Sialkot is the major export city in the northern Punjab province of Pakistan, located 135 kilometer north-west of Lahore and only a few kilometers from Jammu comprising a population of approximately 6,00,000. It is one of the major industrial centers of Pakistan. Sialkot is well-known for its manufacture and export of surgical instruments, musical instruments, sports goods, leather goods, textile products and other light manufactures. A Pakistan Army base (Sialkot Cantonment) is situated adjacent to the city. The Sialkot International Airport, Limited (SIAL) and the Sialkot Dry Port serve the Sialkot, Gujranwala and Gujrat region. A university of Engineering Sciences and Technlogy is being set up in Sialkot (on the Sialkot-Eimanabad road) by the Government of Pakistan with Swedish collaboration. A Medical College is also being established in the city. In addition, a Polytechnic Institute and a Paramedic Institute are already functional in Sialkot.
Sialkot is believed to have been founded by Raja Sul or S?? the uncle of the Pandavas, whose heroic deeds are recorded in the epic Mah?h?ta. After his death, some 5000 years ago, there is a tradition that the dynasty continued for some 1500 years. The seasonal stream, known as the Aik Nala, that flows through the city is mentioned in the Upanishads. S?aladvipa (island of S?ala) was the name of the do? (land lying between two rivers) between Chandrabh?a (Chenab) and Ir?ati (Ravi). S?ala (Si?kot) was the capital of the Madras who are known in the late Vedic period (c. 1500 - c. 200 B.C.) (Brihad?anyaka Upanishad). In those early days, S?ala was studded with thick forests and inhabited by a pastoral race called Yahars or Yirs.
S?ala or Sagala was the capital, or one of the capitals, of the Indo-Greek Kingdom which broke-away from the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom during the Euthydemid Dynasty, and the residence of Menander I (Milinda) during his reign between 160 and 135 B.C. During the reign of Vikrama Ditya of Ujjain (380-413 A.D.), Shun and Dall were two of the most powerful tribes in Sialkot. Then the country was flooded and remained one vast uninhabited region for about 1000 years.
The antiquities of Sialkot are discussed by Sir Alexander Cunnigham in his Archaeological Survey Reports, II, 21, 22, and XIV, 44 to 47. It's early history is closely interwoven with traditions of the Raja Sivan, his son, Raja Ras?u, and his foe, Raja H?i, so famous in the Punjabi folk-lore.
The popular belief is that it was re-founded by Raja S?iv?an or S?b? when Sialkot became a part of Kashmir under Raja Sam Dutt. Raja S?iv?an built a fort and the city and gave the place its present name. He was of Sia caste, and it is believed that the word "Sialkot" means 'the fort of Sia'. Legend also says that Raja S?iv?an had two sons: Puran and Rasalu. Puran got punished by his father, Raja S?iv?an, due to the instrumentality of a wicked step-mother and thrown into a well, still the resort of pilgrims near Sialkot, called "Puran di Khui", (Puran's Well). A mohalla (town) in the city is also named "Puran Nagar". The other son of Raja S?iv?an, Rasalu, became Raja after the death of Raja S?iv?an. Attacks from the neighboring Raja of Jehlum ruined the city. Raja Rasalu got involved in wars with Raja Hudi, popularly stated to have been a Gakkhar chieftain. Being worsted in battle, Rasalu, as the price for peace, was forced to give his daughter in marriage to his conqueror, who gave the territory he had conquered to Rasalu's adopted son. After Rasalu?s death in 400 A.D., there are no significant accounts of Sialkot for the next 300 years in the known history except that after the invasion of the H?as (Huns or Hephthalites) in the last quarter of the 5th century A.D., it became the capital of Toram?a and his son Mihirakula until he was defeated by a native Indian Prince, Yeshodharman. In 790 A.D., Raja Nairut, supported by the Yousafzai tribe, attacked and demolished the city. There is again no mention of Sialkot in historical texts for a fairly long period after that except that it remained a part of Jammu under the rule of Raja Braham Deo.
Sialkot then became a part of the Muslim Sultanate of India and, later, the Muslim Mughal Empire of India. Shahab-ud-Din Muhammad Ghauri invaded Punjab in 1011. He was unable to conquer Lahore but left a garrison in Sialkot. Later, Sultan Khusro Malik tried to capture the city but failed to do so.
In 1394, Taimur captured Jammu and compelled the Raja to embrace Islam. The Mughal Emperor, Zaheer-ud-Din Muhammad Babur, advanced toward India by way of Sialkot which capitulated to his armies. During the era of the Mughal Emperor, Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, the present district of Sialkot formed a part of Rachna-Bar Sarkar of the Lahore province. Under the reign of the Mughal Emperor, Shahab-ud-Din Muhammad Shah Jahan, Ali Mardan Khan held the charge of Sialkot.
At the end of the Mughal Dynasty, the suburbs and outlying districts and areas of Sialkot were left to themselves. Sialkot itself was appropriated by a powerful family of Pathans, and the sub-mountainous tracts were in the hands of Raja Ranjit Deo of Jammu.
In 1748, the four districts of Gujrat, Sialkot, Pasrur and Daska were given to the Afghan invader, Ahmed Shah Durrani. After 1751, Ahmed Shah Durrani left his son, Taimur, to rule Lahore and these districts. During that time, Raja Ranjit Deo of Jammu expanded his domination over this area, but the city of Sialkot was not included in it. The city was held strongly by a Pathan family till the time of Sikhs.
During the decline of the Durrani regime, the Sikhs organized themselves into 12 well-organized groups called Misls. Sialkot was wrested from the control of the Pathans by two Sikh leaders, Jhanda Singh and Ganda Singh (sons of the leader of the Bhangi Misl, Hari Singh Dhillon), who represented the Bhangi Misl. Thus, the area came under the rule of Bhangis. During that time, Sialkot suffered from extreme famine and starvation leading to a mass migration of people to Kashmir.
From that time onwards, the Bhangi Sardars carried incessant raids upon Raja Ranjit Deo?s principality and, ultimately, the areas were appropriated between them. However, from 1797 to 1810, Raja Ranjit Singh succeeded in acquiring the Sialkot district and establishing his sovereignty in the area. He also absorbed the Bhangi Misl, which was stronger than his Sukerchakia Misl, into the Sarkar Khalsa. After the death of Raja Ranjit Singh, the British officers were appointed in Sialkot to restore order.
It was annexed by the British after the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849; since then its area has been considerably reduced, assuming its present proportions in 1867. During the Mutiny of 1857 it was the scene of heavy fighting, and the Sialkot Fort was used by the Europeans for protection. The native troops plundered the treasury and destroyed all the records. In 1930, the Tehsils of Rayya Daska and Pasrur were split up and parts of these were amalgamated in District Gujranwala.
After the partition of British India in 1947, Sialkot came under Pakistani rule. In 1991, The Tehsils of Narowal and Shakar Garh (which was Tehsil Shankar Garh in District Gurdaspur before partition) were split up and formed into a new District of Narowal.
As mentioned earlier, it is believed that the name of the city means "Fort of the Sial" (the word/root kot, meaning fort, being common in South Asian place names), the Sial being a gotra of the Jat caste which founded the city in ancient times. The city still has the biggest caste of Jats.
The great saint of Sialkot, Imam Ali-ul-Haq, better known as Imam Sahib, lived in the 13th century, during the reign of Feroz Shah Tughlaq (of the Tughlaq Dynasty). He is reputed to have converted a majority of the local population to Islam. Another renowned scholar of Sialkot was Mullah Abdul Hakim who is known in the Middle East as Fazil Lahori. The Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, had him weighed in gold once and in silver twice. He is buried in Sialkot near the old Power House (Bijli Ghar).
The British laid the foundation of the Sialkot Cantonment in 1849 which was completed in 1852. For establishing the Sialkot Cantonment, the British-Indian Commander-in-Chief, Sir Lord Napier, surveyed and selected the area between the seasonal streams, Bher Nala and Palkhu Nala, from the point of view of defence. He also laid the foundations of the Brigade Headquarters. The Area Command laid its foundation in 1852 under the leadership of Major General Angulas. A Gothic-style church was designed by an engineer from Bengal, J. Harley. Sheikh Mola Bukhsh bore all the expenses for its construction. The church was opened for public in 1857. Archbishop Mr. Michelangelo Jacobi of Agra from Sardhana laid the foundation of Convent of Jesus & Mary School in 1855. Sheikh Ghulam Qadir and Seth Rai Bahadur laid the foundation stone for the Clock House (Ghanta Ghar) in the Sadar Bazar.
The Church of Scotland came to Sialkot in 1855 and set up the Scotch Mission High School in 18xx and the Scotch Mission College (later renamed Murray College) in Sialkot in 1889.
In 1859, Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Sialkot were placed in the new Division of Sialkot. But in 1884, Gurdaspur alongwith Amritsar again became a part of the Lahore Division.
The Alexandra Bridge, where the North-Western Railway crossed Chenab at Wazirabad on its way to Sialkot, was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1876. The railway branch from Wazirabad to Sialkot was extended to Jammu in 1890. The Sialkot-Narowal railway line was opened in 1915.
In 1886 Dr. Maria White, a medical missionary appointed by the Board of Foreign Missions of India under the United Presbyterian Church of North America, opened a small dispensary in Sialkot which, later, became The American Mission Hospital, Sialkot. The Christian Training Institute (CTI) at Bara Pathar was established in 1888 by the United Presbyterian Church of North America whose Sialkot Mission was registered as a society in 1895.
Sialkot is the birthplace of the British-Indian Muslim philosopher, scholar and poet, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, as well as the famous Pakistani poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Another prominent figure from Sialkot was the eminent philosopher Professor William Lilly who taught at the Murray College, Sialkot and spent most of his working life there. His book on ethics remains a classic. Professor William Lilly and Dr. Muhammad Iqbal used to act as examiners in philosophy for Punjab University. The famous Indian journalist, Kuldip Nayyar, is the son of Dr. Gurbakhsh Singh who was from Sialkot and used to practice medicine in the city?s Trunk Bazar. The famous Indian politician, Gulzari Lal Nanda, also came from Sialkot.
Papermaking in Sialkot dates back to the time of the Mughal Emperor Akbar and it was Raja Man Singh who, as the Governor of Kabul, initiated the industry. Sialkoti paper, also known as Man Singhi paper, was famous all over the world.
The Damascene craftsmen of Sialkot (koftgars or koftars) were famous during the Mughal period for their fine swords and daggers, but the introduction of rifle in 1857, put them out of work. The opportunity for alternative work arose in 1905, when some broken equipment at the American Mission Hospital in Sialkot afforded a chance to adopt their skills. Encouraged by the hospital staff, they gradually started manufacturing replicas of originals. Before long, orders were received from other Christian mission hospitals in British India. By 1920, Sialkot was exporting to all parts of British India and as far away as Afghanistan and Egypt and was later selected for supplying surgical instruments for the Allied forces in World War II. The Metal Industries Development Centre (MIDC) was established in 1942 to act as a supply and inspection agency for the Allied forces. Although the surgical instruments manufacturing factories were mostly owned by Hindus, the craftsmen were mostly Muslim and the industry was not affected by the partition of British India.
According to a myth, the sport goods industry started in Sialkot because an English man broke his tennis racket and, since an immediate replacement was not possible, he asked a local to repair it. The man did a perfect job and the sports goods manufacturing industry took root in Sialkot. Recorded history of the industry goes back to 1895 when the city started becoming famous for its tennis racquets. By 1903, cricket bats were being crafted from imported English willow and exported to different parts of British India and beyond. In 1922, one, Mr. Syed, was awarded the British Empire Export Award for supplying footballs to the British Army. Over the years the industry grew to include a variety of wood and leather-based sports equipment, and diversified into related industries such as sports apparel and riding equipment and even the Scottish bagpipes.
The biggest name in the sports industry of Sialkot was Oberoi Sports which was owned by Sardar Ganda Singh and whose entire workforce was Muslim. His brilliant deputy, Khawaja Hakim Din, managed the factories. Sardar Ganda Singh used to own a magnificient residence made entirely of red brick.
Sialkot used to have a great departmental store, Ghulam Qadir & Sons, which was the biggest in Northern India before partition. The Maharaja of Kashmir used to shop there (the store closed down in the 1970s because of property divisions and disputes among the family members of the owners).
Paris Road used to be a fashionable area of Sialkot where rich and fashionable Hindus once lived. The most wonderful residence on Paris Road belonged to the famous Hindu barrister, C. Rai, which was converted to the official residence of the sessions judge in Sialkot after the formation of Pakistan. At the farthest end of the Paris Road, near the seasonal stream, Bher Nala, there were two enormous homes, both owned by Hindus, which were taken over by the government and turned into the official residences of the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police after the partition of British India.
The Connelley Park (named after a British deputy commissioner of Sialkot) was converted to Jinnah Stadium (by another deputy commissioner of Sialkot, Mr. Waqar Ahmed) in 1979 which was formally inaugurated in 1984 by the deputy commissioner of Sialkot at that time, Mr. Ismail Qureshi.
The famous roundabout of Sialkot, Iqbal Chowk, has been variously known in the past as Drumman-wala Chowk.Some other famous roundabouts are Samaj Chowk, Beri wala chok, Shaban Chowk, China Chowk, and Anwar Khawaja Chowk. The Sialkot Dry Port was established in Sambrial (home-town of Dr. Muhammad Iqabl's mother) between 1985 and 1986.
During the Second Kashmir War in 1965, the Lahore-Sialkot region was attacked by the Indian Army which, despite overwhelming numerical superiority managed only to capture some outlying areas in the sector. These were later given back as per the Tashkent Agreement. In fact, the armoured battles in the Sialkot sector (especially, the Battle of Chawinda), in 1965, were the most intense since the Second World War
Again, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the region witnessed bitter battles, most importantly, the Battle of Basantar in the Sialkot-Shakar Garh area. The major Indian counter-offensive came in this area where, two Pakistani tank regiments, equipped with obsolete Patton tanks, confronted the Indian First Armored Corps, which was equipped with the British Centurion tanks.
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