HARKING BACK: Names that stick to northern tips of Walled City

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn August 21, 2016

On the opposite northern ends of the old once-Walled City of Lahore are two gates, both of which are the least known to those who do not live there. The myths and facts about them certainly need to be researched. In this piece we try to put a few ‘facts’ before the reader.

On the north-eastern edge of Akbar’s Lahore is Yakki Gate, while on the north-western edge is Taxali Gate. The entrances – gateways that once existed – did not exist before 1575 AD when Akbar decided that he should plant himself in Lahore so as to fight off Punjabi peasant uprisings, led mostly by Bhat Rajput zamindars, with Dulla Bhatti being the most famous. These then were open fields known in Mughal records as ‘maidans’. The eastern open space has been described as a ‘rahra maidan’ while the western ‘maidan’ had crops fed by the River Ravi, which then flowed nearby and around the city. First let us tackle the eastern ‘maidan’ and Yakki Gate.

There is this myth that the name Yakki is derived from the word Zaki, the name being currently put forward is Pir Zaki, with a Balkhi sufi by the name of Pir Balkhi coming to Lahore after Genghis Khan razed Balkh to the ground. Legend has it that this ‘sufi’ was called Pir Zaki Balkhi. But then the Mongols headed to the Indian sub-continent and approached the city of Lahore under the Mongol general named Munggetu.

The exact date when Lahore was decimated and its population massacred and all its women violated, as is Mongol tradition, was December the 30th, 1241. Munggetu is mentioned in Sam Djang’s famous book ‘Genghis Khan: Sang Penakhluk’ as Munggeto Kiyan, or in Mongol terminology as ‘Mung Geto Khan’. He is described as the fiercest of the Mongol generals who also conquered parts of Europe. The Mughals came to Lahore well over 300 years later, also to again decimate the city.


So this ransacking of Lahore in 1241 AD means that Yakki Gate was not even built then, but was a ‘Rahra Maidan’ outside the city gates where was a horse and ‘tonga’ market, or ‘yakka mandi’. So just when and where was Pir Zaki Balkhi to lose his head fighting against the Mongols, if it did take place at all? This head in one place and body at another has been briefly described by Djang. He says that “all those resisting the Mongols were beheaded and their heads put on spears and brought to the middle of the ‘maidan’. The bodies to which these heads belonged lay all over the city. The heads were buried in one huge hole in the ‘maidan’. The bodies were collected and burnt in another nearby ditch of the maidan.”

For a good 300 years the myth of Pir Balkhi took shape as a person with occult powers. People started visiting the site where the heads were buried. The story of a headless man fighting the Mongols in the streets of Lahore took grip much later. By the time the end of Mughal rule was at hand, no such description exists in any document, or even in folk ballad. When Akbar built the new eastern boundary of the much-expanded Walled City of Lahore, both these burial sites came within the city’s walled boundary. The gate was named Yakki because in the ‘maidan’ there was a horse market and stand for ‘tongas’, hence Yakki Guzargah as Mughal documents term this place.

So the burial site of the head of Pir Zaki is surely where hundreds of others were also buried, just as the place where the bodies were dumped by the ruthless Mongols has been vaguely identified. The Sikh shrine of ‘shaheeds’ is a very different one. Amazingly it was in the Yakki and Delhi gates area where the most massacres have taken place over the centuries.

It would be in order if the popular belief about Pir Balkhi is also narrated. According to a tablet lying in the Lahore Museum, which was, so it is claimed, the original stone at the grave of Pir Balkhi in Kashmiri Bazaar, the date of his martyrdom is given as 9th Zil Hajj 643 AH. The ‘hujra’ of Pir Balkhi was, so it is claimed, at the same place where today his grave exists. Surely, with the killing taking place outside the then Lahore, which later was encompassed within the Walled City by Akbar, gives rise to a lot of doubts about the person, his beheading and his burial. But this myth is best left alone.

Now let us move to the name Taxali Gate. The very word is clearly that a ‘taxal’ – mint – once stood there. The fact is that the area that is today the entire area right up to the ‘tibba’ opposite the police station of Tibbi area was part of a ‘maidan’. So where was the ‘taxal’ after which this gateway was named? We know from Mughal records that it existed in a lane off Tehsil Bazaar, which was then inside the older walls whose foundations can still be seen on the eastern side of the Bhati Gate Bazaar right up to the police station. This area in old records is called the ‘taxal’ area, though no gateway is known at this place in those days.

When the walls were shifted outwards the name stuck, and even till today, and officially, this gateway is known as Taxali Gate. The main bazaar got the name ‘Bazar Sheikhupurian’ as the road from this gateway headed towards the road to Sheikhupura. The road then did not take the current Ravi Bridge route, but swerved southwards and headed towards the ‘boat bridge’ that once existed west of the current Karim Park. Photographs of that bridge exist, as does the foundations of the point where the boat bridge was anchored.

Most of us know this area as ‘Hira Mandi’, which is a much later Sikh-era name after Maharajah Hira Singh. By the end of the Mughal era this place was called Shahi Mohallah, as all the people who served the rulers lived here. It became a prostitution street during the later Sikh and early British period as a place for the ‘horizontal recreation’ of British soldiers.

It goes without saying that the two gateways owe their names to the ‘yakka mandi’ and the ‘taxal’ that operated on both ends in the pre-Akbar period. Names have an amazing ability to stick to their origins. That is why the silly exercise of changing road names is an immature attempt to try and wipe out past history, the ones we are ashamed of. But why be ashamed of the past? Just how can anyone, no matter how powerful, erase the past? If anything it is one from which lessons are learnt. But then are we in the business of learning lessons?


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