Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Castle that Raja Mal built

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Barely five kilometres from Kallar Kahar on the high road to Choa Saidan Shah, a black top road takes off to the south for the village of Karoli. Three kilometres down this road another one branches to the left for the village of Malot. Lying on an up-thrust block of limestone that rises gradually from the valley of Dhun in the north, is one of the highest points in the Salt Range. Once there was a denticulate wall, interspersed with massive gate houses, overlooking the easy access from the north. Today all that remains is just a portion of this wall and two disintegrating gateways. Behind this protective wall lie the closely packed houses of the village of Malot.

Legend attributes this fortress to Raja Mal or Mallu, the supposed progenitor of the Janjua Rajputs of the Salt Range. While Alexander Cunningham quotes the belief that he lived in the age of the Mahabharat, others declare him a contemporary of Mahmud of Ghazni. Whatever the case, most people agree that the fortress was built by this obscure Janjua chieftain. The crumbling battlements of Malot do not seem to be older than five or six hundred years, which coincides with the time that the Janjuas were predominant in this area. This, however, could possibly have been the time that the earlier structure was renovated, but that it was in fine trim in the 16th century we learn from the Babur Nama. After taking the fort of Malot (or Malkot near Batala, India) in January 1526, Babur banished the treacherous governor of Lahore Daulat Khan Lodhi and his sons under the charge of Kitta Beg to the ‘fort of Malot’ near Bhera.

The object of interest of this story is not the fort of Raja Mal, but the finest Hindu Shahya temple of the Salt Range.

Standing on high ground south of the village, it becomes visible as a pair of pimples on the skyline from as far as ten kilometres away. Closer still, it is one of those buildings that can take one’s breath away. Built of red sandstone, the temple and its gateway are a fine example of the Greek building tradition wedded to local temple architecture. Like Nandna and the two Shivite temples of Ketas, Malot also was built at a time when the Salt Range was under Kashmirian control. And so it faithfully followed the style of the Martand temple.

Early in the 9th century AD, far away Taxila was forgotten, its Hellenistic buildings smothered under tons of dust, yet Malot was built as, Rudyard Kipling wrote in Kim, ‘.. by forgotten workmen whose hands were feeling, and not unskillfully, for the mysteriously transmitted Grecian touch.’ By some abstruse mechanism, Punjabi stone masons were still enriching their architectural vocabulary from the lost monuments of Taxila. One of the results was magnificent Malot. Although the facade is now ruinous, the fluted pillars with their stylised bases and capitals give it an extravagant Hellenistic air that is best described in the words of Alexander Cunningham: ‘The general effect of this facade is strikingly bold and picturesque. The height of the trefoiled arch and the massiveness of the square pilasters at the corners give an air of dignity to the building which is much enhanced by its richly fluted semi-circular pillars.’

Of these ‘picturesque’ embellishments Cunningham writes, ‘The shafts of the large pilasters have 12 flutes in the semi-circle.... The capitals are of the true Kashmirian style of Doric, with the usual ornamented torus; but the spread of the cavetta, or hollow moulding above it, is greater than in any of the Kashmirian examples, which are more like the apophyges of the Greeks. But the base is the most peculiar feature of the Mallot (sic) pilaster. It is everywhere the same height as the plinth mouldings, but differs entirely from them in every one of its details.’

The roof once rose in the imposing sikhara (temple spire) that, together with the pilasters arches and temple iconography, is replicated in miniature on the three facades of the building. But it fell away years ago for reasons lost to us; and over the centuries the dressed sandstone blocks were taken away to serve as building material, for even when Cunningham visited this site in the 1860s, every bit of debris was missing. But now the sikhara is replaced by an ugly masonry wart with slit holes all around that was wrought by the Sikhs. Having subdued the Salt Range Rajputs in the first decade of the 19th century, the Sikhs, under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, used the vantage of Malot to keep an eye on the surrounding country.

Beyond the vaulted porch which has niches for icons on either side, the main chamber of the temple is 5.5 metres square. It is empty, devoid even of the pedestal on which the Shiva lingam would have stood. Then, every morning as the sun rose to light up the statue, worshippers would come to do obeisance. Now only rock pigeons rest here during hot summer afternoons.

Excerpted from 'The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau' - the book is available at at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 30 June 2014 at 23:19, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

The Salt Range has so much to offer. Much more than what meets the common eye.

At 1 July 2014 at 08:19, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this rich history of the Salt range.

At 1 July 2014 at 08:20, Anonymous Amardeep Singh said...

Thanks for sharing this rich history of the Salt range.


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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