Uch Sharīf is an historic city in the southern part of Pakistan's Punjab province...
Uch Sharīf is an historic city in the southern part of Pakistan's Punjab province...

Located 84 km away from Bahawalpur, Uch Sharīf is an historic city in the southern part of Pakistan's Punjab province. It is divided into three localities: Uch Bukhari, named for the saints from Bukhara, Uch Gilani (or Uch Jilani), named for the saints from Persia, and Uch Mughlia, named for the descendants of Mongol invaders who had settled in that quarter. Monuments are scattered throughout the city, and are connected by narrow lanes and winding bazaars. The most notable collection, called the Uch Monument Complex, is located at the old city's western edge. The old core is next to a large field used as a mela ground, or fair ground for urs festivals dedicated to the town's saints.

History

Uch may have been founded in 325 BCE by Alexander the Great as the city of Alexandria on the Indus, according to British officer and archaeologist Alexander Cunningham. The city was reportedly settled by natives of the Greek region of Thrace, and was located at the confluence of the Acesines river with the Indus. Uch was once located on the banks of the Indus River, though the river has since shifted its course, and the confluence of the two rivers has shifted approximately 25 miles southwest.

Uch saw the influence of several Mahajanapada of ancient India, mainly Gandhara, Kamboja and Magadha. By 400-300 BCE, the region came under the influence of several Magadha dynasties of eastern India. The first was that of the Nanda Empire of ancient India from 300 BCE, and with the rise of Chandragupta Maurya, the region came under the complete control of the Mauryan Empire. After the victory of the Mauryan Empire against the Greeks in the Seleucid–Mauryan war, much of the region came under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya of ancient India. Chandragupta and Seleucus made a peace settlement in 304 BCE.

Selecucus Nucator ceded the satrapies, including those in Chitral to the expanding Mauryan Empire. The alliance was solidified with a marriage between Chandragupta Maurya and a princess of the Seleucid Empire. The outcome of the arrangement proved to be mutually beneficial. The border between the Seleucid and Mauryan Empires remained stable in subsequent generations, and friendly diplomatic relations are reflected by the ambassador Megasthenes, and by the envoys sent westward by Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka. Afterward, the region was briefly and nominally controlled by the Shunga Empire.

However, with the decline of the Shungas, the region passed to local Hindu and Buddhist rulers, and interrupted by foreign rulers. Many of these foreign rulers, like the Indo-Parthians, Sakas, and Kushans converted to Hinduism and Buddhism, and promoted these Indian religions throughout Central and South Asia. The region reached its height under the Buddhist ruler Kanishka the Great. After the fall of the Kushans, the region came under the control of the Gupta Empire of ancient India. During the period, Hindu and Buddhist art and architecture flourished in the area. With the decline of the imperial Guptas, the Hindu Shahis came to rule the area. The Hindu Shahis built massive forts and temples in the region. These Hindu Shahi forts were known for high towers and steep defensive walls. The Hindus also built many Hindu temples around the area, however, much of them are now in rubble.

In 712 CE, Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Uch. Few details exist of the city in the centuries prior to his invasion. Uch was probably the town recorded as Bhatia that was conquered in 1006 by Mahmud of Ghazni. Following the schism between the Nizari and Musta'li sects of Ismaili Shi'ism in 1094, Uch became a centre of Nizari missionary activity for several centuries, and today the town and surrounding region are littered with numerous tombs of prominent pirs, as well as pious daughters and wives of those Sufi pirs.

The region around Uch and Multan remained centre of Hindu Vaishnavite and Surya pilgrimage throughout the medieval era. Their interactions with Ismaili tradition resulted in the creation of the Satpanth tradition. Throughout this era, Uch was at the centre of a region that was steeped in both Vedic and Islamic traditions. The city would later become a centre of Suhrwadi Sufism, with the establishment of the order by Bahauddin Zakariya in nearby Multan in the early 1200s.

Muhammad of Ghor conquered Uch and nearby Sultan in 1175 while it was still under the influence of the Ismaili Qarmatians. The town was likely captured from the Soomra dynasty based in Sindh. Sindh's various dynasties had for centuries attempted to keep Uch and Multan under their sway.

Mamluk sultanate

Soomra power was eroded by the advance of Nasir-ud-Din Qabacha of what would later become the Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. Qabacha was declared Governor of Uch in 1204. Under his rule, Uch became the principal city of Upper Sindh. Qabacha declared independence for his principality centred on Uch and Multan after the death of Sultan Aybak in 1211, before marching onwards to capture Lahore, thereby placing Qabacha's new Uch Sultanate in conflict with Sultan Iltutmish in Delhi. Qabacha briefly lost control of Uch to Taj-ud-Din Yildiz, though Uch was quickly returned to Qabacha's rule.

While the power struggle ensued among Qabacha and Iltuthmish, Uch came under further pressure from the Khwarazmian dynasty based in Samarkand that had been displaced by the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan. Following the defeat of his father by the Mongols in the mid-1210s, the last Khwarazmian Sultan, Jalal-ud-Din Mingburnu, sacked and conquered Uch in 1224 after Qabacha refused to aid him in a campaign against Genghis Khan. Jalal-u-Din Mingburnu was finally defeated by Genghis Khan in 1224 in a battle at Uch, and was forced to flee to Persia. Genghis Khan attacked Multan on his return to Iran in 1224, though Sultan Qabacha was able to successfully defend that city. Despite repeated invasions, the city remained a great centre of Muslim scholarship, as evidenced by the appointment of the renowned Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj as chief of the city's Firozi madrasa.

In 1228, Qabacha's forces, weakened by Mongol and Khwarazmian invasions, lost Uch to Sultan Iltutmish of Delhi, and fled south to Bhakkar in Sindh, where he was eventually captured and drowned in the Indus River as punishment. Following the collapse of Qabacha's sultanate at the hands of Mongols and Khwarazmians, and the degradation of Lahore from years of conflict there, Muslim power in north India shifted away from Punjab and towards the safer environs Delhi.

Mongol and Timurid invasions

One of Uch's most celebrated saints, Jalaluddin Surkh Posh Bukhari, migrated to Uch from Bukhara in 1244-45. In 1245-46, the Mongols again invaded Uch under Mongke Khan after receiving aid from the local Khokhar tribes. In 1252, forces from Delhi were sent to the region in order to secure Uch from Mongol raiders, though Uch was again raided in 1258. Uch was raided yet again by Mongols in 1304 and 1305. Following the 1305 invasion, Uch came under the governoship of Ghazi Beg, who would later seize Delhi and come to be known as Ghiyath-u-Din Tughluq, founder of the Tughlaq dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. Uch was captured in 1398 by Pir Muhammad ibn Jahangir, grandson of Tamerlane, allowing Khizr Khan to regain control of the area, before joining with the forces of the elder Tamerlane to sack Delhi and establish the Sayyid dynasty in 1414.

Langah sultanate

Uch then came under the control of the Langah Sultanate in the early 15th century, founded in nearby Multan by Budhan Khan, who assumed the title Mahmud Shah. During the rule of Shah Husayn Langah, large numbers of Baloch settlers were invited to settle in the region. The city was placed under the jagir governorship of a Samma prince. In the mid-1400s, Muhammad Ghaus Gilani, a descendant of the Persian saint Abdul Qadir Gilani, established a Khanqah monastery in Uch, thereby establishing the city as a centre of the Qadiriyya Sufi order which would later become the dominant order of Punjab. Following the death of Shah Husayn, Uch's Samma rulers quickly allied themselves with Baloch chieftain Mir Chakar Rind.

Mughal

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, is believed to have visited Uch in the early 1500s, and left behind 5 relics, after meeting with the descendants of Jalaludin Bukhari. In 1525 Uch was invaded by rulers of the Arghun dynasty of northern Sindh, before falling to the forces of Pashtun king Sher Shah Suri in 1540. Mughal Emperor Humayun entered Uch in late 1540, but was not welcomed by the city's inhabitants, and was defeated by the forces of Sher Shah Suri. The city reverted to Arghun rule following the expulsion of Humayun, and the fall of Sher Shah Suri's short-lived empire.

Uch became a part of the Mughal Empire during the reign of Akbar, and the city was a district of Multan province. Under Mughal rule, the city continued to flourish as a centre of religious scholarship. In 1680, the renowned Punjabi poet, Bulleh Shah, who is regarded as a saint by both Sufis and Sikhs, was born in Uch. In 1751, Uch was attacked by Sardar Jahan Khan, general in the army of Ahmad Shah Durrani.

Bahawalapur princely state

Uch came under the control of the Bahawalpur princely state, which declared independence in 1748 following the collapse of the Durrani empire. Bahawalpur had become a vassal of the Sikh Empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, before becoming a dependency of the British Empire defined under an 1833 treaty. By 1836, the ruling Abbasi family stopped paying tribute to the Sikhs, and declared independence. Bahawalpur's ruling Abbasi family aligned themselves with the British during the Anglo-Sikh wars, thereby guaranteeing its survival as a princely state.

Modern

Upon the independence of Pakistan in 1947, Uch had a population of around 2 to 3,000 people. As part of Bahawalpur state, Uch was acceded to the new Pakistani state, but remained part of the autonomous Bahawalpur state until 1955 when it was fully amalgamated into Pakistan. Uch remains a relatively small city, but is an important tourist and pilgrimage destination on account of its numerous tombs and shrines.

Uch Monument Complex

17 tiled funerary monuments and associated structures remain tightly knit into the urban fabric of Uch. The shrines, notably the tombs of Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari and his family, are built in a regional vernacular style particular to southern Punjab, with tile work imported from the nearby city of Multan. These structures were typically domed tombs on octagonal bases, with elements of Tughlaq military architecture, such as the addition of decorative bastions and crenellations.

Three shrines built over the course of 200 years are particularly well known, and along with an accompanying 1400 graves form the Uch Monument Complex, a site tentatively inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. Of the shrines, the first is said to have been built for Sheikh Baha'al-Halim by his pupil, the Suharwardiya Sufi saint Jahaniyan Jahangasht (1307–1383), the second for the latter's great-granddaughter, Bibi Jawindi, in 1494, and the third for the latter's architect.

Flooding in the early 19th century caused serious damage to many of the city's tombs, including structural problems and the deterioration of masonry and finishes. As the problems have persisted, the Uch Monument Complex was listed in the 1998 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund, and again in 2000 and 2002. The Fund subsequently offered financial assistance for conservation from American Express. World Bank to give Punjab govt $500m to restore religious sites including the tomb of Bibi Jawindi, Uch Sharif Bahawalpur for restoration and uplifting.