Swat History

Saidu Sharif In The Year 1926 (Part 2)

My first day at Saidu was used, apart from plentiful writing work, for a visit prescribed both by interest and local etiquette to the shrine of the great Akhund, the Badshah’s holy grandfather. His tomb rests in a domed pavilion, enclosed by open-work screens of which the old portions show how much skill and taste still survived fifty years ago among the craftsmen of Swat. By their side some recent gilded additions looked gaudy. The holy Akhund’s tomb attracts throughout the year many pilgrims from all parts of the Frontier between Peshawar and the Hindukush, and the offerings received from them by the shrine are justly believed to constitute a very considerable annual revenue for the saint’s family, the hereditary guardians of the tomb. Religious students from Swat and different neighbouring hill tracts receive instruction in Islamic law as well as bodily sustenance in the ‘Jumat’ attached to the shrine. In the large loggia that serves for their instruction I saw some very good wood-carving.

I naturally did not fail to deposit my own offering to the saint with the custodians of the shrine. I visited the magnificent spring, shaded by fine old plane trees, that issues close to it, and wondered how much it might have helped to attach the holy teacher to this favoured spot during his long life. A visit to the Badshah’s Darbar hall, a large wooden structure with much good carving on columns and panelled walls, concluded the day’s sightseeing within Saidu. Later in the evening the Badshah kindly took me in his  motor-car down to the river bank past Mingaora and showed me the road that he had made to facilitate the transport of the heavy timber required for his building operations, which is floated down from the forests of Torwal. I was glad to find that spiritual obligations and political cares had in no way dimmed his keen practical perception of the great economic value of the magnificent forests of Upper Swat and of the need for their systematic protection.

For two more days my camp had to remain at Saidu not on account of the comfortable conditions that we there enjoyed, thanks to the hospitable attention of the Badshah and his advisers, but because of the many ruins to be visited in the neighbouring valleys. So it was only before our start in the early morning and on our return in the evening from long excursions that I was able to catch glimpses of my host and of the daily life surrounding him…It was curious, when returning in the evening, to meet the same miscellaneous host of Khans, with their followers in carefully separated groups, and of humbler folk, walking slowly on the wide road that the Miangul has made between his seat and Mingaora. They had sought relaxation from the long waits and pleadings in watching the game of football played by the schoolboys in a field laid out half-way to Mingaora. Now they were returning in the hope that the Miangul’s flesh-pots would soon enable them to break the day’s fast. It is a rule enforced by tradition and policy that all those who seek justice from him must be entertained as his guests, if need be, for three days and not more. A wise practice it seems, as calculated both to expedite judgement and to soften the feelings of disappointed litigants.

Anyhow, the fiscal expense involved by this system of hospitality to litigants was obviously in the Miangul’s mind when, on my request to be allowed to pay for all supplies furnished to my party, he smilingly referred to the insignificance of the charge compared with that of the hundred or two of ‘guests’ whom his kitchen had to entertain daily. I was told by others of the reasonable arrangement that divides these ‘guests’ into three distinct classes: one partaking of the ruler’s own table, another having meals with the Wazir, and a third, made up of the common herd, who are served direct from the big kitchen. I have little doubt that this third division is quite as exacting as the others in respect of quantity and not less critical as to the cooking.

Needless to say that all these parties bringing their cases before the Badshah walked about fully armed. The aim of even the humblest Pathan cultivator here is to possess a rifle, revolver, or pistol, and the variety of weapons met with on the road, from the latest magazine rifles and Mauser pistols to cheap Martinis, was surprising. Obviously it is a good investment to acquire an up-to-date weapon, and as elsewhere across the Frontier, big prices, up to a thousand rupees and more, are paid for the best small-bore magazine rifles.

Source of Information (Reference):

Sir Aurel Stein, On Alexander Track To The Indus, Macmillan And Co., Limited, St. Martin’s Street, London, 1929, Pages 65-70.

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