My Journey Home: West Punjab — Part 2 of 3

Attending a regular Thursday evening Dhammal at Shah Hussain shrine in Lahore. Everyone who goes there is offered sweet kheer prepared on-site by volunteers. They sing and cook. You have to drink the warm kheer. Shah Hussain in Lahore is called Madho Lal Hussain – Photo courtesy of Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia
Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia | EXPERIENCE |

More than 120 hymns of Baba Fariduddin Ganjeshakar are enshrined in Siri Guru Ganth Sahib — the scripture I believe in. As Sikhs we consider his Bani in our scripture to be the Word of God.

Visiting his shrine in Pakpattan last December was ecstatic. My journey there was made more meaningful because history has documented that my ancestors visited Pakpapttan in 1256 AD and held a one year long langar (community kitchen) there, for which Baba Farid blessed the family with the honorific title of Bhandari.

I listened to the qawalls there in an open courtyard sing on top of their voices a Shalok from his Bani: apnarae giraewan mai sir niva kar dekh (look humbly into your own self first).

Qawwals sing at the shrine of Baba Fariduddin Ganjeshakar in Pakpattan – Photo: Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia

Then was time for langar — we were graciously invited to eat. We sat on the floor in lines on mats (as in Sikh Gurdwaras) and were served a simple meal by volunteers — just as my ancestors did more than seven centuries ago. We ran short of plates to eat in and I ate with our driver Nawaz — some of my fellow Indian family and friends would have been mortified to see me eat out of the same plate with a Muslim.

As a kid, my grandmother told me the same story many times: how during the bloody partition of 1947 they left our ancestral haveli (mansion), which had a black peacock painted outside it, in village Butala near Gujranwala — never to ever return.

Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia at his ancestral home

Last December when I reached our village with a mix of emotions of joy and sadness at the same time, I was perplexed. There were 3 havelis of the family. I was keen to visit the one in which my grandparents lived. And then I saw on the front wall of one of the havelis — a fading black peacock made of black bricks! (see peacock on wall in photo above). My heart melted and reminded me of my grandmother’s stories and her warm touch. My grandparents had walked out through these very doors 72 years ago never to return.

I was here to complete the circle of life — so with tears in my eyes and prayers on my lips, I kissed the door floor beam and entered inside. The haveli is very well maintained and is now an Islamic school for girls — a place normally men are not allowed in. The Mullah of the village accompanied me in an interfaith spirit inside the building and gave me a guided tour.

While visiting my family ancestral home, I pledged to not let the hate of the partition eclipse the love of humanity. Hate is like taking a poison pill that kills you but not does nothing to the object of hate. I learned this lesson late in life but better late than never.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of 3 next week!

Gujranwala: This is a grand old town of West Punjab best known for its longterm association with Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his Sukerchakia misl ancestors. I visited the birthplace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Sheranwala Bagh. This Bagh contains an old Baradari and tomb of Mahan Singh, father of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. – Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia

Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia is a US-based interfaith activist and scholar with deep roots in East and West Punjab in South Asia. He currently serves as Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA and is a Board Trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions as well as Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations.

Tarunjit visited his family ancestral home near Gujranwala in 2019, seventy-two years after his grandparents left in 1947, never to return. His ancestors lived there for many generations, including during rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. They owned 42 jagirs (42 means batali in Punjabi hence my family name and name of this village are the same Butala or Butalia). The article first appeared here.



My Journey Home: West Punjab — Part 1 of 3 (Asia Samachar, 18 June 2020)

Experience pin drop silence at Pakistan gurdwaras (Asia Samachar, 9 April 2020)


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