A lateral view:The Langar Khani Gate
ROHTAS, A LION’S FORT
by Nayyar Hashmey
In our earlier post, the reportage on Rohtas Fort was printed on a continuous sheet (Blogroll). Many viewers told us it was quite voluminous, yet highly informative, so they would wish it in a booklet form on the web. For convenience of such viewers we have divided this into four parts. We hope this way viewers will find it more convenient to read.
WoP editor Dr. Nayyar Hashmey was in Rohtas this month. This formidable fort was constructed on the orders of a mighty emperor who is known in history as the Lion King of Sur, a king who built roads, rest houses, water wells and established a model of governance which even today’s governments can emulate to turn Pakistan into a truly welfare state. And now the article. . . .
World over there are magnificent buildings, palaces, monuments and forts raised on the orders of mighty emperors, devout kings and stout rulers. Some built castles, other the gardens and some like Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor in the hierarchy of the great Mughal Empire, built a beautiful monument in the memory of his beloved wife. However, amongst all such kings, rulers and emperors, one man stands tall; he is none else than the great ruler of his times, Farid Khan, most popularly known in history as Sher Shah Suri.
This same Farid Khan ordered the construction of Grand Trunk Road which connected Kabul with Sonargaon in present Bangladesh. In today’s Pakistan, its improved version is the lifeline of our logistics and offers an alternate to our outmoded railways. The credit for this “Jarnaili Sarak” as the locals call it goes to the same “lion”.
The road still exists as was built by Sher Shah Suri, however, there is now a 2-lane fully metalled road which connects Lahore with Peshawar. Not very far from the old Jarnaili Sarak, is the new all carpeted modern motorway which nowadays is a favourite route for motorists travelling between Lahore and Peshawar.
In contrast to other rulers in the subcontinent, Sher Shah ordered constructions which mainly helped alleviate sufferings of common man. In his reign, inns for travelers were built where they could lodge or rest and move on to their next destination. The state paid all expenses for maintenance and other charges for these inns. Though a tough administrator and able general, from his acts of public welfare he looks more as an administrator than a general. In a span of only five years before his untimely death the “great lion” introduced the Rupiah, a precursor of modern Rupee, still a standard monetary unit in the subcontinent.
[Image right:The main gate]
For administrative purposes, he divided the kingdom into provinces and districts and appointed officers at all levels of administration. Unnecessary taxes were abolished. To prevent the abuse of power he also introduced checks and balance at every level of state administration, but his permanent achievement still remains the building of roads, drinking water facilities and rest houses along those roads. These rest houses also served as mail collection and dispatch centres and thus were part of the kingdom’s postal service. Though a tough ruler yet Sher Shah was a peer of his times. He was father of land reforms including measurements and documentation of property ownerships and land was categorized according to what was cultivated on it. He introduced loans to farmers and at the same time enforced an efficient revenue collection system. One can go on and on about “Sher Badshah’s” contribution to modern methods of governance that didn’t exist before him.
Essentially it was Sher Shah’s revolutionary reforms in most important branches of governance that Mughals inherited and used throughout their rule. Much of this was retained by the British too and to a large extent we still use it.
Amongst his principal deeds which he did solely for the defense of his empire, an imposing structure remains unique, the grand Rohtas Fort.
On my way to Rohtas, while leaving Dina, I met Umer, a young Briton of Pakistan origin. I asked him what thoughts he had in mind while pondering over the personality of Farid Khan a.k.a. Sher Shah Suri and this is what he said. “Sher Shah Suri is no doubt one of those great men in history who made it through sheer personal efforts and which are not appreciated enough……despite the fact that he stands head and shoulders above the Mughals by any measure. His achievements are such that he left a lasting mark in history, though his incompetent successors squandered his gains. It is same story every where. After listening to Umer’s short but apt remarks, I moved onward to Rohtas. Previously a much shorter track from Dina to Rohtas was used. However, in rainy season, the small Kahan River was a big obstruction. To obviate Kahan I preferred to take the newly built road which starts from the main GT Road ahead of Dina city (while travelling from Lahore to Jhelum) its about 6 kilometers from this point and is an all year passable road. I reached the majestic Fort at 10.30 a.m. A cool breeze was blowing across Kahan. The very first look on the great fort made me wonderstruck, a truly imposing historical monument which is a blend of Afghan-Persian architectural style in Pakistan.
The fort is a symbol of strength and determination of its builder Sher Shah, who ruled India for only six years (1540-1545 AD) but even though it was a short period in his life, he created many splendors including the grand fort of Rohtas. Today it may look very odd, rather out of the way, to any one visiting Rohtas but the site once had so much of importance and a great strategic value from military point of view. Yet no one will be able to deny the fact that the Kahan gorge, which the fort dominates, was the only practicable route from the mountainous country north of the salt range to the southern plains. The gorge was exploited certainly by the Gakhars and later on by the Mughals.
Note: To read this post on a continuous blog sheet, please visit: https://wondersofpakistan.wordpress.com/2008/06/04/rohtas-a-lions-fort/
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