Sant Baba Khem Singh Bedi (1832-1905) of Bedi Mahal, Kallar Syedan was the influential Sikh leader of the traditional “Santana” order in Potohar region, Pakistan. ( Sangini fort at Kallar Sayedan is also worth seeing). He claimed to be a direct descendant of Baba Guru Nanak Ji and the spiritual light of Sikhism. Sant Baba Khem Singh Bedi Ji amassed quite a fortune and built the Bedi Mahal, or Bedi Mansion located inside Kallar Syedan district Pakistan.
Being 13th in line after great Guru Nanak Bedi (1469-1539) in the family tree, Baba Khem Singh always had one eye on political power. His influence was concentrated in the West Punjab — Sahiwal (Montgomery) and Kallar Syedan areas.
Being a traditional Sikh, that is an offshoot from a merchant class of Hindus (Kshatriya or Bedi), Khem Singh believed that there is very little difference between the two religions.
Khalsa (pure) Sikh followers of the 10th Guru Gobind, insisted on separating Hindu and Sikh religions, but Baba Khem Singh would have none of that. This limited Baba Khem’s influence on the western half of Punjab.
While the influence of Mughals had reduced considerably in the Punjab region in the last part of the 1700s, the Sikh had risen to prominence. Baba Khem Singh during this time, being a spiritual leader, was very useful to the Colonials in preaching secularism, keeping dissent under check, and sending recruits for the British.
Baba Khem Singh fitted perfectly with the colonials’ plans like a Tee. He participated in suppressing the native rebellion in Gujera (Sahiwal) in 1857, personally leading cavalry charge and clearing routes.
For his loyalty to the crown as a ‘friendly native’, he was awarded the whole gamut of titles, powers, and lands in Western Punjab, now part of Pakistan. The privileges included magisterial powers, knighthood, and an invitation to King Edward VII’s coronation, etc. He was gifted vast agricultural lands appropriated by the British from the Muslim notables and distributed to their ‘loyalists’.
Baba Khem Singh’s descendants also sent soldiers to fight British battles including the 1st world war.
Baba Khem Singh was a huge philanthropist as well. Naturally, Sikhs’ being a minority (3%) anointed to rule by the British, had to be generous, in order to stay influential in a majority Muslim population. He was known to have organized the construction of 50 schools and paid seed money for a college in Rawalpindi.
Despite his generosity, he still had money to splurge on a castle in the center of impoverished Kallar Syedan. The four-story castle had its own stables, dog kennels, a zoo, and servant quarters. The bottom floor was the basement, probably to hide in, in case barbarians ran them over. Only the Muslim servants were allowed inside the premises.
One octogenarian described in his memoir the first time at his teenage that he saw the inside of the Bedi Mahal after the Sikhs left in 1947. All the 5000 Sikhs’ of the surrounding area had gathered at the Bedi Mahal compound during the religious riots and were driven in army convoys to safety. No one was killed here.
The Bedi Mahal we saw was dilapidated but was still grand. I loved the mehmankhana (guest room), the carved wooden doors with brass knobs, the jharokhas, galleries, walkways, open central courtyard, and dome-shaped corner posts.
The best thing in Bedi Mahal was the frescoes and murals on the walls. The figures were of Muslim conquerors, Hindu deities, Sikh religious people, saints, all lined up around the courtyard into one streaming image of perfect religious harmony.
The top deck of the Bedi Mahal still overlooks Kallar Syedan like a king. I could see the town’s Hindu temple and agricultural well in the distance.
We then went up to the zanankhana at the forehead of the Mahal and it had images of the Golden temple, Amritsar, and several religious gatherings, mostly depicting Guru Nanak and some Hindu lady deity. There was a wood-carved separation as well. I wish someone could decipher the frescoes for me.
I am not sure what Baba Khem Singh Bedi has with Bucho Kalan, I could still hear Sikh devotees chant Dhan Dhan Baba Khem Singh Ji! echoing off the Bedi Mahal walls.
Bedian road that leads to Amritsar, pre-partition was also Bedi family heartland. Kabir Bedi of Mahabharata fame was born here.
The Bedi family tree is as distinguished as Sant Baba Khem Singh Bedi Ji himself. Where do I even start? Mahalaxmi Bedi, Kiran Bedi Maharashtra (actress), Rakesh Bedi (surgical strike), Manendar Singh Bedi MD. Maybe Pakistan needs to bring back the sons of the soil to their motherland as you cannot take the soil out of the man.
In the courtyard of the castle is the gaddi (grave) of a Muslim Sufi saint, kept there by the Bedi as a testament to their secular outlook. Besides the grave is the Sikh symbol erected on top of a metal pole.
Fifteen years in the making (ending 1855), Bedi Mahal (Castle) was abandoned in 1947. It was converted to a primary school and General Tikka Khan is one of its alumni. Now know why I keep searching through haunted houses while others make it to generals — it was the school building!
Do read about Punja Sahib.
DO see the video of Bedi Mahal.