Raja Todar Mal’s baradari

Published: August 3, 2012
The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society 

The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

The baradari — literally, twelve-door building — stands on a raised brick plinth in the middle of a saline waste. Locals know it as Dera Chaubara. The subcontinent has a long tradition of such buildings that served as getaways where the rich whiled away the pleasant hours of day. They did not serve as residences, however.

The country where the baradari stands was once very picturesque with the Beas River flowing by through a thickly wooded tract near the present town of Chunian. That was when Raja Todar Mal built his pleasure house sometime in the early 17th century. A native of Lahore, the Raja’s family owned large properties around Chunian. It was this man’s admirable acumen as finance manager and administrator that won him place among the Nine Jewels of Akbar the Great.

I first saw this building in 2003, or the year after. As my friend Iqbal Qaiser and I got off the car, the men at work in nearby fields said something about ‘the map’. When I asked my friend, he said I would soon understand.

We climbed up the plinth to the flat-roofed building that had the trappings of Mughal architecture: arches, stylised brackets supporting projecting eaves and exquisite frescoes. For some peculiar reason, this was the only baradari with two wings, separated from each other by a metre or so.

On closer scrutiny, I realised that the building was actually not designed in two wings. It was, in fact, two distinct structures separated in time from each other by about 200 years. The larger building occupying the middle of the plinth was clearly early 17th century, but the smaller one to a side was from the Sikh period.

The ingenuity of the builders of this latter structure lay in the fact that they exactly copied the main baradari. Only the style of the arches was a giveaway. Still, it took nothing away from the setting of the whole; it blended in subtly.

The buildings that looked almost pristine from the exterior had another very sorry tale to tell from the inside. Both had been completely ruined. In the older building, the floor of the main hall was uprooted, the thick walls between the rooms dug into to reveal gaping holes. Even the arches were destroyed. Ditto the smaller building. Here, a couple of the domes had also been bored into and large chunks of brickwork removed to leave yawning openings.

Treasure hunters had been at work, said my friend. Then I understood what the man on the tractor had said laughingly. He had asked if we had now returned with a proper map of the treasure.

Since the building was in a lonely, unfrequented spot, the Rapacious Morons (so many of them running loose) of the land had decided it could only be a receptacle for treasure. So they came with their picks, chisels and hammers and set upon the priceless medieval building. They systematically destroyed it in full view of the likes of the man who thought we had the map.

Surely, someone could have reported it to the local landlord and he in turn to the police. But nothing of the sort happened. Indeed, the police with all its stoolies, who squeal on who is drinking and who is dating, would have heard of the carrying on. Or was it that the touts thought the destruction of national heritage of no consequence? Indeed, what was the worthless DCO-type doing? Did such vandalism not fall under his purview?

The ruin visited upon the building is not the work of a few hours. It would have taken at least a week or 10 days. I cannot imagine that in this time, the unholy din did not attract the attention of even a single concerned local. Are we that dead as a nation?

If anything, the uncaring, frivolous manner in which the man asked if we had the map tells everything about us: this is not our land; we care nothing for it or its heritage. We are here all Arabs, Central Asiatic and Iranians. We came to this land with plundering armies and we are biding our time seeking the moment when we should be able to carry our plundering raids elsewhere.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Arifq
    Aug 3, 2012 - 9:32PM

    Pity the nation who does not wish to remember their roots. Salman Sahib, thanks for keeping us informed and educated.


  • Californian
    Aug 3, 2012 - 10:29PM

    I agree with the writer that these people who are suddenly of Arab origin, expect to loot the sub-continent and carry the booty to their professed homeland. They have no regard for the highly developed civilization and culture of this rife-for-looting land, that preceded that of the nomadic Arabs by thousands of years. History shows that Arab countries themselves were invented by western interests in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We all know how they are faring, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria, all lovely bastions of peace and tranquility. I say it is time for all people who claim Arab, Iranian, or Central Asian origin, who take pride in being descendants of them to go back to their supposed lands of origin. Unfortunately, the Arabs and Iranians have become civilized enough to reject these pretenders as their kin, as most travellers from Pakistan to middle Eastern countries well know from the scorn they receive from their professed Arab compatriots. Recommend

  • I am Sam
    Aug 4, 2012 - 12:31AM

    The author writes so beautifully. The last paragraph is like a spalsh of cold water on your face. Such a thought could only come from a mind that has travelled well … across the pages of many, many books … a mind that has thought deeply …

    After reading this article, I immediately went to Amazon.com to buy the authors book – but it costs between $100 – $200 !!! I’ll be saving up to buy the book…


  • Waseem janjua
    Aug 4, 2012 - 1:59AM

    This is a complete and a total shame. Th author tells story after story after story about the same issue and even now nothing is really being done. All the shameless government is concerned is if they can get an exemption from “contempt of court”. What a pity…………


  • Majid sheikh
    Aug 4, 2012 - 2:17AM

    What do you expect in the world’s least functional literate country.


  • Ali tanoli
    Aug 4, 2012 - 3:29AM

    Salman sahab should apply indian citizenship in first hand before its too late and leave us Iranian, central asian and arabs alone…Recommend

  • ASingh Janjua
    Aug 4, 2012 - 12:57PM

    Pakistanis are arabs? really


  • Indian Catholic
    Aug 4, 2012 - 1:05PM

    @Ali tanoli: As an Indian, I would love it if Mr. Salman Rashid came to India and wrote similar articles about pre-Hindu, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, Christian and other monuments.
    Using his unique narrative style, I would love it if he highlighted monuments that have been neglected or are in disrepair so that we ordinary Indian citizens could save them before it is too late.


  • ajit
    Aug 4, 2012 - 4:08PM

    raja todarmal was not a native of lahore as you say but of laharpur in UP india.


  • Deb
    Aug 4, 2012 - 4:17PM

    @Ali tanoli

    Nice try! When you loose, you abuse….Hee.

    Don’t worry about Salman saab. He knows his place on earth.
    It’s you who should start looking for a place in Iran,Central Asia,Saudi Arabia,Uzbekisan or Turkey. Though I doubt if they will accept you as one of them.


  • Pollack
    Aug 4, 2012 - 4:40PM

    Good article. But I disagree about one point.
    “So they came with their picks, chisels and hammers and set upon the priceless medieval building. “

    Today’s Pakistan is medieval and not the one then.


  • Max
    Aug 4, 2012 - 6:57PM

    @Ali tanoli: Shame on you for making such racist statement and let me tell you M. Iranian, Arab or whatever, ninety nine percent of Pakistan is indigenous and descendants of the followers of Hindu tradition. Hope this helps you to wake up; it is twenty-first century and twelve years have already passed.

    @ Author: Thank you very much and from the bottom of my heart for bringing us our archaeological inheritance and exposing our shameless lust and scavenger-hunt.


  • Ali tanoli,
    Aug 4, 2012 - 9:27PM

    Whats wrong with the auther of article why he is so obsessed with anti Pakistan feeling i dont get it we did wrong on every thing but not others in the world who is stopping him just leave us alone ….Recommend

  • Dr Qazi
    Aug 4, 2012 - 9:50PM

    Nice essay. Thank you.

    Although towards the end it became pretty negative.

    Saving our heritage is not just upto the government. It is shared responsibility.

    How about we start the “Raja todar Mal” foundation and collect money and rebuild/rehab the structure.

    No need to play a blame game. Nothing against the local farmer, or DC or police.

    Only positive attitude and collective effort will get us out of our misery.



  • American Desi
    Aug 5, 2012 - 5:53AM

    @Ali Tanoli- Nothing wrong with the author. He is only suggesting introspection and rationality for his countrymen through his beautifully written article before it is too late for all.


  • ethicalman
    Aug 6, 2012 - 8:11PM

    I’ve been reading Mr. Salman Rashid columns for years now ..the best thing I like about him is that he does hide the Hindu past of Pakistan which most of the Pakistani’s conceal with Islam. I remember watching ‘The Story of India – Michael Wood’ in Discovery channel, an archeologist, historian of a site in Peshwar was digging to find it’s old historic layers of an old Monument..So there was a Greek layer, Buddhist layer, Afghan layer, Turks Layer, Mughal layer etc.. but no Hindu layer..
    I’m sure Mr. Rashid knows about a big grand Buddhist Stupa in Peshawar which was called Purushpur earlier build by Kanishka in the 2nd century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanishka_stupa


  • bmniac
    Aug 31, 2012 - 10:32PM

    As usual perceptive, correct and a trifle sad. Keep up the good work, Sir


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