Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SAIDPUR VILLAGE: a jewel in the crown of Islamabad

* Around 500-year-old village has myths and folklore * CDA developing Saidpur into tourist attraction * Emperor Jahangir’s memoir, Tuzke Jahangiri mentions that he stopped in Saidpur

People often describe Islamabad as a city “without a soul”. Actually, Islamabad’s soul is not to be found in the city itself but on the fringes of the city in the little hamlets and hills.

One such place is Saidpur, a village situated in the footsteps of Margalla Hills hardly at five minutes drive from the upscale neighbourhoods of the capital.

Fauzia Minallah, an Islamabad-based artist, has written a delightful book titled ‘Glimpses into Islamabad’s Soul’. Fauzia has described many such places in and around Islamabad including fascinating Saidpur Village with long history and heritage, myths and folklore.

Recently a lot of development activity in the area has taken place. The road to the village was being carpeted, forest areas were being cleaned of undergrowth, a rustic fence was erected along the road leading to the village, and haystacks suddenly sprouted along the road to give a rural look to the area.

Development: The Capital Development Authority (CDA) is developing Saidpur into a tourist attraction, and is spending around Rs 400 million on resurrecting the old village and giving it a quaint look.

A newly built adobe gate welcomes you to the village. Built somewhat in Pueblo style, the gate seems to have been virtually lifted from Santa Fe, New Mexico and planted in Saidpur.

While CDA’s plans and efforts to revamp Saidpur are commendable, there is this danger that they might end up reinventing it.

Saidpur is a very old village – four or five hundred years old - with a history and heritage and, of course, its own myths and folklore. It is nestled in the Margallah Hills overlooking Islamabad. Built along the slope of the hills, and gradually creeping upwards, the village presents a picturesque view, particularly in the soft light of morning or afternoon sun.

Saidpur is named after Said Khan, the son of Sultan Sarang Khan, the Gakhar chief of the Potohar region during Emperor Babur’s time.

Emperor Jehangir: Emperor Jahangir’s memoir, Tuzke Jahangiri, mentions Jahangir halting at a place “beyond Rawalpindi”, on his way to Kabul. From his description it seems the place was Saidpur.

The Persian book `Kaigor Namah’ beautifully describes the place [Saidpur] during the visit of the Mughal commander Raja Man Singh in about 1580. It was a garden resort with a number of natural streams supplying water for drinking and irrigation.

Raja Man Singh was so enamored by the village that he turned it into a place of religious worship. He constructed raised platforms, walled enclosures and a number of kunds (ponds) called Rama kunda, Sita kunda, Lakshaman kunda and Hanuman kunda named after the characters of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Saidpur was declared a pilgrim centre and Rama kunda was preserved right up to 1947.

The first thing one notices on entering the village (and that is a big surprise), past a green domed mosque, is a Hindu temple, prominently situated and newly restored and painted.

A little removed from the temple, to the left, is a small building with two orange coloured domes. A plaque on this building, written in what appears to be Gurmukhi, suggests it might have been a Gurdwara or a Sikh shrine.

Between the temple and the `gurdwara’ is a neat, two-storey building that was an orphanage (Dharamsala) at one time. The temple is mentioned in the Punjab Gazetteer of Rawalpindi district of 1893-94, which suggests it is over a hundred years old. It’s amazing that a temple and gurdwara survived in a village that had no Hindu or Sikh population since 1947. Saidpur is also known for making unglazed pottery. The distinct cultural identity of Saidpur has always been its pottery and it has always been known as the potters’ village.

Old potters of the village, Niaz Muhammad and Rahim Dad, still run their workshops in the village. The shrine of Zinda Pir or the Living Saint is located just a couple of hundred feet above the temple on the hill slope under a pair of old banyan trees.

Muhammad Mahtab Bashir
voice: 0300 52 56 875

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