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Gul Azam Khan
The Man and his Contribution to Khowar Literature

Shams Uddin

Gul Azam Khan—with his father Sher Azam Khan, Uncle Ali Mardan Khan, and extended family—migrated to Chitral by March 1883. Ali Aman Khan, known as ‘Aman’, in Khowar folk literature, was the son of Ali Mardan Khan and cousin of Gul Azam Khan.

The family was ruler of the Wakhan principality, who came to settle in Chitral after being ousted by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Kabul, when he extentended his rule to Badakhshan and Wakhan. They sought political asylum with the Mehtar Aman-ul-Mulk of Chitral (1821-1892) , who had annexed Yasin, Ghizer and Ishkomon region with Chitral in 1878 and remained its ruler till 1895.

During this time, Ali Mardan Khan, and his family along with a growing group of Wakhi refugees, was allocated a huge tract of barren land in the Ishkomon valley of the present day Gilgit Baltistan. At a later stage, Ali Mardan Khan was also made governor of the valley till 1924 when he passed away in Chilpi village whilst going to attend a meeting at Gilgit.

It was this chief that George Cockerill (1867-1957), a British Officer, met in October 1893 whereas Reginald Schomberg (1880–1958), another British Officer, met him in 1920, and found him “a genial, easy going man, with gentle, courteous manners and delicate hands”. This indicate that the family had aristocratic traits, polished manners and courtly etiquettes besides having an intrinsic taste for art, literature, poetry, music and they knew how to articulate ideas in an impressive manner.

Well before their migration, they had developed solid affinity with Chitral across the boundary and were well-versed in Khowar language as Gul Azam Khan’s grandmother and wife were from Chitral, and his sister was married to Ghani Lal of Zani in Mulkhow, and with whom Gul stayed most of the time. They must have played key role in inculcating Gul Azam Khan with literary values of Khowar language, literature, and culture. This indicates the family’s migration to Chitral and consider it as a safe place for their asylum was justified and well grounded.

In Khowar folk literature, Gul Azam Khan is famously known as ‘Phoroliko zhaw’, which local historian believe refers to ‘Phorel Fort’ of the Wakhan region that remained the family’s seat of power.

They were well received in Chitral, and Gul Azam Khan stayed for quite long time during which he tried to cultivate close relations with the rulers of Chitral but did not succeed due to his egotistic nature and political complications of the time. Disheartened, he decided to leave Chitral with heavy heart to stay in Yasin valley till his death. However, his heart always remained attached to Chitral and its people. The obvious reason for his strong affiliation was abundantly clear. It was the homeland of his grandmother, his sister was married in Chitral and he had married to the daughter of Hassan-e-Mulk, the sister of Sher-e-Mulk, another reputed character in Khowar folk literature. Further, he had cultivated strong bondages with some of the renowned literary figures, poets, songwriters, composers, and singers of the time and enjoyed their company.

Ali Aman Khan (Aman), Sher-e-Mulk and Ziarat Khan Zerak were contemporary of Gul Azam Khan. They frequently came together to compose Khowar songs, which became masterpieces in Khowar literature subsequently. They used to sit longer as they worked on and helped each other in songwriting, improving its wording, quality of ideas and composition.

They have appreciated and complemented each other in their songs. For instance, Ziarat Khan Zerak says in one of his songs:

گلوچے امانو انگیور تیت قصہ کونی
عشقِ مجازیو لوان شور حصہ کونی

Please bring in Gul (Gul Azam Khan) and Aman (Gul Aman Khan) to dissect the story of love

آخر زمانو نݰان اِیغوتے کیاغ نو کونی عاشق معشوقان
دیش دونیار کیاغ گانی اوانئے رویان، گل اوچے امان

(It’s a doomsday-like scenario as lovers and beloved have lost respect for each other).

Gul Azam Khan says about himself and Aman in one of his songs:

اوا اوچے امان کھاڑ بریوسیان، یاردوستان حیران
دوست متے دشمن ریپھوئے رے ہیس مہ کیا گمان

(Aman and I (Gul) are going to die, leaving friends in utter shock I Didn’t realize beloved to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing)

کہ لش لڑیمان امان مہ پروشٹہ سرحدی
لیگینی قلم بائی تن خزانہ مہ ہردی

Gul Azam Khan left Chitral to settle in the Yasin valley of Gilgit Baltistan, where he died and buried. He had no children, that must have been the reason as to why he left Chitral.

A Few lines from Gul Azam Khan’s Works

مہ نام گل اعظم خان، نیکی گدیریو مکان
ہردی چوکی محکم بیتی شیرنیسیک بے اِمکان

Gul Azam Khan! the crazy soul’s without abode
Devoted is the heart, with no space for comfort

ہوݰ نو آریتام تن ڈقیو ہانیسے پیݰمان
ہموݰ باو مہ سوروتے گونیان زمانو اِلزام

Alas! feel regret for I didn’t realize adolescence
Unready for the blames that era heaped on me

تتاڑیو ݰہ ژورونیان غونہ مہ ژان تہ پرچم
تہ ملکہ اِی عزیز رویوتے سوم ہوستی سلام

Akin to peacock tail are thy black tresses
Blessed are those living in thy closeness

ملک انگریزو بیرو مہ جم روئی تو کیانی بوس
جوانو کم دستیو پوشی شیر بویان تہ موش

They seized the land, worried I’m for sweetheart
The mighty keep silence, seeing a marginal youth

ہائے وطن متے ارمان ملکو روئی بیرو یاغی
صفتان کوراؤ ملکی کسیم بیران مہ ڈقی

For homeland I crave, but mutinous are countrymen
Wandering in deserts, praises of thy charisma I sing

تن دوری نیشی بیری مونیسے جنتو پری
آخر تو مہ گدیری ارو تہ ملنگ راہی

Oh, heavenly fairy! stay home, lest you get exposed
To drive the wayfarer crazy and leave the destiny

اوا اصلی ووخیک گیتی یسینہ نیشیم
قلم مہ ہوستہ تن دوستو صفتان نیوشیم

As a true Wakhi, to Yasin I will go to settle
With pen in hand, write tributes of darling

تھنو مو اِسپیراوے ڈقو ژان پریشان بوئے
مہ ژانئے تہ کوسیرو ژاغین باغِ بوستان بوِئے

Don’t confine the supple frame, it causes trauma
Let thyself stroll, let flowers bloom under thy feet

آدمو کیا ذات شیرئے کل خدائیو بندگان
اَللہ صورتو کوستے کی پرائے آدم زادگان

No cast have Adam’s children, all are God’s creature
Noble are those God blessed with unmatched beauty

باغوموژا چتیرئے، مہ جم روئی تیرا نیشیر
شکورالفاظین لودیاؤ ݯھیر چموٹین نیوشیر

Amidst the garden, a canopy is patio of sweetheart
How sweet she speaks! writing with pearly fingers

ژویو ٹیکن کوسے ہوستان میہا دیاؤ کوسے
فلک سوری دیکو مہ ہنون ژانو مو ژیبے

Do stroll along the channel, with arms akimbo
This adds to sorrows heaven has already let loose

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