Saturday, January 29, 2000

Fading antiquities of Lakhan Majra

Although the Sikh shrine in Lakhan Majra has somewhat eclipsed the historical significance of this village of Rathi Jats, its own antiquity is no less interesting. Settlers occupied this area some 20 generations ago, writes Ranbir Singh.

WHILE travelling from Rohtak towards Jind, a high-domed structure behind lush green trees comes into view. Drawing closer, the magnificence of this massive building--- called Gurdwara Manjhee Sahib — standing on the western bank of Ramsar, becomes evident. The ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, had placed a cot here (therefore Manji Sahib) and rested for a couple of days while on his way to Delhi to make the supreme sacrifice against the oppressive Aurangzeb, the last of Moghul emperors. This incident of martyrdom took place in 1765 A.D.

The Neemalee chaupal in Lakhan MajraUntil 50 years ago, this Sikh shrine in Rohtak district had only a small hut built in the memory of the great Guru. Gradually, the place became popular. Devotees used to throng the place in large numbers, especially on Sundays and full moon days. With the money offered by devotees, the local managing committee started constructing a building for the Gurdwara and also started a langar.

  Although this Sikh shrine in Lakhan Majra somewhat eclipsed the historical significance of this village of Rathi Jats, its own antiquity is no less interesting. A deeper probe revealed that settlers occupied this area some 20 generations ago. Eightyeight-year-old Chaudhary Harpal Singh Rathi indicated that a nearby village named Chandi, originally known as Chandragarh, a Rajput estate, was established even before Lakhan Majra. The original settlers to Lakhan Majra came from the Delhi region. An old handwritten document (a bahi) in the possession of a family of reputed vaidyas (Ayurvedic physicians) of the village contains, besides their own pedigree, the date on which this village was founded by the forefathers of the Rathi clan.

It was recorded that Kelcha, the eldest among three brothers — the other two being Ghella and Ladda — had actually set out to put up huts here first. Later, as per tradition, they named the new settlement after Lakhan, the eldest son of Kelcha. Hence Lakhan Majra (majra being a synonym of Mauja, a village).

In those medieval times, the surrounding village estates of Chiri, Chandi, Kharenti and many others were owned by Ranghars, i.e., Rajputs turned Muslims. The Ranghars mostly remained on friendly terms with the Jats. Harpal Rathi nostalgically narrated that before Kelcha came to settle at the present site, their ancestors lived in Chandi for three centuries. Though there appears an affinity between the Rathis of Lakhan Majra and a cluster of Rathi villages settled around Bahadurgarh in Jhajjar district, it is documented that Rathis of Lakhan Majra arrived from Teekri, near Barot in Meerut district and ancient Hastinapur.

Gurdwara Manji SahibWhile the Muslim sultans in Delhi indulged in court intrigues and waged wars and also levied heavy taxes on the hardworking rural Haryanvis, the population of Lakhan Majra continued to grow steadily. Consequently, six tholas (sub divisions of a village) viz, Gangdas, Budaan, Thobbey, Kharkaree, Kharat and Nara came into existence. The village continues to have these familial subdivisions.

Lakhan had five sons — Mallu, Malyam, Salyam, Chandrapal, Mukte — and a daughter named Dafri. She was betrothed to a Dahiya Jat of Bidhlan village. On her husband’s premature death, her father, Kelcha, brought her and her two infant sons to Lakhan Majra. The Dahiyas were given 600 bighas for cultivation which their descendants continue to own till today.

Agriculture remains the principal occupation of the Rathi Jats of this village, though many persons have served or are serving both in the civil and military service. During Akbar’s reign, the Rathis of Lakhan Majra were owners of 22,000 bighas. The landowning Jats of this village consistently paid land tax to various Delhi regimes.

Severe famines in the eighteenth and nineteenth century devastated the environs of Lakhan Majra. Folk songs composed by a local singer about the devastating flood of Vikram Samvat 1890 in this region were made available to me by late Humum Singh Pauria, a renowned Jat historian of Kanheli village. Lakhan Majra, too, was engulfed in those sweeping floods and torrential rains. In the British period, the fate of people did not change much. The only development was that Lakhan Majra was made the chief village in 1858 AD within Meham Chaubisee.

Things began to change slowly when the Britishers began to recruit Jats into the armed forces around 1913. People still remember those villagers of Lakhan Majra who fought on foreign soils in Europe and South East Asia on behalf of the British empire. Eighty-year-old Munshi Ram, who belonged to Sikander thola of the village, vividly remembers his tough times at the Burma front during World War II. A few Jats of Lakhan Majra also served in the Indian National Army raised by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

According to Munshi, more than 500 persons of his village have served in the armed forces of the country so far. Recently, Lance Naik Rajbir Singh Rathi died a hero’s death at Kargil.

Munshi Ram Rathi who fought against the Japanese in World War IILike other Jat villages, the senior residents of Lakhan Majra also helped a few local traders (banias of Tayal gotra) to settle in their village and carry on the usual business of money-lending and purchasing the agricultural produce. Nearly 150 years ago, two Tayal brothers — Bhajja and Phullu — from another jat village, Nindana, settled here. They also obtained some agricultural land in the village and consequently prospered. Lala Kesho Ram, 80, who belongs to that family narrated some incidents of his ancestors.

More than 125 years ago, his grandfather, Lala Mangal Sen, and three other villagers got a large well built in the name of Ramdayal, his great grand father, near the Manji Sahib Gurdwara. The well had a temple devoted to Lord Shiva and a vaulted shelter nearby. Pandit Girdhari used to look after the popular well complex and also cleaned the small temple daily and lit the earthen lamp besides helping villages lasses to lift pitchers on their heads. Lav and charas, the indigenous techniques, were used to lift water from the deep well. The labourers pulled the charas, a leather container, with a pair of bullocks, twice in the day; once in the morning and again in the evening to fill the large tubs made inside the huge platform of the well. Now the well is covered with faecal waste and is in ruins. The shaded neem trees are gone and the womenfolk no longer step on it. A few years ago, the well and the adjoining land was donated to the management of the Sikh shrine who have also failed to revive its old glory.

This trading family which got the well dug, also built for themselves a couple of havelis and nauharas (places for men). Some of these havelis were purchased by their neighbours in the village, while the others are in ruins. The family now lives at Rohtak since most of their ancestral property in the village has been disposed of. This family also constructed a large sheltered ghat exclusively for the women of their village. The quay, built with ‘Lakhauri’ bricks, was used all the year round but was specially crowded during the month of Kartik.

The Fatiyaalaa well in the villageThe centuries old Lakhan Majra village falls in the confederation of 24 villages, popularly known as Meham Chaubisee. The chaupals of the villages of Meham Chaubisee built in traditional architectural style were decorated with wall paintings depicting local traditions, performing arts, wrestling styles, stories of bravery, treachery and love legends. Of the two beautiful chaupals of Lakhan Majra, the one called Neemali has survived the vagaries of time. The older and the more beautiful known as Oonchee Paras was demolished a decade ago.

The description of this ancient village will not be complete without two prominent families. One of the families is that of Pandit Ramchandra Vaidya practicing the traditional Indian medicine system and the other is of Jagan Nath Tanwar’s --- a jogi. The family of Vaidyas, who settled in this village over 120 years ago, were once the personal physicians of the Jind Rajas.

In spite of their monotonous routines, the people of Lakhan Majra survived ordeals by listening to melodious renderings of ancient tales of bravery, valour and love performed by forefathers of Jagan Nath, whom the villagers call Jaggan Jogi. It is said that Ramdayal Tanwar, a Rajput Jogi, had come from Delhi and settled in Lakhan Majra four centuries ago. Among his forefathers, Bisni, Begga, Natthu, Mollar and Hari Singh earned a great reputation by narrating and singing several legendary tales out of history on a sarangi. The audiences used to listen legends of Amarsingh Rathore, Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur, Jaimal-Fattah, Heer-Ranjha and the ballad of Nihalde. This tradition is kept alive by Jaggan Jogi, but regrettably his heirs are not interested in carrying on the tradition.