There inhabit many oral historians and village intellectuals in Pothohar in Punjab, who have preserved the history of their respective villages. These village intellectuals and oral historians are respected by their communities for preserving the folklore, traditions and history of the region – and they get elated when young people spend time with them by listening to their stories of not only oral traditions but also the caste origins, migration and power which different castes wielded in the past.
Social memory serves as healing for the majority of the village intellectuals and oral historians when their stories are heard.
One such village intellectual is Muhammad Aslam Awan of Dora Budhal who has preserved the oral history of his village, and which he fondly shares with everyone who wants to listen to him. Dora Budhal village is located about 16 km south of Gujar Khan town. Muhammad Aslam Awan is 83-year-old and knows the oral history of castes that inhabit the village nowadays and those who left after the Partition of 1947. He learned it from his father and as a child at the time of Partition, he also knew a few things himself. He heard the names from his father of the notable Sikh merchants and their havelis in the village. And he is nostalgic about the Choubaras (mansions) which once dominated the village landscape. He gets sentimental when he remembers the Dora Budhal bazaar, where the shops of the Sikhs were located. All are gone except the few wells which are located in different parts of the village.
He still remembers the name of his teacher Sant Singh who was lovingly called by villagers ‘Master Santa’.
Master Sant Singh was a teacher at the Primary School at Dora Budhal, which was built by the British administrators. A dedicated teacher, after school time he used to run his grocery shop which was located in the village bazaar. Even at his shop, he used to help his students with their homework. His daughter Lotan Kaur after school time was always at her father’s shop, where she used to do homework and read books with her father.
There were many shops of Sikh merchants in the Dora Budhal Bazaar. The shops of Gurdit Singh, Ladha Singh, Puran Singh, Sarjan Singh, Gurdas Singh, Kartar Singh, Jagat Singh and Hira Singh were located in the Dora Budhal bazaar. In fact, the bazaar of Dora Budhal was the most famous in the area. People of the nearby villages of Daryala Khaki, Dara Kiyal, Khenger Khurd, Adra Khurd, Adra Kalan, Dhok Nagyal, Parhaal, Dhoke Muhammad Wali, Jarmot Kalan, Jarmot Khurd and other villages used to come for shopping to the Dora Budhal village. Cloth, grocery and jewellery shops were located in Dora Budhal bazaar. There were also located Choubaras (mansions) of Sikh merchants and notables in this very bazaar.
Muhammad Aslam Awan still remembers the name of his teacher Sant Singh who was lovingly called by villagers ‘Master Santa’
The most prominent Choubara belonged to Sikh lady Jiveni Kaur, which is now a site of total ruin. Only two rooms were extant when I saw them in 2019. I first visited Dora Budhal in 2007 and later in 2009. In 2009, the Choubara was in comparatively better condition. It was a two-storeyed structure with an impressive balcony overlooking the bazaar. The wooden balcony and doors were the distinctive features of the Choubara of Jiveni Kaur.
Apart from the Choubara of Jiveni Kaur, the Choubara of Sardar Hira Singh also dominated the village landscape. According to Muhammad Aslam Khan Awan, it was also noted for the beautiful woodwork on the doors and balcony of the haveli. Sardar Hira Singh son of Chaudhry Nihal Singh was a notable Sikh of Dora Budhal, who owned agricultural land in the village. He also had a shop in the bazaar. Sardar Hira Singh got a well excavated in the village, which was located in the south of the Dora Budhal bazaar. This well is still extant in the village and carries an inscription. It reads that the well was constructed by Sardar Hira Singh walad Chaudhary Nihal Singh Qoum (caste) Ghora on the 5th of January 1922. Sardar Hira Singh also generously contributed to the construction of gurdwaras in other villages and towns of Gujar Khan Tehsil. Donor plaques still preserve his name at some gurdwaras in Gujar Khan Tehsil. He also contributed to the construction of the gurdwara in Dora Budhal, which does not exist now.
Apart from the Choubaras of Jiveni Kaur and Sardar Hira Singh, the Choubaras of Ladha Singh, Kartar Singh, Puran Singh, Sarjan Singh, Jagat Singh and Gurdas Singh were also famous in Dora Budhal. These Choubaras do not exist now and are only preserved in memory of Muhammad Aslam Awan.
Apart from Choubaras, Sikhs also constructed wells that are located in the north and south of the village. There are two wells located in the south of the village which are locally called ‘Khanda Khu.’ Near these wells were also located smaller wells where Sikh men used to bathe. Two wells are located in the north of the village. One well, which was constructed of stone, was located near the Choubara of Baba Hu. Apart from these wells, the most ancient one was located outside the village and was locally called ‘Kani ka Khu’. Apart from Sikhs, Muslim nobles also excavated wells, the prominent one was built by Raja Sobdar Ali.
There were also few households of the Hindu community. Prominent amongst them were Sunder Ram and Preet Ram – who was popularly known as Preetu by the villagers.
The Sikh community flourished and expanded their business from Dora Budhal to other nearby villages and towns of Gujar Khan due to the conducive environment provided by the Budhal noblemen
There is also located the shrine of Syed Kabiruddin Shah Duala alias Shah Daula in Dora Budhal village, which is now taken care of by Muhammad Aslam Awan. It is perhaps the earliest shrine in the village. Syed Kabiruddin Shah might have been the first mystic who came to settle in Dora Budhal village when it was found in the 14th century. According to Waja Tasmia Dehat Pargana Dangali wa Pharwala by Raizada Brij Nath, Dora Budhal village was founded by Dora Gujjar in 785 AH/1383 AD. Later, the Gujjar tribe left the village and it was inhabited by Budhal caste. Sultan Sarang Khan Gakhar, the scion of the Gakhar dynasty, bestowed the Dora jagir (fiefdom) on Mehmed Khan son of Murad Khan Budhal. According to Raizada Brijnath, earlier Mehmed Khan Budhal was living in Pabi village in Bishandaur area and later moved from Pabi to settle in his new jagir – which later came to be called Dora Budhal. Sikhs settled in the village in the eighteenth century, and were welcomed by the Budhals of Dora Budhal village.
There was a liberal policy on the part of the Budhal elites to open the doors for other communities to settle in their village. The Sikh community flourished and expanded their business from Dora Budhal to other nearby villages and towns of Gujar Khan due to the conducive environment provided by the Budhal noblemen.
The author is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at email@example.com. Excerpts have been taken from the author’s forthcoming book “Memories, Mystics and Monuments of Pothohar”. All photos are by the author