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History neglects an ‘unsung hero’ Dulla Bhatti

The place where Dulla Bhatti rests pays no tributes to his brave deeds, a simple unadorned grave with no minaret marks his resting place

By Afnan Khan

LAHORE: A few yards away from the gravesite of Maj Shabbir Sharif Shaheed in Miani Sahab rests another hero, Dulla Bhatti, who ruled the hearts of the people of Punjab some 450 years back and launched a fierce rebellion against the Mughal Emperor Jalalud Din Akbar.

Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti known as Dulla Bhatti belonged to the Bhatti clan, a family of famous freedom fighters who now dwell at Pindi Bhattian, around 100 kilometres from Lahore.

Dulla Bhatti stood up against the imperialist Mughal Empire and played a key role in the resistance against it, which lasted around 20 years and forced Akbar to shift the capital of his empire from Delhi to Lahore in order to counter the guerrilla war Dulla had launched in collaboration with other Rajput and Jutt clans of the area.

Dulla became famous as the Robin Hood of his time as he used to loot Mughal treasury and distribute this wealth to the poor people living across the region now called Punjab.

However, Dulla remains an unsung hero as our history propagates the Mughal regime as a model Muslim rule in the Subcontinent. The place where Dulla rests pays no tributes to his brave deeds, a simple unadorned grave with no minaret marks the resting place of this ‘unsung hero’.

One of the graveyard workers by the name of Muhammad Riaz whose family has been serving Miani Sahab graveyard for three generations now, told Daily Times that his elders told him that Dulla Bhatti was considered a hero of Punjab before partition, but things have changed over the years and now his grave is lying in a dilapidated condition and people are quarrelling over that small piece of land. “The larger than life stories and amazing pieces of poetry regarding the heroics of Dulla Bhatti have gone away with the passage of time. All governments have completely neglected the person who remained a protagonist of many of the folk tales of Punjab for centuries and so have the people,” Riaz asserted, adding that he was not sure why a legendary character like Dulla has been neglected so completely.

Dulla’s final resting place proves the fact that history is not always accurate, and some who played a key role are liable to be forgotten in the grand scheme of things. In fact, there is a little knowledge left about his life, like his date and place of birth and the formative years of his life. The only documented facts that remain are his stand against the mighty Mughal emperor Akbar, dubbed by historians as one of the most powerful Mughal rulers of all. Prejudiced historians might have passed over Dulla but his exploits and memory remains strong in folklore and the songs of Eastern Punjab.

According to different sources including Lohri Festival website and Wikipedia, Dulla Bhatti is still alive in the music and literature of Indian Punjab. A special festival called Lohri festival is celebrated every year on the beginning of harvesting season, during which small groups of young boys knock on every door with the start of the festival and sing songs related to Dulla Bhatti. The people in return give them different food items, including dry fruits and money. Sending them back empty handed is considered a bad omen. Legendary Punjabi singers like Kuldeep Manak have also sung numerous songs narrating the life story of Dulla Bhatti. One of his very famous songs related to the hero tells the story of his beloved wife sitting in his way and urging him to help her carry the basket full of vegetables before going of to battle. She warns him in a playful manner, that his head would hang on the Lahore Fort entrance if he left without helping her in the fields.

A recent song sung by famous Punjabi band RDB is titled ‘Dulla’. The song talks about the sufferings of the people of Punjab especially the Sikhs, a number of whose Gurus and elders were slain by the Mughals, the lyrics call upon Dulla Bhatti to come back from the dead and rescue the followers of Baba Nanak. Though, Dulla belonged to a Muslim family of the Rajput clan, he was supported by a large number of Sikh clans in his battles against Mughal forces, which were fought in different parts of the Subcontinent. The song has earned international fame, since it has been sung to the beat of the famous Queen song, ‘We Will Rock You’. The song covers the whole historic perspective of the Sikh’s suppression including the Operation Blue Star launched against them by the former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The song states that the famous Punjabi Sufi and legendary poet Shah Hussain a voice for the masses of his time, was an ardent supporter of Dulla Bhatti. It is said that Shah Hussain himself visited the spot in Lahore where Bhatti was publicly hanged on the orders of Akbar and openly condemned the execution. It is also said that his famous verse translated “Hussain, the adherent of Lord, warns that thrones can’t be begged” was written on the execution of Dulla Bhatti after which the poet had to face death threats from the police chief of Lahore for his rebellious poetry and acts.

Dr Mubarak Ali said that authoritative and imperialist establishments never promote rebels like Dulla Bhatti and Bhagat Singh as their heroes because they are afraid of the aura of romance associated with rebels. Dr Mubarak said that another reason to ignore heroes like Dulla Bhatti is that they rebelled against the Mughal Empire, which is widely believed to be a symbol of Islamic Supremacy in the Subcontinent. However, the predominant reason is that they cannot afford to highlight the heroics of anti-imperialist individuals in an environment where people live in extreme disparity. Under the current conditions the authorities, cannot afford to glamourize revolutionaries, he said.

He said that Dulla and Bhagat Singh are examples of resistance against mighty empires and the movements they insipired show the power of the masses, adding that media and intellectuals are under the obligation to keep characters like Dulla and Bhagat Singh alive because they are the people’s connection to their past and an encouragement for people to challenge anti-social traditions, and to rise for their rights in face of the powers that be. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz MPA Farah Deeba told Daily Times that she had raised the issue of the dilapidated condition of the gravesite of Dulla Bhatti in the Punjab Assembly and had demanded of the district government to renovate the place and remove any occupation or obstacles coming in the way of
its renovation.

“Dulla Bhatti was a legendary hero of Punjab and we cannot afford to neglect such people the way we have done in the past because they are the link to our glorious history,” she said. She added that she has also asked the government to support the recently formed Dulla Bhatti Academy to trace his history and heroics, and introduce him to the people. Farah added that the local authorities had promised to cater to the request, however concrete steps had yet to be taken.\03\02\story_2-3-2010_pg13_7

21 thoughts on “History neglects an ‘unsung hero’ Dulla Bhatti”

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