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Interfaith Dialogue ( 2 Jun 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Sikh and Muslim Monuments


By Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro

01 June, 2012

Kot Fateh Khan is one of the very important villages in Fateh Jang Tehsil of Attock district and noted for historical monuments belonging to Muslims and Sikhs. Three-domed mosque, which is believed to have been built by Sardar Fateh Khan during the British period, marks the landscape of village and is conspicuous from a distance.

The skyline of Kot Fateh Khan is marked by the splendid domes of a mosque built somewhere around 1890. Saradr Fateh Khan was the notable chief of the area during British period who laid the foundation of the mosque, which gives today the village its identity.

It has a rectangular plan with three domes flanked by two minarets. The mosque is a prototype of the Mughal period mosque at Wah garden. "Sardar Fateh Khan brought the masons from Attock to build the mosque because at that time Attock was the main centre of local arts and crafts", said Sardar Fateh Khan Junior, one of the descendants and the landlords of the Kot Fateh Khan village. The masons of Attock were famous for building grand structures. Their style is reflected in the innovation they introduced in their work.

The miniature Jharokas in the mosque are the novel addition that one does not find in any other mosque of the Potohar region. Such innovations by Attock artists also mark other architecture of the region. They were not only great builders of mosques and Havelis but also of temples and Gurdwaras. Some of the temples, Havelis and Gurdwaras built by Attock artists are located in Hazro, Makhad Sharif, Kot Fateh Khan and Kallar Syedan. Khem Singh Bedi Haveli, which dominates the landscape of the Kallar Syedan town, was also built by the Attock artists.

"Sardar Muhammad Nawaz Khan, one of the descendants of Sardar Fateh Khan, later on rebuilt one of the minarets that collapsed in 1930", said Munshi Ghulam Murtaza of Kot Fateh Khan.

There are many three-domed mosques in the Potohar. Of these, the mosque of Mai Qamro at Bagh Joghian, Islamabad, Mughal mosque at Wah Garden, Jamia mosque of Rawalpindi are quite prominent. The distinctive feature of the Kot Fateh Khan mosque is the paintings. From inside it is decorated with paintings and from outside with stuccowork.

The main gate is decorated with miniature jharokas, which adds to beauty of the entrance. Three false cusped arches also decorate the upper alcove of the entrance gate. The spandrels of the arch are embossed with two rosettes. Carved wooden door is also splendid. A stairway leads to the court of the mosque. The facade of the mosque is also decorated with false miniature Jharokas, arches and stuccowork. Three archways lead to the main hall of the mosque.

From inside the mosque is adorned with paintings. The soffits (inner sides) of the arches are decorated with geometric designs whereas the pendentives (space where two walls combine together) are decorated with floral scroll combined with glasswork squinches or the inner arches on which the domes rests are also adorned with floral designs with spandrels carrying floral scroll. Some of the spandrels are decorated with stucco.

The domed ceiling is also amazing with the soffit (central space of the dome) ending in lotus floral design. The petals of the lotus are rendered with glasswork. One does not find such beautiful combination of the paintings with glasswork elsewhere in Potohar. As compared to the Mughal mosque at Wah Garden and the Jamia mosque of Rawalpindi, the Kot Fateh Khan mosque is remarkable for the paintings combined with glasswork and stucco, a technique not found on other mosques in Potohar.

Apart from the three domes mosque, the Sikh buildings of the British period also dominate the landscape of Kot Fateh Khan village. Three Sikh buildings Gurdwara and two Samadhis are located to west of village. During the British period, the village was very sacred for the community for the Samadhi of Baba Thana Singh who was known for his righteousness. The Sikh community used to gather in the fair of Baba Than Singh in the month of Baisakh (April-May). According to district Rawalpindi gazetteer, 4000 people attended the fair in 1893. The Samadhi of Than Singh is a beautiful double story building superimposed with a canopy. The Samadhi has three openings on its east, south and west. The northern wall is partially closed by the wall of Gurdwara. The main archway, which opens to the east, is made of white marble. The cusped archway is remarkable for its superb spandrel decorations. The inner sanctum where the Samadhi of Than Singh is located has a carved door flanked by inscriptions in Gurumukhi on either side. The door of Samadhi is decorated with marble slabs carrying the names of the donors with donated amount.

Today, Muslim community of the village also venerates Than Singh and calls him Baba Thana and Sultan. They visit the Samadhi and seek the blessing of the Sikh saint. "If our wishes are fulfilled, we distribute the sweets or cooked rice at the Samadhi" said Niaz Ahmed of the village. This indicates the syncretic nature of the shrine where saint, with dual identities, are worshipped. The dual identity shrines are widespread in south India and some parts of Sindh. This is the only shrine in the Potohar where Muslims venerate the Sikh saint.

To north of the Samadhi is the attached building of Gurdwaras The distinctive features of the Gurdwaras are the stucco decoration and the wooden railing with spectacular wooden brackets. But unfortunately, this building lies in crumbling condition. The portico of Gurdwara opens to the south.

To the east of Samadhi of Than Singh is anonymous octagonal Samadhi noted for its paintings representing Hindu and Sikh mythologies and cultures. The panels are painted with pictures of various Hindu gods, Sikh gurus and rulers. The ceiling of the Gurdwaras is decorated with sacred ring dance of Krishna with Gopis (milkmaids). There are three paintings depicting Krishna. In one of the paintings Krishna is shown lifting the mountain Govardhan to shelter his devotees from the storm of god Indra. The image of Indra with his elephant mount vihana) Airavata is also depicted on the right side of the panel. It is really heart breaking to see this painting defaced by fanatical hoodlums. One does not find such depiction elsewhere in Potohar region.

The northern wall of Samadhi depicts the painting of Hindu god Vishnu who appears to be reclining on the Ananta (serpent). This form of Vishnu is called Anantashyana. In popular creation myth, Vishnu is described as lying in deep trance before the dawn of creation. He is shown sleeping on the coils of Cobra Ananta or Sheesha. From the navel of Vishnu springs lotus on the top of which is seated god Brahma who then created world. This painting canalso be seen in number of other temples and Samdhis in the Potohar.

In one of the panels, one finds the painting of Baba Guru Nanak with his companions Bala and Mardana. Two other figures are also shown in this painting. Apart from the painting of Baba Guru Nanak, the painting of Guru Gobind is made on the northern wall of the Samadhi. He is shown with his Khalsa soldiers with weapons. Close to this is another depiction, which shows Ranjeet Singh and the courtesans. One finds an inscription in Gurumukhi with each of the figure in the Samadhi thus making it easy to identify the images.

Unfortunately, the people have defaced all the figures. Not a single image retains its original beauty. The concerned authorities should pay heed towards the destruction of the vanishing visual heritage of the Potohar. They should chalk out a strategy to save these pieces of art from further vandalism.

Fateh Jang Tehsil has great potential for tourism. In order to promote tourism in the Tehsil, authorities should enlist Kot Fateh Khan as tourist destination which represents the historical buildings of both the Muslims and Sikhs.