Satgarah’s secret legend
Off to this small town in Renala Kurd, in search of some historical links
By Haroon Khalid
As I walked in front of the giant protective wall of the fort, I imagined scenes of war; turbaned archers standing on top of the fort, shooting poisoned arrows at the hordes of forces spread out in the plain laid in front of them. 
In reality, today, that plain facing the wall is occupied by a variety of single-storey houses and the fort is under threat by the residents of these houses, who often remove the bricks from the structure to repair their weak links. 








The silver cables of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link glistening in the sun juxtaposed with the clear blue of the surrounding Arabian Sea, made for a glorious sight as I headed towards the city of Mumbai last month.

The city had completely captivated me on my last visit two years ago. I was quite excited to be reacquainted with old sights as well as seeing new ones.

Mumbai’s cosmopolitan nature is self-evident — foreign businessmen and tourists are a common sight. Yet even more fascinating is the cultural diversity within residents of the city. Walking down any street in South Mumbai, you can hear exchanges in various languages; English, Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi are all spoken. Yet there is an implicit sense of community, of different stories coming together to form a larger narrative — 500 meters into the sea lies the tomb of Muslim saint Haji Ali, while the colony of Cusrow Baug is home to more than 500 Parsi families. Various churches are scattered throughout the city, one of them in the same vicinity as a Jewish synagogue in the Kala Ghoda district.

The congestion and feeling of over-crowdedness ironically gives the city a liveliness that is intrinsic to its charm.

Visiting the sandy Girgaum Chowpatti beach, where vendors selling spicy bhelpuri and crushed ice golas are aplenty, and sitting at Marine Drive at night in the faint glow of streetlights, arranged in a curved sequence, forming the ‘Queen’s Necklace’, I felt the cool sea breeze which provides the much-needed respite from the summer heat.

This time, I also got a chance to visit the famous Taj Mahal hotel. One of the target locations of the 2008 terrorist attacks, the hotel was restored and reopened on August 15, 2010 to mark India’s Independence Day. The view of the entire city at night from the nearby Hanging Gardens was breathtaking.

Mumbai draws me to its unique architecture. Several landmarks and sites serve as reminders of it’s overwhelming historical and commercial significance during the Portuguese and British rule. I visited the Indo-Saracenic styled Gateway of India; the high arch when lit up at night looked majestic. Built on the waterfront, the monument commemorates the visit of British King George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, another reminder of the tragic Mumbai attacks is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style, with its pointed arches, turrets and magnificent stone dome. The station’s beautiful interior comprises an ornate ceiling and painted glass. Interestingly, the station’s British architects worked with Indian craftsmen to incorporate Indian architectural tradition.

This intermingling of European and Indian traditions is apparent in buildings all over South Mumbai.

One of the first things that struck me was the stark contrast between the developed city centre and its poverty-stricken slums. Whereas modern skyscrapers dot the city’s skyline and international food chains and huge, air-conditioned shopping malls are present in South Mumbai, its slum areas are marked by dark, narrow alleyways that reek of rotting garbage and destitution.

It was in one of these slums, however, that I had one of the most memorable experiences. On first sight, the sprawling slum of Dharavi, spread over 550 acres and inhabited by a population of one million people, appeared to be like any other slum; crowded, dirty and offering little hope or promise for a better future to its people. On closer inspection, during a visit organised by the Acorn Foundation, however, I discovered a unique model of entrepreneurship — a recycling industry that deals with over 80 per cent of Mumbai’s waste in 15,000 single room factories.

It was heartening to see residents engaged in hard work to salvage materials that could be easily recycled, such as glass and plastic.

The industry provides jobs to around 200,000 people. This spirit of hope and desire to improve their conditions is emulated by the slum children. I met a group of children aged between three and fifteen, some of whom took music lessons and played in a band, while others played competitive football. All of them were enrolled in school.

This incident reminded me of a similar one from my previous trip. As part of a team making a documentary about the disparity in the standards of education in Mumbai, I had visited the Sujaya Foundation, an NGO working to bridge the gap between students from municipal schools and private schools. The organisation aims to give underprivileged slum children skills they do not otherwise have access to, such as using computers, dramatics and public speaking.

The enthusiasm and motivation displayed at the institute in Dadar by teachers and students alike was laudable and I saw the same mirrored by the children in Dharavi.

Pertaining to conventional tourist attractions, Mumbai offers limitless opportunities for shopping, ranging from inexpensive street shopping to branded stores in high-end malls. For the former kind, I went to roadside stalls and small shops in the Colaba Causeway area, a haven for those seeking affordable Indian crafts, decorative and embroidered clothes, as well as cheap western wear. For the latter, I visited the Palladium mall in the Phoenix area. It had a multitude of brands, both Indian and foreign. Boutiques in the Kala Ghoda district sold heavily embellished traditional Indian clothes and saris for weddings and other occasions.

I can safely say that I had some of my best meals to date in Mumbai. Delicious, crispy dosas filled with cheese and masala are a common food, as is the vada pav, a spicy potato cutlet covered with chutney and sandwiched between a burger bun.

There is a plethora of cafes and restaurants in South Mumbai, each offering a pleasurable experience, whether it is eating freshly baked pizza while enjoying a view of the bay, or indulging in delectable, creamy butter chicken and spicy biryani.

Another appealing aspect of Mumbai is how easy it is to get around — transport is cheap, convenient and readily available. That said, the high levels of traffic made even short distances difficult to cover. My most common mode of transport in South Mumbai was black and yellow taxis that seemed to be around the corner whenever needed. I took the local train to travel to one of the suburban areas, another expedient option since the rail network is expansive, although travelling during rush hour was an experience in itself!

Mumbai’s dynamic, multi-faceted nature makes it a city for everyone.


Mumbai’s unique architecture.


Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Interior. — Photos by Sakshi Kapoor


Satgarah’s secret legend
Off to this small town in Renala Kurd, in search of some historical links
By Haroon Khalid

As I walked in front of the giant protective wall of the fort, I imagined scenes of war; turbaned archers standing on top of the fort, shooting poisoned arrows at the hordes of forces spread out in the plain laid in front of them.

In reality, today, that plain facing the wall is occupied by a variety of single-storey houses and the fort is under threat by the residents of these houses, who often remove the bricks from the structure to repair their weak links.

This is the historical city of Satgarah, now regarded as a village in the outskirts of Renala Khurd, a few kilometers away from the Multan road in Punjab.

During the second half of the 19th century, before the rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh once again brought a uniform government all over Punjab, this land was tormented by civil war. Various warlords had formed their own small armies and regularly raided other areas in search of bounty.

One such battle took place here at Satgarah, then an important city.

Led by two brothers Wazir and Kamar Singh, the invading forces had forded river Ravi. The defending, and eventually defeated, family was known as Syedwala Sardars. Satgarah fell under the control of the Nikai family led by the Sikh brothers.

The current structure of the fort which is just one giant wall, covering the area from only one end, was built after this victory. It replaced the old one.

The Nikais, supporting Maharaja Ranjit Singh and then the British, were able to keep their control over the area till the time of partition, when the majority of their family migrated to the other side. A branch of the family though chose to convert to Islam and continued holding power in this region by supporting the government of Pakistan.

Before Satgarah fell to the Sikh Nikai family, it was dominated by the Baloch clan that had moved here in the 16th century along with their leader Meer Chakar Rind.

Passing through a small iron gate within the wall, I entered the tomb of Meer Chakar Rind, also known as Chakar-e-Azam (one of the underpasses on the canal in Lahore recently has been named in his honour). His shrine, an octagonal structure crowned by a bulbous dome on the top, is a typical tomb from the Mughal era. Though the exterior of the tomb was elaborate, the interior had a simple grave at the centre, covered with a green cloth containing verses of the Quran.

There is an empty ground next to the tomb where a few men from the community were playing cards and inspecting us suspiciously. “The fort has been ruined,” said historian Iqbal Qaiser. “It used to cover the entire area. Now only a fraction of the wall is left.”

Despite losing political control after the Nikai attack, the Baloch continue to exercise influence in the area. They are believed to be descendants of the forces of Meer Chakar that accompanied him from Balochistan in the 16th century, when he promised to help the beleaguered emperor Humayun to take back his throne in Delhi from the Afghans. Having succeeded in doing so, the Baloch were allowed to settle in the area. “Meer Chakar was accompanied by seven different clans. All of them settled here. This is why the city came to be known as Sat-garah (the seven houses or clans),” said Mubashar Baloch, the numberdar of the village, adding, “There is another folktale about the name of Satgarah. Satgarah in Hindi means a place of peace. It is said that when the Baloch settled here they brought peace to the Hindu population living here.”

Baloch’s analysis might be devoid of historical accuracy but then all folk legends are. They are important in encoding the essence of a particular event. It is believed that Satgarah was an important city before the Baloch took over, dominated by Hindu temples. Down the river from Satgarah are three important Hindu pilgrimages; Seeta Gund, Ram Chauntra and Laxman Chauntra. It is believed that the most sacred of these temples was at Satgarah.

We walked around the village and found two abandoned Hindu temples standing in the middle of the lush green fields. Walking the narrow path that divided these fields of rice, we headed towards the temple. It’s lonely cone-shaped structure welcomed us, we being the only serious tourists it had received in years. It showed us the pitiable state of its pool, which now contained muddy water, no longer possessing the spiritual power to cleanse the profanity of its pilgrims. A small section reserved for the women devotees blinked in the scorching heat and shared with us its tales of pain.

“Do you know that the ancient temples of Katasraj are also known as Satgarah. This is because seven temples were constructed there during the seventh century when the area was under the control of Kashmiris,” said Iqbal Qaiser. “That strengthens the thesis that there were ancient temples here too. Maybe this temple was a part of them and was reconstructed over time.”

“There is another theory about the origin of the name Satgarah. It is believed that when Alexandar attacked India, some of his injured soldiers decided to settle here and named this place after their home town, Stageira. Stageria is an ancient city of Macedonia, the birth place of Alexandar, where Plato educated him. Satgarah, some believe, is a corruption of Stageira,” said Iqbal Qaiser.


The lonely temple and the ruined fort wall of Satgarah. — Photos by Rida Arif

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