Sikhs of Dhamali

Sikhs of Dhamali
There still live many oral historians and village intellectuals in the towns and villages of Pothohar who have preserved the history, heritage and lost traditions of their respective areas. During my research which spans two decades in the Pothohar region in Punjab, I met many such historians and village intellectuals to collect information on the oral history of villages and towns and their lost built heritage, traditions and customs of Pothohar. I met one such village intellectual in Dhamali village on the 14th of March 2021, who has not only preserved the oral history of his village but also the surrounding villages. His name is Jahandar Khan and he is 88 years old. He is a retired school teacher who possesses a wealth of knowledge which he has acquired through his lived experience in village and traveling in different regions of Pakistan.

Dhamali is located about 5 km east of Kallar Syedan town on the Kallar Syedan-Doberan Road. There are two important sacred Muslim spaces in Dhamali village which include the shrine of Baba Karmat Hussain Shah Sabiri and a communal grave called Pakki Qabar. Legend has it that buried in  Pakki Qabar are the first Muslim proselytizers who came from Central Asia to preach Islam in the village in the twelfth century. Before the Partition of 1947, Dhamali also called Thamali, was mainly inhabited by the Sikh community. There were also few households of the Hindu community. According to Jahandar Khan, there were only three households which belonged to the Awan family. The notable Awans of these three families were Malik Karam Khan, Malik Fazal Illahi, Malik Khan Muhammad and Malik Waris Khan.

Donar plaque with the name of Sardar Santokh Singh Gandhi from Dhamali or Thamali in Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib Kanoha

The Sikhs of Dhamali were merchants and agriculturalists. They owned the markets and agricultural land in the village. There were three bazaars in Dhamali. All the shops in bazaars were owned by Sikhs and some by Hindus. Sikhs controlled the business of Dhamali and Doberan villages. They were also influential in other villages and towns namely Manglora, Kallar, Kanoha, Thoha Khalsa, Dera Khalsa in Kahuta tehsil (now Kallar Syedan) district.  There were about 40 magnificent havelis of Sikhs and Hindus in Dhamali, all of which have now disappeared save one which was built by Parmeshri Kaur. Only the front of the choubara (mansion) of Parmeshri Kaur is extant now. It was a two-storeyed structure. The remains and ruins of the rooms and halls of the haveli of Parmeshri Kaur are extant in the heart of Dhamali village. It was a stone-built structure decorated with floral and geometric designs. The stone carvings on the pillars and spandrels of the haveli were remarkable, the traces of which can still be seen in the structure. In the same street were the havelis of some other notable Sikhs of the village. The havelis of Gopal Singh and his brother Dayal Singh were also famous buildings in the village. In fact, the havelis of both brothers were two-storeyed structures and noted for their wooden balconies and doors.  The sons of Gopal Singh had a transport business. Dayal Singh had four sons: Jawant Singh, Kartar Singh, Rajandar Singh and Mehtab Singh. Jawant Singh, who was the elder son of Dayal Singh, had a cloth shop in the Dhamali bazaar. Kartar Singh son of Dayal Singh had a grocery shop in the Dhamali bazaar.

Chariyan Wala Kunwan

Mohan Singh, Charan Singh, Gian Singh, Gokal Singh, Kharak Singh, Labh Singh, Mahinder, Hardit Singh, Ram Singh, Santokh Singh, Ganda Singh, Hira Singh, Suraj Singh, Harbans Singh and Sardar Singh were all known notables of Dhamali. The havelis of these village elites dominated the landscape of Dhamali village. Ram Singh ran the business of brick kilns in Dhamali and neighbouring villages. The havelis of Suraj Singh and Hira Singh were also noted for their woodwork and embellishments. And the haveli of Sardar Singh was also a famous building in Dhamali. He had a jewellery shop in the bazaar. He was also assisted by his son Kuldip Singh. The wife of Sardar Singh, Rakhi Kaur, was an influential lady in Dhamali village. All the havelis have become history now.
There existed a well which was believed to have been dug by Hari Singh Nalwa, a famous general of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Wells and tanks built by Sikhs still mark the landscape of Dhamali village. Maha or Mai Rami who was known for her welfare works in the village got a well dug for the villagers. But the water well was brackish and it was soon abandoned. Another well in the village was dug by Balwant Singh which was located near a school in the village and was named after him. There also existed a well which was believed to have been dug by Hari Singh Nalwa (d.1837), a famous general of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Hari Singh Nalwa’s in-laws were from Dhamail village. The famous well in Dhamali was Chariyan wala Kunwan. This well was used by the villagers and was located near the Shamshan Ghat (Hindu crematory ground). Two of the old village tanks are still extant in the village which were built by Sikhs of Dhamali. There was also a single-story house of Sain Lok. Now this Sain Lok had a large snake and he used to entertain the villagers and earn his livelihood by this profession.

Dilapidated haveli of Parmeshri Kaur in Dhamali

Jahandar Khan studied in the primary school of Dhamali and remembers the names of his Hindu and Muslim teachers too. The names of school teachers in Dhamali were Parcha Singh of Dhamali, Ujjar Singh who was a resident of Doberan, Sant Singh Suri, who was from Choa Khalsa, Sardar Khan of Manglora village, Karam Das of Mali Malikan and Master Muhammad Shafi of Mali Vens village.

Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib at Kanoha

According to Master Jahandar Khan, there were about ten households of Hindus in Dhamali. The names of notable Hindus of Dhamali included Dr. Dhanraj and three brothers Indar Chander, Balam Khand and Tara Chand.  The havelis of Hindus do not exist now. The temple, which was located in Dhamali village, has also disappeared now.

There was also a gurdwara in Dhamali village which has disappeared now. It is believed that Sant Attar Singh Ji of Mastuana (1866-1927) undertook Akhand Paath (a three-day uninterrupted rendition of sacred hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib) in the Gurdwara of Dhamali. He was invited by his friend Bhai Sant Ram Singh. The Sikhs of Dhamali were followers of Sant Attar Ji.  The Sikhs were also followers of Baba Khem Singh Bedi as he was a spiritual leader of Sikhs of Kallar, Kahuta and other areas in Rawalpindi district. After his death in 1905, many Sikhs of Dhamali became the disciples of Sant Attar Singh Ji. The gurdwara of Dhamali was built by Sant Bhai Ram Singh who was also known for his piety in the village and area. The gurdwara was located on a picturesque setting at the bank of stream locally called Kasi. The brother of Sant Bhai Ram Singh, Sant Bhai Jawahar Singh was also a pious person. He served every passerby, sadhus and sants, with food. And he also provided shelter to them. It was believed that nobody went hungry from this gurdwara. Today, this place is called Sanata dera. There was also a well there which was called Kasi wala Kunwan or Sanatan wala Kunwan.

Old Ban or tank in Dhamali

After his death in 1927, his ardent disciple Sant Teja Singh Ji (1877-1965) continued to spread the thought and ideology of his mentor. Sant Teja Singh Ji toured the entire Pothohar region, collecting donations for the construction of the Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib at Kanhoa. The Sikhs of Dhamali generously contributed to the construction of Gurdwara Tapiana sahib at a place where Sant Attar Singh Ji had mediated. The Sikhs of Dhamali also attended the inauguration ceremony of Taposthan Kanoha alias Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib. Like many others in Dhamali village, Jamadar Gurdit Singh of Dhamali was a devout disciple of  Sant Teja Singh Ji.

The Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib is a three-storeyed building. There are about 18 donor plaques in Gurmukhi on the walls of the gurdwara which I have documented. At least 5 donor plaques record the names of residents of Dhamali who contributed to the construction of the gurdwara. From these donor plaques, one also comes to know the family names – Suri, Sarka, Gurpur, Gandhi, Bindra – of some of the notable Sikhs of Dhamali. The name of one of the donors appears on the chaukaath (wooden door frame) of the gurdwara as Santokh, who donated wooden frame and marble in memory of his father Hira Singh. The second donor plaque reads Mai Gur Daee wife of Sardar Atma Singh Ji Munshi who donated Rs. 201 in memory of her son Sardar Nirvair Singh Ji Gurpur resident of Thamali/Dhamali. The third donor plaque bears the name of Raja Singh Ji Sarla who donated Rs. 51 in memory of his respected father Sardar Teja Singh Ji Gadari Wale Haal Dhamali through Jamadar Gurdit Singh. The fourth donor plaque reads only that Lambardar Dhamali donated Rs. 21. The fifth plaque records the name of Raj Devi wife of Sardar Uttar Singh Bindra of Thamali/Dhamali who donated Rs. 25 through Sardar Hukam Singh. Bhai Sardar Hukam Singh was the resident of Bishan Daur (now called Dewan Huzoor village) in Sohawa, Jhelum. He was a member of Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib Committee which also comprised Bhai Sanokh Singh and other prominent persons of the area. The main duty assigned to Bhai Bishan Singh was to look after the construction of Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib at Kanoha. Bishan Singh also was from Bishan Daur village in Sohawa, Jhelum. He got two small rooms constructed but could not undertake the construction of the Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib and disappointed, he went to his village Bishan Daur.

The author is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at Excerpts have been taken from the author’s forthcoming book “History and Heritage of Pothohar.” All photos are by the author

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar