The Lahore of Antiquity
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The origin of Lahore, as a popular saying goes, lies beyond antiquity. The flat plains of the Punjab, irrigated by its five famous rivers from which the word ‘Punj’ (five) and ‘Ab’ (water) is derived, witnesses annual floods in the monsoon season. The only safe places in such circumstances along the rivers were the natural mounds that form part of the Punjab landscape.

On one such series of mounds on the ancient road from India to the West, on the River Ravi, emerged the city and fort of old Lahore. Recent excavations have thrown up pottery carbon-dated to 5,000 years ago. This is almost similar to the mention of Lahore, known as it has been by numerous names over the ages, in the epics of the ‘Mahabharata’ and the ‘desh ye bhaga’ of the Puranas. The name Lahore is ascribed to Rama, the ruler of Ayodha and a hero in the epic ‘Ramayana’, whose two sons ‘Lav’ or ‘Loh’ and ‘Kash’ had the cities of Lahore and Kasur named after them.

In the ‘Mahabharata’ the legendary battle of the Ten Kings was fought on the banks of the Ravi at Lahore, known as the Irrawaddi after the Hindu deity Indira. In this the forces led by Lahore’s Raja Ban Mal with over 10,000 horsemen were defeated by the powerful Raja Bhim Sen and his confederates. Likewise in a forest on the river next to Lahore, the famous Raja Rassalu of Sialkot slew the monster Rakhas, an event that makes up for a major part of ancient Hindu legends.

To truly understand the antiquity of Lahore it is important that we look at the scientific evidence of the melting of the glaciers as global warming took place hundreds of thousands of years ago. As the ices started melting, moving northwards, the very first traces of the ancient Indus Valley civilization started emerging. The oldest such site is that of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan. Then comes Mohenjo-Daro, then Harappa and finally Taxila, where probably the world’s first university was founded. It was in this time period that the first traces of habitation emerge of humans living on the mound that is today the Lahore Fort. In these small villages and towns along the five rivers of the Indus valley emerged the Jain, Buddhist and Hindu religions. To these centres of excellence came from the West the Arya people, known as the white-skinned, merging with the original inhabitants, the Dravidic. The amalgamation resulted in a pastoral people taking to agriculture and, gradually, moving eastwards.

As the ice melt continued the Ganges and Jumna civilizations emerged much later as large numbers of people moved eastwards. In this movement we now know, thanks to DNA research, that the Solanki of Anulhara Pattan and the Bhatis of Jassalmir in Rajputana have their origins in Lahore. As such Lahore was, and even today, remains essentially a Rajput city, surrounded in the countryside by ancient tribes like the Bhatti, the Virk, the Manj, the Dogars and other such tribes.

By the time Alexander the Great clashed with the Puru of Bhera, known popularly as Porus in western literature, Lahore and its Puru was the most powerful in the region. Porus of Bhera used Alexander to overcome the ruler of Lahore, who shrewdly judged the Greek fighting quality of speed and thrust well. They joined hands with seven other Purus of kingdoms to the east and formed a massive army waiting for Alexander and his men on the eastern bank of the Beas. The massive river and the even larger army put a halt to the unending ambitions of the Greek invader.

When the first Muslim invader, Mahmud from Ghazni in Afghanistan, overcame Lahore almost 1,000 years ago, the city was ruled by the legendary Raja Jaipal. On being defeated repeatedly he committed ‘Johar’ – the Rajput act of self-immolation in honour – outside the city walls at Mori Gate. His son tried to hold on to power but ultimately Mahmud ransacked the city and Muslim rule continued till the collapse of the Moghal Empire.

The Moghals rebuilt Lahore like never before. Akbar the Great for the first time used burnt bricks to encompass the fort and the city in massive walls with exquisite gates, traces of which can even be seen today. Around the city hundreds of monuments came up and by the time the Sikhs under Maharajah Ranjit Singh captured the city in 1799, Lahore had more historic monuments in and around Lahore than any other city in the sub-continent. Akbar and Ranjit Singh are considered the two greatest rulers to have lived in and ruled Lahore.

On the collapse of the Sikhs in 1849, the last country to fall to the British in the Indian sub-continent, the British took over and ruled the Punjab and Lahore for 98 years. Known as the colonial period, the city grew eastwards and most of what you see in Lahore today is thanks to their effort. In the midst of the renewal of Lahore in the colonial period was created the Faletti’s Hotel, then the finest in the entire Punjab, and considered fit for a maharajah to live in.