Jayapala, the ‘bull’ and the ‘horseman’

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Dec 22, 2013

The two major symbols that represent ancient Lahore, and the old Punjab, in the old classics are the ‘bull’ and the ‘horseman’. Today they are both not to be seen anywhere. The only place they are found in abundance is the Lahore Museum.

All over the Punjab almost every excavation throws up these symbols on the coins and tablets discovered. In the only official excavation undertaken inside the Lahore Fort in 1952, coins and tablets with these two signs, not to speak of ample samples of pottery, were found at different levels of digging, signifying different time zones. Where did these two symbols come from and what do they represent?

In mediaeval times the ancient writers symbolised the entire sub-continent as a ‘tortoise’ (Puranas 14.1, Al-Beruni orig. p297) and they called the sub-continent as ‘Bharatavarsha’. The north-western region (northern half of Pakistan) was called ‘Uttarapatha’.

The lands east of the Helmand River in Afghanistan were called ‘Hind’ by the early Arab and Muslim invaders. Al-Beruni changed the terminology to mean all lands east of the Indus. The poor old tortoise was forgotten and newer definitions kept coming up.

After 1947 the term ‘Hind’ saw an extreme eastward shift and officially ‘Bharatavarsha’ is east of the Pakistan-India boundary. But back to the ‘bull’ and the ‘horseman’.

The very first mention of these two symbols of our past civilisation was made by Shaikh Ja’afar bin Ali of Damascus in the 13th century. Ironically, he wrongly attributed these symbols on coins used by Aryandes, the governor of Egypt under Darius.

In 1858 James Prinsep, the famous assay master of Benares, deciphered the Khorshti and Brahmi scripts of ancient Indian coins and came up with this discovery that Indian traders used these coins to trade with the Arabs (‘Essays on Indian Antiquities’, Vol. 1, p151), and that they came from towns up the River Indus.

Further research by E. Thomas, using basically Al-Beruni’s description of Lahore’s Hindu Shahi rulers, pinned down these very coins as flowing from Lahore and its famous mint, after which the walled city’s Taxali area was named.

Further research by various numismatists commented on these ‘bull’ and ‘horseman’ coins, among them Cunningham, Elliot and the great M.A. Stein, the former Principal of Lahore’s Oriental College. But the defining work, in my humble view, was by the Indian scholar Dr. D.B. Panday, who has written extensively on the Hindu Shahi rulers of Lahore, whose kingdom extended, as Hiuen Tsang’s work shows (1911.trans. p192) Lamghan in the north-west to Sirhind in the south-west, from Kashmir to the north to Multan in the south. In this huge region the Lahore-minted ‘bull and horseman’ coins were the currency. Mind you lest we wrongly imagine that Lahore was the sole mint, for 11 other mints also existed in the kingdom. But the Egyptian coins were surely from the Jayapala period.

Now to the symbols themselves. The ‘bull’ surely represents the place these precious animals had in the lives of the people of Punjab, and earlier on the same people in Ghandhara times.

The ‘bull’ can be seen on various Ghandhara tablets. But the ‘horseman’ is a different proposition. We all know that when the great Lahore ruler Jayapala, or more correctly Jayapaladeva, faced the Muslim invader Mahmud of Ghazni, which was once part of the Lahore kingdom, he had 12,000 horsemen.

The invader also had horses for that matter being part of the steppe way of life. Now who was the ‘horseman’ on the coin? Such symbols of virility all rulers like to display. Most scholars agree it was Jayapala of the Punjab, having his capital city as Lahore “whose iron-like mud walls are so high and smooth that they cannot be climbed” (Firishta, p214).

The various scholars deem the bull as a symbol of both piety and virility. The horse is a symbol of wisdom, power and speed. The ruler represented both. The great Jayapala in 1001 AD had been twice defeated by Mahmud, and Rajput honour dictated that he embrace ‘a pious death’ himself. So he walked out of Lahore’s Mori Gate, shaven head, stood on a sandalwood pyre and lighted his own end. His son Anandpaldeva continued the fight, only to be defeated. His son Sukhapala ran away to Kashmir, embraced Islam and the name ‘Nawasah-e-Shah’ and adopted the symbol of a ‘Lion’. Now does that sound familiar? Recently the two lions at Kashmiri Gate were smashed, probably representing the end of the two reigns of the current ruler. I have personally met the ‘smasher’ and he is Rajput. Amazing. n




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