By Sanjay Godbole
Bahawalpur is a city in the province of Punjab in Pakistan. This city is situated at a distance of 90 k.m. from Multan and 420 km. from Lahore. One comes across a desert, called ‘Cholistan’ at a distance of 30 km. from Bahawalpur. In the past, an ancient river called ‘Hakda’ used to flow in this region. In the vicinity of this river, there exist about. 300 prominent spots, which have remains of ‘Harappa Culture’, Between 12th Century B.C. to 6th century B. C. the culture here, had flourished and was at its peak. In course of time, the basin of river ‘Hakda’ got shrunk and dried up and the whole terrain got gradually converted and transformed into a desert. The word ‘Cholistan’ has its origin in the word ‘Cholna’ as spoken in the local dialect of that area and which means to move or to migrate from one place to another. The nomadic tribes of this area very frequently migrated from one place to another, in search of water and fodder for their livestock. This practice of migrations made this province popularly known as ‘Cholistan. The residents of this area, even as on today, live in the earthen homes constructed on sandy dunes. The art of weaving, the embroidery and the needlecraft and the general artwork here are very famous. The medium of communication is predominantly the ‘Siraiki’ language, the total area covered by the desert, which is mostly extended towards the east of Bahawalpur is 15000 sq. k.m. and the same finally gets joined to Gulf of Kutch, or the desert of Thar.
Cholistan has many wells. These wells are furnished with a water lifting device which is driven with help of camels. People belonging to various tribes or communities, such as ‘Chachar, Meher, Lar, Pariyar, Channar and Chandani’ are settled in Cholistan. Ancestrically, they are more akin to the linage of the people from Rajasthan. The various forts in cholistan were specially erected by the Rajput rulers for the sole purpose of monitoring the movements of the caravans of camels, and their migratory movements in Cholistan. These forts have been uniformly erected at an evenly equispaced distance of approximately 29 k.m. For the provision of potable water, specially designed and devised underground water tanks were constructed within the limits of these forts, and potable water, was stored in these tanks. The first ever such fort was got constructed by Devraj the prince of Jaisalmer. The entire area in Cholistan was under the control of the Rajput rulers from Jaisalmer. In the year 1733, the Nawab of Bahawalpur conquered this region. One of the big forts in this region, situated at “Deravar’ is known as a ‘Square fort’. The 40 gigantic bastions, each 30 meter high could be seen from at a very long distance in the desert of Cholistan. This mammoth fort is spread over an area of 1500 sq. meters, from Deravar, one comes to a place called ‘Bijnot’ and the border of Indian territory is at a distance of mere 25 k.m. The city of ‘Bikaner’ is at a distance of 150 km. from ‘Bijnot’. In the past, the lights from ‘Bikaner’ could be clearly visible, from this place. In the 19 century, one James Tod authored an exhaustive historical account of Rajasthan. In that account, he has made a specific reference to the fort at ‘Bijnot’. The fort at Bijnot was constructed in the year 757 A.D. Prince ‘Tanmr’ of ‘Bhatti’ Dynasty found a sizable treasure-trove, buried underground. The above fort was constructed with the help of that treasure. This fort was christened after the name of Goddess ‘Bijseni’ as fort of “Bijnot’ because it was believed that the construction of this fort was possible only on account of the blessings of Goddess ‘Bijseni’. This fort was under the command and control of the ‘Rajput’ rulers for nearly a thousand long years. After some time, the Nawab of ‘Bahawalpur’ conquered this fort also. Presently this fort houses the contigent of ‘Pakistan Rangers’. One Mr. ‘Allah Wasaya a gentleman, almost 70 plus of age resides at Bijnot. Since he is thoroughly acquainted with the history of Bijnot, he always provides vital information as to the history of ‘Bijnot’ to the media. In his opinion, the real tension started mounting at Bahawalpur, when in the year 1956, the state of Bahawalpur got merged in Pakistan. In the war that broke out between India and Pakistan in the year 1971, the fort of Bijnot was considerably damaged on account of bombings and regular air assaults by the Indian air fore, says Mr. Wasaya.
The residents of all the nearby villages had vacated their places-enblock. The Indian armed forces made advances and reached Bijnot.
The Indian army, however, soon retreated from Bijnot, due to the implementation of the ‘Simla pact’ between Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
One of the research scholars from Pakistan, Mr. Salman Rashid, carried out a detailed survey of the fort of Bijnot recently. In his opinion, the fort of Bijnot, like the one at ‘Kot Diji’ had a palace, terrace, Galleries, observation towers, Large parlours, rooms and storage spaces. Special underground tanks for storage of water were also provided. On account of a large opening caused during the action, one fails to visualize the original grandeur of the fort in totality. The walls built in limestone, of the structures of the fort are made extraordinarily thick to induce natural air conditioning effect, which is desirable in the hot and arid climate of Cholistan. The roofing is dome shaped. Many a legendary accounts of the Fort of Bijnot are tastefully gossiped in and around Pakistan. Colonel Tod has referred to the fort of Bijnot in brief. But according to Mr. Salman Rashid, a detailed historical account of the Bijnot’s central fort, in the precincts of Cholistan known as ‘Ruhi’ in local dialect and of the various forts, eventually built by the Rajput rulers along the banks of river ‘Hakda’ has not been available hereinsofar.
*(The writer is an museologist/archeologist based at Pune)