Falling in love again and again; Lahore

My soul is entangled with the indifferent one

Lord of all things visible and invisible.

Madhu Laal Husain

The Lahore I love is so beautifully expressed by Bapsi Sidhwa; the city conjures up gardens and fragrances, the gardens in thousands of Lahori homes with their riot of spring flowers. The trees bloom in a carnival of jewel colours, the defiant brilliance of kachnar, bougainvillea and gulmohr silhouetted against an azure sky. And the winter and spring air are heady, they make the blood hum. On summer evenings the scent from the water sprinkled on the parched earth signals respite from the furnace of the day, for the summers are as hellish as the winters are divine. The city’s ambience has moulded my sensibility and emotional responses. To belong to Lahore is to be steeped in its romance, to inhale with each breath an intensity of feeling that demands expressions.

Lahore; the ancient whore, the handmaiden of dimly remembered Hindu Kings, the courtesan of Mughal Emperors, bedecked and bejewelled, savaged by marauding hordes, healed by the caressing hands of successive lovers. A little shoddy, as Qasim saw her; like an attractive but ageing concubine, ready to bestow surprising delights on those who cared to court her, profoundly displaying Royal gifts.

According to popular traditions Lahore was founded by Loh, one of the twin sons of Lord Rama, the epic hero of Ramayana. The other son Kush is said to have founded Kusawar or Kasu. The city was called Loh in the beginning; it acquired its present name when “awar” was attached to it, which means fort in Sanskrit. When Sultan Mahmud Ghazni seized Lahore his general, Malik Ayaz built the citadel, later to be replaced by Emperor Akbar’s brick construction.

Punjab is referred Panchal in Mahabharata, and Draupati wife of Arjun was called Panchali, the daughter of the Punjab. Lahore Fort has a vacant temple dedicated to Loh. Western historians believe the personages in the Ramayana existed between the sixth and seventh century BC, which proves that Lahore is one of the oldest cities in the world.

The name of Lahore is also celebrated in the legends and quasi-historical traditions of other Hindu states associated with the age of chivalry of the Hindus and their ancient civilisation. The first historical reference to the city is found in the journals of the Chinese pilgrim, written in 630 AD. At the time of Bin Qasim’s invasion of Sindh, Lahore was in the possession of a Chauhan prince. In 1008 the last Rajput king who was defeated by Mahmud Ghazni fled to Ajmer. In 1022 Mahmud Ghazni seized Lahore without any opposition. The Mongols invaded and conquered the Khwarazmian dynasty. The Mongol army advanced and in 1241 and defeated the Lahore governor Malik Ikhtyaruddin Qaraqash, massacred the population and the city was leveled to the ground. There are no buildings or monuments in Lahore that predates the Mongol destruction.

Lahore had welcomed visitors and settlers throughout its history. It has changed hands from Hindu, Buddhist, Greek, Mughal, Afghan, Mongol, Sikh and the British, thereby becoming the cultural capital and the heart of modern day Pakistan. Invaded and conquered many times, but apart from invasions, Sufis from different parts of the world settelled in Lahore too, the existence of shrines of great saints like Data Ganj Bakhsh, Mian Mir and Baba Shah Jamal are the living examples. Sufi thinking became popular among the people, because of their message of brotherhood, tolerance, unity and respect for other religions, besides promoting Islamic values.

It was during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Ghazni that Abul Hassan Ali Hajveri came to Lahore. Ali Hajveri had travelled widely like many Sufi saints, visiting Baghdad, Basra, Bukhara, Damascus, and Khorasan before settling in Lahore. Ali Hajveri was one of the most notable Sufi preachers on the subcontinent. He is said to have lived on the site in the 11th Century. The Shrine of Ali Hajveri is located west of Bhatti Gate. Data Darbar is one of the oldest Muslim shrines on the subcontinent. It was originally built by the Ghaznavi king Sultan Zakiruddin Ibrahim and has been expanded several times since.

Baba Sain Mir Mohammed Sahib, popularly known as Mian Mir was another famous Sufi saint who resided in Lahore, specifically in the town of Dharampura. He is famous for being a spiritual instructor of Dara Shikoh. According to Sikh tradition, the Sikh guru Guru Arjun Dev met Mian Mir during their stay in Lahore. Mian Mir’s Mausoleum still attracts hundreds of devotees.

Baba Shah Jamal who belonged to a famous Kashmiri family came to Lahore in 1617 CE. He lived in Ichra at the time of Mughal emperor Akbar. Shah Jamal fought against Akbar’s Deen e Ilahi. He died in 1671 CE and was buried near Ichra in Tomb of Shah Jamal. The area has been named Shah Jamal in his honour.

And lastly we have another famous shrine of Shah Husain in Baghbanpura,  a pair of two graves next to each other, one of Shah Hussain and one of Madhu Laal. Both marked with a single emblem reading, SAKHI SARKAR MADHU LAAL HUSAIN.

Shah Husain, who neither belonged to a direct lineage of the Prophet Muhammad nor a wealthy merchant household.

Says Husain the worthless fakir, I am the dust on your doorstep.

After spending years learning the teachings of the Holy Quran and what his teacher would refer to as the true path towards salvation. Shah Hussain’s life took a turn when he came across a Brahmin Hindu boy, Madhu Laal. He was overwhelmed by the feeling of love and enchantment. Everyone questioned their attachment and called them with different names. Shah Hussain believed in the value of self-blame, that piety should be a private matter and that being held in good esteem will lead to worldly attachment. The bond between the two went so deep that Shah Hussain put his name after his beloved’s, becoming Madhu Laal Hussain.

The Urs of Madhu Laal Hussain is celebrated at his shrine, adjacent to the Shalimar Gardens. The Urs and the Mela were two separate events, one carried out at the shrine and the other in the Shalimar Gardens, until they were both combined into one, Mela Chiraghan which still is regarded as the biggest festival of Punjab, and has been a symbol of love, devotion, harmony and defiance of social customs.

Shah Husain says:

O God, do not mind my faults; full of failing,

I am without virtue.

O God, from within, show compassion,

 and enlighten me.

To the men of the world, the pride of the world,

to the recluse, renunciation

all masks, masks, masks!

Neither the man of the worlds, nor a recluse am I,

And they laugh at me, at me,

Who has befriended the terrible one

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