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Qadian as mini Vatican

From pages 189-192 of India and Pakistan: A General and Regional Geography. Contributors: O. H. K. Spate - author. Publisher: Methuen. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 1954. Page Number: 189. Original Excerpt

Qadian, like Poona, originated in a local jagir; there the resemblance ends. It was1 the headquarters of a heretical and reformist Muslim sect, the Ahmadiyya, founded about 1908 by one Mirza Ahmad, the "Promised Messiah". This group numbers perhaps a million adherents and has missions not only in the more usual Muslim fields of Africa and Indonesia, but as far as Glasgow and Buenos Aires; it represents a remarkable combination of fundamentalism with a keen appreciation of modern technique. This is not the place to discuss its sociology, fascinating as it is to observe at first hand the growth of a new religious movement; but some points will emerge in the following pages.

According to the Ahmadis, the original land-grant was made by the first Mogul, Babur ( 1526-30). The Ahmadi family lived the usual life of local lords through all the vicissitudes of Mogul rule, Persian and Afghan incursions, Sikh and finally British power, until the great revelation to Mirza Ahmad.

For nearly 40 years ( 1908-47) Qadian was as it were a miniature Vatican; not sovereign, but something of a state within a state. Crime in Qadian, for instance, was invariably reported first to the Ahmadi office and then to the police.

Qadian lies in the Bari Doab (E Punjab), 35 miles NE of Amritsar. The old town, still called 'the Fort', and retaining traces of a town ditch, is like hundreds of others in SW Asia: some 12-15,000 people (the great majority were Ahmadis) living on the area of an English village of 2000; narrow twisting alleys, encroached on by stalls and swarming with children and donkeys; two bazaar streets, covered with rough awnings of sacking (poor relations of the Damascus suqs), and significantly a Hindu enclave; mud-walled houses, windowless, built round courts where spinning, milking of buffaloes, and all women's work is carried on; flat roofs littered with rope bedsteads, where the men smoke and gossip in the cool of the evening. A few large brick houses rise like monadnocks out of a peneplain. These include the Ahmadi offices, in a house once belonging to a wealthy Hindu, as is architecturally obvious from the details of the extremely beautiful brick façade and doorways, perhaps 18th century and certainly built when the now-decayed traditions of Hindu architecture were still vigorous; exterior windows are few and small-significantly-but within is a galleried court. Here was the vault containing the treasury, and the offices of a bureaucracy under seven 'Secretaries of State', including one for Entertainment of Guests, whose department was wonderfully efficient. An important feature was the guest-house, a caravanserai of courts and cubicles and cookhouses (more hygienic than many in the British Army), where disciples from all the Islamic lands endlessly commented the Quran and the writings of Promised Messiah.

From the 120-ft minar of the mosque all this warren lay at one's feet: to the N stretched the open modern development; to the S, on the rich fields of the Bari Doab, half a dozen large villages, darkly shrouded in mango-groves, seemed to enclose Qadian in a ring: all were Sikh.

In the new town, as in the old, women were in the strictest purdah; there were few other common features. Apart from an industrial fringe on the edge of the old town, this area was laid out in wide streets, with strict zoning and regulated densities. Architecture on the whole was poor, but sanitation superior to that in Lahore's best hotel. The most grandiose building was the big college, PWD Mogul in style, and well equipped especially in physics and chemistry labs; the community had even secured the torso of a crashed plane for preliminary aeronautical instruction.3 

Between the town and the railway lay the industrial area, largely powered by Mandi hydro-electricity (below, 477 -78). On the fringe of the old town factories were largely private enterprises, but in the more open areas the community was building more modern workshops for vegetable oil, paint
Fig. 39. --QADIAN. Based on SOI 44 M/5 ( 1913) with additions from personal observation. 1, Bazaar; 2, Ahmadi admin. and religious centre; 3, Ahmadi cemetery (guest-houses, etc., between 2 and 3); 4, modern planned area (villas, offices). The nearer suburbs are closer-built and more industrial than the Nn protrusion to the railway. Mounds (15-25 ft high) mark old settlements. The area lies midway between the Kasur and Sobraon branches of Bari Doab Canal.

and varnish, and plastic industries--linked with research in the college labs. The most important activities actually existing were hosiery and knitwear, and all sorts of light electrical goods, all on a small scale (e.g. plastic presses electrically heated but hand-operated) and with apparently rather happy-go-lucky management; in which Qadian very faithfully reflected conditions in a large sector of Indian industry.

In a sense Qadian was a sociological freak, a combination of modern enterprise with fundamentalist theology; one might compare it with Salt Lake City. But the material expression of this duality was by no means un-typical. The day-to-day life of the old town stood on the ancient ways, life as it has been lived in many Asian lands for centuries or millennia. The new, in its slapdash planning, in its architectural tawdriness or rawness (whether the "style" was traditional or modernistic), in its mixture of considerable drive and adroit improvisation with a certain lack of poise and stamina, can be paralleled over and over again on India's expanding industrial frontiers. But rarely are the contrasts of ancient and modern so sharply pointed within such narrow room; and yet in this too Qadian could stand for an epitome of India, if not of Asia.



1 This section must unfortunately be written in the past tense; the material geography is doubtless still there, the spirit has fled. My visit was in August 1947; as a result of the Partition which left it in India, all but 3 or 400 of the Ahmadis have been forced to migrate to Pakistan. For the Ahmadi movement, see W. C. Smith, Modern Islam in India ( 1946), 298-302.

2 "I tell the tale that I heard told," and have no means of checking it; it is inherently not improbable, though some of the embellishments certainly are so, e.g. that at one time during the Mogul decadence the Ahmadis were thought of for the throne of Delhi. But then, anything is credible of a family which speaks of an ancient quarrel with the House of Timur for all the world as if Tamburlaine the Great were a rather unfriendly uncle.

3 To protect this treasure from the natural attentions of small boys, it was surrounded by a brick wall, irresistibly reminiscent of the cuckoo-retaining hedge at Gotham
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Akber Choudhry,
Feb 27, 2014, 2:28 PM
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