No Bakhshi, no Mehta and no Sobti: all castes, today I could not spot any of them in Kauntrila. Some houses, havelis, shops and samadhis are enough, however, to bear witness to the illustrious past of all these, whose home Kauntrila was. The architecture that they have left behind contributes to the tangible heritage of this village. But who cares for the preservation of it all – this heritage which gives us the possibility of literally touching and seeing the past? Once a flourishing town and business centre, now just a village…
South of Gujar Khan city, some 15 kilometres away, the village of Kauntrila has many tales yet to be told – some forgotten entirely and some within the cobwebbed narrations of local historians. A bustling village of the Potohar region, Kauntrila was founded in the 13th century by Raja Koal Pakhral. The Pakhral (or Bakhral) Rajputs, who are descendants of Raja Bhakar Dev, settled in Potohar – having arrived from Kashmir. Kauntrila remained an important centre of the Pakhral Rajput tribe. The most well-known personality amongst the Pakhrals is Raja Omer Khan Pakhral of Kauntrila, who during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great worked in the eminent administrator Raja Todar Mal’s office. Raja Omer Khan Pakhral and Raizada Pittu further measured the land of the Potohar plateau and divided it into dayhiya (village) and tappa (or tehsil) to aid the Emperor’s new administrative measures. The Pakhrals, being proficient in Persian and logic, had also assumed top positions in the earlier, Gakhar court.
Raja Omer Khan Pakhral of Kauntrila, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, worked in the eminent administrator Raja Todar Mal’s office
During 1540-1545, the Afghan founder of the Suri dynasty Sher Shah Suri ordered the appointment of two sets of clerks in each pargana (district), one maintaining a record in Persian (the Farsi-nawees) and the second one in the local language. A pargana comprised a number of villages with a big village (qasba) as the headquarters. It was the lowest unit of state administration and a major point of contact between the imperial and local officials. The significance of Sher Shah’s appointments was twofold: first, the imperial administration was able to assume greater political and fiscal control of the pargana and second, it imparted a greater depth to the Persian-inspired system of accountancy and record-keeping. The Indian intellectual castes whose occupation was writing and recording for the imperial and sub-imperial secretarial services were proficient in the Persian language. In 1584 the bilingual system of recordkeeping was discarded and Persian alone became the language of local pargana-level administration. The area of Potohar was part of the Sindh Sagar Doab, and for generations the occupation of the Pakhrals was land recordkeeping and revenue collection. During the mid-18th century, when Raja Yousuf Khan Pakhral was the revenue officer and also chieftain of the Pakhral Rajput tribe, he killed Hashim Khan Sadaal in a clash. The latter was a close relative of Sultan Muqarab Khan, then the governor between the area of Attock and Jehlum. As revenge, Sultan Muqarab Khan plundered Kauntrila village and demolished many houses and killed locals of the village. Raja Yousuf Khan Pakhral fled his native region but later managed to obtain a pardon. Kauntrila was resettled by the Bakhshis of Basali village, when Bakhshi Lajja Singh was chief of the Bakhshis.
Lajja Singh succeeded his father in the darbar (court) of Kabul and he was appointed a General by Ahmed Shah Abdali on his return to Kabul. Later he was created a Palki-nashin and Bara Hazari (commander of 12,000 men) by Ahmed Shah , who was further pleased to grant him the title of ‘Bakshi’ – which is still borne by the family. Muqarab Khan Gakhar, who was appointed Governor of the territory between Jehlum and Attock, obtained the services of Lajja Singh and appointed him as his plenipotentiary. In fact, a seal bearing the name of Bakshi Lajja Singh was affixed on official dispatches. He died in 1779.
Bakshi Manh Singh was nazim of Rawalpindi district during the time of Mahraja Ranjit Singh in the 19th century.
In 2005, Kanwal Singh Bakhshi wrote a book, The Bakhshi Family of Kauntrila. The book focused on the family history of the Bakhshis of Kauntrila by compiling a pedigree chart of the Bakhshi family and old photographs. The Bakhshis of Kauntrila have a well-documented history, going back to the 16th century. After the collapse of Sikh power in 1849, the book further traces the lines of family descent.
Some houses of the Bakhshis are still in a good condition but the majestic haveli of Bakshi Ram Singh is dilapidated. Bakhshi ?Ram Singh, born in 1856, passed out from Thompson College at Roorki in 1876. He was presented with a photograph by the Queen-Empress in 1893 on his visit to England. He was an engineer in the Punjab Public Works Department (General Branch) and died in 1926 – he had no male issue.
Kauntrila was resettled by the Bakhshis of Basali village, when Bakhshi Lajja Singh was chief
Until 1974, the haveli of Bakshi Ram Singh served as the Government Boys High School, Kauntrila.
Amongst the many notable personalities of Kauntrila who made their mark in history is Sardar Bahadur Bakhshi Jagat Singh, the great-great-grandson of Lajja Singh. Born in 1838, he enlisted in the 5th Bengal Cavalry in 1857, and later was promoted to the rank of Risaldar in the 18th Bengal Cavalry. He made his mark during second Afghan War – his gallantry and exceptionally valuable services were recognised through several medals. He was granted 1,000 acres of land and the title of Sardar Bahadur and the Order of British India (First class) was conferred on him. He retired at the rank of Risaldar Major in 1891, and was given the rank of honourary captain. He died in 1920. Sardar Bahadur Captain Jagat Singh was popularly known as ‘Bapu-ji’ to the Kauntrila community. The titles Sardar Bahadur and OBEI were further earned by his son Jaswant singh and his grandson Avatar Singh in their own rights later!
The village remained a home of warriors and administrators. ?Kauntrila and its heritage are a veritable window to the past.