Ancestors of the scholar-soldier of Chinnianwali mosque

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn Jan 22, 2017

Among the finest calligraphists that Lahore has had was the teacher of Emperor Aurangzeb. A few of his works can be seen in the Lahore Museum, rare that such specimens are. But then very little is known of this amazing man: Muhammad Saleh Kamboh.

If we walk through Mochi Gate we can see a small mosque named after him. It is called the mosque of Saleh Kamboh Lahori. This mosque is popularly known as ‘Chinnianwali Maseet’ – the mosque of ceramic tiles, or ‘kashi kari’. That he belonged to Lahore we know, for it was in his city that he was buried, though his grave, disputed by some property owners, stands in a school opposite the Lahore Railway Station. Getting to the grave is a wee bit difficult. My senior the respected journalist Rafique Dogar has written about him in considerable detail.

But in this piece I would like to take matters almost 3,000 years before Saleh Kamboh. Just where the Kamboh people originally come from to Lahore? Better still let us trace their origins for at least over 2,500 years. It is clear that they have been living, or initially ruling, Lahore and its surrounds. We know that Saleh Kamboh was the official biographer of Mughal emperor Shah Jehan, and wrote his famous book ‘Amal-e-Salih’, or ‘Shah Jehan Nama’, which he finished in 1659 AD. He was the teacher of Aurangzeb and his elder brother Inayatullah Kamboh was a minister with the Governor of Lahore, while his father Mir Abdullah wrote under the pen-name of ‘Mushkin Kalam’.

We also know that he was an excellent classical singer, and his understanding of music was exceptional. As a poet he wrote Persian verses under the name ‘Kashfi’, while for his Hindi verses he used the name ‘Subhan’. So we have an exceptionally talented person who started his career as a ‘mansabdar’, which meant he commanded a force of 500 mounted soldiers. So that is the scholar-soldier in the classical sense. For some time he assisted the emperor to build an effective naval force for he predicted that future threats would come from the sea. He died in Lahore in 1675 AD and was buried outside the walled city near today’s Lahore railway station, then a huge garden known as Naulakha, as the area is still called.

Now we come to the main portion of the ancestors of this unique man and the Kamboh people. The very name in ancient texts is pronounced as Kambojas with Iranian origins. In the Vedas they are referred to as belonging to the royal Sakas tribe, the rulers of a vast kingdom. But definite and firm reference to these Kambojas can be seen in the famous book on Sanskrit grammar by Panini, who lived in 500 BC. But the most amazing reference to these people can be seen in the ‘Mahabharata’ written approximately 2,000 years ago. Here they are referred to as Kshatriya, the soldier class. But then as these scholarly soldier people refused to follow the Hindu caste rituals, they seem to have been described as “unusual Kshatriya rulers who refused to obey Brahmin orders”. Makes you think that just why would the proud Sakas, rulers of the land and brave soldiers at that, agree to follow priests, who lived off religion. In Sakas parlance, as we see in the ‘Mahabharata’ them being accused of saying: ‘living off religion is the pastime of unworthy louts’.

But then these Paravas ruled, or had an influence through Kshatriya alliances over a vast part of the sub-continent. From Tajikistan to the Hindukush and the entire present day Punjab their rule was accepted. From Kashmir the Kambojas confederation stretched to Kabul and Ghazni and up to the end of Punjab. Lahore was definitely an important city for them, because in the Battle of the Ten Kings (Dasanrajan) as described in the ‘Mahabharata’, this clan, with the sub-tribe Bharatas, was the ruler of Lahore where the battle itself took place.

A lot has been written about their true origins, with the Greek historian Ptolemy suggesting that the very word Kum or Kam and Boh or Buja meaning ‘people from the Komedes, a river that flows on the western side of the Hindukush. Hence the Iranian connection. But then this means that our lands were ruled by foreign invaders from the West, and could the term Arya, hence Aryan, meaning ‘noble race’ in Sanskrit. The scholar Max Muller describes them as “fair hair, fair skinned and blue-eyed proto Indo-European”. Hilter misused this term to his advantage, hence this racial description is best avoided.

But with these racial traits, as the Vedas described the Kamboh people as possessing, as also the Kurus, could be the two nomadic tribes ‘from across the mountains’ who ruled the land of seven rivers (now of five rivers with two disappearing over time). The most telling description of the Kamboh tribe can be seen in the Ashoka stone edicts which testifies to them following the principles of a confederation.

It is clear that these ancient men from the mountains came down on horses, and their main strength lay in their excellent horsemanship. Their horse-breeding abilities became legendary in the sub-continent and this led them to become a force to be reckoned with. Descriptions of various wars in the sub-continent invariably has descriptions of Kamboh cavalry. In ancient texts the Kamboh are termed as ‘ashvakas’, or horsemen.

For this reason in Panini’s ‘Ashtadhyayi’ they are described as the rulers from eastern Afghanistan to the edges of Punjab. They ruled Bajaur and Swat when the Macedonian Alexander clashed with them. The Kamboh had initially clashed with him in Afghanistan and when he entered Bajaur he was given a thrashing with Alexander losing over 2,000 men in the first fight. The Greek immediately sued for peace and in the night murdered the trusting Kamboh while asleep. But then at Bhera with the Puru (Porus) they again battled and one account claims they won. Greek historians claim otherwise.

Porus and Alexander sued for peace. The Greeks were exhausted, only to be used by Porus to help him to conquer the Lahore Puru. The Kamboh had learnt a grim lesson by then and when Alexander’s 30,000 tired soldiers reached the Beas they found 600,000 men waiting across the huge river with fierce Kamboh cavalry lined in front. The end for them had definitely come. The rest we know.

So as we walk through Mochi Gate and approach the ‘Chinnianwali Maseet’, we must realise that this mosque is dedicated to just one of many amazing men, all learned warriors stretching back thousands of years. It is sad that today our educational institutions do not teach the real history of our people, of our city and of our land. The end result is before us all.



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