Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti, popularly known as Dulla Bhatti, was a famous legendary Punjabi hero of the Punjab, who led a rebellion against the Mughal emperor Akbar. Such was the level of resistance put up by Rai Abdullah Khan that Akbar had to shift his capital from Delhi to Lahore for nearly 20 years, making the Lahore Fort his headquarters, and renovating its basic structure.
There is an epic in the Punjabi language called Dulle Di Vaar (Ballad), which narrates the battle events of Dulla Bhatti, and a region in the Pakistani Punjab called Dulle Di Bar meaning the forest of Dulla Bhatti.
This legendary Punjabi hero is buried at Miani Sahib Graveyard in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. The town Dullewala (Bhakkar District) is named after him, being the place where Dulla Bhatti was sheltered by with his allies.
Early days of Dulla Bhatti
Dulla Bhatti was born as Abdullah Khan Bhatti in a Muslim Rajput family to Ladhi and Rai Farid Khan Bhatti, and grandson of Rai Sandal Khan Bhatti in the area of Sandal Bar in "Sandal Wal", in modern day Pindi Bhattian, now in Pakistan (Sandal Bar). The people of this area were known to provide stiff opposition to marauders. Mahmud of Ghazni had carried out one special campaign to subdue the warrior Bhatti Rajputs of Sandal Bar. Grandfather of Dulla Bhatti, Rai Sandal Khan was a tribal chief and head of all the Rajputs of the area and held nearly all the track of that bar stretching from modern day Hafizabad up to Multan border.
Babur makes a mention of the resistance offered to him by these chivalrous tribals in his autobiography Baburnama. In due course of time, the Mughals had consolidated their hold over the entire country but the dominance of the region lying between the Chenab and Ravi eluded them. Many people of this area refused paid any taxes, openly defied the authorities and indulged in looting the royal caravans and treasures. A chief protagonist of such activities was Rai Sandal Khan Bhatti, e Raja and tribal chief of the area.
Dulla's family ruled the area of "Sandal Bar" from 1332 A.D, like their ancestors Dulla also continued to do the same and even extended up his state to modern day Bhakkar district. He had complete control over the territory and it was ruled by Bhatti Rajputs under him. He (Dulla) following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, waged a guerrilla warfare against the Mughal Empire. According to his mother Ladhi, Dulla was a Lion. He refused to accept the legitimacy of Mughal King Akbar and refused to pay any tax.
When Akbar came to Lahore, he ordered the execution of the rebels. Legend has it that to instill fear into the hearts of the common man, Akbar got their skins stuffed with wheat husk and hung the dead bodies on the main door.
Dulla wasn’t even born yet. For some reason, he was never told of the cause of his father’s and grandfather’s death until he was a young man.
The story of Dulla has been poetically treated by many and has been written in style known as Saddaan (similar to Mirza by Peelu and Bhagwan Singh). The above incident is thus narrated:
Tera sandal dada maareya, ditta bhore vich paa, Mughlaan puthhiyaan khallaan laah ke bhariyaan naal hawaa.
In the Chardah (East) Punjab-now India-during the Lohri bonfires that mark the end of the deep winter and the start of spring (Capricorn Constellation-Makar appears over the horizon) all the Sikh and Hindu families mark Dulla Bhatti's social and humanitarian contribution made to rescue and then reintegrate the abducted children and girls from the Mughal forces. The Lohri Song is sung upon the birth of a baby boy.
Rise of Dulla Bhatti
As Dulla grew up he became a real fighter and warrior learning the art with his keen eye from here and there as he was the tribal chief and hereditary Raja of the Rajputs, unknowingly in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. When he was young enough, his mother told him the about the past and from then on Dulla pledged that his only purpose in life was to defeat Akbar and kill him.
In the meantime, Salim had a fall out with Akbar over Salim’s love affair with Anarkali. Salim rebelled and came up North-west and met up with Dulla. Salim instigated Dulla further to achieve his own motive as well. With Salim’s support, Dulla built up a small army which made loots from the imperial treasure and merchants in the area of Sandal Bar. The famous loots among them being stealing horses from a merchant who was supposed to be working for the Akbar, then robbing Akbar’s gifts sent from the Middle East.
His loots were distributed among the poor and this made him a popular and a heroic rebel. His compassion for the poor and his help in getting poor girls married is still remembered; especially during the times of celebrating the festival of Lohri (mostly falls on 13 January). For such popular actions aimed at disbursing looted money amongst poor, he is also known as Robin Hood of Punjab.
Seeing so much support for his nephew, Dulla’s uncle Jalaluddin, got envious and complained to Akbar against the mischievous Dulla. Legendary stories are associated with the brave Dulla Bhatti. He used to rob rich to help the poor and needy. It is believed that Dulla had restored the prestige of an innocent girl whose modesty was outraged by a Mughal general. There are various versions of the actual story. Some traditions say that Dulla had adopted this girl as his daughter and arranged her marriage in the Jungles of Sandal Bar.
Final chapter of Dulla Bhatti
Irritated by the daily ambushes, Akbar dispatched two of his able Generals; Mirza Ala-ud-din and Mirza Zia-ud-din with the command of over 12000 troops. The army reached Dullah’s village but could not find him. Due to his Robin Hood personality, Dullah was popular among masses. Akbar had ordered the Generals to bring Dullah, dead or alive and failing that, bring the women of his house to the court. In obedience to the orders, the army secured the women and started marching towards Lahore.
When word reached Dullah, he charged back. The two sides fought with courage but the Moghul army was soon on the run. The Generals begged Ladhi for their life, who then ordered Dullah to forgive them. After the shameful defeat, the Moghuls invited him for talks and deceitfully arrested him. Upholding tradition, he was kept for a while at the Shahi Qila and was hanged in front of Kotwali, a police station now marks the place. His funeral was administered by the Sufi poet, Shah Hussain.
Shah Hussain approved Dulla's revolt against Akbar as,
Kahay Hussain Faqeer Sain Da
Takht Na Milday Mungay.
The story of this son of the soil spans from the graveyard of Miani Saheb to Dullewala in Bhakkar District. Moghuls had thought that burying Dullah would suppress the rebel soul but the Chughtais knew little of the Punjabi tradition. Written on the lines of Mirza Saheban, the mothers of Punjab sang the epic of Dullah to their children for quite a few centuries.