Sohan Lal Suri
Attorney and Historian at the Lahore Court
Sohan Lal Suri is famous for his monumental work in Persian, ‘ Umdat ut-Twarikh, a chronicle of Sikh times comprising five daftars or volumes. Little is known about Sohan Lal’s early life except that he was the son of Lala Ganpat Rai, a munshi or clerk successively under Sardar Charhat Singh and Sardar Mahan Singh of the Sukkarchakkia misl. Ganpat Rai had kept a record of important events of his own time which he passed on to his son around 1811 enjoining upon him to continue the work of writing a history of the Punjab.
Lala Sohan Lal who, according to his own statement, was well versed in Persian, Arabic, mathematics, astronomy and numerology, was inspired to take to historiography by, besides the example of his father, Sujan Rai Bhandari’s Khulasat ut Twarikh which covers the period from Hindushahi rulers of the tenth and eleventh centuries to 1704 in the reign of Aurangzeb. While acknowledging his debt to Sujan Rai Bhandari, Sohan Lal Suri mentions another motive that prompted him to write his book. In the beginning of the first daftar of ‘ Umdat ut-Twarikh, he remarked referring to himself in the third person : “In fact the purpose and reason for which he undertook the novel and noteworthy compilation was that ever since the time of the Sultanate the writing of such works was looked upon as the proof of literary ability, which distinguished a scholar from an ordinary man. Learned men received due recognition and encouragement from the rulers of the time. . . “ The sources for his voluminous Twarikh, 7,000 pages of manuscript in shikasta or running Persian script covering the period from the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469 to the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, are his own knowledge of contemporary events, the notes bequeathed to him by his father and the historical or legendary material bearing on the subject available to him.
Besides his magnum opus, the ‘ Umdat ut-Twarikh, Lala Sohan Lal Suri wrote ‘Ibrat Namah, lit. an account that teaches a lesson. It is a small poetical composition on the tragic murders of Maharaja Sher Singh, Raja Dhian Singh and the Sandhanvalia Sardars and their associates in September 1843. The title of another work of his, Selections from Daftar II, is deceptive. The manuscript contains brief notes on courtiers, rajas, diwans, learned men, saints and ascetics living in the year 1831 ; a genealogical table of the author’s family up to 1836 ; a funeral oration on the death of his father, an account of the Sutlej chiefs, a description of the institutions of the English; a brief description of the author’s meeting with Captain Wade, later Colonel Sir Claude Martin Wade, British political agent at Ludhiana, and copies of certain letters and testimonials. He is also said to have written treatises on mathematics, astronomy and geometry.
Faqir ‘Aziz ud-Din, Maharaja Ranjlt Singh’s favoured minister, introduced Sohan Lal to Captain Wade as a historian of the Sikh court. At Captain Wade’s request the Maharaja allowed Sohan Lal to visit Ludhiana, where he used to read out to his host from the ‘ Umdat ut-Twarikh twice a week. He also presented the latter with a copy of the work which is still preserved in the Royal Asiatic Society Library in London.
After the annexation of the Punjab to British dominions in 1849, Lala Sohan Lal Suri was awarded a jagir worth Rs. 1,000 per annum in the village of Manga, in Amritsar district, to which he probably retired to pass his remaining years.