Saturday, September 30, 2000
M A I N   F E A T U R E


Chhat ‘on the Ghaggar’ is an old town. The Ain-i-Akbari lists it as one of the 33 mahals (revenue estates) of the sarkar of Sirhind, in the suba of Delhi. Chhat was destroyed in 1711. G. S. Cheema writes on excavations being undertaken to recover the old town

THERE is something about graves and tombs that gives them an air of permanence. Even when they have no identifiable inscription, they present infinite possibilities. If adopted by an enterprising faqir, a simple green sheet may be enough to transform them in due course as the takkiah of some naugaza or another equally fictitious pir. Where the identity of the occupant has not been totally obscured,they constitute tangible historical evidence, a class of epigraphical archives, in a country singularly lacking documentary records which are commonplace in the countries of western Europe.

We stumbled upon a charming instance of the latter kind in the course of an archaeological site at the little village of Chhat. We had selected it mainly on account of its proximity to Chandigarh, in the course of a discussion about possible initiatives, which could be taken up at minimum cost. I recollected that a senior colleague had once mentioned that it was a Painted Grey Ware site. An early visit, years ago, had revealed traces of ringed wells and Kushan bricks where the mound had been cut away by the unruly Ghaggar, which flows to its south, during one of its frequent floods.


The archaeologists had an astonishing piece of luck. Within days of starting, they had uncovered a complex of underground chambers which opened directly into a mediaeval well, built with lakhauri bricks. The cellar constituted a veritable sardkhana, with channels for running water and basins for fountains. It was undoubtedly part of the residence of a person of some eminence. The style suggested it belonged to the 17th century, but the absence of any inscription prevented more precise dating.

Chhat ‘on the Ghaggar’ is an old town. The Ain-i-Akbari lists it as one of the 33 mahals (revenue estates) of the sarkar of Sirhind, in the suba of Delhi. Although the mahal should not be confused with the town, for what it is worth, the demographic composition of its population, as given in the Ain is Afghan and Rajput. Much water has flown down the Ghaggar since then. Chhat was destroyed in 1711, along with its considerably larger neighbour, Banur, when Banda Bahadur set the Punjab on fire. For many years it must have remained deserted, with only a handful of farmers inhabiting the ruins, but some of the original inhabitants must have returned for the census of 1901 gave the population as 674, mostly Muslim. The next major date in the history of this unfortunate town is 1947. The

‘ethnic cleansing’ of that dreadful year resulted in another demographic upheaval. Only a handful of humble telis and faqirs in a total population of some 2000 represent the Ahl-i-Islam in Chhat today. Most of the landowners are post-Partition settlers. Thus the split with the past is absolute.

The Phulkian States Gazetteer (Chhat was part of old Patiala state) has a paragraph about Chhat. While acknowledging its antiquity it says that its old name was Lakhnauti, and that Rai Pithora (Prithvi Raj Chauhan) ‘who was shabd-bedhi could shoot an arrow as far as a voice can be heard, was imprisoned here by Shahab-ud-Din, in a house whose roof was made of a sheet of iron one balisht (3/4 ft.) thick. Shahab-ud-Din, sitting on the roof, called to Rai Pithora, who shot an arrow which pierced the roof and killed Shahab-ud-Din. Hence the place became known as Chhat, ‘a roof.’ In parenthesis, the compiler adds, ‘this is of course pure legend’.

Excavation work in progress at Chhat, and the front and obverse of a coin
 of Jalaluddin Mangbami

The footnote is however more interesting. Five tombs have been listed, giving the names of the personages and the date of their deaths.

(1) Mirza Mir Muhammad Khan, Hirvi, died, 17th Shawwal 1000 Hijri.

(2) Khwaja Jalaluddin Khan, son of Sultan Hussain Shah Hirvi, died, 12th Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1000 Hijri.

(3) Mussammat Malika Begum, daughter of Khwaja Imad-ud-Daula, Hirvi, Delhvi, died, 19th Rabi-ul-Awwal 1015 Hijri.

(4) Shahzada Mirza Khwaja Jalal-ud-Din Khan, son of Mir Ahmad Khan, son of Khwaja Suleman Khan, son of Badshah Ali Sher Khan, son of Badshah Husain Shah Hirvi, Delhvi, died, 19th Ramzan, 1000 Hijri.

(5) Shahzada Jalal-ud-Din of Khwarizm, died, 20th Zil Hij, 702 Hijri.

Four of the tombs belong to members of one family, described as Hirvi and Delhvi. With prefixes like mirza, mir, badshah and shahzada, these were obviously persons of consequence. But while Delhvi is readily comprehensible Hirvi is obscure, and, in this case, that is obviously the more important suffix. The dates correspond to the reign of the emperor Akbar with one prince spilling into Jahangir’s.

I went through the lists of notables given by Abul Fazl and Budaoni, as well as the Maasir-ul-Umara, but failed to find any names that could be identified with these Hirvis. However the fifth name in the list, which is also the oldest, immediately rang a bell.

Khwarizm is, of course, modern Khiva, the principal city of western Uzbegistan, and the seat of a mighty empire that emerged in the 11th century AD to include Bokhara, Samarkand, Ghazni, and the greater part of Persia. In AD 1221, however, the Mongol, Chengiz Khan, whose rise was even more spectacular, drove the last of the Khwarizm Shahs from his domain and sacked Khiva and Bokhara. Shah Allauddin died on an island in the Caspian sea, but his three sons kept the field for a few years. The eldest of them, Jalaluddin Mangbarni, was compelled to take refuge in India, where he lived for three years in western Punjab and Sind, before returning to resume his struggle against the Mongols. For some years, he contrived to hold out in mountains Azerbaijan but he had to leave in 1231 (628 AH). Presumably he retraced his steps to his former refuge, India.

Shahzada Jalaluddin who lies buried in Chhat could only be a descendant of Jalaluddin Mangbarni, or of his other two brothers, Ruknuddin Gursanchi and Ghiyasuddin Sher Shah.

Evidently, this Shahzada Jalaluddin who was buried in Chhat in the reign of Allauddin Khilji is the last recorded representative of these Khivan princes. The other family, the Hirvis, since they do not appear to have been on the payroll of Akbar, may also have been refugees from Central Asia. Being a border region, political refugees were commonly found in these border towns. Samana, another ancient town in Patiala is supposed to have been renamed after the Samanids of Bokhara, a Persian family which rose to power in the third century of the Hegira (AD 874-999), to found an empire embracing most of Persia and Central Asia. In more recent times we have had the dethroned Sadozais of Kabul, Shah Zaman and Shuja-ul-Mulk, who made Ludhiana their home, and whose descendants still live in India. Their tombs have survived intact in the walled enclosure of the Raoza Sharif of Sirhind, which as the burial place of the cantankerous saint Mujaddid Alaf Sani remains an important place of pilgrimage for Muslims.

But none of the tombs of the Hirvis or the Khwarism Shahs are in existence today. Subhash Parihar, a keen antiquarian, recalls some tombstones in the fields surrounding Chhat many years ago but they have disappeared today. Perhaps, the mausoleums were plundered for their bricks. A couple of tombstones have indeed been rescued by the caretaker of the local mosque and can be seen in its courtyard, but these are not the ones listed in the Gazetteer. The latter is now the sole evidence that they once existed. Verily, dust unto dust.

The indifference of modern governments, and the dogged resistance of engineers to any suggestion that it was their responsibility to maintain the old palaces of the ancien regime had exasperated me. But now at last I understood. Come to think of it, the decay of the Qila Mubarak of Patiala did not begin with the extinction of that state or the merger of PEPSU into Punjab. It had probably begun with the building of the Moti Bagh Palace by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh. Just as the old Jalau Khana in Kapurthala was allowed to go to seed after Maharaja Jagatjit Singh had moved to his new European-style palace, built after the chateaux of Le Vau and Mansart. It was silly being sentimental about the disappearance of a few old tombs!