Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti, who goes more popularly by the name of Dulla Bhatti, is a Punjabi folk hero, alive in Punjabi folk music even today, for his famous rebellion against the Mughal king, Akbar. His epic, Dulle Da Var, is a folk song which narrates the events of the battle. Dulle Da Var literally translates to “The Blow by Dulla”.
Lost in translation, a part of it translates to:
Oh beautiful one, oh like a ringlet one! Who will save you poor one? (to a rescued girl) Dullah Bhatti is here for you! Dullah married off his daughter! He gave a measure of sugar! The girl is wearing a bridal red dress! But her shawl is torn! Who will stitch her shawl!
Dulla is said to have become a fighter whilst accompanying his father on his endeavours as a tribal chief. Dulla was known to rescue kidnapped girls taken as tributes, adopt them, and get them married. In the song, thus, the mention of his daughter. The mention of a torn shawl refers to a tainted reputation and questions on the chastity of the women who had been kidnapped. Stitching the shawl refers to clearing their name and restoring their respect in society.
Later on, Dulla is said to have abducted two of Akbar’s wives who were on their way to Hajj, the Muslim Holy Pilgrimage in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. This infuriated the emperor, and he mobilised a large number of troops with orders for Dulla’s head and for the safe return of his queens.
The people adored Dulla to the extent that a young woman is said to have tried to honeytrap Akbar’s army chief on her own accord. Another variation of the tale speaks of Akbar getting increasingly frustrated of Dulla’s guerilla war tactics so he sent for his generals, Mirza Allauddin and Ziaddun, to take Sandalwala (present-day Pindi-Bhattian, around an hour’s drive from Islamabad) and capture Dulla alive to present him at court. If Dulla escaped, all his relatives, including the women, would be imprisoned.
The imperial force, 12,000 strong, reached Sandalwala when Dulla was out of station, in Chiniot. In his absence, women were taken prisoner. One of them, Gujri, killed one of Akbar’s generals after she snuck into his tent. Upon hearing the news of her imprisonment, Dulla made his way back quickly and fought bravely. He also lost one of his sons in the battle.
The imperial army sent for reinforcements as Dulla’s comrades wreaked havoc on the Mughal army. The end of the story however, is the same, in all variations of the tale. Facing death by Dulla’s hand, Akbar’s other general ran to Dulla’s mother, Laddhi, seeking refuge and begging for his life to be spared. “Listen Dulla, my son, if you slay him you will defile my thirty-two streams of milk,” is what Ladhi told him. So the commander was spared, although it eventually cost Dulla time in Akbar’s prison and execution in Nakhas Mandi, Lahore.
Commentary: In Punjab, Pakistan, there is a place called Dulle Di Bar which means the grave of Dulla Bhatti. He is said to be buried in Miani Sahib Qabristan (Graveyard) in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. There is also a town, Dullewala in Bhakkar District, named after him. Ladhi’s request to her son is what she believed was the consequence or punishment, in the afterlife, of her son murdering a man who had surrendered.