Decline of Bhera Shahpur is like the decline of Pakistan itself

Decline of Bhera Shahpur is like the decline of Pakistan itself

 
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Bhera Shahpur is short for Be-hara or ‘fearless place’ in Sanskrit. They had to give it a jingoistic name to let the inhabitants feel safe, considering it was raised to the ground several times over, by raiders from the West. Bhera could also mean ‘Be-raha’ or ‘off route’ considering Sher Shah Suri (1538-45) sounded a death knell to this trading outpost, when he built new Grand Trunk Road, up North.

While Bhera Shahpur missed the GT road, Pakistan missed the Knowledge road…

First significant mention of Bhera Shahpur is by the Chinese Buddhist traveler FaXian in 400 AD

Bhera Shahpur was originally Chobnathnagar in the 7th century and was located on the Western bank of River Jhelum where the river flattens out. It’s was always a bad idea to locate your trading post beyond your natural line of defense — that’s exactly what happened.

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First the city was affected by the loss of Porus to Alexander’s army (326 BC) somewhere close by.

Then Mahmoud of Ghazni sacked the city again in 1006 AD, plundered the wealth and carried off with the women.

Two Centuries later it was smashed by an unnamed General of Chingez Khan. I wonder what the barbarian Mongol was doing here riding all the way from the highlands of Mongolia to the heart of Shahpur District.

Following him, in 1519, Babur fresh from the slaughter of Bajaur, laid siege to Bhera and walked off with a huge payoff. Check out the way Mughal Babur casually talks of his slaughters:-

The great Mughals and their India by Dirk Collier

 In 1540, it finally struck Sher Shah Suri to relocate old Bhera inside the defensive perimeter, on the Eastern Bank of Jhelum River. There he built his mosque and motels for travelers.

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Entrance of Sher Shah Suri Mosque

In 1566 Mirza Muhammad Hakim ransacked the city just to spite his elder brother Akbar.

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Ahmad Shah Durrani destroyed it again in 1757.

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After Mughal, came the Sikh and peace returned to the city. The English took over from the Sikh, but by then the city was already dwindling.

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I first heard of Bhera from a friend of mine who was brilliant academically but was very humble in his upbringing. I was intrigued; such brilliance can only come from a place that nurtures knowledge.

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When I finally visited the place, 2.5 hours from Rawalpindi, I found my hunch was very true.

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Bhera, since the Sikh Rule in the 1700s, has been home to an enterprising, education-loving, money hoarding families like the Sahni, Sethi, Kohli, Suri, Piracha, Sheikh, Some even claim direct descendants of Porus’s mohyal.

Even Nehru once had a Jalsa to assure the local non-muslim population

 

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“When there were a total of 8 high schools in all of Punjab, Bhera had two” said a local prominent person.

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The non-Muslims of Bhera were mostly into trade involving salt, wood, embroidery, carvings and cutlery. The water channels of Jhelum River were widely used.

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In fact the Khukrain Clan had nine sub clans Sahni, Sethi, Anand, Suri, Kohli, Bhasin, Chadda, Sabharwal, Chandok; most of them concentrated here.

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bhera

The Bhera people never married out of the clan while they were in their ancestral homes, but after they all left peacefully in 1947, they all scattered around India and the world at large

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Juhi Chawla is the daughter of the sister in law of prominent Pakistani Hindu, Jagdish Chand Anand of the Eveready pictures fame. Bisham Sahni award winning literary figure of India wrote a novel based on Bhera ‘Mayyada Ki Marhi’. Several prominent Indian businessmen, celebrities and politicians were from Bhera. One Indian minister visited his home a few decades back. Quite a few Goras also venture to these parts to strike gold from Hindu Havelis..

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Some very influential Ahmedi religious personalities are from Bhera.

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An octogenarian told me that when she would visit the homes of her Hindu friends, their houses would be lined till the roof with books. And boy did they love their gold and riches. She mentioned that, to hide their surplus gold, the Hindus of Bhera would have their precious metals strung into long wires, coated with tar and nailed to the roof.

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In 1940s Bhera had 1% Sikh, 22 % Hindus and rest Muslims. Even in the Muslims they had sympathetic Muslims like the Sethi, Sheikhs and Piracha — because they were converts.

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bhera

Without doubt I could feel the vibes of a once civilized, cultured, educated and thriving city when I got there. None of the inhabitants had a Punjabi accent and were very proud of their heritage.

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I also felt that this microcosm of culture within the 7 gates of the old city walls, never recovered from the loss of its brilliant natives.

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The once magnificent haveli, Gurdwara and temples inside winding gullies are now a crumbling mess. The paved streets and clean drains are full of filth. That’s not how a city should degenerate — this is not how a country should degenerate

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I mean, does it take 70 years to understand that union councils have to be giving financial powers to handle issues of sanitation, policing, health and education?

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Maybe we need the sons of the soil to return and knock some sense into the heads of these brainless clowns that is our ruling elite.

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We went into theBhera walled city ( walled city of Lahore and Androon Rawalpindi is also a must visit) through the Lahori Gate, then walked to the Gurdwara tower and panned a video of Bhera from the rickety belfry. We then walked to the Hindu temple near the muhajir masjid and hopped on to a Qin Qi rickshaw towards Sheikh, Sahni and Piracha mohallas. The same Qin Qi drove us around the outer walls to see the renovated Kashmiri, Multani, Chinioti, Kabuli and the dilapidated Lohari gate.

On the outskirts of the city is the British Railways Changeover track. Bhera was at the end of the Northwestern Railways network. The same station where once a showy Hindu merchant rolled out a red carpet from the platform right up to his doorway, for his white guest ; the platform was abandoned and spooky.

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We then had a tandoor wala lunch at Lahori Gate and then drove right up to the bank of Jhelum River to see the ancient trade route.

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On the same route lies the Chopra baoli wala Hindu temple, still looking magnificent and grand, despite its wear and tear.

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Although Bhera has definitely seen its last show, Pakistan doesn’t have to end that way. Educate your people or die!

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