A portrayal of Lahore is incomplete without a description of Miani Sahib, the eternal resting place of many of its residents. It remains the most iconic of its several necropolises. Some residents of Lahore trace its origins to the Mughal era and others to the Sikh period. Either of these reports could be true but no authentic contemporary records exist to substantiate either of these accounts.
The once elegant Chauburji was the entrance to a now extinct Mughal-era garden commissioned in 1646 AD. It has been ravaged multiple times in its 375 years of history by the Ravi’s floods, the earthquake of 1843, numerous road realignments and, more recently, by the construction of the Orange Train Line. Qurtaba Chowk, in the ancient village of Mozang, is a wide crossing and terminus of Bahawalpur, Temple, Queens, Jail Road, Lytton and Ferozepur Roads, and through which now passes an elevated portion of the Lahore Metro Bus. Bahawalpur road connects Chauburji and Qurtaba Chowks. Miani Sahib lies (see map) astride this Bahawalpur road, with its northern portion extending towards Lytton Road on the east and the Multan Road on the west. To the south of Bahawalpur Road, the graveyard extends in a triangular-shape with its apex touching the Link Ferozepur or Ganda Nallah Road.
Miani Sahib is an old graveyard but its exact origins are now shrouded in the haze of time. The oldest recognisable grave there is that of Dullah Bhatti; the Punjabi Robin Hood. Emperor Akbar ordered his execution in 1589. Other graves of that era, if any, are not traceable now.
Kanhaia Lal Kapoor, one of the first Indian civil engineers, who served in PWD Lahore for thirty years in the second half of the 19th century, has given a detailed account about the origin of Miani Sahib in his well-acknowledged Tarikh-e-Lahore. Miani is a word derived from “Miana,” that in rural areas of Punjab is still commonly used for teachers. In the context of this graveyard, this refers to Sheikh Muhammad Tahir Bandagi, a saint in the era of Emperor Jahangir. He was born in Lahore in 1574, at the peak of Emperor Akbar’s era, and died in 1630 during the initial years of Emperor Shahjahan’s reign. Sheikh Tahir was born in Moti Bazaar on the northern edge of the walled city, very near the Mariam-uz-Zamani Mosque, built by Emperor Jahangir in honour of his mother, whose construction must have been witnessed by the Sheikh. On the request of a notable man, Sheikh Tahir built his madrassah, mosque and library in Mozang, then a thriving village outside Lahore city. The Sheikh gathered hundreds of students around him, and the area came to be called Miani Sahib after his exalted status of a religious teacher. Many of his students built their houses around the madrassah and the locality grew as a populated colony. Sheikh Tahir was buried in his madrassah in 1630 and his tomb still draws his faithful disciples to Miani Sahib. The residential colony thrived for over a hundred years before being plundered by the Sikhs. Alam Faqri (Tazkira-Aulia-e-Pakistan-II. 1993) states that Sheikh Tahir’s madrassah turned first into a residential colony and then into a graveyard, but he doesn’t give any source for this information.
Unfortunately, the locality became a victim of anti-Muslim vendetta by the Sikhs as retaliation against the plundering raids of Ahmad Shah Abdali. During the Bhangi Misl rule by the triumvirate of Gujjar Singh, Lehna Singh Kahlon and Suba Singh, Lahore was ravaged by the unruly Sikh gangs. They looted and vandalised the houses in the Miani, setting fire to all the books in the library including the Muslim holy scriptures (Kapoor. ibid). The area became deserted, and Muslims of the city started burying their dead here, converting the once populated colony to an unofficial cemetery. In Ranjit Singh’s reign, when peace finally returned to Lahore, while people kept burying their dead in the middle of Miani Sahib, new population centres arose on its periphery. However, till the arrival of the British, according to SM Lateef (Lahore: Its History, Architectural Remains and Antiquities, 1892), the area still presented a desolate scene.
The British residency to the Sikh court was located at the present Civil Secretariat, which became headquarter of civil administration when the British forces entered Lahore on 20th February 1946. The colonial army was stationed in barracks from Anarkali to Chauburji, with the C-in-C pitching his tents at the later site. In 1857, before the mutiny, the Mian Mir Cantonment was established for troops. Due to outbreak of diseases, there were large number of British causalities. Gora Qabaristans were established, including one outside Taxali Gate and, later, in Dharampura and on the eastern end of Gymkhana at the confluence of Jail Road and Zafar Ali Khan Road when the Mian Mir Cantonment was built and malaria claimed many British lives. The British also developed the Mall Road and the area around it. The locality around Miani Sahib became a business and residential center. Most of the roads between the Mall and Samanabad still bear their original British names. However, the Miani Sahib area was left alone, indicating that by 1850, it had developed as a major Muslim graveyard that the British didn’t want to intrude upon.
Miani Sahib remained an unofficial graveyard till after partition; a status that allowed people to encroach onto it. After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, one of his favourite queens, Gul Bahar Begum, built a haveli, mosque and garden here of eponymous name. She was buried next to her mosque. The Government Officers’ Residence (GOR) is situated along Ferozepur Road on the east of the graveyard, and separated from it by Fatah Sher Road. A part of the cemetery adjacent to the northern edge of GOR now stands isolated. As depicted in the map below in red circles, there is clear encroachment into the main graveyard on at least two places.
Finally, in 1958 during the first martial law regime, Martial Law Order No. 131 regulated the functioning of this important graveyard and declared its official area to avoid encroachments. This was given legal cover by an ordinance issued in June 1962. Miani Sahib Graveyard Committee, later called the Lahore Graveyard Committee, has been managing the graveyard since then. Given the pressure for allocation of burial space, and given all the allied difficulties, the committee seems to have done a reasonably good job.
Strangely, neither the comprehensive Gazetteer of the Lahore District published in 1893-94, nor Umdat-ut-Tawarikh by Sohan Lal Suri of Ranjit Singh’s court, which is a very descriptive history of Sikh rule, nor Old Lahore (1924) by Col Goulding which describes all important places and buildings of the city, mention the graveyard. SM Latif (ibid) also makes no mention of the graveyard though he wrote a detailed account of Tahir Bangadi and in the footnote mentioned that he was buried at Miani, without specifying whether it was the name of a graveyard or a locality.
Kanhaia (ibid) mentions that the oldest site of Lahore was at Ichchra on the Ferozepur Road and that Lahore has been destroyed thirteen times, including by Ghaznavi, the Mongols and Babur but there are no detailed records of these destructions, nor of the location of Lahore at that time. It is known that Ichchra and Mozang were ancient agricultural villages outside Lahore and a part of Miani Sahib may have served as a necropolis for their population.
Exploration of Miani Sahib is a trip down the history lanes of literature, art and heroism. It allows one to recall the life and times of a great many personages that now lie in its hallowed dust. During a short visit to the graveyard recently, this author had the opportunity of visiting the final resting places of Wasif Ali Wasif, Tahir Bandagi, Ilam Din Shaheed, Dulla Bhatti, Saghir Saddiqui, Saadat Hassan Manto, Major Shabbir Shariff and, of course, of his parents and other beloved relatives. It was a somber and humbling visit.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org