Chakwal district is home to many historic monuments, mystics, scholars and philanthropists. Almost every other village boats a shrine of a mystic and a building of historical significance. Some of the prominent Sikh philanthropists of Chakwal who built schools, hospitals and commissioned digging of tanks and wells were Sardar Chet Singh Kohli of Munday village, Sardar Mota Singh Bhasin of Neela village and Sardar Harbans Singh Sisitani of Chakwal.
Munday is one such village in Chakwal tehsil where there are some buildings which were commissioned by village notables and philanthropists. Munday village is located about 18 km west of Chakwal town. Today, the Muslim castes of Mair Minhas, Chauhan, Kahut Quresh and others live in the village. In pre-partition Munday, Sikhs and Hindus also lived who left behind several historical buildings in the village, a few of which have still survived albeit not in original condition. The village was noted for interfaith harmony in the Dhan area in Chakwal. The Muslim community of the village was mainly engaged in agriculture. Some notables of the Muslim community in pre-partition Munday village were Misri Khan Mair Minhas, Hyder Khan Mair Minhas, Fazal Anwar Awan, Allahdad Khan Mair Minhas, Mamrez Khan Mair Minhas, Shah Nawaz Mair Minhas etc. Mair Minhas was the most powerful Muslim caste in the village. They are still powerful and influential community in the village.
The Sikh community was mainly engaged in business and trade – not only in the village and neighbouring towns but also in other countries. One of the prominent Sikh merchants of Munday, Sardar Chet Singh, had business interests in Iran. The prominent Sikh businessmen of Munday village were Sardar Chet Singh Kohli, Sardar Gopal Singh Singh, Sardar Kala Singh, Sardar Charanjeet Singh, Sardar Sant Singh, Sardar Ishar Singh Kohli, Sardar Labh Singh, Sardar Ram Singh, Sardar Jodh Singh, Balshi Singh Sahni, Sardar Sunder Singh Sahni, Sardar Nanak Singh, Sardar Jawar Singh Kohli, Kartar Singh, Sardar Saran Singh, Sardar Mangal Singh Sahni etc. Apart from the Sikh community, Hindus also live in Munday and prominent Hindu merchants of the village were Hukam Chand Kohli, Ram Chand, Sona Ram, Ganpat Rai, Lala Kashi Ram, Durga Suhai. The majority of Hindus of Munday were jewellers except for Hukam Singh and Lala Kashi.
The havelis and choubaras of Sikhs and Hindus once dominated the landscape of Munday village. Now the majority of havelis have lost their original lustre and have been modified. Some of the havelis have lost their physical existence itself. The main and most impressive Choubara or haveli in the village belonged to Sardar Chet Singh Kohli son of Sardar Hira Singh Kohli, who was a prominent merchant of Dhan area of Chakwal in the then Jhelum district. Apart from the expansion of his business in Dhan and Iran, he did much social welfare work in Chakwal. He was one of the eminent philanthropists in Chakwal.
The havelis and choubaras of Sikhs and Hindus once dominated the landscape of Munday village
Sardar Chet Singh commissioned some buildings in Munday village and Chakwal town too. He travelled extensively. Through travelling and business with many business communities of India and Iran, he not only learned business skills but also knew well the importance of education. With the help of his four friends, called Panj Piaray or five beloveds, he established Sant Singh Khalsa school in memory of their teacher Sant Singh in Chakwal in 1910. The founding father of Chakwal Khalsa School was Sardar Harbans Singh Sistani but Sardar Chet Singh also played an instrumental role in establishing a school along with his friends. It is said that five students of Sant Singh including Sardar Harbans Singh Sistani and Sardar Chet Singh laid the foundation of the school in memory of their teacher in Chakwal.
In Munday village, Sardar Chet Singh laid the foundation of the school in memory of his father Sardar Hira Singh in 1918. On the façade of the school are two plaques that bear the name and foundation year of the school. The plaque reads, “S. Hira Singh A. V School Mundey in memory of his father S. Hira Singh, this institution was started off by his humble son S. Chet Singh 9th June 1918.” Another inscription is in Gurmukhi with two Urdu words that read ‘Peritam Dehri’. This is also fixed on the façade of the main gate to the hall of the school.
What is apparent from the plaque is that the school was established by Sardar Chet Singh in 1918 and later his close relatives also helped him to expand it. One of his relatives Sardar Labh Singh built a hall in memory of his father Sant Singh in 1923. This donor plaque is fixed on the wall of the main entrance to the hall of the school. There are two inscriptions on the walls of the main entrance to the hall. Another one is found on the left wall of the entrance which says: “Hira Singh Khalsa School Munde foundation stone laid by five Piaras (beloveds) on 7th April 1923.” The hall of the school bears the portraits of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal. It has also photographs of Sardar Chet Singh, his grandson Sardar Rattan Deep Singh and Sardar Gur Charan Singh. According to Skakeel Ahmed, the Headmaster of the School, on the eve of the centenary celebration of Munday school on the 9th of September in 2018, Sardar Rattan Deep Singh, the grandson of Sardar Chet Singh from India, graced the occasion. He was also accompanied by his wife and the relative Sardar Gur Charan Singh son of Sardar Mota Singh of Neela village in Chakwal. Sardar Mota Singh was a close relative of Sardar Chet Singh who also established a school in Neela village which I will discuss in another article.
With the help of his four friends, called Panj Piaray or five beloveds, Sardar Chet Singh established Sant Singh Khalsa school in memory of their teacher at Chakwal in 1910
Sardar Chet Singh also built a boarding house for the students who came from far-flung villages and towns to study in Sardar Hira Singh A.V School in Munday. Apart from Munday, the students from Ranjha, Chawli, Bhagwal, Rupwal, Karsal, Murid, Gah, Chak Bhaun, Marath, Megan, Maari, Mangwal, Lakhwal, Hastal, Alawal villages in Chakwal and also from Bishan Daur (now Dewan Huzoori), Dhamiak and Domeli in Jhelum studied in Sardar Hira Singh A.V School in Munday and stayed in the boarding house built by Sardar Chet Singh Kohli.
On the left and right of the hall open two doors to the corridors. And on the walls of the corridors are also found marble plaques bearing the names of those who donated to expand the school rooms. There are four marble plaques. Two inscriptions read the name of Gopal Singh who built two rooms in memory of his father Sardar Rai Sahib Mahal Singh and in the affection of Sardar Hira Singh. And two other donor plaques bear the names of Ram Singh and Ishar Singh respectively.
In 1927, the primary school at Munday was upgraded to a middle school as more rooms were built. Later with efforts and influence of Sardar Chet Singh, it was upgraded to a high school in 1946. Sant Ram Sethi became the first headmaster after the middle school was upgraded to a high school. The second headmaster of the high school was Fazal Karim.
The walls of the hall of the school are decorated with images of the renowned persons who studied in Government High School Munday. This high school produced many eminent politicians, bureaucrats and military officers.
Apart from establishing the school and building tanks and wells in Munday village, Sardar Chet Singh also established a hospital here. There are two inscriptions on the walls of the hospital. On the exterior wall of the hospital is an inscription in both Gurmukhi and English which reads “R.S.S Jalawa Singh Mahan Singh Hospital built by their youngest brother S.Chet Singh and their sons S. Jagat Singh and S. Gopal Singh in 1927.”
Another inscription is found on the interior wall of the female ward which Sardar Chet Singh built in memory of his beloved wife. This inscription is in both Gurmukhi and English which reads “Female ward in beloved memory of Sardarani Harsaran Kaur, the wife of S.Chet Singh who died on 23 March 1929”.
Today, Sardar Chet Singh Kohli is no more. But he lives on in his monuments which he built to provide social service to the village community irrespective of caste and creed. And he lives in the memories of the people of Munday who have preserved them for posterity.
The author is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Excerpts have been taken from the author’s forthcoming book “History and Heritage of Pothohar.” All photos are by the author