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Pakistan: The great Kikkar Singh.

Pakistan, June 20 -- All around the city, in the hamlets that have been absorbed into the metropolitan, and numerous villages in the outskirts of Lahore, there are hundreds of small and 'less important' structures bequeathed to us by our ancestors. Whenever there is official talk about the culture and heritage of our city, there is mention of the Lahore Fort, the Badshahi Mosque and the Minar-e-Pakistan. However, hardly ever would we hear about the smadhis of Wasti Ram and Sudhra on the northern wall of the Lahore Fort, or the Bhadarkali Mandar at Niaz Baig. When we try to bring about the slumbering Department of Archaeology to do some conservation and preservation, we point towards these significant landmarks of our city. They represent our heritage in being the cultural emblems.

Personally however, I find these 'lesser significant' buildings dotting our maps a better translation of our culture. The tomb of Shiekh Musa, smadhi of Prithvichan, and the smadhi of Kikkar Singh though may be infinitesimal compared to the grandeur of the Lahore Fort, or the Badshahi Mosque, but they reflect the sensitivity of the people at the grassroots level, and that should be the real yardstick for what the people were like back then -- what were the artistic trends? Who was of significance socially? How was that community related to its surroundings?

In order to answer these questions, we need to look past these cliches of our cultural symbols, and travel much more haphazardly to peel the layers of this ancient land, to smaller hamlets, and villages, where these structures lie in dilapidated state, slowly fading away from the face of the planet. Nobody ever visits them, besides animals, locals or sometimes curious onlookers like myself. Some of these structures are even enlisted in the archaeology heritage list, but hardly ever any effort has been made to preserve them. Their fault is that they are not situated in the Shahi Qila or the Badshahi Masjid.

One such edifice is present in the village of Ghania Keh on the Burki road, flanked in between Padhiana and Hadiyara. This is the smadhi of the legendary Pehalwan Kikkar Singh. What appears to be a small structure now, spread over a few hundred square feet, could have been a much larger complex at the time of its zenith. It is a double storey structure with a splendid dome.

Despite its horrible state, the structure still commands a lot of respect, because of its sheer aesthetic. This smadhi is a fine blend of two great cultures, Hindu and Muslim, which culminated in the Sikh culture of Punjab. So to a curious student of history all this talk about 'us' and 'them' seems superficial.

The original structure was completed in white limestone, which has now given away to a black corrosive powder, as a result of decades of ignorance. A brick wall surrounds the structure from the three sides, however originally it must have covered the complete structure, and the entrance would have been from the eastern side, as is auspicious in the Hindu tradition. The door leading inside the smadhi is locked; however we managed to peek inside from a small crack in the door. The building is elaborately decorated in the interior, with floral and geometric motifs adorning the dome and other niches. They are still fresh, and can be easily revived with just a little effort. The walls inside are also covered with limestone. The aura of the smadhi in the environs of the village leads one to the conclusion that this belongs to perhaps, the most important person of the village.

This is the final resting place of the great Indian Pehalwan Kikkar Singh. A detailed story of his life can be found in the Encyclopedia of Sikh literature. The fact that the smadh belongs to this Pehalwan and nobody else is also established by the Land Revenue Records of the village of Ghania Keh, noted down during the British era. He was born here on October 13, 1857. During his lifetime, he became renowned all over the country -- which brought him much fame and wealth. Among the famous wrestlers that he has defeated are Goonga Pehalwan, Ghulam Muhammad aka Gama Pehalwan, Kalu Pehalwan, etc. His father Jawala Singh was also a wrestler; however, he couldn't attain the heights that his son did. Kikkar Singh got his initial training from his father but was subsequently trained by a local Pehalwan Ghulami. According to the encyclopedia of Sikh literature, Kikkar received two important titles, Pehalwan-e-Hind and Dev-e-Hind.

The stories and legends of Kikkar Singh have inspired Punjabi poets and writers over decades. One such poet, who wrote an entire piece on him, was Maula Bakhsh Khusta, a book shop owner in Amritsar. He lived before the Partition of British India. Kikkar Singh's real name was Prem Singh. It is said that once he returned from a wrestling match at Jammu, and told his mother that he was starving. She told him that there was no wood to cook food, so Kikkar went outside and uprooted an entire Kikkar tree and brought it back to his mother. This is how he became famous as Kikkar Singh. Even today, people recall this story.

It is however a pity that even though he lived, died and was interred on this side of the border; we have not given this legend his due status. In India, however Kikkar Singh is still remembered and celebrated as a hero. In 1995, Ajit Jalandar Akhbar published a story on this hero, which came in three parts. The following incident is taken from that story: It is said that his father was a huge man and was popular in the region. Once a government bank was looted and his father was arrested on suspicion. He was imprisoned without any proof for three years but was later released with the help of a British policeman whose family he had rescued from fire at one time. Once a wrestler by the name of Chanan came to Kikkar and pleaded in front of him that he was a poor man and couldn't defeat him. So when both of them fight in front of the Nawab of Bahawalpur, Kikkar Singh should not defeat him, neither will he. Kikkar agreed. However, when the fight began Chanan tried to defeat Kikkar. This inflamed Prem Singh who told the Nawab everything. The Nawab retorted that since both of them had cheated him, both of them should be put behind bars. Eventually, he decided for a rematch, in which Kikkar defeated Chanan and got big reward. However, Prem could not completely recover from the humiliation of going to jail. The embarrassment of both father and son having been incarcerated on a false pretext was too much for him to take, and he soon passed away in depression. He died on February 18, 1914

Published by HT Syndication with permission from The Friday Times. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at htsyndication@hindustantimes.com

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Publication:The Friday Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:Jun 20, 2010
Words:1180
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