Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Deception at Dhamiak

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In the bleak, tortured landscape of the northeastern Potohar Plateau, Dhamiak had remained uncelebrated since the beginning of time. Lying amid a wearisome tangle of narrow and meandering gullies, tinged red by sub-soil salt and thinly covered with scrub, it never had reason for fame or glory. Its only claim to renown was for being a staging post on one branch of the old Rajapatha, or King’s Road, that has been in use from ancient times. While the main royal road, leading west through Punjab went by the Salt Range, this branch followed an alignment only slightly different from the modern Grand Trunk Road.


This branch was the road less travelled; the majority of traffic passing through the heart of the Salt Range. The celebrated Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang writes of his prolonged sojourn at Taxila (631 AD) and a visit to the monasteries of the Salt Range. Thereafter, he tells us of his journey to Kashmir. Though he does not describe his route, it is evident that he would have used this road. Nine hundred years later Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, tells us of having travelled by this ‘sub-montane road’ through the country of the warlike Gakkhars of the Potohar Plateau en route to Lahore in November 1523. Between the time of the Chinese master’s passage through this area and that of Babur’s, a remarkable event took place by this lesser branch of the King’s Road: the assassination of a Turkish king in present day Jhelum district.

The Khokhar Rajputs, a tribe that held considerable sway in the Salt Range during the Middle Ages, are believed to have converted to Islam sometime in the early 11th century. It is believed, however, that their conversion was merely superficial in order to escape persecution at the hands of the bigoted Turks who erupted from Afghanistan from time to time. Conversely, it has also been said that the Khokhars were Ismaili Shiites. That made them heretics in the eyes of the more intolerant Turks. Though nominal tributaries of Moiz ud Din a.k.a. Shahab ud Din of the impoverished kingdom of Ghor, these independent-minded hill people chafed under Turkish yoke.

The Khokhars’ chance arrived in 1203 when rumour reached them that Shahab ud Din had been killed by the Mongols on the wind-scoured grasslands of far away Central Asia. These doughty warriors began to assert their independence by closing the roads that passed through their territory and set about raiding Ghorid dependencies in Punjab. But it was only rumour: Shahab ud Din was alive. By 1205 he brought retribution upon these people in full force. The battle fought near Gujrat was all but carried by the Khokhars until Turkish reinforcements under Qutub ud Din Aibak arrived from Delhi to turn the tide. The Rajputs were routed and the country returned to Turkish control.

Smarting under the shame of defeat, the Rajputs set their hearts on revenge. Barely a year later, when the Ghorid sultan was returning from Delhi to the Afghan highlands, he was done in. The sources say that it was either a single individual or a small band of Khokhars (no more than three) that stole into the king’s camp, dispatched his bodyguards and repeatedly stabbed the king as he slept in his tent. And even before an alarm could be raised, these intrepid guerrillas had vanished into the dark of night while the sultan lay dying in a pool of blood. Another source claims that the killing was authorised by Sultan Mohammad of Khwarazm.

The sources are also divided on the issue of the location of this historical event. At least two early sources tell of the king’s tent having been pitched by a ford on the Sindhu River and that the Khokhars entered his camp by swimming in. But the Tabakat-e-Nasiri of Minhaj ud Din Siraj, generally considered fairly reliable as an historical source of the period in question, very categorically states that the murder took place at ‘the halting place of Dhamiak ….. at the hand of a disciple of the Mulahida.’ The Mulahida or heretics here mean the Ismailis, a persuasion that many of the Khokhars are believed to have followed at that time. Several contemporary and later writers agree with Siraj that Dhamiak was indeed the site of the murder. The fact generally accepted, then, is that Shahab ud Din, the Turk, was murdered in cold blood at Dhamiak in what is now called Jhelum district.

The Tabakat-e-Nasiri tells us in no uncertain terms of the dispatch of the king’s bier from Dhamiak towards Ghazni. Now, it needs be told that at the time of this murder (1206 CE), parts of Afghanistan were held by the Turks as different principalities all owing allegiance to the sultan. While Ghor was held by the sultan’s cousins, Ghazni was under the control of Taj ud Din Yalduz, one of Shahab ud Din Ghori’s most trusted freed slaves turned general. As the funerary procession accompanied by amirs from both Ghor and Ghazni crossed the Sindhu River and arrived in the vicinity of modern day Kohat, a dispute for the possession of the coffin as well as the considerable treasure being borne with it broke out between the two parties.

From all accounts it appears that a minor battle was fought. The Ghoris were defeated and routed. The funeral then proceeded to Ghazni by way of Sankuran that we today know as Shalozan. This is a right beautiful, well-watered valley of orchards and farmland lying a few kilometres to the northwest of Parachinar. It was long a stopping place on the highroad from Parachinar to Peiwar Kotal that leads into Afghanistan’s Paktya province and on to Ghazni. It was at Sankuran that Yalduz kept headquarters and as the bier reached in this vicinity, we hear of him riding out to meet the body of his departed lord and master. The histories tell us of how, having seen the grim procession from a distance, Yalduz dismounted and came up to the bier with ‘utmost veneration.’ It is also recorded that he wept so inconsolably that his grief moved others to tears as well.

Arriving at Ghazni, the sultan’s body was buried in the mosque and seminary he had founded during his lifetime and named after his daughter – his only child who survived beyond infancy. To recount the subsequent battles between the houses of Ghor and Ghazni over the late sultan’s treasures is beyond the scope of this story. Nevertheless all available histories tell of the corpse of Sultan Shahab ud Din Ghori safely reaching and being buried at Ghazni.

Yet we have a new-fangled marble monstrosity plonked amid the furrowed badlands of the Potohar Plateau believed to house the last remains of Shahab ud Din Ghori. The building can be reached by a blacktop motorable road that takes off to the east of the Grand Trunk Road at Sohawa exactly opposite the fork that goes in the other direction to Chakwal. About fifteen kilometres from the main highway, the white tomb is easily spotted from some way off. The façade bears a plaque that briefly tells of the sultan’s exploits against the Rajputs. Understandably enough, it does not recall the chivalry of the victorious Rajputs in the first encounter. For the Rajputs a battle was no different from a sport: when they routed an enemy, they did not stoop so low as to pursue and annihilate a withdrawing army. They broke away and jubilantly went their own way permitting the vanquished foe to live to fight another day. That was how Prithvi Raj Chauhan behaved in victory – something that he would surely have regretted later.

The question then is: if the king’s corpse was borne to Ghazni as history testifies, who is buried in this tomb? No one. At least not a person. It must not be forgotten that summer had begun when the murder took place and the body would have started to rot very quickly in the Punjabi heat. As was the practice, the sultan’s courtiers would in all probability have eviscerated the corpse. All that would have been buried at Dhamiak was the royal liver and intestines. As time passed and memory faded, it was only remembered as the place where Shahab ud Din Ghori was ignominiously murdered by a Khokhar sworn to revenge. The only reminders of that long ago deed were the simple graves of the sultan’s bodyguards who had vainly sacrificed their lives to save that of their master’s.

Eight hundred years after his death, Shahab ud Din was resurrected, not on the basis of historical research and new discovery. He was brought back in the mid-1990s by Sher Ali Khan, a retired general of the Pakistan Army. The gentleman woke up one morning to tell that the burial place of the long-dead Sultan had been revealed to him in a dream. It was, he said, one of the half dozen simple graves at Dhamiak. Since there were a four or five graves in one group, and another solitary one some distance away, the assumption was easy: the group contained the remains of the Sultan’s bodyguards and the single grave that of the man himself.

It might be that in his retirement leisure the general had been reading medieval histories and came upon this bit about Dhamiak. History was read out of context: the part that interested the general, that is, the site of the murder was built upon, while the rest about the body being taken to Ghazni was blacked out. With nothing better to do, the man went ahead to deify Shahab ud Din. And so the marble Tomb of the Viscera was raised in the Potohar badlands at a place that was once passed by the less travelled branch of the Royal Road.

The raising of this edifice is criminal on two counts. On the one hand, the man commemorated is not buried therein. To commemorate just the place of his murder with such wasteful expenditure was therefore uncalled for. On the other, in a country where ordinary folks, superstitious as they are who worship every available tomb, this has only created yet another giver of sons and wealth. For utterly gullible and irrational people this is another demi-god to worship and pray to.

Postscript: When Jehangir, the fourth Mughal emperor of India, died in Kashmir in the summer of 1627, his body was brought to Lahore by way of Bhimber and Gujrat. As it neared this latter city, it was already beginning to putrefy. Evisceration was the only way to impede further damage. The material was buried just outside town. Today there stands a tomb over that site and the plaque commemorates the mausoleum as that of ‘Shah Jehangiri.’

Over time the humble intestines of a rather worldly monarch were deified. Today Shah Jehangiri boasts of a large weekly gathering and an even greater annual urs. Men and women come from distant corners of the country; it is said, to seek the intervention of the intestines in the acquisition of health, wealth and children. Some of them surely are granted their desires. The Auqaf Department that was raised to curb such mindless superstition actually abets in its spread for every new shrine in the country means more income for the department. Even when the shrines contain only excrement-filled royal intestines.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

9 Comments:

At June 4, 2013 at 8:46 AM, Anonymous Muhammad Naeem said...

Thanks for busting another myth. But question is who spent the money on raising this huge edifice? Did Gen Sher built marble Tomb of the Viscera with his own money?

 
At June 4, 2013 at 8:59 AM, Anonymous Mujeeb Khan said...

This sounds logical.

 
At June 4, 2013 at 9:04 AM, Anonymous Karachi Khatmal on Twitter said...

The most unique, delightful blogger in Pakistan. @odysseuslahori's magical journeys through space and time.

 
At June 4, 2013 at 11:32 AM, Anonymous Aghadir said...

You blog good Salman Rashid. Not in the sense of a tourist trip or outing to beat the heat in foot of any hill but travel as a hard, painstaking expedition of discovery that requires a preparation, planning and research in order to gather facts out of places like RGS and your own observations on the spot. That's how Herodotus used to get to know the world.

 
At June 4, 2013 at 1:31 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Muhammad Naeem, when generals and bureaucrats need to indulge in such chicanery they always get money from somewhere. Sher Ali would have got it from the government the same way as the brigadier who built the dome for Channan Pir did. This is one jiggery-pokery that they would never commit on their own ill-earned wealth.
Karachi Khatmal and Aghadir, You make my day, friends.

 
At June 4, 2013 at 6:19 PM, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

History notwithstanding but Dhamiak tomb looks like a nice building. So white. When was this tomb constructed?

 
At June 5, 2013 at 12:39 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Constructed in the time of the Monster Zia. May hell be his eternal abode.

 
At June 6, 2013 at 4:51 AM, Blogger Hami said...

This mausoleum was constructed by Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. I wish he would read this article and demolish the building right away.

 
At June 6, 2013 at 12:05 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Bomb Khan and Sher Ali were in cahoots. The idea was, I think, Sher Ali's. But once built, it will stay until Doomsday.

 

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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

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