Sohawa tehsil in Jhelum is host to several old stone-built structures. Among these, some mosques are quite prominent. They are located in several villages of the tehsil. The earliest stone-built mosque is located at Sar Jalal Khan, which was first built by Sultan Jalal Khan Gakhar (d. 1618) and later renovated and expanded by Rani Mungo. A majority of the stone-built mosques are now either renovated or rebuilt. Such stone-built mosques were located in Rasoolpur, Chhabar Sharif, Ghaziot, Gathar, Nangial, Phadial Bhet and many other villages.
These mosques were built by the village elites and were noted for their intricate stone carvings. The village elites employed the best of the masons and stone carvers to build mosques and their villages. The masons were known for their skill and mastery over the art of stone carvings. Almost every old person in the village knows the names of the builders who built not only the mosques but also Maaris and Choubaras (mansions). The mosques and mansions which dominate the village landscapes in Sohawa tehsil are actually potent symbols of the village elites, which reflect the power and position that they enjoyed in their respective areas. These monuments are identity-makers not only for the builders, but also for the respective villages.
Oral historians and village intellectuals know the history of those monuments, their builders, and masons and share the tales of the art of stone masonry and their masters in the region.
One such village, which hosts two important structures, is Bhet – located about 40 km west of Sohawa town at the foothills of Tilla Jogian. It is noted for its mosque and mansion, which are associated with Lieutenant Raja Nadir Khan Gakhar.
I met and interviewed a few Gakhar notables of Bhet about the history of the Choubara and the mosque. Shaukat Nawaz, 78-year-old Gakhar notable in Bhet village, knows about the history of the mosque and Choubara. According to him, Lieutenant Raja Nadir Khan Gakhar, a notable of the village, built the Choubara. He employed famous masons of the area for this work. The Choubara was the most splendid building in the entire village. Such an impressive building was not to be found in any other neighboring villages of Mair, Nagial, Dhoke Suba, Gujar Katarian, etc. This Choubara now lies in a deplorable condition. Stone, bricks and wood were used to construct the Choubara.
Woodwork is a noticeable feature of the Choubara of Lieutenant Raja Nadir Khan Gakhar. But unfortunately, it has lost its lustre now. The windows and doors are also falling to pieces. There are three rooms in the Choubara, one of which was used for the guests who visited Lieutenant Raja Nadir Khan Gakhar. There was also located a Dara (community hall or guest house) where guests and pilgrims who used to visit Tilla Jogian stayed.
The Gakhars of Bhet were known for their generosity, and always welcomed Hindu pilgrims. On the way to Tilla Jogian, pilgrims were sometimes provided accommodation and food free of cost by the Gakhars of Bhet. The Dara was used for holding community meetings. It served the same purpose as the Chaupal in Bhet village. I will discuss more on this institution and the difference between a Dara and Chaupal in another article.
According to Shaukat Nawaz, when the Choubara was completed in 1934, Lieutenant Raja Nadir Khan Gakhar invited his spiritual mentor Khwaja Syed Fazal Shah Jalalpuri (d. 1966) to his mansion. Khwaja Syed Muhammad Fazal Shah was the grandson of Pir Khwaja Syed Ghulam Haider Ali Shah (d. 1908), whose shrine is located at Jalalpur Sharif in Pind Dadan Khan tehsil in Jhelum district.
According to Tahir Afzal Gakhar, grandson of Lieutenant Raja Nadir Khan Gakhar, when Khwaja Syed Muhammad Fazal Shah visited Bhet village in 1934 on invitation by Nadir Khan Gakhar, he indeed stayed at the newly built Choubara. Looking at the magnificent mansion, Khwaja Syed Muhammad Fazal Shah addressed his host and suggested that he should also build as splendid a mosque as his Choubara.
Following the instruction of his spiritual mentor, Lieutenant Raja Nadir Khan Gakhar demolished a small simply-built mosque and on its stead laid the foundation of a grand one in the same year, in 1934.
It is believed that Mehar Muhammad Mistri of Miani Syedan village near Sohawa town was employed to build the mosque. Nevertheless, I believe that it might have been another mason, not Mehar Muhammad, as I have visited most of the mosques which were built by him. The motifs created on the walls by Mehar Muhammad had their own brilliance, which is not seen in the Jamia mosque of Bhet. I believe that the floral and geometric motifs on the façade of the Jamia mosque of Bhet do not correspond to the scheme of decoration of Mehar Muhammad of Mian Syedan village. However, it corresponds to a scheme of decoration seen in a few buildings in Domeli town and other villages in Sohawa tehsil. Bird-and-flower and fruit-and-flower motifs are quite interesting and such depictions are seen in the building of Mamara Khan Gakhar (d. 1874) at Domeli. These motifs were likely imitated from earlier works of Fazal Hussain and other masons and stone carvers of Domeli, as it was once a centre of stonecraft. The decorative slabs were likely available in the Tarraki area or other markets from where these were bought and used in the various buildings in the Jhelum district.
The Tarraki area and Domeli were famous for stone masonry in the Jhelum region. Even the decorative pillars of the Katchery building of Mamara Khan Gakhar at Domeli and Bhet mosque depict the same scroll patterns, which show that these decorative pillars were also bought from the market and used in the buildings. That is to say that those pillars were not engraved on the construction site but rather were obtained from the market and used accordingly. The same information was also shared by Shaukat Nawaz, who told me that all the decorative slabs and pillars were brought from Tarraki while all undecorated slabs were dressed on the construction site in Bhet. It took several men to process the undressed stones.
Lieutenant Raja Nadir Khan died in 1939, before the completion of the mosque. The remaining work was completed by captain Raja Muzzafar Khan Gakkar. A mason from Padhri village, which is also noted for many monuments of Muslim and Hindu nobles, was employed to complete the remaining work on the ceiling of the mosque.
The Jamia mosque of Bhet is rectangular in plan, with two corner pillars rising from the thickness of the wall. Dressed stone slabs of various sizes were used to build the mosque. Three arched entrances lead to the main prayer hall of the mosque. The façade of the mosque shows decorative slabs with horizontal and vertical bands representing geometric designs. There are three decorative slabs on the facade of the mosque, which depict geometric designs. The pillars and spandrels of the panels carry a variety of floral decorations. On dividers between the two arches are interesting decorations that include designs of a bird, flower and stylised floral vases. Such a scheme of decoration is also seen in the katchery (court) building of Mamara Khan at Domeli. The parapet of the mosque is decorated with merlons and other architectural features.
The mosque was also noted for wooden doors which were removed during a renovation in recent years. There are a few stone-built mosques in Bhet and Nagial Union councils, but all those lack any ornamentation. The mosques of Dhoke Suba, Dhoke Mistri, and Kunbi are simply built structures. The Jamia mosque of Bhet is most splendid in terms of decoration in the neighboring villages of UC Bhet and UC Nagial.