Omar Mukhtar Khan
Taking advantage of long Eid break, I along with a couple of friends decided to explore the ancient Deepalpur fort about a couple of hours drive from Lahore. We arrived in Deepalpur well in time and started inquiring about the Deepalpur fort and to our amazement nobody had a clue to what we were talking about until a shopkeeper taking us for some documentary types 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 fifteen minutes, we reached Bhumman Shah and to our surprise, it looked like a mini fort with a huge compound divided into residential quarters or Haveli, a Gurdwara or prayer area and a Dharamshala or hostel for devotees. Presently except for the Gurdwara, all 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 Gurdwara appear to be built in late eighteenth or nineteenth century however Samadhi and prayer hall appears to be constructed a bit later.
The Gurdwara itself was apparently declared as a heritage site by the Government a few years back however the only sign of the Government possession of the Gurdwara 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 and 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 show various scenes from Sikh history as well as carved embellishments showing human faces, beasts as well as shapes depicting jinns. The entry to the Haveli interior is restricted to only women as some Pathan families now reside in the Haveli.
The other interesting building is Dharamshala or a hostel for the devotees. The building appears to be built at a later stage when the number of devotees to Bhumman Shah increased. It is again being used by local families as residential quarters.
The Gurdwara complex itself is best preserved. Locals told us that Sikhs come here to pay their respects frequently. The Gurdwara has a beautiful early twentieth century meditation cell or Samadhi in the centre. The Samadhi has a 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 again well kept as of now. There is a proper 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 inaugrated in 1910 however it seems that it is currently being used for some in-house cricket by the local youth.
As the story goes, Bhumia was a seventeenth century saint born in 1687 in Bahlolpur village of Deepalpur. At an early age, he got inducted into Udsai Sainthood of Sikhs and was renamed as Bhumman Shah. The tales of his miracles spread into a vast area and earned him a fair share of devotees. Bhumman Shah apparently got released a local Wattoo landlord from prison using his magical powers and in turn was awarded a vast landholding by the landlord and hence came into being Bhumman Shah village. Bhumman Shah died in 1762 and through out his life preached the message of peaceful co-existence and universal brotherhood earning him devotees not only from not only Sikhs but also Muslims and Hindus. After 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 of the disciples of Bhumman Shah still continue with the teachings of Bhumman Shah in Haryana as well as Dera Dhun.
It would not be too much of an asking if the Government can preserve Bhumman Shah and other Hindu and Sikh heritage sites with a proper heritage conservation plan On the minimum, Government should appoint a couple of guides cum watchmen at these sites and the local administration as well as tourism department should run a communication campaign around these heritage jewels scattered all over Pakistan.
PS: On return from Bhumman Shah, we were able to find Deepalpur fort on our own but that is story for another time.