HARKING BACK: The enduring water carriers of Maachi Hatta

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn Oct 23, 2016

As we examine the last two of the nine ‘guzars’ of Akbar’s Lahore, we will have a chance to examine what the city really looked like then. Also our readers have been writing in ferociously to add to my knowledge of the walled city. Ironically, today those walls no longer exist.

The ‘guzars’ we shall discuss are Guzar Maachi Hatta and Guzar Jhajja Diwan. Amazingly the name Maachi Hatta lives on and is today part of old Lahore. But what is Maachi Hatta? In the Punjabi language the word ‘maachi’ means a person who provides or supplies water. My thanks to Dr. Saeed Bhutta of the Oriental College’s Punjabi department for enlightening me on the origins of this word. The word has Sanskrit origins and is an ancient one used in the Punjabi language for centuries. Research scholars, notably from India, are increasingly beginning to suggest that Punjabi predates Sanskrit. Some even suggest that the mysterious ‘Indus Script’ is old Punjabi. Based on this assumption a lot of linguistic research is needed. The word ‘maachi’ means a water supplier, or its much later use in Urdu and/or Hindi is ‘mashkee’ with a ‘mashak’ being the animal skin in which water is stored.

We know that in Akbar’s Lahore the walled city did not have a central water supply system, which the British introduced piped water supply from the Paniwalla Talab, the highest point at Chunna Mandi, in 1880. Most houses had their own water wells, with some relatively dry ‘galis’ have a common one. But the eastern end of the mud-walled city of pre-Akbar was the lowest point and just near the river that flowed outside the walls. Here the water carriers worked at a square, or ‘hatta’ where a number of wells existed. From here they supplied water to the residents of the city who did not have their own wells. Even today a lot of old houses have their own wells, though they have invariably dried up as the Ravi River changed course and tubewells lowered the ground level.

So once Akbar had finished with expanding the city, Maachi Hatta became a Guzar in its own right and was now located in the middle of the walled city on the western side of Shahalami Bazaar. The name and the locality remained the same. Just for the record let me mention two facts. One that there is a ‘maachi’ caste which Hindus consider among the lowest. Though among Muslims castes do not, in theory, exist, but many continue to use it as an insulting term. This is one of many Hindu caste-based descriptions that we, sadly, cling to.

Lastly, the word ‘Maachi’ is also used by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims as a proper name. For example in India in 1988 there was a famous legal case titled ‘Maachi Singh and Others Versus the Punjab Government’. Then there is the Maachi Ram Lahoria village in Ferozepur near the Pakistani border, just as there is one near Larkana in Sindh. There is also the Maachi Singh town in Pakistan, as there is Mian Maachi village near Baghbanpura.

From Maachi Hatta let us move to Guzar Jhajja Dewan. This name has many possibilities, but the one from which the name ‘Jhajja Dewan’ flows is that of the ruler of Jhajjar, in nearby Haryana, which was originally part of Rohtak. Today it is one of the districts of Haryana in India. The ruler of Jhajjar, known as Dewan of Jhajjar, or in Lahore as ‘Jhajja Dewan’ had supported Akbar in the second battle of Panipat against the forces of Hemu, who had captured Delhi. Panipat has always been a geographically critical point in the capture of Delhi, and the Dewan’s support was absolutely critical to young Akbar and his general Bairam Khan.

Once Akbar moved to Lahore, so Mughal manuscripts tell us, he allocated a special ‘haveli’ for the Dewan’s family in the area and named it ‘Jhajjar Dewan ka Guzar’, which the name soon began to be used by the people of Lahore as ‘Guzar Jhajja Dewan’. In fact later day manuscripts use this description. As with all old names, the word Jhajja is used for those Rajputs who belonged to Jhajjar. Mind you Lahore has in history always been, largely, a Rajput city and so it remained in Akbar’s days.

This very brief description of the nine ‘guzars’ of Akbar’s walled city of Lahore provides us with clues to many developments which have with time been forgotten. For example when describing Guzar Ishaq, we put forward the name Ishaqpura. This is a very well-documented event for Ishaq Arain owned all the land from Mughalpura to the edge of the old mud-walled city.

Emperor Shah Jehan wanted the land when Shalimar Gardens was built from Muhammad Yusuf alias Mangu, who was decorated with the title Mian, and thus is documented in Mughal manuscripts as Mian Muhammad Yusuf Mangu. He was the great-great grandson of Ishaq. In return Mian Mangu was also granted ownership of Baghbanpura, with more land being granted by Emperor Aurangzeb to his son for serving him well in the campaigns in Deccan.

For that matter his grandsons Azimullah and Hafiz were top advisers to Maharajah Ranjit Singh and tended the lands known as Badami Bagh. Mian Iftikharuddin was the last keeper of the Shalimar Gardens. Sir Mian Shah Din was the first Muslim judge of British India, as was Sir Mian Abdul Rashid, the first Chief Justice of Pakistan and the man who swore in the Quaid-i-Azam, both descendants of Muhammad Yusuf Manga. The Arains of Lahore are said to be an offshoot of the Rajput Kamboh, surely among Lahore’s original inhabitants. Some also claim Arains to be of Arab origin with connections to the army of Muhammad bin Qasim in Multan. My friend Haroun Rashid provided me considerable assistance in tracing Arain roots.

In this four-part description of the ‘guzars’ of Lahore we have learnt that the two oldest parts of ancient Lahore are, firstly, Mohallah Maullian inside Lohari Gate, and, secondly, Chuna Mandi, the highest point of the ancient city. For serious research to continue it is critical that both these ‘mohallahs’ should have a series of archaeological digs undertaken. This is essential before the fast-expanding traders, part of the ruling class of the country, destroy the evidence while building their unstoppable concrete warehouses. Only then will we be able to claim our proper place in history.


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