Sikhs and Saints of Sukho

Sikhs and Saints of Sukho
Sukho in Gujar Khan tehsil is a small town which was an important grain market in the British colonial period. The Sikh merchants of Sukho had trade ties not only with merchants of Rawalpindi but also in other districts in Punjab. Sukho was a prosperous and flourishing trade market before the partition of 1947.

The old name of Sukho was Sarna, which was, according to Waja Tasmia Dehat Pargana Dangali wa Pharwala by Raizada Brij Nath, named after a Hindu who belonged to the Khatri caste. The Khatris of Sarna abandoned the village over a period of time and later it was inhabited by a landlord named Malik Sukho, and hence it was also called after his name. Malik Sukho, whose shrine is located south of town, was from Matial Mughal. As per the inscription on his grave, he was a son of Baba Sadhari Khan and belonged to the Mughal Matial clan. Malik Sukho died in about 1001 AH/1593 AD according to the inscription on his grave. Raizada Brij Nath did not say anything about the death of Baba Malik Sukho. At present, the shrine of Malik Sukho is venerated by the local community and it has become quite a popular shrine in the area.

Choubara of a Sikh notable in Sukho bazaar

Eventually, this village was granted as a fiefdom to Quli Muhammad Khan son of Gakhar Khan Ferozal by Akbar Quli Khan. Before the Sikh power in Sukho, the Gakhars and Matials were the two main castes of the village.  Sukho was a small village but its population began to increase when one Shaikh Saadi came from Attock Khurd to Sukho in 1155 AH/1742 AD to preach Islam, on the instruction of his spiritual mentor Syed Maqbool Shah, popularly known as Shah Qabool Auliya (1689-1767). Syed Liaqat Ali Shah Gilani writes in Guldasta Muhammadi, a short biography of Shah Qabool Auliya about two of his deputies – Shaikh Ismail Baba and Shaikh Data Diwan –  who Shah Qabool Auliya sent to different regions in India, Sindh, Pothohar, Multan, Indus-Kohistan and Kashmir for preaching Islam. Shaikh Saadi alias Data Diwan established his khanqah in Sukho in Pothohar. Many people responded to his teachings and the village began to expand after he arrived.

According to Minar-e Tasawwuf by Mujahid bin Syed Gilani, a detailed biography  of Syed Qabool Shah Gilani, Shaikh Saadi was sent to Sukho in Pothohar to preach Islam. He was born a Hindu named Diwan Chand and was converted by Shah Qabool Auliya of Peshawar. He was given a new name, that of Shaikh Saadi – but he also became known as Data Diwan. Shaikh Saadi alias Data Diwan died in 1170 AH/ 1756 AD and was buried in a graveyard in Sukho. This graveyard later became known as the graveyard of Shaikh Shaadi, a phonetic variation of Saadi.

Another Sikh Choubara near that of Shabram Singh

There are many graves of Gilani saints who are descendants and disciples of Syed Maqbool Shah alias Shah Qabool Auliya of Peshawar. Prominent amongst these were Syed Mir Hussain Shah Gilani, Syed Raza Shah Gilani, Syed Pir Sikandar Shah Gilani etc. The grave of the famous Pothohari naat-gou poet Abdul Hameed Shamsi son of Feroz Khan is also located in this graveyard in Sukho.
All the shops were owned by Sikhs and Hindus, except for three which belonged to Muslims

It so happens that Sukho was the first village to became a centre for Qadiri Sufis. Later many Chishti and Naqshbandi Sufis also preached in Sukho. One of the prominent Chishti Sufi saints Waris Ali Chishti son of Kala Khan was born in Sukho in 1852. Shaikh Waris Ali Chishti was initiated into the Chishti silsila by Khawaja Shams-ud-din Sialvi alias Pir Sial (1799-1883). Shaikh Waris Ali Chishti also built a mosque in the Rajgan Mohalla of Sukho. He died in 1952 and was buried in a graveyard in Sukho on the Sukho-Gujar Khan road. Sukho produced many saints and Sufis who left behind a large number of followers to carry on their thought and ideology.

Choubara of Shabram Singh

There was also a population of Sikhs in Sukho which increased during the Sikh rule in Punjab. Later in the British period, Sikhs became yet more influential. There was a fortress of the Sikh period in Sukho. Charmal Singh was the Kiladar of Sukho fortress. Sikhs of Sukho were mainly landlords and merchants who controlled business activities during the Sikh and British periods. There was a bazaar in Sukho which was also under their control.

All the shops were owned by Sikhs and Hindus, except for three which belonged to Muslims. I interviewed many locals about Sukho’s oral history and two of them Muhammad Arif (85) and Zaman Ali (92) were more knowledgeable than the others. Zaman Ali knows the names and Choubaras (mansions) where Sikhs and Hindus lived. I share the below information from his interview.

Zaman Ali, an oral historian of Sukho

The Raees of Sukho, Shabram Singh, was the most powerful person in the Sikh community. He owned much property in Sukho. His younger brother Gur Bakhsh Singh was also a notable of Sukho. The Choubara (mansion) of Shabram Singh was the most imposing structure in Sukho. It was a three-storeyed structure. Today, a single storey of the structure has survived. At present this building is used as the office of the Union Council of Sukho. The Choubara of Shabram Singh was noted in all of Sukho for its woodwork and embellishments. Today, only a few wooden doors are extant in the mansion of Shabram Singh. Near the Choubara of Shabram was probably the Choubara of his younger brother Gur Bakhsh. This Choubara was also noted for wooden doors and façade. A few other Choubaras were located in the same locality. A majority of these Choubaras have lost their original beauty now.

Memorial tablet in the well at Sukho dispensary

The Choubaras of Hari Singh, Dogar Singh, Santokh Singh and Nanak Singh  also dominated the landscape of Sukho. Nanak Singh was a famous Hakeem (physician) of Sukho. The Choubaras of Bhagat Singh Bindra and Harnam Singh Bindra, who were also notable Sikhs of Sukho, were located in the village. Bhagat Singh built the Memorial Ward in memory of his wife Rajkaur in 1936 in Sukho dispensary. The donor plaque is still fixed on a wall of Sukho dispensary. A donor Plaque of Harnam Singh Bindra is also found on a wall of Sukho dispensary. The premises of the dispensary have also a well which was built by a Hindu lady Sabhadra Devi wife of Duni Chand Bhaglal in memory of her relative Dina Nath in 1938.

The notable Hindus of Sukho were Duni Chand, Mula Ram, Parmanand and Beli Ram. They had jewellery shops in Sukho bazaar. There were also two famous Hakeems (physicians) named Pindi Das from the Hindu community and Nanak Singh from the Sikh community.

Dilapidated Sikh Choubara in Sukho bazaar

The Choubara of Muna Singh, Sundar Singh, Jawar Singh, Mangal Singh, Seva Singh, Dhyan Singh, Jodha Singh, Kartar Singh, Nand Singh, Shesha Singh and Teerath Singh were also located near the bazaar of Sukho. Teerath Singh  was involved in the business of brick-kilns. Mangal Singh was a transporter whose bus used to ply between Sukho and Rawalpindi. Dhyan Singh and Seva Singh were shopkeepers. Jawar Singh had a shop of Mithai (sweetmeat) in Sukho bazaar. Labha Singh was a tailor and had a shop in the bazaar, as did Partab Singh.

There were two gurdwaras in Sukho. The main gurdwara was located in the bazaar. Today, a jewellery shop stands there where once the gurdwara was located. Close to this gurdwara were located many Sikh Choubaras. The remains of some of the dilapidated Choubaras are still extant. Apart from gurdwaras, two Hindu temples were also located in Sukho, both of which were demolished after the Babri mosque incident. Khalsa High School, later renamed Government Islamia High School, and then again renamed after Shaheed Nadeem ur Rehman, was built before 1947. Zaman Ali still recalls the names of his Sikh teachers whose names are still afresh in his memory. The headmaster of Khalsa High School was Awatar Singh, whose Choubara was also famous in Sukho. Narain Singh and Seva Singh were also teachers in Khalsa High School.

Punjabi humorous poet Ishar Singh ‘Ishar’ also studied in Sukho Khalsa High School. Ishar Singh ‘Ishar’ was born in 1892 in Kanet Khalil, also known as Kaneti, in the Rawalpindi district. Amongst his 12 published collections, Bhaiya was most famous. He composed poetry in Pothahari. In 1946, Ishar Singh ‘Ishar’ moved with his family to live in Delhi and died in 1966.

Today, almost all the Sikh Choubaras have disappeared, those which survived have lost their original lustre.

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