Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Hill of the Jogis

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On a clear evening the setting sun, as seen from the Jhelum bridge or Rohtas fort, appears to be going behind the purple loom of a solitary hill. On the fringe of the Salt Range highlands and detached from it by several kilometres, this is Tilla Jogian - Hill of the Jogis. Rising one thousand metres above the sea, richly wooded with wild olive, phulai (Acacia modesta), a species of wild pistachio, some sumbal (Bombax malabaricum) and, on the very peak, a few chir (Pinus longifolia), Tilla Jogian has long been hallowed ground.

According to Alexander Cunningham, the 19th century British archaeologist, the hill was dedicated to the sun god Balnath and therefore known as Tilla Balnath. Over time, it came to be known as Tilla Goraknath so named, according to Cunningham, after another form of Shiva. He also noted that the latter name was of a fairly recent origin. It was perhaps following Cunningham that the Glossary of Tribes, Castes and Clans of Ibbetson, Maclagan and Rose tells us that Goraknath lived in the 15th century of this era. Inferential evidence shows otherwise, however.

The ballad of Puran Bhagat, the prince of Sialkot, however places Goraknath squarely in the 1st century BCE. Puran, first-born to King Salvahan and his queen Ichhran, was a prince with a philosophical bent of the mind. When barely twelve years of age he was wrongfully accused of lustful advances by his calumnious stepmother Luna. Without so much as an investigation into the matter, Salvahan ordered his son's limbs to be amputated and his body to be dumped in a well outside town. There the hapless prince struggled between life and death for a period that the storytellers' license turns into twelve years. Twelve long years Puran, the prince of Sialkot, lay in his watery dungeon not yet dead and scarcely alive.

One day, so the ballad goes, fate brought the great Guru Goraknath, founder of the sect of Kunphatta jogis, to the well where Puran lay dying. When he was discovered in the watery depth, the guru had his limp and all but lifeless body pulled out to hear his sorry tale. Upon discovering that misfortune had befallen him for repelling the amorous overtures of his libidinous stepmother, the guru was overcome with compassion. He ran his hands over the mangled body of Puran and miraculously restoring him to fullness ordered the prince to return to his father and tell him the truth of the matter. But the prince refused. He joined, instead, the guru's train and went to attend his college at Tilla. There Puran himself attained greatness as an accomplished jogi.

The annals of Ujjain (Rajasthan) record the repudiation of the crown by Raja Bhartari in favour of his younger brother Vikramaditya. Bhartari, it is related, took up the itinerant life of a jogi and eventually fetched up at the monastery of Guru Goraknath. In order to place these individuals and the events concerning them in a proper frame of time, it must be known that Salvahan is accredited with having rebuilt the ruinous fort and city of Sialkot and ruled over it in the 1st century BCE. Vikramaditya, on the other hand, is the great hero of Indian history who made a gallant and victorious stand against the Scythians in the year 57 BCE - the year that marks the beginning of the Vikrami era.

Now, Guru Goraknath was the founder of the Kunphatta sect of jogis – jogis who pierced their earlobes to adorn them with rings. He was of no mean fame in the past, nor indeed is he wanting in celebrity today for he is still renowned across the subcontinent. For the princes Puran and Bhartari to have partaken directly of the wisdom of this great teacher, would mean that he established his monastery sometime in the 1st century BCE.

At some point in the early Middle Ages, the name of Goraknath was supplanted by that of Balnath. Though there is no direct evidence, written or oral, it appears from Emperor Akbar's chronicles that Balnath was another guru of a later period. For his name to have replaced that of the founding father Goraknath, would mean that even Balnath was of no mean learning and stature. And so from a remote time the hill was known by either of three names: Tilla Goraknath, Tilla Balnath or Tilla Jogian.

Such was the celebrity of this place in the Middle Ages that it was commonly used as a reference point. Having chased Humayun out of the country, Sher Shah Suri sent surveyors out to select a suitable site for his garrison on the frontier of the turbulent Gakkhars. The place chosen by the surveyors for the Pakhtun king's fort later to be known as Rohtas was, so history records, 'in the vicinity of Tilla Balnath.' Thirty-two years later Akbar the Great visited the 'shrine of Balnath' as recorded by Abul Fazal, one of his 'nine jewels' and author of the voluminous Akbarnama. An interesting observation by Abul Fazal concerns the age of the monastery. He writes that even at the time of the emperor's visit it was 'so old that its beginning is not known.'

Although the chronicler does not say who Balnath was, he does tell us that this man having turned to the ascetic way of life chose this hill as his place of penance in order to overcome his worldly passions. He also records that even during that time in the late 16th century, Tilla Balnath was held in high esteem by the people of India who visited it from distant corners of the land. It is clear that even then the great age of the monastery of jogis with pierced ears was marked with wonder. Strange then that the trio of compilers of the Glossary of Tribes were misled in the early 20th century to believe that Tilla Jogian was a fairly recent phenomenon.

In April 1607 Jehangir stopped at Tilla Jogian on his way from Lahore to the highlands Kashmir. For some odd reason, this wonderfully observant writer of diaries makes no interesting observations concerning the hilltop monastery. All he tells us is its distance from Rohtas of 'four kos and three-quarters.' (The actual distance from the centre of Rohtas is twenty-two kilometres, somewhat more than Jehangir's estimation.) Even though he camped here a couple of nights and would surely have witnessed the jogis' worship and austerities, for once there is no sense of wonder about this tree-shaded collection of temples and hermitages.

Tilla Jogian features in the ballad of the lovers Heer and Ranjha. Once again this infers that the monastery is of ancient date for the ballad itself dates back to the 15th century (perhaps even earlier). In the face of stiff family resistance, Dhidho of the clan Ranjha could not marry his beloved Heer of the Sials. As Ranjha wrung his impotent hands, Heer was forcibly wedded off amongst the Khehras. And so, the heart-broken Ranjha left home and travelled up the Jhelum River to eventually fetch up at the jogi monastery. Surely this was no accidental arrival. Surely he must have known of Tilla Jogian being the place for those who spurned the world. Here Ranjha did his penance, subjugated his passions and became a jogi of the Kunphatta sect. But that story does not belong in this narrative.

The dawning of the 18th century was the start yet again of misfortune in this part of the subcontinent. The Mughals succumbed to indolence and the vacuum was filled by the influx of plunderers from the west once again. From the 1730s onwards, Nadir Shah and his follower Ahmed Shah repeatedly plundered Punjab. In 1748 Abdali attacked Tilla Jogian and the monastery was looted and sacked. Many jogis were killed, others fled to hide away in the forested slopes of the hill. Savagery was perhaps all the Afghan robbers had in mind for had they been guided by good sense, they would have known that a jogi monastery could not yield any wealth at all.

Slowly the monks began to rebuild the monastery until it was fully functional once again. After the British took over, the early administrators of Jhelum district were much enamoured of the cool, tree-covered height of Tilla. Every year in April, just after the Bisakhi festival, the office and court of the deputy commissioner of Jhelum moved to the mild climes of the hill where it functioned until the end of August. A colonial-style rest house with a high roof and veranda running around three sides once stood on the summit a little way from the monastery to remind of the deputy commissioner's annual stint at Tilla Jogian. This building dating back to about 1880 was pulled down in 1986 to be replaced by the present rest house. Whereas the older building required only extensive repair even after a century of use and disuse, the present building has once already been rebuilt from complete ruin in less than twenty years.

The undoing of the ancient monastery of Tilla Jogian came after the creation of Pakistan. Persecution forced the jogis to flee the new country leaving Tilla Jogian deserted. No longer did the tree-shaded peak resound with the drone of mantras, no longer did those who repudiated the world resort here. Tilla Jogian was no more the haunt of the great gurus of the Kunphatta sect of jogis. The only visitors now are shepherds and woodcutters from the villages around its base. There are as well the occasional tourists from the cities.

There is yet another kind of visitor, the one whose heart is filled only with malice and greed. He comes here to seek not nirvana of the spirit, but worldly treasures. Armed with crude digging tools he uproots temple floors, lays low entire buildings, and smashes ancient smadhis in his search for non-existent buried treasure. The avarice of this kind of visitor to Tilla Jogian is only matched by his foolishness: how could the last resting place of one who gave up the world to lead the jogi's life contain treasure?

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 17 April 2014 at 05:17, Blogger Amardeep Singh said...

Guru Gorakhnath : After partition, my father moved from Muzzafarabad (Pakistan) to Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh, India), a city named after Gorakhnath. It is also interesting to note that Guru Nanak's philosophical discussion with Guru Gorakhnath can be found in the section titled "Siddh Gosht" of Guru Granth Sahib, the spiritual scripture of the Sikhs. Thanks for sharing about "Hill of the Jogis".

At 23 December 2015 at 04:55, Blogger Amitabh Joshi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 19 January 2016 at 01:26, Blogger Arv Singh said...

The Jogi spiritualism was the connection between the eroding influence of Buddhism and ascension of Hindu revivalism. They practiced a mixture of religion and the "Tilla" of Jogis or "Naths" can be found all over Northern India - NW Frontier, West Punjab, East Punjab, Kashmir, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Nepal. The next famous Tilla or "Matha" of the Gorakhnath followers was at "Gorakh-Matha" now known as "Nanak-Matta". This is the place where Guru Nanak challenged the Jogis to stop hiding in the hills and come down to lead the social conscious of the people rattled by multiple invasions of Turks, Afghans, Mughals, and others.

At 23 September 2016 at 12:34, Anonymous Amal Farhaan said...

I visited this place a couple of years ago. The state of disrepair is astonishing. Literally all the temples and old buildings are being dismantled or overrun by nature. A sad sight indeed.

At 24 September 2016 at 07:42, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Amal, Nature has nothing to do with the destruction. All these buildings are being destroyed by treasure hunters. If you entered the temples you would have notice upturned floors.

At 24 September 2016 at 09:31, Anonymous Amal Farhaan said...

That is true. Sorry I really meant to say that the place has been so criminally neglected by the authorities that Nature in its normal way is taking over. And yes , I did go into the temples and see the wanton destruction there. How ironic that people think that jogis who have spurned the world; would have buried treasure anywhere.

At 24 September 2016 at 12:36, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Amal, just be mindful of the fact that ordinary people are just that: ordinary. They are not famous for astuteness of logical thinking.

At 11 December 2016 at 15:59, Blogger sam rajpurohit said...

Salman sahab can you give me your mail id?

At 28 October 2017 at 09:41, Anonymous Pramod said...

There is a magnificent mountain of Girnar in India whose highest peak is called 'Tok( Point)' of Gorakhnath where the great Guru Gorakhnath is believed to have meditated. Many mountains such as Baba Budangiri, Malang Gad are associated with the Kanphata Jogis. From the description of the author, this Tilla Jogian must have been a very sacred place for the residents just like Girnar. All centres of the Kanphata ( or Nath) tradition are associated with Lord Dattatreya- who is the Guru of Gorakhnath. Just curious to know whether Tilla Jogian would have had a Dattatreya temple. One of the most prominent persons of the Kanphata Jogi sect in India today is a gentleman born in a Muslim family of Pushtu origin at Trivandrum ( Kerala)- who is well versed in Sanskrit and ancient Indian texts. Many people flock to him to learn about the ancient philosophy of Vedanta. He undertook a walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir recently for inter- faith harmony.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

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Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

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