut brick works still surviving despite all odds, the most noticeable feature inside the old Dipalpur, which reminds of the past prominence, is the monastery of Lal Jas Raj, a guru much venerated by the Hindus.

As per the famous legend, Lal Jas Raj was young son of Raja Dipa Chand, the founder of Dipalpur. The boy sank in the earth due to the curse of his stepmother Rani Dholran. Raja Dipa Chand constructed this monastery in the memory of his son. Today the dilapidated and empty chamber stands infested with bats and rats. I could not open the doors to the chamber because they are jammed and a stairway is serving as storage for dried dung cakes of the neighbours. The structure is crumbling. "There is nothing inside. There used to be a grand annual 'mela' here. Hindus have been coming here to shave off the heads of their sons till after the partition but no body comes anymore," informed the residents who had gathered around me.

Another noticeable building inside old Dipalpur, which reminds of the bygone glory, is a saray (inn) near the monastery of Lal Jas Raj. The architects of the period when this inn was raised were familiar with use of space, element of design and response to climate. It was a spacious building with airy rooms on four sides, a big courtyard in the centre and four arched entrances. The inn used to be functional and firm but now it is dark and dirty. It has been divided and subdivided by its occupants so many times that you can not make out its original shape. Even the verandas have been clogged to create additional rooms. The best would have been if the inn remained in public use. This does not seem possible now.

Muslim saints have been coming to this area to spread the light of Islam. Hazrat Bahawal Haq commonly known as Bahawal Sher Qalandar came from Baghdad and settled in village Patharwall near Dipalpur. The saint constructed a Hujra (living room) and a mosque outside the village. His grandson Hazrat Shah Muqeem continued his mission. The village came to be known as Hujra Shah Muqeem. This is the place that is mentioned in famous Punjabi folk love story 'Mirza Saheban'. Though there is no historical evidence that Jati Saheban came here and prayed: "Sunjian howan gallian which Mirza yar phere" (the streets should be deserted where my lover Mirza should roam about).

Mughal king Akbar along with his son Saleem and royal entourage stayed in Dipalpur when he came to pay homage to saint Hazrat Farid Ghang Shakar 1578. Akbar named the corridor as 'Bari Doab' by combining the syllables of the names of two rivers (Beas and Ravi) that bounded the belt. Baba Guru Nanak also stayed in Dipalpur for sometime. A completely ruined Gurdawara (temple) reminds of the place where Guru Nanak stayed.

Situated on the old bank of river Beas, Dipalpur started expanding and spilling out of fortification long ago. It was declared as notified area in 1949, which has been raised to the status of Municipal Committee. Now it is a typical Pakistani market town with all the hazards of urbanization: congestion, mixed traffic, encroachments, potholed roads and piles of domestic waste. Municipal Committee does not seem to notice the plight of the residents, particularly those living in the old portion of the city. The area is very fertile and ideally suited for livestock and agro industries.

Sadly, our Archaeology Department is neither very keen to discover the missing links of human evolution in this area nor in preservation of bits and pieces of history lying under the layers of time. Challenge of restoring the ancient Dipalpur to its old magnificence might be too much, but the experts could carry out a survey to record the places having essential, historic, social and architectural value.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Thursday, November 19, 2020,


At 13:40, Blogger Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

I hope this column spurs archaeologists to take some sort of action. Recording history is so important. You have written a beautiful piece.

At 22:29, Blogger EXSENO said...

This is sad Shirazi, at least some of the historical places should have been preserved. If not all. History is so important to pass down.

Those places might have even drawn visitors. There are many people who enojoy going to historical sites and travel just for that purpose.

At 04:31, Blogger Swapna said...

That is sad.. that so many pieces of Indian History are getting dilapitated.

Very well-written.

At 05:29, Blogger readerswords said...

Thanks for a wonderful post !


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