Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Dera Chaubara: Todar Mal reposed here

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Todar Mal Khatri features prominently in the histories of Sher Shah Suri and Akbar the Great. For the former he was a star administrator and finance manager who was entrusted with overseeing the fiscal and administrative matters concerning the building of the famed Rohtas Fort. The man’s renown as a finance manager apparently went far, because when Akbar took the throne, he placed Todar Mal in charge of the treasury. Over time this brilliant man rose to become one of the king’s ‘Nine Jewels.’


Born into poverty, this remarkable man rose through the ranks of life by sheer and honest hard work. Indeed, the Akbar Nama hails him for his ‘uprightness, straightforwardness, courage, knowledge of affairs, and the administration of India.’ In his lifetime as well as after his death Todar Mal was celebrated for being honest, forthright and honourable to a fault.

It was towards the end of his life when he was serving as the governor of Lahore, that he appears to have ordered the construction of a baradari near his native town of Chunian – one of several buildings in Punjab that show his fine aesthetic sense. Locals know this monument as Dera Chaubara and only vaguely connect it with Todar Mal.

Sitting on a raised plinth, the baradari is essentially a central chamber aligned in a north-south direction flanked by three chambers each on the east and west sides. The rooms are open to the breezes on all sides. The exterior appears to have been plastered with lime mortar whose only vestige now remains between the brackets of the parapet running around the roof level. The spaces between these brackets are brightened by paintings of chrysanthemum, rose, iris and narcissus. It is certain that the plastering that once covered the exterior was similarly adorned.

This foretaste is enhanced by the frescoes that virtually set the interior ablaze. The arches, their spandrels, the corner squinches and the broad band running just below the ceiling are all a very garden containing every single flower that grew from the Himalayas to the plains of the Punjab. Indeed, even the spaces between the curvilinear designs are not without their stylised blossoms and vines.

When it was built in the late 1580s, the pleasure house stood on the north bank of the Beas River in the midst of thick forest. From its raised plinth, this building looked out onto a picturesque landscape of flowing water and riverine ponds teeming with birds and animals.

Sharing the same plinth with it and sitting to the west of the main building, is another detached baradari. A close look at this building shows it to date to the Sikh period, that is, the early years of the 19th century. Though we do not know which Sikh luminary ordered this second and smaller baradari, it is clear that nearly two and a half centuries after Todar Mal had built his lovely pleasure house, the natural beauty of the site continued to attract men of means.


Today the Beas is but a mere trickle, and that only when it rains. The baradaris likewise is a shadow of its past glory. That sad part is that the destruction has not been wrought by the passage of time. It has been brought upon this priceless piece of our built heritage by mindless treasure hunters. Both the buildings have been ruthlessly destroyed, the floors up-rooted, the broad walls dug into and even the domed roofs crudely perforated. No treasures have of course turned up, but stupidity has no limits and the vandals still occasionally return.

How To Get There: The site lies nearly midway off the road between Changa Manga (65 km south of Lahore) and Chunian. The turn-off to the east is at Mian da Ghaat from where a blacktop road leads through villages Boor Singh and Mahmtipur (now sometimes corrupted to Mohammadipur). Drive through to the far side of Mahmtipur where the road peters out. The last 2.6 km to the baradari is unpaved and motorable in fair weather.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:30 AM,

5 Comments:

At May 18, 2013 at 5:03 PM, Anonymous Marissa said...

One of these images (center) reminds me the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, at the Intipata Ruins in Peru

 
At May 18, 2013 at 6:16 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Marissa, the intricacy of arches, pillars and doorways is a fantasy. Your analogy may be quite true.

 
At May 19, 2013 at 2:52 PM, Anonymous Karim Dad said...

Akbar wanted Toda Mal to join his cabinet and sent for him through messengers including governor Lahore but he refused. Akbar had to come and ask him but Todar Mal still refused. Finally, he was asked to join by the notables of the area as the food reserves were falling low due to the presence of royal forces.

Some of the things he started in revenue collection are still functioning. Very wise man. Thanks for bringing up his name here.

 
At January 1, 2016 at 11:45 PM, Blogger sanjay mandal said...

It is good to see that todar mal is being remembered. I am building the family website todarmal.co.in

If you have more information please let me know and I will add

 
At January 3, 2016 at 1:39 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you Sanjay Mandal. I'll see if I can dredge out some more information on this great man.

 

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days