Tuesday, 3 April 2018

QK Archives: Kafir Kot

Dera’s mysterious fort
Ghulam Ali
Published march 2004 Statesman

Kafir Kot or “infidels’ fort” in the Khasore hills outside the village of Bilot Sharif on the road to Chashma in Dera Ismail Khan has been ignored by the archeologists. Deserted and rocky, it would have been an unremarkable place but for the group of seven extraordinary buildings, all Hindu temples, that crown its top. From the number of the temples, it is obvious that this fort was a college for the Vedic learning. There is absolutely no mention of this fascinating place in any historical work, ancient or contemporary. It is strange that a place of such opulence should have escaped the notice of men like Mehmood of Ghazna or Timur the Lame. John Wood, the 19th century explorer, who journeyed up the Indus to discover the sources of the Oxus River, paused to explore another Kafir Kot, called Kafir Kot Tilot. It lies almost 30 kilometres north of Bilot Sharif. This fort also finds mention in the works of Alexander Burnes and Charles Mason, but it is amazing that all of them failed to catch the glimpse of this great fort.
The temples of Bilot and Tilot mark the line of an ancient route, the Rajapatha, or the royal highway. Collectively known as the Hindu Shahiya temples, they are believed to have been built by the kings who ruled Kashmir, the northern part of Punjab and the NWFP just before the Ghaznavid explosions. The period following the end of the Maurian Empire in the late 3rd century BC right down to the 6th century AD was one of endless flux and upheaval, but after the white Huns were defeated by a Rajput army in 528 AD, there followed nearly 500 years of peace. There were no incursions into the subcontinent from the north-west until the last years of the 10th century when Mehmood made his first foray. In that period of peace, kings set to construct these fortified temples. It is remarkable that of the entire set of the Hindu Shahiya temples, only Nandna is clearly mentioned by the celebrated 11th century historian, Abu Rehan al-Beruni.
In the absence of historical reference, lore invents a Raja Bil, who founded this mysterious fort, while his brother, Til, founded Tilot long before the advent of Islam in this part of the land. A third brother, Akil, is said to have been the founder of Akilot, now marked by the mound of Akra just outside district Bannu. It is said that at the time of the Muslim invasion of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 AD, the rajas of these places, particularly Raja Bil, sent his forces for the reinforcement of Raja Dahir’s army. In an age when the Rajput princes were given impressive names such as Latyitaditya, Yashodharman or Durlabhavardhan, even a poor potter’s son would not have carried the name as meaningless as Til or Bil. Consequently, I don’t believe there were rajas called by such ridiculous names. These appear to be the inventions of the local historians attempting to explain the names of Bilot or Tilot. That does nothing to reduce the significance of the ruins of Kafir Kot. Even if there has been no inquiry as to the background of the area, Bilot is an impressive milestone from our misty past between the 6th and 10th century AD.
Before the Tughlaq rule, Bilot was the bastion of the Hindu mythology. Then, during the Tughlaq rule on the subcontinent, Shah Esa’s ancestors migrated from Uch Sharif (Bahawalpur) and settled down here for the propagation of Islam. Due to the hectic efforts and devotion of Shah Esa and his lineage, most of the populace was converted to Islam.
It is said that more than one lakh saints of various creeds, both Hindus and Muslims, graced the area and are buried here. Kaval Ram Sati and Shah Esa, the leading lights of mysticism, spiritualism and Sufism, are visited by a very large number of people at different seasons. Bhisakhi, a Hindu festival falling in the month of April, is attended by the Hindus from both sides of the divide. They stay here for 5 to 10 days to commemorate the memory of Kaval Ram. They offer charities at the samadhi of the legend for the benediction of their souls and spiritual uplift. According to the Hindu devotees, he was a Bakhti reformer just like Kaval Ram whose samadhi exists in Delhi, but the descendants of Shah Esa argue that he was a moneem (revenue collector) of their grandfather. They further emphasise that he was also included in the list of the malangs (one who dedicates his life to his pir) of Shah Esa. When he died, the Hindus wanted to burn him as per the Hindu rites, but the Muslims claimed that he was a Muslim. Anyhow, the dispute reached Hazrat Shah Esa and he decided that his dead body be taken to the place where his thala exists today. When Hazrat Shah Esa reached there as to decide the matter, everyone wondered to see that he was no more in his bed and so the matter got resolved.
The Hindu mystics do not agree with the hypothesis. They claim that he was never converted to Islam. As his name and samadhi suggest, it can be said that he remained true to his faith. His presence in the area is stated to be during the eras of the Lodhis and the Mughals. These were the days of the Bakhti reformers and therefore he and the Muslims had been having cordial relations. That is why his samadhi is still visited by a large number of the Muslims as well.
The story of the “Dwelling of Spirits”, attached with Bilot Sharif, is another feature. The pirs, popularly known as makhdooms, have categorised the spirits as Muslims and non-Muslims. When any psyche patient approaches them for relief, the pir, after listening to his problem, proclaims that he or she is under the spell of spirits. It is up to the pir sahib whether the spirit is a believer or unbeliever. If the spirit is a believer, its spell is neutralised at the grave or a place near the grave of a Muslim saint, called Shah Esa, or Ajmal Darya, and if otherwise, the samadhi of Kaval Ram comes to his rescue. What a fantastic magic! The affectee is charged Rs80 per spirit and again it is the pir who has to decide the number of the spirits afflicting a single soul. Sometime a dozen spirits are said to dominate a person.
This practice goes on throughout the year, but the month of March is the special occasion. What a wonder as to how people still believe in these fairies and spirits and their neutralisation at Bilot Sharif?
As most of the invaders came through these areas to conquer Hindustan, therefore this little principality had to face the wrath of almost all the attackers and gradually disappeared from the scene of history. As per the “Conferment Deed” awarded by the Mughals to Hazrat Shah Esa, the makhdooms of Bilot Sharif were entrusted the administration of the area in the name of the Mughal emperors to fill the power vacuum created due to the fall of the Hindu principality.
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