Retracing the glory of Shah Mohammad
Source: Tribune News Service
a Shah Mohammad Festival dedicated to Sardar Majithia on the anvil,
its time Punjab remembered the poet from Amritsar who wrote
‘Jangnama’— an eyewitness account of the first Anglo-Sikh War, says
It took more than a century to establish that Shah
Mohammad, who wrote “Jangnama”— a colossal work that gave an
eyewitness account of the first Anglo-Sikh War that took place after
the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, actually belonged to the border
village Wadala Veeram in Amritsar district and not Batala, a steel
town in Gurdaspur district.
The poetry of Shah Mohammad is part of Punjab’s
golden heritage and is considered a lighthouse for the generations
It was Maula Baksh Kushta, a famous Punjabi critic,
who also hailed from Wadala Veeram, to first to point out that Shah
Mohammad belonged to his own village.
International Shah Mohammad Memorial Festival has been dedicated
to Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, founder of
The Tribune. Majitha, the ancestral village of Sardar
Majithia is only 6 km from Wadala Veeram.
Pakistani poet and General Secretary of the World Punjabi
Conference, Mr Kanwal Mushtak, said his organisation would
evolve a plan to organise joint functions in India and Pakistan
in the name of Punjabi poets.
The festival, in the name of Shah Mohammad, would be held in
Pakistan in the near future, he said. Similarly, a function in
the name of Hasham, the Muslim Punjabi poet (who also belonged
to Amritsar) was also being planned, he added.
Kushta wrote that the poet was born in 1780 and died in 1862, a
few years after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The world famous
“Jangnama,” he said, might have been written around 1846.
Aghast at palace conspiracies and intrigues following the death
of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the classic poet accurately presented the
reasons for the demise of the Sikh rule.
An ardent admirer of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule, Shah Mohammad
believed that the king had converted Punjab– the land of five
rivers— from the “an abode of sorrow to a garden of paradise.”
The poet had rued that soon after Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death,
the entire edifice of his kingdom collapsed due to internal
intrigues and British machinations.
After two abortive Anglo-Sikh Wars, Punjab was finally annexed to
the East India Company in 1849. Dr Harbhajan Singh Bhatia, a
professor at the School of Punjabi Studies, describes Shah Mohammad
as a great patriot who infuses a sense of nationalism among the
Members of the Trust point out the place where a well belonging
to the poet’s house was filled up.
A school hall , named after the poet, at Wadala Veeram village
Showering praise over the composite Punjabi culture during the
reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, where Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims
lived happily with each other, the poet had written that Punjab was
fortunate in having developed and cherished since centuries a long
and glorious tradition of such culture.
The mystic songs of Sufi-saints and Punjabi poets in particular
were the pride of the whole of Punjab, he had further written.
During this reign, all communities reaffirmed their Punjabi roots,
he had mentioned.
For him, Punjabi Muslims became a part and parcel of
Sarkar-e-Khalsa who had earlier looked towards Afghans and Pathans
and were consequently betrayed by them.
Shah Mohammad wrote that the Maharaja’s legacy was such that he
had created a secular kingdom that was equal to all.
The poet in him could project, in most appropriate words, the
infighting of the Sikh Sardars and the treachery perpetrated by the
Dogras led by Dhyan Singh Dogra, making the descriptions a “primary
source” for all historians.
Dr Bhatia says the historical facts given in “Jangnama” are
verifiable from the “Roznamacha” (a daily diary) written during the
reign Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
An old mosque in the ancestral village of poet
The four majestic mosques are a
testimony to the fact that the village was Muslim-dominated
before the Partition.
Historians have pointed out
that close relatives of Shah Mohammad were employed in Maharaja
Ranjit Singh’s army.
It was with their help that the
poet could piece together a complete picture of the battle
between the Sikhs and the British.
Dhyan Singh Dogra, who originally belonged to Jammu, rose to the
rank of Prime Minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom.
The other group was led by the noblemen of Lahore, who were both
Muslims and Hindus and had important portfolios like foreign
affairs, medicine and science.
The secular rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh worked well during his
lifetime, but with Kharak Singh, his eldest son, becoming the king,
things started to change.
The new Maharaja turned out to be full of vices and lacked the
ability to rule. Hence it was high time for Sikh Sardars and Dogras
to indulge in conspiracies. Historians attribute the inability of
Sikh leaders and the intrigue started by the Dogra brothers
responsible for the fall of the kingdom.
Even as fests were being organised in the memory of modern poets,
no major effort had been made to mark the contributions of Shah
Then, a couple of years ago, Mr Manjit Singh Bhoma and Mr
Bhupinder Singh Sandhu, both residents of the area, formed the Shah
Mohammad Memorial Trust to preserve the heritage of the legendry
However, traces of history linking the village to the poet are
being slowly obliterated.
A gurdwara and a private residence has come up at the site where
the poet once lived.
Wadala Veeram was a Muslim-dominated village which witnessed
communal frenzy as the country inched towards Partition, claiming
many Sikh and Muslim lives.
Earlier, historians took more than a century to confirm that the
actual village of Shah Mohammad was Wadala (the last village of
Amritsar) and not Batala (Gurdaspur).
A team of researchers in 1973, led by the then Director of the
Punjabi Languages Department, visited this village and with the help
of revenue records, discovered an old marble slab fixed on the well
of Shah Mohammad’s house.
After holding two commemorative functions, first in 1973 and then
in 1978, Shah Mohammad forgotten again by the villagers, the
Languages Department and the state government.
Now Shah Mohammad Yadgari Charitable Trust has decided to retrace
the life of the legendary poet with the help of Almi Punjabi Virasat
Both the organisations will hold a festival in the name of Shah
Mohammad on December 8 at Wadala Veeram.
Mr Jagir Singh, a retired Sub-Inspector, who witnessed the
communal riots in the village, said all its Muslim residents
migrated to Pakistan after the carnage.
The villagers, especially the family of Late Niranjan Singh
Chabba, have made efforts to preserve an ancient mosque in the
village. Though two mosques are in a dilapidated condition, one of
these— Baba Taran Shah— situated on the main road, is being
maintained by a Sikh family.