The founder of Royal family of Malerkotla was Shaikh Sardar ud-din Sardar-i-Jahan, a Sherwani Afghan originating from Daraban. He received a jagir of 58 villages near Ludhiana and three lakhs of rupees as marriage gift, after marrying a daughter of Sultan Bahlol Lodhi of Delhi in 1454. The ruling family descends from Shaikh Salar ud-din the issue of this marriage.
The founder of the Malerkotla state was Bayazid Khan, who rose high in rank in the Mughal army. Saving the life of the Emperor Aurangzeb from an attacking tiger, he received high honours and recognition as an independent ruler. He was granted the right to construct a defensive fort, which he named Malerkotla, from which the state took its name. According to family tradition, he summoned Shah Fazl Chishti, a Sufi saint, and Damodar Das, a Hindu sadhu, to place the foundation stone, thereby also laying the foundations for the spirit of communal harmony and religious toleration that characterise Malerkotla.
Nawab Sher Muhammad Khan, Bayazid's grandson, earned the undying gratitude and honour of the Sikhs. He had interceded with the Emperor in an attempt to stay the execution of Guru Gobind Singh's two young sons, after their capture at Sirhind. Guru Gobind Singh on learning this kind and humanitarian approach profusely thanked the Nawab of Malerkotla and blessed him.
The spirit of communal harmony that pervaded the history of this little state endured even through the most difficult period during partition in 1947. As the rest of the Punjab went up in flames, and hundreds of thousands perished at the hands of their neighbours, Malerkotla remained an oasis of peace. The reigning Nawab had declared that for every Sikh or Hindu who perished within his principality, four Muslims would also die in atonement. Not a single life was lost.
Despite his efforts on behalf of his Sikh and Hindu neighbours, Nawab Ahmad 'Ali Khan was among the last rulers to accede to either Dominion. He finally did so to India in September 1947, in the month after independence. A popular ruler, he had enjoyed a reign of 40 years, and died just one month later, in October that same year.
Nawab Iftikhar 'Ali Khan, Ahmad 'Ali's son succeeded in 1947. He merged the state into the Patiala and Eastern Punjab States Union (PEPSU) in the following year. He then stood for election to the state assembly where he represented his former subjects as their local MLA. His former seat has been held by a member of the family ever since. Despite three marriages, to ladies who also bore his sense of political service to the community, the Nawab died without heirs in 1982. He was succeeded by his younger brother, who died twelve years later, leaving his heritage to his son, Nawab Kazim 'Ali Khan.
Malerkotla remains a haven of tolerance in an otherwise hostile environment. More than 70% of its inhabitants are Muslims, and one of only two areas in the East Punjab where they enjoy a majority. Sadly, the beautiful palaces and public buildings, including the magnificent Shahi Maqbara, are slowly descending into ruin. Stripped of their privy purse, the family cannot afford to maintain all of them, while the government agencies such as the archaeological survey stand idly by, as yet another part of Indi'as heritage slowly decays.              NEXT
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