Bhumman Shah – Our forgotten Sikh heritage
It would not be much to ask for Bhumman Shah, and other Hindu and Sikh, heritage sites in Pakistan to be preserved.
Taking advantage of the long Eid break, I along with a couple of friends decided to explore the ancient Depalpur Fort, about a couple of hours drive from Lahore. We arrived in Depalpur on time and started inquiring about the said fort. To our amazement, not a single person there had a clue as to what we were talking about, until a shopkeeper taking us for some 'documentary-type' filmmakers, directed us to a small village on Wasawaywala road by the name of Bhumman Shah. Somewhat disappointed, we decided to make good use of our day and headed to Bhumman Shah.
After travelling on a scenic country road, surrounded by potato and maize fields for about 15 minutes, we reached Bhumman Shah. To our surprise, it looked like a mini fort with a huge compound divided into residential quarters (haveli), a Gurdwara and a Dharamshala (hostel) for devotees. Except for the Gurdwara, all the other buildings of the compound are being used as residences by local inhabitants with limited awareness for heritage conservation. The haveli and some meditation rooms in the Gurdwara appear to be built in the late 18th or 19th century, however, Samadhi and the prayer hall appeared to have been constructed later.
The Gurdwara itself was apparently declared as a heritage site by the government a few years ago, however, the only sign of government possession is a huge lock at the main gate though both visitors as well as school boys can enter through one of the broken walls either to explore the amazing Gurdwara or play cricket in the main prayer hall, according to respective preferences.
The haveli or residential compound is an imposing structure with its own ancient wooden gate. The outer walls are now in dilapidated condition but have intricate carvings and frescos, and beautiful arches all around. The walls are covered with frescos showing various scenes from Sikh history as well as carved embellishments with human faces, beasts as well as shapes depicting jinns. The haveli interior is restricted to only women as some Pakhtun families now reside inside the haveli.
The other interesting building is the Dharamshala or hostel for devotees. The building appears to be built at a later stage when the number of devotees to Bhumman Shah increased. It is also being used by local families as residential quarters.
The Gurdwara complex itself is best preserved. Locals told us that Sikhs pay their respects frequently. The Gurdwara has a beautiful early 20th century meditation cell or Samadhi in the centre. The Samadhi has Mughal character with tall minarets at all corners probably as a result of centuries of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus living together in peace and harmony. The Samadhi has some amazing frescos on its marble walls with scenes of royal darbar, hunting expeditions etc. still quite well preserved. Some of the marble walls with frescos appear to have been displaced or stolen.
The main prayer hall is well kept as of now. There is a marble stage for the prayer leader as well as a gallery for those devotees who cannot find space on the ground floor. The prayer hall was inaugurated in 1910, it seems, however, that it is currently being used for some in-house cricket by the local youth.
As the story goes, Bhumia was a 17th century saint born in 1687 in Behlolpur village of Depalpur. At an early age, he was inducted in the Udsai Sainthood of Sikhs and was renamed Bhumman Shah. The tales of his miracles spread to a vast area and earned him a fair share of devotees. Bhumman Shah apparently had a local Wattoo landlord released from prison using his magical powers and in turn was awarded a vast landholding by the landlord and hence came into being the Bhumman Shah village. Bhumman Shah died in 1762 and throughout his life preached the message of peaceful co-existence and universal brotherhood, earning him devotees who were not only Sikhs but also Muslims and Hindus. After the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, the descendents of Bhumman Shah migrated to Haryana in India and thus the Gurdwara along with the associated property was practically abandoned. Some Bhumman Shah's disciples still continue teaching the Shah's philosophies in Haryana as well as Dera Dhun.
I don't believe it would be too much asked of the government to preserve Bhumman Shah and other Hindu and Sikh heritage sites in Pakistan. With a proper heritage conservation plan, a couple of guides cum watchmen at these sites and we would have a rich tourist platform. It is important for the local administration as well as the tourism department to become proactive about campaigning for these heritage jewels scattered all over Pakistan.
PS: On our return from Bhumman Shah, we were able to find Depalpur fort as well! But that is story for another time.
All photos: Omar Mukhtar
This post originally appeared here.