N a n d n a : Al B e r u n i W a s H e r e

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The western part of the now extinct fort. However, the runis of mosque on the right can still be seen. On the left the ruins of a Hindu temple are distinctly visible. Half of this temple has already fallen down. yet the remaining half is still intact. However, reconstruction / renovation of both the mandir and the mosque are immediately required; otherwise these old relics of the ancient world will remain a subject of history books only.
[A Note from WoP. Last month my friends Salman, a writer and  Nadeem Khawar, the contributing photographer of WOP; were exploring the ruins of an ancient fort. The fort existed since prehistoric times but now there are ruins only. These include a Hindu temple and a mosque but the most important aspect of their visit was the ancient seat of learning, the university at Nandna, for it was here that the famous Muslim scientist Al Beruni delved into experimentation in then the completely unknown realm of space & earth science.
The area in our present day Pakistan has always been a cultural cauldron, an area that has historically been hospitable (culturally and that means ethnically as well as ideologically hospitable to all). The Arians, the Greeks, Buddhists and lastly the Muslims settled in here, betook this as their homeland, and practiced their beliefs without any fear and angst.
Seen in this liberal and tolerant clima of present day Pakistan, it looks rather odd that groups like al-Qaeda and Taliban should have originated from this soil, the land where the soul of Lord Buddha still blesses through its various manifestations in the Gandhara valley civilization; a land where many mandirs, the worship places of a vast magnitude of humanity still exist, where Gurdwaras and Mosques stand side by side and there are even the worshipping places of the followers of Zarathustra, who fled from Iran when they faced persecution at the hands of Iranians who had become Muslims. It was here in this very land that all faiths mutually coexisted since centuries. Barring the tragic incidents of 1947 partition, there have hardly been any major Hindu Muslim or Muslim Christian riots here as we observe in India.
But unfortunately whatever be the reason, this monster of extremism is very much now, there in our NWFP and Swat. I hope and am dead sure as well that the armed forces of Pakistan will crush this menace for once and all; a menace which seems to be working on an agenda which is very foreign to the psyche, the traditions and the way of the life – our people have been practicing for centuries.Nayyar]

by Salman Rashid

The fortified temple complex of Nandna sits smack on the Nandna Pass; leading from the Salt Range highlands into the Punjab plains on the west bank of the River Jhelum. From times immemorial the pass, a natural and narrow cleft in the hills, has seen the passage of caravans of trade and invasions, and because of its location, it would only have been natural for a fortress to be raised in the pass not just to hold adventurers at bay but also to exact taxes from passing traders.

Having sojourned in Taxila, Alexander of Macedonia came through the Nandna Pass to the banks of the River Jhelum. This was in the month of May in 326 BCE. Here he fought his hardest battle against Raja Paurava (Porus in Greek) since the last confrontation against the Persians a few years earlier.

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Another View of the Nandna Fort Complex

In the year 1013, Mahmud the Turkish ruler of Ghazni came against Nandna. In those days, the fort  was in the possession of Jaipul II, the king of Lahore who held sway as far as Peshawar. Nidder (Dauntless) Bhimpal, the governor of Nandna, bravely held out for several days until the Turks sneaked around the surrounding hills and into the plains of the village of Baghanwala to the south of Nandna. With the water supply cut off, Bhimpal the Dauntless brought down his army to confront the Turks where the orchards of Baghanwala now ring with birdsong.

A hard contest was fought and Bhimpal’s tiny force was defeated before the arrival of reinforcements from Lahore. Mahmud did not destroy Nandna, however. We do not know why, but it may have been because Nandna was now a flourishing university whose renown spread wide across the land that caused Mahmud to restrain himself.

Four years later, in 1017, the celebrated geographer, historian, mathematician and linguist Abu Rehan Al Beruni, then living the life of a virtual prisoner in Ghazni was given permission by Mahmud to travel to the then India. The fame of Nandna drew him hither. He records in his Qanun al Masudi: ‘When I happened to be living in the fort of Nandna in the land of India, and I found a high mountain standing to its West, and also saw a plain to its South, it occurred to my mind that I should examine this method there.’ The method that he mentions was employing the astrolabe to measure the circumference of the earth.

Though such experiments had already been done even before Al Beruni, it was this remarkable man whose computations were the most exact: while others had been out by as much as a couple of thousand miles, Al Beruni’s error was a mere 143 km from the exact measurement that we know today. That was his great achievement.

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This is the main view of the ancient Mandir located in the Nandna Fort. The view was captured by Nadeem Khawar while standing in the arch of the ruined ancient mosque also located within the Nandna Fort Complex.

The ruins that exist today represent a Vishnuvite temple built in the mid-10th century and a portion of a defensive turret. A ruinous mosque with its mehrab intact sits adjacent to the hulk of the temple. The hill across the cleft of the Nandna Pass still retains a semi-circular turret and parts of the fort’s defensive wall. On top of this hill is a bunch of Muslim graves that may recall the skirmish fought between the Turks under Kamruddin Kirmani who held Nandna on behalf of Iyultimish, the Sultan of Delhi, and Chengez Khan’s troops in the spring of 1221. The Muslims were routed. Shortly after, the Mongols too turned tail and fled. Their adversary was not Turkish arms, but the blistering Punjabi summer heat.

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On the left hand side, where a man is standing, is the bastion of  Nandna Fort. Over the greener part of the hilllock, the wall of the extinct university can still be seen.

History does not tell us when the university at Nandna eventually stopped functioning and when the temple itself was deserted. But when in the 1580s Akbar the Great, and after him his son Jehangir, resorted to this region to hunt the Punjab uRial and ravine deer, the royal record of neither king makes any note of the fortified university on the hilltop.


Henceforth, all posts in this blog carrying texts either from Urdu or Punjabi carrying the special alphabets found in these and other vernacular texts like R (which sounds something between a slurring r and hard d and have no exact equivalents either in English or in other European languages) will be denoted through a capital R. As such it may stand in contrast to English grammar where a capital is either inserted in the beginning of sentence or stands before proper nouns with a capital. The people from south Asia might get its sound more easily from the word pahaR meaning the mountain.

6 replies to “N a n d n a : Al B e r u n i W a s H e r e

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