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Who is Dulla Bhatti, the Robinhood of Punjab Immortalised in Famous Lohri Song?

Learn about Dulla Bhatti, the Robinhood of Punjab, who is remembered in famous Lohri song 'sundar mundriye'.

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'Sundar Mundriye, ho! Tera kon vichara, ho? Dulla Bhatti wala, ho…!'

Every year, come Lohri, it is customary for Punjabis to gather, light a bonfire, distribute sweets, and sing and dance to this very song. We have all heard it; and many of us who are even slightly proficient in Punjabi, or fond of Punjabi music, have also sung along with full zeal and gaiety.

But who was Dulla Bhatti? Who were Sundri and Mundri? What is the legend, which has been immortalised forever in this Lohri song, to be sung for ages to come?

The Quint delves into the history and decodes the folk song for you.

A Hero is Born

The story of this folk legend can be traced to the 16th-century in a small village called Pindi Bhattian, nestled in the forests of west Punjab, some 120 kms from the erstwhile Mughal capital of Lahore, now in Pakistan.

The area was controlled by the Rajput Muslim chieftains belonging to the Bhatti clan. They enjoyed influence during the Lodhi era, but were overpowered by the Mughals as Humayun extended his empire westwards.

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The Mughals entrusted feudal lords loyal to them to collect revenue from the peasants.

This ‘extortion’ is said to have turned the Bhattis rebellious against the zimidaars (landlords) — leading their cause were Farid Bhatti and his father Bijal (or Sandal) Bhatti. They were ultimately hanged for treason during Akbar’s reign.

In July 1547, months after Farid’s execution, his wife gave birth to their only son, Abdullah, whom the villagers affectionately called ‘Dulla’. Afraid to lose her only son to his father’s legacy, Dulla’s mother kept their death a secret.

Learn about Dulla Bhatti, the Robinhood of Punjab, who is remembered in famous Lohri song 'sundar mundriye'.

A painting depicting Dulla Bhatti

(Source unknown)

Dulla, the Saviour

Nineteenth-century Punjabi poet Kishan Singh ‘Arif’ notes in his book ‘Qissa Dulla Bhatti’Qissa is a Punjabi poetic ballad-writing style — that Dulla used to love playing with a gulel (slingshot) in his childhood, and he and his friends would often break the earthen pots of the village women with slingshots.

Once, a mirasan (woman belonging to the oppressed Mirasi caste) named Nandi got angry at him, and told him he was a blot to his forefathers’ legacy.

“Your father and grandfather were brave warriors, why do you trouble us poor girls everyday? They died fighting the Mughals; if your shot is so perfect, why don’t you fight them?” — Arif quotes the woman as saying in his book.

This, he writes, was a turning point for a young Dulla, who then convinced his mother to tell him what had really happened to his dead father.

Soon, Dulla Bhatti raised an army of his own – they would rob the caravans of Mughal administrators and zamindars. Troubled by heavy taxes, the poor farmers and traders would rally behind him.

A ‘social bandit’, Dulla would keep only very small amounts of the loot for himself, and distribute the plundered treasury among the poor.

This made Dulla a menace for the empire — in the backdrop of the Mughal emperor Akbar shifting his capital from Delhi to Lahore in 1550s, to deal with an increased turbulence from Kabul.

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Marrying off a Hindu Girl

If folklore is to be believed, there once was a girl named Mundri — niece of a Brahmin in a town near Pindi Bhattian. She was betrothed, but an old Mughal zamindar had his eye on her. Fearing trouble at his hands, the family called off the marriage.

Her uncle then called upon Dulla, who was reputed to be a saviour of poor girls.

It is believed that Dulla Bhatti rescued the girl from the zamindar, and when her uncle refused to accept her back, Dulla stepped in. He raised Mundri and later married her off — some say the marriage took place on the night of Lohri.

Hence the beautiful Lohri song to thank the Muslim chieftain for saving Hindu girls:

'Sundar Mundriye, ho!

Tera kon vichara, ho?

Dulla Bhatti wala, ho!

Dulle dhee viahi, ho!

Ser shakkar paai, ho!

Kudi da laal pataka, ho!

Kudi da saalu paata, ho!

Saalu kon samete, ho?

Chache choori kutti, ho!

Zimidaraan lutti, ho!'

The song is written in the ‘Vaar’ style — a war ballad-writing style contemporary to Dulla Bhatti, Punjabi sufi saint Shah Hussain, and the fifth Sikh master, Guru Arjan Dev.

Punjabi translator and poet Nirupama Dutt, translates the folk song in her book, ‘The Ballad of Bant Singh’ — an ode to a Dalit Sikh activist of Punjab.

She pens down:

'Beautiful girl (Mundri)

Who will care for you

But for Dulla Bhatti

Dulla married off his daughter

He gave her a measure of sugar

The girl dressed in bridal red

Her shawl is torn

Who will mend her shawl?

Her uncle makes sweet bread

The landlords loot it all.'

However, there is some dispute among scholars on whether Sundri and Mundri were two sisters in folklore, or ‘sundri’ merely comes as an adjective for the beautiful Mundri.

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An Unmarked Grave

Much like his rebellious father Farid, the ‘Robinhood of Punjab’ also died fighting the imperial forces. 

After leading a years-long rebellion, Dulla was ultimately captured by the Mughal army and presented at Lahore fort, where he was hanged on 26 March 1599 on the orders of Emperor Akbar.

It is believed that Sufi saint-poet Shah Hussain aka Madho Lal Hussain witnessed Dulla’s execution outside the Dilli Darwaza of the Lahore fort.

Admired by his courage and armed rebellion, Hussain is said to have written:

Kahe Hussain Fakeer Sain da, Takht na mildey mangey.” (Shah Hussain, a lowly faqir of God says, thrones are not obtained by merely asking)

Risala Baharia, a 17th-century Persian biography of Shah Hussain, commissioned by Emperor Jehangir and written by Bahar Khan, has a reference of Hussain meeting a rebel named Dulla Bhatti — the earliest historical record of Dulla’s existence.

"That Dulla Bhatti existed was history, but that he was a 'saviour of womenfolk' could be a folk myth. It is natural for Punjabis to associate such attributes with our folk heroes, as all folk motifs (patterns) are guided by certain beliefs and ethos central to a culture. For Punjab, this central theme is bravery. This is because bravery was a necessity for the region — be it the time of King Porus or the Gurus' era, whoever invaded India first entered Punjab."
Professor Nahar Singh, Punjabi folklorist based in Toronto

For Prof Nahar Singh, Dulla Bhatti serves as a "composite hero" of Punjab — for he is celebrated by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike.

Today, a marble slab has been installed at an unmarked grave in the burial ground next to Miani Sahib Gurdwara in Lahore. It is believed to be the resting place of ‘Shaheed’ (martyr) Dulla of Bhatti clan, Punjab’s very own ‘Robinhood’.

Learn about Dulla Bhatti, the Robinhood of Punjab, who is remembered in famous Lohri song 'sundar mundriye'.

Dulla Bhatti's Grave, Miani Sahib Qabristan, Lahore. 1998

Amarjit Chandan

UK-Based Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan shares how a few years back, a signboard over Dulla’s grave had these famous lines inscribed on it:

Mai dhaawaan Dilli de kingrey…”  (I will demolish the fort ramparts of Delhi)

Chandan notes the second line of the famous couplet was missing from the board. This line was:

Paavaan bhaajarh Takht Lahore.” (And topple the Throne of Lahore)

Today, the board has been replaced with a marble tombstone, as a tribute to the hero.

Learn about Dulla Bhatti, the Robinhood of Punjab, who is remembered in famous Lohri song 'sundar mundriye'.

New tombstone on the grave of Dulla Bhatti. 2023

Purva Masaud, Jeevay Sanjha Punjab

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Compiling Lost pages of History

Speaking to The Quint, prominent Lahore-based Punjabi poet-writer Nain Sukh (pen name for Khalid Mahmood) said that while historical Persian texts such as Risala Baharia, Haqiqat-ul-Fuqara, and Char Bagh-i-Panjab have mentions of Dulla Bhatti, most of them unapologetically portray him in a negative light — as a dacoit, and traitor of the Sultanate.

"That’s how history is written; no king wants his enemy portrayed in a good light. And why Dulla Bhatti’s character was never brought to the fore, is because his story goes against the notion that Akbar was a very humane and just ruler. In Dulla’s story, however, Akbar is a cruel emperor who levies taxes on the poor to collect money for his new fort in Lahore."
Nain Sukh (Khalid Mahmood), Punjabi poet-writer based in Lahore

Nain Sukh says that the legend of Dulla Bhatti was kept alive primarily by the Balmikis — a Dalit community in Punjab — for it was them, the poor peasants, that Dulla saved from the nexus of Mughal administrators and rich landlords. Well up to Partition of Punjab in 1947, the Balmikis also used to hold an annual Lohri ‘juloos’ (procession) at the Bhatti Darwaza at Lahore fort.

“Over time, even the zamindars started remembering Dulla Bhatti on Lohri,” he added.

Asked why Dulla is remembered specifically on Lohri, and not any other festival, Nirupama Dutt told The Quint, “While we don’t know when the song of Dulla Bhatti got associated with Lohri celebration, it happened slowly over time."

"Lohri is a festival born in Punjab, which has been celebrated for centuries. But it was also exclusively a festival of the peasantry; the peasants would gather every year on Lohri and sing songs and dance. So it was only natural that the Dulla Bhatti song also made its way into the Lohri celebration."
Nirupama Dutt, Veteran journalist, and Punjabi poet, writer and translator

The rulers couldn’t erase the memory of Dulla Bhatti, a ‘man of the soil’.

Perhaps, remembering a rebel is a rebellion in itself.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Lohri festival   Lohri 2024   Dula Bhatti 

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