The history of the city is spread over thousands of centuries, if not more. Known for names as Meesan, Myesthan, Mool Ashthan, Kasht Pur, Hans Pur, Bagh pur and Sambh Pur, Multan was probably the most famous city of Punjab at one time. Every name of the city has a background story, which turns out to be more fascinating than the other, hence every name rightfully deserves a mention.
The first description of Multan is found in Munshi Abdul Rehman’s book, “Ayena-e-Multan” which endorses its existence some 80 centuries from today with the name “Myesthan” or “Meesan”. The verse explains . . .
“Adam ba Sarandeep, Hawa ba Jeddah wa Iblees dar zameen Meesan uftadand Adam at Sarandeep, Eve at Jeddah and Satan disembarked on the land of Meesan
While the location of Adam and Eve has been mutually agreed, the whereabouts of the devil have caused quite a debate. One group of historians insists that in order to off-set the devil, many saints made Multan, their home, hence the name of “city of saints”. The other group, however, believes that after landing here, Satan found the place unfavorable so he crossed Chenab and went on to Muzaffar Garh.
Another name is derived from the mythological tale of Samba. According to legends, Jambawati was one of the many wives of Krishna, the Hindu god. When all the other wives had had children but Jamba remained childless, she pressed her husband to seek divine help. Krishna too, wanted a son, so both consulted sages. Jambawati was told to head to the northern mountains and Krishna was advised to wander into the southern woods.
For months, both implored superior deities until, Krishna came across Shiva and Parvati. He instantly asked for a son and the wish was granted. Months later, when the son was born, he was named Samba, another name for Shiva. Multan was named Samb Pura after him.
On growing up, Samba did take on the features of his father but, sadly, not his qualities. He was a handsome prince with a bad temper and an inflated ego, who would exploit his resemblance and ridicule others. When word reached Krishna, he cursed him to a disease so that people could distinguish between the two. Samba pleaded but the curse had already taken effect and he suffered from leprosy. After a lot of pleading, Krishna advised him to pray to the Sun god for mercy. It took 12 years of consistent supplications before Samba was cured. To commemorate his devotion, he built a temple to the Sun god in Multan. From the Greek general Scylax to the Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang, the temple impressed anyone, who visited Multan.
The structure had a golden dome with the idol placed right under the dome. Cast in gold, it had red rubies for eyes and was donned with precious metals. The dome and the doors were beautifully carved and lavishly decorated. The temple attracted thousands of devotees and housed at least 10,000 augurs and Dev-Dasees all the time. The faithfuls visited from all corners of India, offered huge money and shaved their heads as mark of reverence. Due to the temple, the city was also known as Mool Asthan. The story of Kashyap Pur and Harnakashap is also a derivative of Hindu mythology.
Multan also claims to be among the fateful where Alexander, received the fatal wound. While the detailed account of the event is not documented, it is said that during the course of the battle, Alexander received a deadly blow of a sword which unsaddled him. It was here that his lucky shield that came from the Greek temples and was witness to his every victory also fell to the ground. The great warrior lay on the ground, helpless and bleeding. It was his fall that so grievously provoked his men that it tipped the battle in his favor. Alexander’s army fought with more valour and soon the fortress was with the Macedonians. The king, however, died en route to Babylon. While the city was familiarising itself with the sharp Greek features, the Huns attacked it. Under the generalship of Toorman, they conquered the city but soon left it with a governor. Though the city was first visited by Muslims under the famous general Muhallab, it was finally won over by Muhammad Bin Qasim in 712 AD. When the war booty from Multan, reached Hajjaj Bin Yousuf, he named the place, ‘City of Gold’. The young general did not do any harm to the temple; however, he did built a mosque close by; the ruins of which can still be seen today.
After few centuries, Mehmood Ghaznavi also passed through Multan. The Afghan king spared the Bamiyan for the Taliban but did attack the city and ransack the temple. Lost in time, the real site of the temple is now unknown. With the defeat of Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Multan, alongwith India, formed part of the Dehli Kingdom.
The sultanate of Dehli paid special emphasis towards frontier cities and treated Mutan as such. This was a golden time in the city’s cultural history, during which Khusrau lived here too. A series of buildings were initiated and soon Multani architecture started making its mark. From the southern port of Sindh to the northern cities of India, Multan had started coming up as a famous city on the caravan route. For economic reasons, Moghuls also focused on the law and order situation of the city. The Sikh rise timed with the Moghul fall and the final showdown for Multan was staged between Muzaffar Khan Saddozai and Kharak Singh. The Nawab had ruled for a long 39 years and his army had fought bravely, but because fortune is blind, within days, the flag of the one-eyed Ranjit Singh fluttered at the Multan Fort.
The Fort of Multan was known for its strength. The sand-filled layered structures of the outer walls lent it the much-required invincibility. The Khalsa Army had attacked the Fort several times but could not claim any success. Since the Maharaja was not accustomed to failures, unsullied efforts of a 25000-strong army was dispatched to Multan in 1818. The campaign had listed men like Divaan Misar Chand, Sham Sing Atari wala, Jaffar Jang and Desa Singh Majethia alongside the seasoned General, Hari Singh Nalwa. Upon its arrival, the Khalsa Army cordoned off the city and this siege continued for three months. With no victory in sight, Ranjeet Singh summoned the battle-hardened Akalis from Amritsar and the famous Jogi Beeram Singh from Naurangabad. On the other hand, Nawab Muzaffar Khan also started preparing for jihad and gathered men in the name of Islam. Religions that valued the life and property of every human being were exploited to prey upon the lives and property of others. The Khalsa Army attacked the city, once again, with full might in June 1818. The cannons of Zamzama and Jang- Bijli fired death and destruction all over the city till it surrendered to the Sikh rule. Loot and plunder awaited Multan and for quite some time it lived through the misfortunes of a defeated city. The Sikh army ransacked the Dargaahs, religious places and palaces of the nobles. Like every old city, Multan was living through the vicious cycle of destruction and construction.
The Death of Ranjeet Singh was the beginning of the Sikh downfall. His headstrong army found itself enslaved in the triumvirate of Rani Jindan, Sikh princes and British agent. Like many other local chieftains, Mool Raj also cashed in on the opportunity and secured Multan on a lease of rupees 2 Million per annum.
It was either due to the manipulation of Rani Jindan or the military’s over-confidence that one day, the Sikh Army crossed the Sutlej. Once they were on the other side of this Rubicon, nothing could save the war. With the first Sikh defeat, an agent was posted to every Sikh dominion. Once in the court, this resident officer closely inspected the revenues on pre-text of effective governance. When Mool Raj was first asked for an audit by the agent, he took it as an insult and relinquished the charge of Multan. His resignation was at once admitted and Kahan Singh was nominated to replace him.
On 19th April 1848, Patrick Alexander Van Agnew of Bengal Civil Service and Lieutenant William Anderson of 1st Bombay Fusilier Regiment accompanied Kahan Singh to Multan as the envoys of Lahore Darbar. The party was supported with 1400 Sikh soldiers, a 700-strong cavalry, a Gorkha Regiment and an Artillery battery. Mool Raj received them with his traditional hospitality and a reception was arranged at the site of Islamia High School, Daulat Gate. Within hours of their arrival, these officers were attacked by unknown men and were wounded, fatally. They were taken to the safe refuge of the Eid Gah, a building made by Multani ruler Abdul Samad Khan, two and half centuries ago. In this sorry state of displacement, the British officers were told that their entire escort had defected to Mool Raj. It discouraged them to the point of death. By the evening, Pax Britannica had gained two more reasons to attack Multan. Initially the deceased officers were buried in the Northern part of the Eid Gah, but hours later, the rebels dug their bodies out and buried them at another place.
A monument was made in Multan for the Patrick Alexander Vans Agnew after Siege of Multan.
While Mool Raj started rallying force in the name of Punjab, the country whose farmers he had drained hard in revenues, the British mustered the Sikh rulers of Hazara, the Pathan Sardars of Dera Jaat and the Muslim nawabs of Bahawalpur to develop a non-formidable force for the final battle for Punjab.
In September 1848, this army halted at Sooraj Kund after passing through Shuja Abad. It took them another three months to wage the war. Aam Khaas, the official residence of Mool Raj, was finally attacked on the 27th day of December. As the British artillery spewed fire, Mool Raj’s forces withdrew, one after the other. An artillery round also landed on the armory, blowing away 5000 mounds of stored explosives. The blast damaged the mosque of the fortress and the dome of Baha-ud-Din Zakariya’s tomb.
The city is holier, by birth. A historian noted that Multan was prosperous, had houses built of costly wood and cheap fruits. On a side note, he also archived that it was a god-fearing, low-crime society where the destitute were fed well off charity.
Known for its Godliness, Multan is a city with humility. Though, in foreign lands most of its cultural representation is done by blue pottery, the Sufi tradition of the city is far more representing.
Initially, Hindu Bhagats marked the divine scene of Multan but with the rise of Islam, Muslim saints slowly filled the sphere. Some of these sages made Multan their home, while others stayed for a while, for the purpose of learning.
Deevaan Chawli Shareef is considered to be amongst the first of the Muslim tradition. This son of Raja Mehpaal, a Hindu Rajput chief, embraced Islam and renamed himself as Sheikh Chawli. The conversion cost him his life at the hand of his brothers but his memory was kept alive by the local population, who developed an entire locality in his memory.
Next in line, was Shah Yousuf Gardez, who had the honour of spending illustrative time with Meera Mauj Darya, the famous saint of Lahore. After his death, the faithful made him a mausoleum, so unique in architecture that its samples are now at display at Cromwell Road, London.
Multan also has the honour of housing Moeen-ud-Din Chishti Ajmeeri, the famous saint, who lived here for five years. During his stay, he practiced medicine and learnt Sansikrat and Parakarat from the augurs of Prahlad temple.
Following the course, Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiar Kaki also visited Multan. It was here that he met Baba Farid, who requested to be admitted into the pupilage of Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiar Kaki. Famous as Ganj Shakar, this saint founded meditation centres which were replicated in lands like the Middle East. His nearly divine poetry cut through rigid social structures, quite successfully.
Another significant name in the mystics of Multan is Baha-ud-Din Zakarya. After graduating from centers of learning at Khurasan, Bukhara and Medina, he arrived at Multan and founded the first ever seminary of the Suhrawardiya school of thought. Famous across the Indian subcontinent for its library, this seminary produced scholars of remarkable scholastic standing who went on to establish academic institutions across the world. Besides being a religious scholar, Baha-ud-Din Zakarya also mastered the art of calligraphy, poetry and music. The symphony of the Multani Dhanasri is attributed to his genius. He designed his mausoleum, which was badly damaged in the war of 1848. Initially, the residents looked toward the British societies for restoration, failing that, they contributed and rebuilt the building themselves.
Amongst other reasons for the raging summers, Shah Shams Sabzwari is also known to have played his part. Born in the Iranian city of Sabzwar, this saint spread the word of God as far as Badakhshan and Tibet. After a short stay in Tibraiz, he migrated to Multan and stayed here for rest of his life. All those who embraced Islam by his virtue, took up the surname, Shamsi. His reverence though, earned him a sizable Hindu following too. Known as the Shamsi Hindus, they lived in Multan, before partition.
Shah Rukn-e-Alam is another reference of Multan. Born to the godly Bibi Pak Daman, he was initially named as Rukn-ud-Din. The name Alam was a later addition, advised by Shah Shams. Shah Rukn-e-Alam taught the message of love and humility for many decades but in the last one, he chose to stay in his seminary. On the last day, after administering the preparations for his burial, he led the evening prayers and passed away, peacefully. The mausoleum of Shah Rukn-e-Alam continues to be the signature building in the city, with its domes casting lasting impressions.
Other than these famous saints, men like Sadr-ud-Din Arif, Khwaja Hassan Afghan, Syed Jalal-ud-Din Surkh Bukhari, Shaikh Rukn-ud-Din Abu al-Fateh, Shaikh Hassam-ud-Din Multani, Makhdoom Jahanian Jahan Gasht, Syed Sadr-ud-Din Raju Qitaal, Shah Dana Shaheed, Shah Ali Muhammad, Sheikh Hussan Kaah Bar, Peer Darbar Shah, Moosa Pak Shaheed, Muhammad Jamal Multani, Khwaja Khuda Bakhsh, Suleman Taunsavi, Ghulam Hassan Shaheed and Abdul Rasheed Haqqani also added to the spiritual ambience of the city.
Another facet of Multan appears on the surface, in Ashoor. As the moon of the first Islamic month is sighted, the city dons itself in a mourner’s black. According to a group of historians, Shahdad Bin Chaakar was the first Shia scholar in Multan, while the other group attributes this tradition with the relocation of the Iranian nobles to Multan to escape the barbaric Mongols. In either case, Multan adopted the tradition and adopted it well.
The most beautiful shade of this tolerant cosmos was a branch of Punjabi Mohyals, who called themselves, Hussaini Brahmins. Descending from Rahib Dutt, who was believed to have fought in Karbala, these Brahmins had a sizable population in Multan and held Imam Hussain in great reverence. Few believe that these Brahmins were the initial masters of the craft of Marsiya and also scripted the first few Jang-namas of the famed battle or epics, in Prakarats. Multani Marsiya may not join the league of Anees and Dabeer but they surely have their own impact, depiction and diction. Another brilliant mix of religion and aesthetics is exhibited in the form of the Tazia and can be seen at its best in the Taziya of Ustad, Shagird and Kamangaran.
The Sufis of Multan not only served religion but also introduced a model lifestyle, based on mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence. These saints believed that nothing could bind humankind as powerfully as love and care. New definitions needed newer expressions, so the delicacy called Urdu also flourished, by default.
From architecture to linguistics and calligraphy to modesty, most artistic effects in Multan carry a Sufi blessing. From its soil, rose men, the likes of Kazmi, Bukhari, Jalandheri and Karnali, and are still rising, the likes of Musadiqs and Sanwals.