The Kings’ Bridge
In our map rectangle above, the area resembles typical plains of Punjab. The flat and fertile land cultivated with standing crops populating the filed of view all around. The mythical Degh Nullah (also known as Dik Nullah in historical scriptures) flows from North-East to South-West and laterally divides the area into two halves. North of Degh is Pul Shah Daula, (red location marker) and South of it are small scattered villages of Kachli, Hanjanwali and Mondir. Had this been a military analysis of area of operation, I must have gone further in describing slope of the ground, availability of cover from fire and view, and value of natural and man-made obstacles (the standard military convention of G.R.O.T.B.C), but my dear reader, this isn’t one, so we shall straightaway head to our point of interest, and that will be Pul Shah Daula. A village just beside a historic bridge on Degh carrying the same name as that of the Bridge (the word pul is the Urdu equivalent of bridge). Pul Shah Daula lies in a quiet and less travelled stretch of land, and you will realize this, dear reader, as you zoom out on the above map window. Zooming out by a factor of 3, will reveal the nearest reference points to the village; Kamonke (13 kms due North), Muridke (14 kms South-West) and Narang Mandi (16 Kms due East). It will take a further two step zoom out to bring in the viewing frame, the towns of Lahore and Gujranwala.
Beginning a post with a map and its topographical detail is unconventional, and my readers would spare me this deviation from convention, as it was vital for a better orientation to the area at hand. So, my dear reader, what if I tell you, that in this remote, not so frequented stretch of land, neither very far nor very near into the past, a Mughal Emperor was crowned and the coronation took place at the very heart of our area of interest, Pul Shah Daula!
In the previous post of this series, we were at Bahmanwali Bridge, and from there, looking due east, we talked of Pul Shah Daula that lies past the village of Tapiala Dost Muhammad. That morning, I had returned to those familiar fields, to explore that bridge on the old alignment of Grand Trunk Road; a bridge frequented by Muhgal Kings, and other Kings who were not Mughal, their royal entourages and battle expeditions; a bridge that had witnessed a Mughal Coronation.
Into the past, neither very far nor very near, it was the year 1707, when the eldest son and successor to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, Muazzam Shah (popularly known as Shah Alam) chose to crown himself at Pul Shah Daula, as the 7th Mughal Emperor and assume the title Bahadur Shah I. The reason of this hasty, self proclaimed coronation at this solitary outpost of Shah Daula Bridge was the “Crown Rush” that got triggered as Aurangzeb breathed his last. Aurangzeb’s second and third generation was in the contest, as his sons and grandsons fought to claim the throne. Muazzam Shah, the eldest surviving son, rushed from the outpost of Jamrud in North Western Frontier on March 22, 1707. My guru and a dear friend Salman Rashid tells us that Shah Alam reached Pul Shah Daula on last day of April, and there reached the news that his younger brother Ahmad Shah has crowned himself at Deccan. Now, to enter the city of Lahore as a crowned king, Pul Shah Daula became the staging post hosting our king’s coronation. Salman also, quite satirically points out that this ‘self coronation’ took place “a full two hundred and ninety five years before the infamous Referendum of 2002”. Musharraf’s referendum was staged on Apr 30, 2002 and is a classic continuation of self proclamation orders that derives it’s roots from the Mughal Kings and their courtiers.
Nevertheless, our King of Pul Shah Daula was welcomed as the King of Lahore and eventually entered Agra as the next Mughal Emperor, all being made possible through the availability of transport animals and bridges-on-boats en-route, and the armies enrolled to fight through preemptive planning for the war of succession, but that, dear reader, would fall beyond the scope of this article. “Abul-nasr Sayyid Qutb-ud-din Muhammad Shah Alam Bahadur Shah Badshah” ruled the Mughal Kingdom (whatever remained of it after Aurangzeb) for about five years till his death in Feb 1712 at Lahore. Historian Latif tells us that the Shah Alami Gate of the Walled City of Lahore was named after Shah Alam.
Next time a King passed over the bridge of Shah Daula was 31 years after Shah Alam. It was the Persian Emperor Nadir Shah who aimed to raid the Mughal Capital of Delhi in the twentieth year of reign of Muhammad Shah Rangeela, and the year was 1150 Hijra, which would be the equivalent of 1737 CE. Nadir Shah’s Army had camped at Pul Shah Daula on 9th Shawwal (Jan 30th, 1737 CE). The invaders were aiming at Shalamar Gardens on the high road to Shahjahanabad. Having plundered the country beyond the banks of Chenab and sparing Lahore, after a brief siege and defection of Mughal columns, Nadir Shah marched on and met the forces of Muhammad Shah Rangeela in the battlefield of Karnal. The Mughals were humiliatingly defeated and the capital ransacked.
Nadir Shah brought with him a relentless onslaught on a crumbling Mughal Dynasty and in the rank and file of his force was a General, Ahmad Shah, a Saddozai Pashtun. Ahmad Shah Durrani would take Nadir Shah’s legacy to unprecedented levels by invading Hindustan seven times in 19 years (1748 – 1767 CE). Pul Shah Daula, dear reader, must have witnessed these untiring and ambitious invasions of Ahmad Shah spanned over 19 years, and bringing about nothing but, destruction, bloodshed and pillage. Such were the times that a saying widely circulated in Punjab
کھادا پِیتا واھے دا
رہـندا احـمد شاھے دا
“whatever you have consumed stays on you
rest is destined to be carried away by Ahmad Shah”
If we now take a U turn and go back, around the middle years of 17th century CE, we find another King crossing Pul Shah Daula, but at that time this bridge on Nullah Degh never existed. In fact it was the crossing of the Degh in the flooding season attempted by Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan that became the sole reason for the construction of bridge on this historic site. It’s Capt Elliot, the Deputy Commissioner of Gujarat, 1899-1901, who through ‘Chronicles of Gujarat’ tells us an interesting tale. During Shah Jehani expedition to Kashmir, while the Mughal Caravan had to cross Degh, which was in full swing of monsoon floods, a lot of the royal belongings along with the pack animals these were loaded upon, were lost to the cruel waters of Degh. Shah Jehan had promptly tasked Mirza Badi Usman, whom Elliot describes as the Faujdar of the locality, to build a bridge before the return of the emperor. The Faujdar, being incompetent in carrying out the task, had then requested the Emperor to summon Shah Daula from Gujrat for undertaking the task of building a bridge. Capt Elliot goes a step further, and mentions of the supernatural occurrences encountered by Shah Daula, during the construction of the bridge. The mythical encounter between a Djinn and Shah Daula, whereby Shah Daula, owing to his saintly qualities came out victorious, but let us restrict ourselves to a few facts. The name Shah Daula of Gujarat, a.k.a Shah Daula Daryai, might have rung a bell to my readers, and a reason to that would be the infamous “Shah Daulay ke Chuhay”. My dear reader, the name Shah Daula goes far beyond the above said myth of the physically deformed and psychologically challenged beings. Salman Rashid once again comes to our rescue here, who mentions that Shah Daula, a Lodhi Pakhtun by the actual name of Kabiruddin, had reputation for public works undertaken initially at Sialkot and subsequently at Gujarat. Gazetteer of Gujrat District 1883-1884 also records a brief account of public works undertaken by Shah Daula. It specifically mentions the remains of a brick viaduct at Garhi Shah Daula, spanning half a mile, that provided dry footing during the floods of Bhimber and Shah Daula Nullahs, and was a work of great benefit to the community. So, other than the saintly qualities, attracting large number of devotees, Shah Daula by virtue of his public works, gave us this bridge on the high road a.k.a Badshahi Sadak, a bridge that was frequented by kings and their kingly expeditions. Before Capt Elliot’s ‘Chronicle of Gujarat’, it’s Maulavi Abdul Qadir Khan who mentions Pul Shah Daula on Degh River, on Lahore – Kabul route, in Asiatic Annual Register, 1806. The earliest source to associate the Bridge to Shah Daula is Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh by Subhan Rai Batalvi (also named as Sujan Rai Bhandari) that was completed in 1690s during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb. Interestingly, although the bridge is said to have been built by Shah Daula during the reign of Shah Jahan, Shahjahan Nama (the Emperor’s Chronicle) itself does not mention of any bridge building undertaken on Degh Nullah. Also from the sources associating this bridge to Shah Daula, we do not get a date of construction. Even Dr Saifur Rehman Dar on his extensive survey of Grand Trunk Road leaves a cursory reference to the bridge associating it to the times of Shah Jahan. Our friend Salman Rashid, thinks that the bridge, in more likelihood, was built sometime after the reign of Shah Jahan.
The architectural blueprint for Pul Shah Daula resembled much to that of Bahmanwali Bridge we talked about in an earlier post. The pointed arches with brick piers reinforced with triangular buttresses on their bases, provide extended stability to the structure. On one of the sides of the bridge stands in isolation the only surviving burj, of which there must have been four or even more, in good old times. The plaster on the bridge has given way and the thin bricks are exposed like soaring blisters. The plaster, where it survives is in the fading colors of yellow and grey. The bridge is open to traffic with its cantilevers still holding strong. It takes all kinds of traffic, pedestrians, livestock, the signature animal carts and tractors with their trollys, and on that morning, it was my car, that crossed over Pul Shah Daula and travelled further ahead to Wandho, Emanabad and beyond, tracing the “High Road to North”. That, dear reader we shall visit in another post, and I will try to make it sooner.