I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Friday, December 24, 2010

...Of The Potter And The Prince

Siddhu Kumhaar lived a prosperous and contented life. As "Master Bricklayer And Potter By Special Appointment" to Emperor Shahjehan, Siddhu held a very special place in Mughal Lahore. He had supplied bricks for the construction of some of the Emperor's finest creations-from the Shalamar Gardens to the tomb of Dai Anga. Always the first to be considered when some Amir of the court planned the construction of any building, be it a residence, a garden or a mausoleum, Siddhu and his son, Buddhu were well respected artisans who made a very reasonable living from the produce of their kiln. The kiln was situated close to the Shalimar Gardens in the suburb of Begumpura and it churned out bricks and pottery on an almost daily basis to satisfy the needs of the Emperor's many ambitious building projects.

The kiln was lit on one chilly,windy and wet night. It was freezing cold outside but the kiln itself was warm, with the workers huddling close to the fire as they fed it unbaked bricks. In the middle of the night, there was a rap on the door. One of the workers answered and found an old Faqir standing outside. Shivering and drenched, the Faqir requested the worker to let him inside, into the warmth of the kiln. Rather than taking pity on the old man soaking in the freezing rain, the worker slammed the door in his face and returned to the company of his fellows. The worker didn't know that the Faqir he had refused entry was no ordinary mendicant, but Sheikh Abdul Haq, a favorite disciple of the Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir.

Abdul Haq left the kiln, cursing under his breath, praying that the fire that hadn't provided warmth to him on this, the coldest of nights would be extinguished forever. That was the last time that kiln was ever lit. Siddhu's business floundered and he was never able to regain the position he once held. When he died, his son Buddhu took over the struggling family business but was unable to turn his fortunes around and ultimately died almost penniless. When Shahjehan heard of the death of his royal potter, he ordered that a beautiful mausoleum be built next to the kiln and Buddhu be laid to rest there. Thus Buddhu the bricklayer was buried close to the kiln that had been both his livelihood and his undoing. 

 Bhai Buddhu, a Sikh devotee of Guru Arjun Dev had started a brick kiln, but the bricks of his kiln could not be fully baked due to a curse placed on him by a fellow Sikh, Bhai Kamlia. Bhai Buddhu prayed to Guru Arjun Dev so that the curse could be lifted. Guru Dev Ji told him that the curse of a Sikh is final but added that his unbaked bricks would fetch the same price as that of baked bricks. It so happened that that year the demand for bricks soared so high that all the bricks of Bhai Buddhu's kiln were sold and he made a handsome profit. Bhai Buddhu built a Gurdwara as an offering of thanks to the Guru. For a long time this Gurdwara remained under the control of Mahant of Satlani. Under the Gurdwara act of 1927 AD this came under the control of Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. In 1938 when the building of Sikh National College near the Gulabi Darwaza was constructed, a splendid building for Gurdwara was also built. The building of Gurdwara has collapsed but the tomb of Bhai Buddhu still remains.


Yamin-ud-Daula Khan-e-Dauran Khan Bahadur Nusrat Jang was one of Shahjehan's ablest generals. He had helped crush a rebellion at Ahmedabad and was instrumental in defeating the armies of Raja Jhajjhar Singh in Deccan and Noor Singh Dev in Gujrat. His wife died in Lahore while he was away on one of his military expeditions. Overcome with sorrow when he was informed of his wife's death, he chose to do what so many other Mughal noblemen did to express their grief. He had a beautiful mausoleum built for his deceased wife near their residence in Begumpura. A few years later, when he too passed away, his son decided to let his father be buried next to his mother. And so, like his Emperor, Khan-e-Dauran was laid to rest in a beautiful mausoleum originally constructed for his beloved wife


These are just three of the contrasting stories that purport to reveal the identity of the unknown occupant of the remarkable tomb on GT Road just opposite the University Of Engineering And Technology. Known colloquially as "Buddhu Ka Aawa" ,the tomb is strategically placed so that it's the first Pit-Stop on what can be considered the scenic route through Begumpura and Baghbanpura ; the last being the Shalamar Bagh.

This beautiful and rather dilapidated building stands tucked away between a market and a gas station, just opposite UET on the main GT Road. A square building constructed on a raised platform, it has four "Peshtaaq"openings, one each side, with a sunken arched panel on the walls to either side. The platform is raised above the ground and remnants of pillars at it's corners indicate that this tomb may have been part of a much larger building that has since disappeared. Like most other tombs of the Mughal era, this one must have stood in a walled garden, the only remnant of which is a tiny lawn surrounding the building.

The square burial chamber is topped with an octagonal drum shaped structure with four arched openings. On top of this octagon rests the dome. The long-necked dome and rather imposingwas decorated with beautiful glazed tilework and mosaics, of which only remnants remain. The margins of the dome are lined by beautiful, brightly coloured floral mosaic designs that run the circumference of the dome. The hemisphere itself carries what remains of exquisite blue and white tiles arranged in chevrons. The rest of the exposed masonwork has been blackened by the ravages of time. 

Most of the beautiful glazed tilework and other decorations were torn off during the Sikh Era, a fate suffered by most of the other Mughal era buildings of Lahore. Time hasn't been kind to whatever was left behind by the marauders but the little that remains speaks eloquently of the history, the stories and the lives that are permanently woven into the fabric of Lahore's culture. Irrespective of who it is that rests in eternal repose inside 'Buddhu Ka Aawa', the building is a beautiful relic of that remarkable time and place, Lahore under the Mughals.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

...Of The Shalamar

Shah Abdul Hakeem had seen the young Bulleh Shah wandering the streets of Qasur several times. He knew the young ascetic was searching for spiritual enlightenment in the form of a guide or "murshid". One day, he called Bulleh Shah and said to him, 'The one you seek is in Lahore. Go to him, present yourself to him and pray that he accepts you as his own".

Bulleh Shah left Qasur and reached Lahore. He roamed the streets day and night,his unkempt locks flowing and his clothes in tatters, searching for his Murshid. One day, he wandered into the Shalamar Bagh; the famed vision of paradise that the Mughal emperor Shahjehan had constructed in Lahore,. After roaming the walkways, he chanced upon one of the Baghbaans - gardeners who oversaw the royal gardens - tilling a field in the gardens. Something came over Bulleh Shah and he stopped in his tracks, filled with a mixture of attraction and awe.Something seemed to tell him that he'd reached the end of his quest, that he'd found the Murshid he was looking for.

Anxious to approach the Baghbaan but reluctant to express his feelings openly, the young Sufi closed his eyes and started performing "Zikr"- the silent remembrance of the Lord. Suddenly one of the mango trees - of which there were dozens upon dozens in the Bagh - dislodged all it's fruit. As the shower of mangoes descended close to the gardener, he turned around and on spotting Bulleh Shah standing at a distance, said, "Thief! How dare you steal mangoes from this garden".

 Bulleh Shah replied, "I'm standing in front of you. away from the tree. How could I have brought down all these mangoes without even touching the tree?"

At this the gardener smiled, closed his eyes and started performing "Zikr". Suddenly, in front of young Bulleh Shah's eyes, all the mango trees in the Bagh started swaying and in an instant, the ground was covered with mangoes. While Bulleh Shah was staring open mouthed, the mangoes lying heaped on the ground jumped up and re-settled on the branches of the trees.

At this, Bulleh Shah ran forward ,fell at the feet of the gardener and offered himself into submission.


So goes one of the versions of the story of how Bulleh Shah met his spiritual master, Shah Inayat. The Shalamar Gardens were the site of that fabled encounter, and although the mango trees - just one variety among the dozens of types of fruit bearing trees that grew in Shalamar Bagh- are gone, the Gardens and their adjoining regions of Begumpura and Baghbanpura are still at the centre of the cultural, historical and spiritual heritage of Lahore.

Constructed by Shahjehan, the most artistically inclined of the Mughal emperors, at a place "so delightfully adapted to the purpose that it was universally commended", the Shalamar Gardens were designed primarily for the enjoyment of the Emperor on his frequent trips to Lahore. The gifted engineer Ali Mardan Khan -who is buried close to his favorite creation - designed the garden along the pattern of the Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, with fountained waterways fed by a specially constructed canal from the Ravi called the Shahi Neher. A series of aqueducts and tanks, carrying water transported uphill with the aid of oxen-powered water pumps fed the fountains in a remarkable feat of engineering.

The gardens itself were divided into three tiers. The topmost tier named "Bagh-e Farah Bakhsh" was reserved for the royal family. Along with the Bagh's characteristic fountain-lined intersecting waterways, it has two remarkable structures, the rectangular Diwaane Khaas-o-Aam with the unusual spiculated roof, and the central Barah-dari that overlooks the marvelous cascade that transmits water down to the second level.

Another attraction is the Moorcroft Building, a pavillion costructed during Maharaja Ranjeet Singh's reign for the explorer William Moorcroft. It is equipped with an ingenious ventilation system. The main component of the pavilion is the basement, which has two ventilation openings on each wall that open to the outside just above ground level. It's northern wall opens into a well equipped with a water pump that when powered by oxen, would result in a sheet of water cascading in front of the opening in the wall. Air entering through the well would be cooled after passing through this artificial waterfall and would exit through the eight ventilation windows.

The second level - "Bagh-e Faiz Bakhsh" houses the giant water tank - the Talaab - with its 152 fountains. Water enters it via the Great Cascade, a beautiful scalloped white marble waterway that brings water into the Talaab in a shimmering stream from whence it flows into the pool ,passing underneath the Emperor's marble throne. In the centre of the Talaab is the Mehtaabi, a central platform that oversees the third level of the Bagh, the "Bagh-e-Hayat Bakhsh". The second level houses four beautiful Barah-daris and it's four corners are overlooked by magnificently imposing towers atop the red brick boundary walls.

The "Hayat Bakhsh" houses the exceptional pavilion known as "Saawan Bhaadon" in which water used to cascade down three vertical walls with niches carved into them for placement of oil lamps. At night, water cascading over white marble, with hundreds of oil lamps glowing behind it must've been quite a sight. The rest of the level consists of spacious lawns where once there grew rows upon rows of fruit trees. Sadly, only a few of these are still in fruit.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Shalimar Gardens have undergone several renovations and one can see evidence of conservation work still going on in some parts of the Bagh. Perhaps it's just wishful thinking but I hope the conservation process is completed soon and visitors are able to experience the gardens as they were meant to be experienced - a vision of paradise on earth, with lush gardens filled with flowering plants and fruit trees, dancing fountains sending water cascading down waterways that flow in rivulets down the great cascade, with lamps illuminating the Saawan Bhaadon pavilion as visitors marvel at the dance of oil lamps behind a sheet of water and feel what the emperor Shahjehan must have felt when he first visited the Shalamar, as the court historian Inayat Khan wrote :

"His Majesty made a pleasure excursion to those paradise-like terraces. And the gardens and the agreeable pavilions which had been erected about the grounds, which all vied with the heavens in grandeur, were now found suitable to the royal taste. In fact, never before had a garden of such a magnificent description been seen or heard of on earth."


P.S All photos taken by yours truly. Watch this space for a few more come January, as I can't upload any more in December due to Flickr's obscene 100 photos per month policy.
P.P.S If you're in Lahore and haven't been to Shalamar yet, I can't help but feel pity for you.
P.P.P.S Ustad Vilayat Khansaheb has provided the perfect soundtrack to a walk in the Shalamar Gardens.

Found at: FilesTube

....Of A Novel Approach

Stop me if you've heard it before, but I think I've finally worked out a way to cure my (now chronic) case of Bloggers' block. As a friend pointed out recently, this inability to write mightn't be because I'm starved for things to write about but because the opposite seems to be the case.I find myself with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to stories, photos, anecdotes and videos collected from all over Punjab over the past three months. It's the sheer size of the stash and the effort required in sorting, organizing and writing that has intimidated me into hibernation.

After having thought out a number of approaches, I've decided to take an obverse approach. Instead of starting from the beginning, detailing my adventures in DG Khan, running over the Great South Punjab Roadtrip, recounting the trips to Pakpattan and Qasur before finally ending on my recent photographing expeditions across Lahore, I'll take the opposite route. Starting from the most recent explorations, I'll work my way back to the day three months ago when i landed in Dera Ghazi Khan for flood relief duties. Interspersed with these photo-travelogue-rants will be the usual doses of randomness that populate my blog.

I've been known to lose commitment in a half-completed post several times in the past because finishing it would involve straying from what I consider (in my pretentiousness) the mot juste, or would require the extra cup of tea (yes, I'm a tea-drinker now. Yes,I'm ashamed of myself) or the extra hour of headache-filled wakefulness that is the crucial difference between the draft and the finished product. This time however, I'm trying to put some more mechanicality into the writing process. I plan to make a habit of writing regularly, with an aim to churn out one or two posts per week. If the quality(yeah, right) of the posts suffers as a result, I won't be greatly concerned. I don't mind a few sputters and stalls before the engine starts chugging again.

So, here's to a new, more methodical and more disciplined approach. Hopefully it'll cure me of the doldrums. If not, then at least I'll have the consolation of knowing that I tried. If my rag-tag bunch of readers decides to bear with me, I can promise an enjoyable ride, albeit a bumpy one.

Books Of The Week, "The Coffee House Of Lahore",KK Aziz, Rumi's Mathnavi in the Qazi Sajjad translation.
Movies Of The Week,"The Social Network", "Easy A", "Anna Karenina"
Music Of The Week,"Khwaja Khurshid Anwar's monumental "Raag Mala"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

...Of An Unnaturally Long Hiatus

When I returned from my flood relief duty-cum-South Punjab exploration trip, I was raring at the bit. I had spent an extraordinary month working in the field as well as another phenomenal 5 days exploring every nook and cranny of South Punjab. I had returned to Lahore tanned and tired, but loaded with photos and stories from my month-long adventure. While I was there, I had even plotted out how I was going to go about writing down the various highlights of my trip; which subjects were gonna get a stream-of-consciousness Jack Kerouac treatment and which would be delivered in a more verite manner (not that I'm adept at either of these).

The stories were accompanied by photos, literally tons of them, taken with my trusty cellphone camera. I was justifiably proud of them and desperately wanted to share them with whoever wanted to see them. These I tagged, edited and sorted in anticipation of publishing them on my blog. Everything was set for a marathon blogging session when suddenly my brain stopped working. I sat in front of the PC for hours upon hours, trying to write but failing to do so. Sometimes it was due to tiredness after a long day's work, sometimes the failure to find the mot juste and sometimes just plain godawful ennui.

The photos I managed to upload on my Facebook, so it hasn't been a total exercise in sloth, but this inability to write has puzzled,disappointed and ultimately depressed me. I've hit writer's (bloggers') block before but this has been a month of absolute, utter barrenness. If what Thomas Mann said is correct and "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people., then I'm the Tolstoy of my age, because I've sweated hours and still not managed to write a single coherent sentence.

I hope to force myself to write from today onwards, even if it's at the rate of one paragraph a day. Here's to success in a grim struggle.