Muhammad Abdullah is a law student at the University of London. He holds a profound interest in international relations and current affairs.
The Annals of Kharian
Located in the Gujrat District of Pakistan, Kharian, a city located almost the same distance from Islamabad and Lahore, has a lot to offer. Surrounded by the Chenab River, where the foredoomed lovers Sohni and Mahiwal met their fate, and the Jhelum River, regarded as a god by the ancient Greeks, the city is bursting with history. The vibrant historical mysteries still make the city stand out.
The Kharian Cantonment is one of the largest army bases in Pakistan, home to the second-largest Combined Military Hospital in the country. A number of notable people in military, politics, sciences and the arts originated from Kharian and its surroundings. Some of the notable people include Arif Lohar, Alam Lohar, Zoe Viccaji, Orya Maqbool Jan, and Anwar Masood.
Kharian is known as “Little Norway” because more than 70% of Pakistanis in Europe, specifically Norway and Denmark, are from Kharian. The one thing that makes the small town of Kharian stand out though is the fascinating history of how it became a flourishing hub for the villages and cities around it. The city has recently sped up in terms of new changes and developments. However, the events that started it go back to the 16th century.
Humayun‘s Accidental Arrival
In the early 16th century, law and order did not have a statutory form, especially in the rural regions. Since there was no concept of law and order, anyone who made use of a specific piece of land by either living on it or by cultivating it was considered to be the owner of the land. In this way, a small number of tribes lived where Kharian stands now.
It had a small number of inhabitants, and most of it was left uninhabited for several reasons such as water problems. The establishment of Kharian is discussed briefly by the Deputy Commissioner of Gujrat, Captain Elliot, in his book, “The Chronicles of Gujrat.” One of the most notable military engagements of the 16th century, the Battle of Chausa, was fought in 1539 between Humayun and Sher Shah Suri.
After being defeated, Humayun decided to flee from the battlefield to save his life. During his way out of India, he decided to stay at what is now Kharian. The people of Kharian welcomed Humayun and gave him a place to rest. They showed great hospitality to him and showered him with gifts like pomegranates and butter.
Garnami, a local farmer, particularly impressed Humayun. He told him that he saw a dream where Humayun’s house was illuminated brightly by a huge lamp, predicting that he would have a son soon. As soon as the farmer told him about his prediction, Humayun got news from back home in Umerkot that his wife had just borne him a son. Humayun, impressed by the farmer, gladly offered to give him anything he wanted.
The farmer told him that there was a lack of water in Kharian and that the locals had to go all the way to the Jhelum river to fetch it. Humayun signed a parchment and promised to construct a well in Kharian if he were to regain the throne. Humayun did reclaim his throne but died shortly thereafter.
Akbar’s Fated Arrival
Akbar, the son whose birth was predicted by the local farmer Garnami, happened to pass by Kharian not long after Humayun’s death. During those times, two of the major problems of Kharian were the scarcity of water and the increasing rate of poverty. Akbar, travelling towards Kabul in 1594, came across the town.
The local farmer showed him the parchment that his father had signed. Akbar was so grateful to the people of Kharian for helping his father that he ordered the construction of two bawlis (stepwells) and fulfilled his father’s promise and gave a gift to Kharian.
The Maghribi Bawli was the largest of the two. Built with concrete and compact bricks, it was located on the western side of Kharian. However, the condition of the western stepwell started deteriorating during the Sikh reign because of lack of use. The ruler of Gujrat, Lehna Singh, took the responsibility of restoring the western bawli but failed to do so.
A major chunk of its structure had collapsed. By the mid of current century, only one round well was left, which was filled with clay. However, the modern Kharian now has a settlement called Baba Latif Shah Ghazi settlement on top of what was once the maghribi bawli.
The smallest of the two stepwells also witnessed deterioration. However, that was until the Ministry of Culture and Heritage took charge. The structure of the bawli is quite complex, with stairs descending to the water level. There are hundreds of stairs that lead to the multiple storeys of the stepwell. Until recently, the condition of the Mashriqi Bawli was also considered to be going towards disintegration.
However, the Ministry cooperated with the people of Kharian to renovate the piece of history. The Eastern Bawli is now being restored as a result of the continuous efforts of the locals and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Renovation work has constantly been going on for the past year and a half and the locals expect to connect with the past through this historic structure.
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