Bhera is the once prosperous, and now defunct city, on the Eastern bank of Jhelum River. The city was the first line of defense against invaders from the West.
Meaning of Bhera
The meaning of “Bhera”, a city in Sargodha Pakistan, Be-hara or ‘fearless place’ in Sanskrit.
They had to give Bhera city, a jingoistic name to let the inhabitants feel safe, considering it was raised to the ground several times over, by raiders from the West.
Bhera could also mean ‘Be-raha’ or ‘off route’ considering Sher Shah Suri (1538-45) sounded a death knell to this trading outpost, when he built new Grand Trunk Road, up North.
Bhera was once part of the Shahpur district but now is included in the Sargodha district.
Location and Map
While Bhera Shahpur missed the GT road, Pakistan missed the Knowledge road…
This is the Googlemap of how to reach Bhera city from Lahore
First significant mention of Bhera Shahpur is by the Chinese Buddhist traveler FaXian in 400 AD
Bhera Shahpur was originally Chobnathnagar in the 7th century and was located on the Western bank of River Jhelum where the river flattens out. It’s was always a bad idea to locate your trading post beyond your natural line of defense – that’s exactly what happened.
First the city was affected by the loss of Porus to Alexander’s army (326 BC) somewhere close by at Mong, a few kilometers from Bhera city. To get more information on that prequel, read Nandna Fort History please.
Two Centuries later it was smashed by an unnamed General of Chingez Khan. I wonder what the barbarian Mongol was doing here riding all the way from the highlands of Mongolia to the heart of Shahpur District.
History after 1500AD
Following him, in 1519, Babur fresh from the slaughter of Bajaur, laid siege to Bhera and walked off with a huge payoff. Check out the way Mughal Babur casually talks of his slaughters:-
After Mughal, came the Sikh and peace returned to the city. The English took over from the Sikh, but by then the city was already dwindling.
What is it Famous for?
Bhera is famous for its Hindu Temples, Gurdwaras, Mansions, distinguished families and its history right at the Bank of Jhelum River Crossing.
I first heard of Bhera from a friend of mine who was brilliant academically but was very humble in his upbringing. I was intrigued; such brilliance can only come from a place that nurtures knowledge.
Distinguished families of the City
Bhera, since the Sikh Rule in the 1700s, has been home to enterprising, education-loving, money-hoarding families like
- The Sahni
- Piracha and
Some even claim to be direct descendants of Porus’s mohyal Rajput.
Even Nehru once had a Jalsa to assure the local non-muslim population.
When I finally visited the place, 2.5 hours from Islamabad on the Bhera Interchange, I found my hunch to be true.
Furthermore, Bhera to Lahore distance is just 210 kilometers and 2 hours
The people of Bhera pursued education and that was its culture.
“When there were a total of 8 high schools in all of Punjab, Bhera had two” said a local prominent person.
An octogenarian told me that when she would visit the homes of her Hindu friends, their houses would be lined till the roof with books. And boy did they love their gold and riches. She mentioned that to hide their surplus gold, the Hindus of Bhera would have their precious metals strung into long wires, coated with tar, and nailed to the roof.
The non-Muslims of Bhera were mostly into trade involving salt, wood, embroidery, carvings and cutlery. Bhervi people have their own ludi and dhol dance. The water channels of Jhelum River were widely used.
In fact the Khukrain Clan had nine sub clans Sahni, Sethi, Anand, Suri, Kohli, Bhasin, Chadda, Sabharwal, Chandok; most of them concentrated here.
The Bhera people never married out of the clan while they were in their ancestral homes, but after they all left peacefully in 1947, they all scattered around India and the world at large. Infact, there still is a Bhera enclave in Dehli India.
Prominent personalities of this city
- Bollywood Actress Juhi Chawla is the daughter of the sister-in-law of prominent Pakistani Hindu of Bhera, Jagdish Chand Anand of the Eveready pictures fame.
- Then Bisham Sahni award winning literary figure of India wrote a novel based on Bhera ‘Mayyada Ki Marhi’. Several prominent Indian businessmen, celebrities and politicians were from Bhera.
- One Indian minister visited his home a few decades back.
Quite a few Goras also venture to these parts to strike gold from Hindu Havelis.
Some very influential Ahmedi religious personalities are from Bhera.
Non-Muslims of this city
Most of the non-Muslim families of Bhera have already left Pakistan.
In the 1940s Bhera had 1% Sikh, 22 % Hindu, and the rest Muslims. Even the Muslims, had sympathetic Muslims like the Sethi, Sheikhs, and Piracha — because they were converts.
There was no blood shed in Bhera in 1947 as the local Muslim merchant class, especially the Sheikhs gave protection to the resident Hindus before they left for India.
Without doubt I could feel the vibes of a once civilized, cultured, educated and thriving city when I got there. None of the inhabitants had a Punjabi accent and were very proud of their heritage.
Hindu Temples and Gurdwaras
The once magnificent haveli, Gurdwara and temples inside winding gullies are now a crumbling mess. The paved streets and clean drains are full of filth. That’s not how a city should degenerate – this is not how a country should degenerate.
7 gates of the city
I also felt that this microcosm of culture within the 7 gates of the old city walls, never recovered from the loss of its brilliant natives.
We went into the Bhera walled city ( walled city of Lahore and Androon Rawalpindi is also a must visit) through the Lahori Gate, then walked to the Gurdwara tower and panned a video of Bhera from the rickety belfry.
We then walked to the Hindu temple near the muhajir masjid and hopped on to a rickshaw towards Sheikh, Sahni and Piracha mohallas. The same rickshaw drove us around the outer walls to see the renovated Kashmiri, Multani, Chinioti, Kabuli and the dilapidated Lohari gate.
Why the decline of Bhera?
I mean, does it take 70 years to understand that union councils have to be given financial powers to handle issues of sanitation, policing, health, and education?
Maybe we need the sons of the soil to return and knock some sense into the heads of these brainless clowns that is our ruling elite.
Railway Station Changeover
On the outskirts of the city is the British Railways Changeover track. Bhera was at the end of the Northwestern Railways network. The same station where once a showy Hindu merchant rolled out a red carpet from the platform right up to his doorway, for his white guest ; the platform was abandoned and spooky.
We then had a tandoor wala lunch at Lahori Gate and then drove right up to the bank of the Jhelum River to see the ancient trade route.
The weather at Bhera city is hot in summer, typically like any other city in Punjab. The temperature readily crosses 40 degrees Celsius in May- August and doesn’t go below 15 Deg C in December- January.
Bhera Interchange and Rest Area
Because of the relatively recent Bhera Interchange and service area of Motorway, the city has gained in importance once again. You can get your food from there.
Urs near Darul Uloom Hamadia
Bhera Sharif, an annual Urs that takes place at Bhera also attracts outsiders.
Chopra Baoli Hindu Temple
Right on the bank of River Jhelum wetlands, lies the Chopra baoli wala Hindu temple, still looking magnificent and grand, despite its wear and tear.
Although Bhera has definitely seen its last show, Pakistan doesn’t have to end that way. Educate your people or die!