Milli Asthan, Mooltan or present day Multan is one the ancient LIVING cities of the world. It is as old as the Bronze age and the days when Alexander of Macedonia captured it in 326 BC or when the Huns ruled it and when the conquering armies of Muhammad Bin Qasim finally brought Islam to mainly Hindu dominated region. Times when great saints came this way and spread Islam and left behind footprints that countless still follow, or when the Sikhs and the British ravaged it to subdue this ancient but strategically important city. And then, when it became a thriving city of the newly born independent Pakistan in 1947. The journey of these thousands of years cannot be summarized in one page. Therefore, like the ancient city of Lahore, the past and present of Multan has also been divided into two parts; Multan before 1947 and after 1947.
Multan – Since Alexander of Macedonia
Multan surfaces in the history from the Hindu “Rig Veda”, which is claimed to have been written in Multan, its architects devised the perfect arch in buildings and wrote the first book on architecture. Then comes the Alexander of Macedonia, who in his last adventure to conquer India, came with his marching armies to Multan somewhere in 326 BC. And attempted to capture the capital of the Mallians, modern Multan, and it was here that he was wounded with an arrow on the protective wall of the old city fort, still known as the “Khooni Burj (the bloody bastion)”. For the first time his sacred shield, which he had taken from the temple of Illion, Athena, and which he used always to be carried before him in all his battles, rolled in dust while he fell unconscious on the ground with blood gushing out from his wounds. But that was the scene which inspired the Macedonians and seeing their king in that state they launched a lightening attack and captured the citadel without any further harm to Alexander. He he owed his survival to Abreas – who was killed- and Peucestas, and a bodyguard named Leonnatus, who protected the king with the sacred shield of Troy. The wound was very serious. For the rest of his life, the son of Zeus Ammon was to suffer pain, because the arrow had penetrated his lung and later died at Babylon and could not even rejoice his great victories back in Macedonia.
History is silent for more than six centuries that is until 454 A.D. when White Huns, the barbarous nomads, stormed Multan under the banner of their leader Torman. After a fierce fight they conquered but did not stay for long and Hindu rule continued once again for about two hundred years. In 641 AD, the city was visited by the Chinese Buddhist scholar Hsüan-tsang. The Chinese traveller found the circuit of the city about 30 li which is equal to five miles. He described, “the soil rich and fertile and mentioned about eight Deva temples. He also mentioned that people do not believe in Buddha rule. The city is thickly populated-the grand temple dedicated to the Sun is very magnificent and profusely decorated-The image of Sun Deva also known as “Mitra” is cast in yellow gold and ornamented with rare gems. Its divine insight mysteriously manifested and its spiritual powers made plain to all and so on”.
Multan was first visited by the Muslim arms during the reign of the second Muslim Khalifa Abu Bakar, in 44 Hijri (664 A.D.), when Mohalib, the Arab General, later an eminent commander in Persia and Arabia, penetrated to the ancient capital of the Maili. He returned with many prisoners of war. The expedition, however, seems to have been directed towards exploration of the country as no attempt was apparently made to retain the conquest. The city was conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century, and later by Mahmud of Ghazna in 1005 and Tamerlane in 1398. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Multan enjoyed peace under the Mughal emperors. In 1818 the city was seized by Ranjit Singh, when the famous Zamzama Gun (Kim’s Gun), which was captured by the Sikhs from the Muslims and was then called “Bhangian di Tope” (the gun of Bhangis), was also transported to Multan from Lahore and the city was stormed with hundreds of one ton heavy steel balls of this legendary heavy gun. Nawab Saddozia, who was then the ruler of Multan died fighting the Sikhs along with his five sons. Multan fell to Sikhs on 2 June 1818 A.D.
The Sikh rule ended when the British conquered it on 22 Janauary 1849 and held it till independence in 1947. Multan remained a province till the British suspended its provincial status.
The Name Game: One really does not know how old Multan is and what has been its initial name. The history remains silent for Multan beyond the invasion of the Greek in 326 BC. The earliest name attributed to this dwelling was “Meesan”, while as per Hindy mythology, the present day Multan was established by Brahama’s son Kashap and proposed it to be known as “Kashap Pura”. The youngest son of Kashap Parhalad was sure that there existed a God up there somewhere and Multan got its name as “Parhalad Pur”. Remains of Parhalad mandar still exist near the mausoleum of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakria. It is also known to have been called “Sanab Pure, Hans Pur and Bhag Pur”. Coming to the present word “MUltan”, the nearest recognised word is “Mool Asthan” and at the time of the invasion of Alexander, a branch of Hindus known as “Mili”, who changed its name from “Mool Asthan” to “Mili Asthan”. Later “Mili Asthan” turned into “Mooltan” (as can be seen from the postage stamp on an envelope below (left), used during the British times. And then may for the sake of using lesser words, it finally turned from Mooltan to present “Moltan or Multan.”
Multan city has the distinction of being the birthplace of four distinguished men in history; Emperor Muhammad Tughlaq was born in 13th century in a hamlet known as “Kotla Toleh Khan“. Emperor Bahlole Lodhi was born in Qazian Wala Makan near Hussain Agahi. Ahmed Shah Abdali, the first Durrani sovereign of Afghanistan , was also born at Multan in 1722 (birthplace above right). Baba Farid Shakar Ganj was born in a village of Multan, and later settled in Pakpattan. Multan is also known for a number of great saints that came to this mainly Hindu dominated city in the early 10th century and spread the eternal light of Islam.
Saints of Multan: Multan is known as “Mandinatu-Aulya”, the city of saints. It has mosques and tombs of saints. During 12th century, saints and sufis came this way to invite the dominant Hindu populace to Islam. Besides historical value of these tombs, these are famous for their priceless art work, architecture style and craftsmanship. Using traditional Multani style, all monuments are beautifully decorated and craft fully ornamented with blue titles, fresco-paints and mosaic work, and Kashi and Naqashi work. While in the city itself, the tombs of Hazrat Bahauudin Zakaria and Sha Rukn-e-Alam provided a base for the future constructions for next some 600 years, the popularity of the style did not lessen even after construction of more refined and gorgeous tomb of Sultan Ali Akbar at Suraji Miani near Multan, erected in the Mughal period. Some of the common features of all tombs in Multan are their distinct single domes with tapering walls decorated with local glazed tiles on the exterior.
Beside these great Sufis and saints, there are many more notables in the line of the saints who came to Multan and made their bit to spread the message of Islam and convert this once Hindu bastion into a predominant Muslim city. These include Shah Yousu Gardezi (buried near Bohar Gate), Sultan Ali AKbar (buried in Suraj Miani), Hafiz Muhammad Jamal, Musa Pak (buried in Pak Gate) and their contemporaries. All tombs resemble those of their ancestors and stand tall with same grandeur. The famous mosques of Multan include Mosque Phulhatt in Chowk Bazar built by Emperor Farrukh Siyar, Wali Mohammad Mosque in Chowk Bazar built in 1758 A.D., Baqarabadi Mosque built in 1720 A.D. and the beautiful Eidgah Mosque built by Nawab Abdul Samad Khan in 1735 A.D.
The Walled City Like the walled city of Lahore, a different life exists in the old city of Multan inside its walled portion. Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh or the Multan Fort was built on a mound separating it from the city and the old bed of River Ravi. How old is this fort is anybody’s guess since it existed in 326 BC when Alexander stormed and captured it. However, some remains from its foundation as old as 800 BC have also been found. Some archeological remains found at the depth of 60 feet also make its existence as old as 4000-5000 years. The fort had four gates with separate bastions. These gates were called the “Deh Gate” towards the west and opened towards “Lahori Gate”. The second gate was called the “Khizri Gate” towards east and Eid Gah and attributed to Syed Khizar Khan Saddozai, governor of Multan when Tamerlane attacked Multan. “Sakki Gate” is towards east, facing towards Sakka, located on old Multan-Dunya Pur road. The fourth gate was called “RehriGate” which opened towards present day Hussain Agahi, the name attributed to a slope (rehr). The Qasim Bagh and the old cricket Stadium are located within the walls of the fort. The original wall some 40 to 50 feet high – dating from the seventeenth century was ravaged in 1854 after the British captured Multan, but its lower sections managed to survive.
The present remains of the wall preserves the semi-circular form of bastions at intervals and one can still find the bay windows with moulded ‘jharokas’ in narrow alleys. The walled city is densely populated with narrow streets, winding lanes and old style houses built quite close to each other. Earthenware pottery, painted potter, camel skin ware (e.g. lamps); carpets wooden products are also some of the specialties of old Multan.
Gates of Multan: The original wall contained seven gates, of which Lahore, Delhi, Daulat and Khizeri gates have disappeared. A circular road, known as “Alang” runs around the walled city connecting the surviving gates, Khuni Burj and Hussaim Agahi entrance. The surviving Haram Gate comprises of two pylons on each flank, with a large four cantered pointed arch in the middle. The castigated towers on flanks are double storied. Besides the gates, “Ghanta Ghar” – the clock tower, just like that of the Faisalabad add majesty to the old city of Multan. However, it is said that it was built by the British on ruined haveli of Nawab Saddozai. The foundation stone of this building was laid in 1882 by the then Lieutenant Governor Atchison and was completed in 1888, and offices of Multan Municipal Corporation were housed here. Though lying in rather dilapidated state for years, it has recently been restored to its glory through extensive repair and renovation work.
River Ravi once skirted the walls of Qilla Kohna and Bohar Gate. On the banks of Ravi near Shah Gardez saint Shah Yousaf Gardez rested in 481 Hijri year. The river flowed from Bohar Gate to present day Chowk Bazar. The city was located on two islands wheich were some 100-150 feet high, and the entire population once lived inside the old fort. Later it started changing its course and now flows some 40 kilometres north near Kabirwala. Till 18th century, river Sutlej also flowed very near to the then Multan.
The Present Day Multan
After the partition of the British India, Multan became an important city of the southern Punjab and has now developed into a thriving progressive city. Today, Multan stands as a combination of old and the new Pakistan culture. Over the years, the city has been turned into a prosperous commercial and industrial center. It is an important road and rail junction, an agricultural center, and a market for textiles, leather goods, and other products. The city’s industries include metalworking, flour, sugar, and oil milling, and the manufacture of textiles, fertilizer, soap, and glass. Multan is also known for its handicrafts, especially blue pottery and enamel work.
The Persian couplet left translates “”With four rare things Multan abounds – Gard (dust), Garma (scorching summers), Gada (beggars) and Gooristan (graves).” One has to visit Multan to find out how true this saying goes about Multan. The very hot weather of Multan makes it ideal for the growth of crops like cotton and the most delicious mangoes in the world. Although, many countries like China and Brazil are entering into mango export, but those with a taste can always make out the difference between the mangoes from Multan-Pakistan and others. The special qualities of “Chaunsa, Anwar Ratol and Langra” are world famous for their tastes, flavour and sweetness. Shujabad tehsil of Multan produces some of the best mangoes in Pakistan.
The Old City: The old city around the fort and within the remaining gates of Multan still has the hustle and bustle of any city of this age. Small alleys, overlooked by wooden galleries still exist and remind the visitors of its past glory. It is here that the real dwellers of Multan still have their ancestral abodes and cling to their traditions.
The New Multan: The new Multan with wider roads, brightly lit during night marks a sharp contrast to narrow alleys of walled city. Overhead bridges, glass showcased shops of electronics, mobile telephones, furniture and cloth are very frequently visited by all segments of society. In the city centre, near the flyover, stands tall the State Bank of Pakistan building. Other modern buildings include the self-help basis made Nishtar College, Clock Tower building of the Multan Municipal Corporation and the Bahauddin Zakaria University. The cantonment on Multan – Muzaffargarh road is the neatest living and commercial area. The Multan Garrison Mess (below left) is visible from far distance due to its peculiar style and white domes.
As for rest and recreation, the most favourite is the Lake Chaman Aar-e-Askari in the cantonment, besides Company Bagh in the Multan Fort, Lange Khan Garden, Aam-Khas Garden and the parks at Bohar Gate, Chowk Shaheedan, Tabbi Sher Khan and the Nawan (new) Shaher (City).
Multani Craftwork: Multan has so much to it that one can keep listing but the list doesn’t end as far the handicrafts and artwork is concerned. Other than its famous blue pottery, the embroidery of Multan is second to none. Every small street and house has some needlework going on and one is really amazed to see totally illiterate women and men producing masterpiece stitch and needle work with exotic designs. Traders and Boutique owners flock Multan to buy these beautiful embroideries in bulk and and at almost throw away prices and sell the same at very high rates in big cities and even export.
Blue Pottery and cottage industry making raw cloth are other tow specialties of Multan. State owned Blue Pottery factory produces eye catching blue pottery vases, shields, pots, tiles and many more products. Besides, “Multani Khussa” – embroidered footwear both for men and women is also class of its own.