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Harking Back: Mystery of the lost Sun Temple of Bhandara the Wise.

Byline: Majid Sheikh

Most people think that the Hindu Shahi rulers of Lahore, whom the invader Mahmud from Ghazni defeated, as being the oldest 'known' rulers of the city and its kingdom. New archaeological evidence suggests otherwise.

It boggles the mind that very few have an active interest in what took place here before Mahmud. Some mention the forces of Alexander bypassing Lahore, only to return to Greece along the River Chenab towards the Indus via Phalia, where his favourite horse Bucephalus died. The historian Plutarch claims that Phalia was founded by the Greek invader in 326 BC in honour of his horse. So between Bucephalus dying and Lahore being razed to the ground by the invader Mahmud in 1021 AD, there is a 1,347 year gap. So let us move back in time, step by step, to see who ruled Lahore before the Hindu Shahi rulers, whose greatest leader was Raja Jaipaladeva who committed 'Johar' outside Mori Darwaza in 1001 AD on the 'shame' of being defeated by an 'infidel' Muslim. It seems Rajput honour did matter among the rulers of Lahore.

But first a bit about the Hindu Shahi. They were Punjabi Kshatriya Brahmins, with their 'gotra' being Mohyals. Mind you Alexander of Macedonia returned home after being defeated by Raja Puru Shottam of Bhera, whose name in Greek text is mentioned as Porus. In Sanskrit a ruler is called a 'Puru'. After his troops failed he assisted Porus in trying to capture Lahore and territories to the east. Alexander was dispatched back home guarded by Mohyal Punjabis, whose descendants later were to achieve martyrdom at the Battle of Karbala, which gave rise to Hussaini Brahmins. This Porus did because the greatest fear Alexander had was of being killed by his own commanders.

Thus the Hindu Shahi dynasty ruled the Punjab with Lahore as their capital, with their reign extending right up to Kabul, which they ruled from Peshawar. The Janjua Rajputs also belong to the Mohyal clan. The dynasty started with Raja Bhimadeva and ended with Anandapala being defeated at Lahore in 1021 AD. According to the account of Al-Beruni, after Anandapala the Hindu Shahi moved to the east and towards Kashmir, where their last rulers were Trilochanapala and Bhimapala. So technically the Hindu Shahi period ends in the year 1026 AD.

But what about the rulers of Lahore before that. It is interesting that before them Lahore was a Jain city, and was ruled by the Bhandaras. So if you have a Bhandara friend or relative, remember that they might be among the oldest, if not the original, dwellers of Lahore, save the original Changars who still live along the river banks. It is from these people that the gypsies of the world originated, at least extensive DNA research proves this.

The Bhandara dynasty is known in ancient Indian manuscripts as the Haj, or the Chach Dynasty. Just to make an immediate connection, the Bhandara family of Waris Road Lahore produced the famous writer Bapsi Bhandara, whose name now is Bapsi Sidhwa. We must not forget the Bhandara family more famous as owners of Murree Brewery. So we have a 'royal' connection going back in time, a connection we never acknowledge. The oldest available manuscript in the Asiatic Society of Bengal states that: '... Bhadra, or Bhandara was the ruler and founder of Lahore who was a wise man under whose benevolent rule people enjoyed peace'. In Lahore he ordered a temple dedicated to the Sun god, who he worshiped, to be built. There now stands a brick mosque. He worshiped the sun and ruled for 75 years'.

The description about pre-Hindu Shahi rulers is given by Sharif-e-Muhammad son of Mansur, who is quoted by Firishta in 'Tabaqat-e-Basiri' states: 'Bhandara's son was a wicked man named Bharat (Banrat) who used his army to imprison his father in the fort of Lahore. He wanted to capture the Salt Range from the emerging force of the Hindu Shahi ruler Jayapala, who captured him and made him pay a huge amount of money'.

The description goes on to state that Thanrat, the son of Bharat (or Banrat), was equally wicked who imprisoned his father and became ruler of Lahore. On hearing of this Raja Jayapala who till then ruled from Kabul to the Salt Ranges, sent his son to kill Thanrat for imprisoning his father who had, ironically, also imprisoned his father. 'This evil of imprisoning fathers must be ended' he told his son Anandapala'. By this time as Thanrat fled the troops of Anandapala, his son named Chandrat also imprisoned his father for 'the shame brought on Lahore'.

The troops of Jayapala surrounded Chandrat and in the year 999 AD captured Lahore. They imprisoned Chandrat and took him back to the Salt Range, while his sons all escaped to Jalandhar and sought refuse with Shama Kaura Rai. So it was that the Bhandara Dynasty, also known in old texts as the Haj (or Chach) Dynasty, came to an end. So from Bhandara, a wise 'founder' of the Kingdom of Lahore, his descendants proved to be wicked and too ambitious for their own good.

This is the only description that we know of about the pre-Hindu Shahi rulers of Lahore. Their ways and end provides many a lesson for later day rulers. The 75-year rule of Lahore's 'Bhandara the Wise' needs to be researched. Sadly, the 'History of Lahore' by S.M. Latif in 1889, does not carry much detail on the subject. The research by M. Baqir completed in 1952 does have some sketchy references. There is a need for new research from ancient texts to shed light on this important part of our ancient history.

For the time being my focus has been on locating just where the 'Sun Temple' of Haj, or Bhandara, was located. Two sources have been of interest towards this end. Alexander Cunningham's 'Ancient Geography of India' does provide just one clue, and that is a reference to 'the highest mound outside the old fort where legend has it a Zarathushtra temple stood'. That is the sole reference to the destroyed temple. The second indication is in the text of 'The Life of Hiuen-Tsiang' by Hwui Li and Yen-Tsung, where the once legendary Sun Temple was at a point 'visible from the rest of the city'.

So where was the famous Sun Temple, demolished and flattened by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1021? Here we enter the realm of guesses, and 'educated' guesses at best. The highest mound outside the Lahore Fort is where today stands the Paniwala Talaab (the water reservoir) at the edge of Chuna Mandi. To make a correct estimation an archaeological dig is needed. A few other places can also be named, but in my estimation this is the best and the highest mound outside the fort, and is visible from all places inside the original walled city. Plus, this temple must have been opposite the fort's southern wall, and surely visible to 'Bhandara the Wise'. But then it is a guess only.
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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Mar 3, 2019
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