Bhumman Shah – Our forgotten Sikh heritage

Published: December 14, 2015

We arrived in Depalpur well in time and started inquiring about the Depalpur fort and to our amazement nobody had a clue to what we were talking about. PHOTO: OMAR MUKHTAR.

Taking advantage of the long Eid break, I along with a couple of friends decided to explore the ancient Depalpur Fort, about a couple of hours drive from Lahore. We arrived in Depalpur on time and started inquiring about the said fort. To our amazement, not a single person there had a clue as to what we were talking about, until a shopkeeper taking us for some ‘documentary-type’ filmmakers, 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 about 15 minutes, we reached Bhumman Shah. To our surprise, it looked like a mini fort with a huge compound divided into residential quarters (haveli), a Gurdwara and a Dharamshala (hostel) for devotees. Except for the Gurdwara, all the 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 the Gurdwara appear to be built in the late 18th or 19th century, however, Samadhi and the prayer hall appeared to have been constructed later.

The Gurdwara itself was apparently declared as a heritage site by the government a few years ago, however, the only sign of government possession 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 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 showing various scenes from Sikh history as well as carved embellishments with human faces, beasts as well as shapes depicting jinns. The haveli interior is restricted to only women as some Pakhtun families now reside inside the haveli.

The other interesting building is the Dharamshala or hostel for devotees. The building appears to be built at a later stage when the number of devotees to Bhumman Shah increased. It is also being used by local families as residential quarters.

The Gurdwara complex itself is best preserved. Locals told us that Sikhs pay their respects frequently. The Gurdwara has a beautiful early 20th century meditation cell or Samadhi in the centre. The Samadhi has 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 well kept as of now. There is a 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 inaugurated in 1910, it seems, however, that it is currently being used for some in-house cricket by the local youth.

As the story goes, Bhumia was a 17th century saint born in 1687 in Behlolpur village of Depalpur. At an early age, he was inducted in the Udsai Sainthood of Sikhs and was renamed Bhumman Shah. The tales of his miracles spread to a vast area and earned him a fair share of devotees. Bhumman Shah apparently had a local Wattoo landlord released from prison using his magical powers and in turn was awarded a vast landholding by the landlord and hence came into being the Bhumman Shah village. Bhumman Shah died in 1762 and throughout his life preached the message of peaceful co-existence and universal brotherhood, earning him devotees who were not only Sikhs but also Muslims and Hindus. After the 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 Bhumman Shah’s disciples still continue teaching the Shah’s philosophies in Haryana as well as Dera Dhun.

I don’t believe it would be too much asked of the government to preserve Bhumman Shah and other Hindu and Sikh heritage sites in Pakistan. With a proper heritage conservation plan, a couple of guides cum watchmen at these sites and we would have a rich tourist platform. It is important for the local administration as well as the tourism department to become proactive about campaigning for these heritage jewels scattered all over Pakistan.

PS: On our return from Bhumman Shah, we were able to find Depalpur fort as well! But that is story for another time.

All photos: Omar Mukhtar 

This post originally appeared here.

Omar Mukhtar

Omar Mukhtar

The author is a civil servant and currently works as a development professional with an International development organisation.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Allah Hafiz

    This has happened everywhere wherever muslims are there….hence its not a new news u are telling..Afghanistan taliban destroyed gandhara and buddhist tombs and statues,same with Iran and Iraq and all islamic countries..Even in India kashmrii muslims demolished around 300 temples…so nothing new…facts are know more about demolition read history of islam…converts can reply here for good discussion….Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “Bhumman Shah – Our forgotten Sikh heritage”

    It is not forgotten, it is rejected. You can’t hate the people and love the monuments belonging to them.Recommend

  • Mahesh Agrawal

    So not all that much different from nationalist Indian Hindus who only accept partial history of India. The “Islamic” history of India is hard to swallow as is evident in your hateful vitriol.Recommend

  • Time Is Up

    I guess you did not get replies after 24 hrs. There is nothing to reply, it is a known fact, and all you will ever hear is excuses. Even if Hindus/Sikhs from India, put money to restore them, it will be wasted, no guarantee of not getting vandalized. Time to move on and put efforts and money to make sure things like these never happen again.
    Basic point – if one believes as per his/her faith as not respect other faiths nor one’s origin and past, any discussion is a mute point.Recommend

  • Just like India forgets/rejects it’s Mughal heritage by renaming Aurangzeb road and claiming the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple…Recommend

  • not to mention vilifying Muslim heroes and leaders.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Do you know the difference between the state of India and its people?Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    So Aurangjeb is a hero? I am sure Osama as well, isn’t it?Recommend

  • Satinder

    Study English. Specially, spellings.
    It’s ‘moot point.’ Not ‘mute point.’Recommend

  • J

    How true ! There is another name for it.
    “Largely Imagined Hindu Past.”Recommend

  • Comparing a Muslim emperor with a terrorist? Talk about false equivalences… What do you think of Shivaji or Asoka who also had some dark things in their past? Should they be compared with the RSS?

    Aurangzeb was a great emperor of India, something even the British, Sikhs and Marathas admitted. Give him his due.

    The Sikhs were known to persecute Pashtuns and their vassals in Kashmir, the Dogras were far from saints.

    Nevertheless one should not include a bias in history, whether against the Sikhs or the Mughals.Recommend

  • Time Is Up

    I will go back to school right now :-)Recommend

  • Mahesh Agrawal

    Aurangjeb not all that different from Modi.Recommend

  • Mahesh Agrawal

    Denial of our heritage or past by either, state or people, is denialism.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Explain please.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Asking people to pay to be able to practice is called Jaziya by some Muslims but how do you think the non Muslims would interpret that?

    “Comparing a Muslim emperor with a terrorist? Talk about false equivalences… ”

    Lose the war to ISIS and Baghdadi would not go down in history as an emperor but a Khalifa, not for non Muslims though.

    Shivaji fought for his co-religionists in his own land and not in some distant lands trying to spread his faith by sword.

    Asoka is not a hero because he killed people but because he left the path of violence else he would be just another emperor as Aurangjeb is.

    I am a Hindu and I refuse to take pride in those who subjugated my brothers in faith for the simple reason that we wanted to remain Hindus in our own land. You are free to choose your heroes, whether it is Tipu Sultan or Aurangjeb.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Who is denying, I am simply refusing to take pride in those who suppressed my people because they belonged to my faith. I cannot be proud of my faith while being proud of Tipu Sultan and Aurangjeb.

    On one hand, you think Modi is nothing less than Auranjeb and on the other hand you are asking me not to live in denials. It is you who needs to come out of denials unless you are a fan of Modi or you agree with me on Aurangjeb.

    We have had enough of the historians like Ram Puniyani.Recommend

  • Well then… I guess you’re not really an “Indian first” then… the Jiziya was just a tax and only applicable for a short time.

    It does not make Aurangzeb a villain, just like Shiva Ji’s treachery or Asoka’s violence doesn’t.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “Jiziya was just a tax and only applicable for a short time.”

    You obviously are selective about history.

    “It does not make Aurangzeb a villain, just like Shiva Ji’s treachery or Asoka’s violence doesn’t.”

    Shivaji’s treachery? He did what he had to save his co-religionists from people who were hell bent on converting Hindu’s by force.

    Are you now going to justify Auranhjeb’s beheading of Guru Tegh Bahadur and his Governors orders in Sirhind to have the sons of another Guru of Sikhs killed.

    You are only proving with you comments that you take pride in the subjugation of the followers of Sanathan Dharam. You may have left the faith, have you also changed your loyalties?Recommend

  • “You obviously are selective about history.”

    It’s the truth. The Ghaznavids , Ghauris raided like their contemporaries but did not impose the Jizya. They didn’t have the infrastructure or the will.

    “Shivaji’s treachery?”

    “beheading of Guru Tegh Bahadur”
    You are the one justifying assassinations here. I never justified his actions. Simply claimed that it does not overshadow his entire rule.

    “You may have left the faith, have you also changed your loyalties?”

    Ofcourse!, to top it all, we are all Hindus and must conduct Ghar Wapsi to return to our true roots…. nonsense. Our loyalties are political rather than religious.

    You are the one judging people based on their religion rather than their rule and taking pride in the subjugation of those not of “Sanathan Dharam”.Recommend

  • Taran Singh

    Thanks and great find! I’m so jealous.

    A couple of corrections. I think you mean this person Bhumman Shah was an Udasi (; While they descend from the son of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, they are not Sikhs since he was not chosen to lead the faith after his father’s death. The Punjab has so much cultural and religious depth that it’s easy to confuse it all. There are so many offshoots.

    I agree that these sites are worth preserving to show us who we are and what we have come from. Punjabis are truly a strong and daunting force when they act as one. However, as luck would have it for everyone else people have been great at exploiting our differences to our own peril. Heck, we don’t even like our own language anymore!Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    You need to ask the Sikhs if Guru Tegh Bahadur is any less to them than the prophet of Islam is to the Muslims. How can you be trusted by non muslims when you celebrate the perpetrator of the beheading of a man who is revered by Hindus and Sikhs.

    You and I have a different set of heroes, you might be an Indian but your idea of India if followed by Hindus will ensure Hinduism is restricted to museums in a centuries time.

    People like Zakir Naik can mock our faith on a daily basis while being extremely popular among Muslims but Hindus should not think of converting muslims. The non muslims have been fooled enough by the congress historians, it is not time to get rid of the likes of Aurangjeb and Tipu Sultan from our history books but to discuss more of their tyranny unleashed on the followers of sanathan dharm and let the people decide for themselves whether they want to call these guys an emperor/sultan or a thug as the Muslims would like to describe some of the greatest marathas in the history.Recommend

  • Mahesh Agrawal

    Selective acceptance is denialism still.

    Simply because you can’t bring yourself to accept something doesn’t mean others can’t either. You accept good with the bad. For example, Americans can be proud of their achievements but they still have to accept their genocidal past and the history of slavery. The alternative is Americans refuse to accept their past and the world keeps reminding them about it at every corner.

    Similarly, you can choose to see everything non-Hindu as un-Indian but the world won’t stop reminding you about them. History is not a monolith.

    The comparison of Modi and Aurangjeb is appropriate because if you can be proud of Modi then you can be proud of Aurangjeb. If not, then you are part of the problem because of your selective acceptance. My argument is not all that difficult to understand.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “Similarly, you can choose to see everything non-Hindu as un-Indian but the world won’t stop reminding you about them. History is not a monolith.”

    Mate, I never said that Aurangjeb did not exist, I agree he did but I am refusing to take pride in his rule of India. As far as Muslims not being Indian are concerned, I agree you can’t brush all of them together but it is not the Hindus who divided India and you might accuse me of being communal for claiming this but have you heard the speech given by Sardar Patel in Calcutta where he asks the Muslims how they turned patriots overnight after having asked for a separate land, are you now going to claim Sardar Patel communal too?

    “The comparison of Modi and Aurangjeb is appropriate because if you can be proud of Modi then you can be proud of Aurangjeb.”

    Modi should be compared with Jinnah and not Aurangjeb, if Muslims can afford a Jinnah and still live in almost all the countries in subcontinent in massive numbers, the Hindus should be able to afford their own Jinnah, a hindu nationalist.

    “f not, then you are part of the problem because of your selective acceptance.”

    If Iam a problem, you are up against a huge one because the numbers are increasing and we now know the real history where in we have been taught to love our own tormentors.

    “Simply because you can’t bring yourself to accept something doesn’t mean others can’t either. ”

    The “other” you mention is actually me who was craving for respect in my own land while the so called seculars dismissed me for being a Hindu in my own land, Iam simply asking you to taste your own medicine.

    You may hate us as much as you like but we have carved a constituency for our ideology in this country using the same freedom of speech that you exercise to vilify us.

    You cant bomb an ideology, you need to replace it with a much more powerful narrative and in this case we are the alternative ideology which would never have been as strong as it is today if India had remained truly secular.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Hindus have dropped from heavens without any history, your comment has made history itself craving to be read.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    I did not get a response mate!!Recommend

  • Mahesh Agrawal

    Thats because I have an argument and you have excuses.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    There are losers and bad losers, you belong to the latter category just like the Gandhi Nehru Family, Yechuries, Bardhans, Karats and so on..

    Do respond if you have an argument as you claim because if you stand before mirror, you would know who is into excuses and who is not.Recommend