Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Rao Bijender Singh - A promising personality from earstwhile rulers of Rewari

Rao Bijender Singh, a smart and handsome person in his mid-fifties with an aura of royalty is a direct descent of the family of erstwhile rulers of the State of Rewari in Haryana. It was, in fact, a Jagir, bestowed upon Rao Shahbaaj by the later Mughal Emperor of Delhi. Bijender lives in ‘Rani ki Deodhi’, the old Indian traditional style mansion in ‘Katla’ situated in one of the oldest sectors of the town of Rewari. Katla is a purely Hindustani word and its etymology suggests that it was coined during the Islamic rule and literally means a huge mansion with quarters for officers, servants and the stable with all the paraphernalia including spaces for the temporary market. It was a gated structure and entrance to the main edifice used to be restricted in old days. However, as the old structure built from undressed stone fixed in lime mortar began to show signs of ageing and decay, Rao Bijender modified it from time to time retaining only the grand façade that reminds one of the grandeur gone by. He has a sort of his own ‘Mehfil’ adorned by a Hookah and several old and young persons to give him company while he puffs the device several times a day. From his appearance he doesn’t seems to be addicted to the tobacco but apparently accompanies the guests, as courtesy, and usually offers tea that his trusted Chaiwallah (his name is Sunil) serves in ‘kulhars’ to every new comer. This is repeated several times during the day. His ‘Baithak’ is in one of the vaulted chambers of the old remains of the ‘Deodhi’ that opens into a spacious, open to sky, courtyard. The Southern sides of the ‘Deodhi’, the vaulted chambers have been converted into shops in front of which is a big chowk in which the vendors creep with their hand-carts and the traders keep the merchandize in a comfortable confusion hindering the free flow of traffic. Beyond that is the street, now fully converted into a bazaar.

I now don’t recall how my first encounter with Rao Bijender Singh had occurred but could feebly remember that someone had referred to him while I was on a tour to the town to document the old monuments and vestiges of the era gone by, sometime in the late 1990s. It is now more than a twenty year’s journey in life since we met and continued the association. I never found him lacking in a warm welcome to me but if I happened to take an immediate leave from his Baithak after sipping a Kulhar of tea and making a few puffs of the Hookah, he displayed a feeling of remorse. I usually honored is display of affection and managed to console him. There were occasions when he made me stay with him in the Deodhi and I never noticed his interest waning in hospitality or subject of my interest.

His scholarly interests in the history of Rewari came as a slow revelation to me, which I regularly appreciated. In the beginning I had taken him only as a Khandani person who, in all due courtesy, could do the best for his guests, even though they were uninvited. In the earlier days, the mobile connectivity with persons was not available and we could meet only if I suddenly dropped in Rani ki Deodhi but nowadays I take due precaution to inform him about my arrival and the purpose. Also, if I wished to stay, he would welcome the gesture.

In due course of time, I realized the significance of his friendship as he is person of immense influence in the whole of the Ahirwal and possesses substantial knowledge about the old village estates of the district as well as its built heritage. He has a keen interest in the political developments of his district but shun active participation after initial hiccups with Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav who abruptly ditched him without caring for his noble status. Neither he nor his ancestors were ever feudal in nature but did many acts of benevolence. He has all the usual characteristics of the nobility but complains that the historians have not only distorted the content in the history of Rewari but also deliberately neglected the legacy of his forefathers. He appreciates the British who faithfully acknowledged the supremacy of his ancestors but condemns the usurpers who have lately become politically dominated and were in limelight ever since the rise of Rao Virender Singh, who was once the Chief Executive of the State of Haryana. A well-known historian of Haryana has not only shown total negligence in making mentions of the role of his ancestors and the Rani ki Deodhi, the seat of power in those days, but also acknowledged praise for the vassals of his family in an unprecedented manner. For this historian, appeasing those in power for personal gain was more important that the principles of historiography. However, a legend hung on the wall of the newly refurbished drawing room in the Rani ki Deodhi tells a true account of the lineage of the Jagirdars of Rewari in whose name the actual ‘Patta’ was sanctioned by one of the later Moghuls Monarchs of Delhi. Besides, the display of photographs of only the first person in the lineage of the erstwhile State have been attractively hung on another wall, which depicts the true character of the kind of personalities that held charge of affairs in the medieval times. The family is said to have migrated sometime in mid-eighteenth century from Behali, an old village estate of prominence among Ahirs.

The name of Rao Bijender Singh first came to be heard from a local person while I was inspecting a few old cenotaphs of an unusual architecture –not noticed in Haryana, located behind the Church on the southern side of an equally old masonry tank. I had resolved to see the young Rao (He might be then in his early thirties) and gather suitable information from him about the memorial edifices and the tank. It was not a difficult task to locate Rani ki Deodhi as the people guided me to go through the Kanod Gate, drive for a minute and by taking a right turn could enter into an arched gateway. After preliminary introduction, he had carefully listened to my queries and patiently and accurately answered all. I jotted down notes and used to occasionally confirm the pieces of history as told by him. Now, after a gap of about 17 years, I can designate him as a fine oral historian as his version and accounts about the old episodes and records always turned out true. Later, I discovered that he was in possession of copies of several significant records obtained from the settlement reports, district gazetteers and other sources of history including the history of Ahirwal authored and printed by Col. Ram Singh. I had to borrow this important document of subaltern history from him for jotting down various details about the Ahirs, their political history and how they became an organized military force to be reckoned by the later Moghuls until the British eliminated them in 1957 during which they unleashed the units of the British infantry and the artillery to crush them and capture Rao Tula Ram, the ‘rebel’ leader. They could not succeeded in capturing the later but had a decisive battle fought in the plains surrounded of boulders and small hillocks near Nasibpur. The whole story is documented in the district gazetteer of Gurgaon published in 1910.

In these years, I have had more than a dozen occasions to meet Rao Bijender Singh an occasionally stayed at Rani ki Deodhi to gather more information about the family, the town and the built heritage in the villages of the district. So far, he guidance has been worthy of appreciation as he neither faltered nor been inaccurate. With his enthusiasm, I could recently discover a mid-eighteenth century monument hidden within the precincts of the old sector of Rewari and felt awed at the sight of the massive building. With his backup I could also discover several fine monuments and art-heritage of the district of Rewari. It is in the form of the oldest and finest frescoes done in ochre on subject ranging from Indian pantheon –mythology, life and times of Lord Krishna based on Geet Gobind by Jaideva, and several legendary characters including scenes from local village life. The sketching is impressive as the line-work and shading is suggestive of Dhoondhaar style i.e. prevalent in the Jaipur State of yore. These frescoes are historically significant as no reporting about them has ever been done by art-historian previous to this author.

The Rewari town itself can boast of several monuments depicting various forms of architecture and artistic embellishment in addition to masonry structures related to storage and management of runoff rain water. Rewari is located in southern Haryana’s semi-arid region and scarcity of water often hits people. As and when the summer rains or the Monsoon failed the life of the people and cattle could be in danger. Thousands of masonry wells dotting the agricultural fields and human habitations were the only reliable source of obtaining potable water and irrigating the fields during the rabi crop season. Occasionally, the Sahibi River could also inundate the whole town and surrounding villages but brought immense benefits in the wake as it spread new soil and brought water to the parched fields which were a boon for winter crops.

Rao Bijender has the potential to provide social leadership to the people of the region with all aura of the family behind him as displayed on certain occasions when he saved the Kanod Gate from encroachment and organized several awareness campaigns to save the built heritage of Rewari. It is regrettable that the local chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) does not involve him in the mission and is virtually ineffective, so far, in either documenting the built heritage of the district or preparing a plan for conservation of the dilapidated or withered and fatigued monuments.

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