By Anna Suvrova
The Warrior Saints
When Hindus and Sikhs venerate the tombs of Muslim mystics and spiritual preceptors reputed to be saints, or even the places where two lovers whose love and death have become popular legend are buried, this is more or less understandable. Mysticism as an intuitive spiritual perception of God belongs to the field of natural and universal religion, but not at all to the field of revealed religion which is why at the mystic level there is no substantial difference between the various faiths. It is outside mystic experience where major differences are to be found. In the preceding chapters it has been seen that when a medieval mystic declared that there was no difference between Ka‘ba and mandir (Hindu temple), between Ram and Rahman, this statement makes sense only in the sphere of mystic experience, where every phenomenal dualism is done away with, since outside this sphere everyone continues to adhere to the traditions and rites of his own faith.
From this point of view every mystic in medieval India, whether it were Baba Farid, Kabir or Guru Nanak, could partly be considered a mu’ahhid (Unitarian),1 under which category came the people devoted to the idea of one God. As conceived by popular religion, not versed in dogmatics, differences between awliya on the one hand and Sants, Naths and Bhaktas on the other were not really of particular importance.
The pilgrimage of Hindus to the graves of ghazıs, i.e. warriors of Islam who propagated the Prophet’s religion with fire and sword is, however, much more difficult to explain. The earliest and most widely-known sanctuary of this type is the dargah of the miracle worker warrior Sipahsalar2 Mas‘ud Ghazi in Bahraich, near Ayodhya (in what is now Uttar Pradesh). The tradition of pilgrimage to the tomb had its origin apparently in the twelfth century during the rule of the Ghorids.
The architectural complex of the tomb was erected later, approximately in the year 1250, by Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud, who was for some time in hiding in Bahraich due to the intrigues of other aspirants to the throne of Delhi. There is a reference to Salar Mas‘ud in Amir Khusrow’s historical work‘jaz-i Khusrow(‘Khusrow’s Miracle’) and in Barani’s chronicle. According to the latter’s information Salar Mas‘ud Ghazi happened to be Sultan Mahmud Ghaznawi’s nephew and associate.
In the year 1340 Muhammad bin Tughluq performed a pilgrimage to Bahraich, accompanied by Ibn Battuta, who described not only the legends connected with the saint, but even some of the details of his cult, and in particular, the ritual of the veneration of the saint’s banner and spear. In 1372 the dargah was visited by another representative of the Tughluq dynasty, Firoz Shah, who considered himself to be the saint’s spiritual disciple. As testified by the historian Shams Siraj ‘Afif, the saint Salar Mas‘ud appeared in the Sultan’s dream, told him to adopt a tougher policy with respect to the followers of other religions, to propagate Islam more persistently, and also to get ready for the day of the Last Judgement. The next morning, says ‘Afif, the Sultan got his head shaved, like a neophyte being initiated into a Sufi fraternity, and started spending every night in prayers.
Another eminent historian, Abul Fazl, refers to the popularity of Salar Mas‘ud’s cult, and describes how people from remote districts carry offerings and multicoloured flags to the saint’s tomb. He mentions with concealed censure that multitudes of pilgrims set out from Agra to Bahraich by night, hollering, making merry and disturbing the Mughal capital. Abul Fazl’s regal patron, the Mughal emperor Akbar, also showed particular interest in the warrior saint and in 1561, in the clothes of an ordinary merchant, he walked incognito through several stages with the pilgrims’ procession on the way to the saint’s ‘urs (Abu’l Fazl 1978: 212). However, not all the Indian sovereigns regarded the martyr from Bahraich with piety:
Sikandar Lodhi in the year 1490 forbade the celebration of his ‘urs in the first week of the month of jet’h (May-June) on the pretext of the unseemliness of the rites being performed there. The most comprehensive source of information about Salar Mas‘ud is Shaikh ‘Abdur Rahman Chishti’s Mir’t-i Mas‘udı (‘Mas‘ud’s Mirror’), compiled in the seventeenth century. Like most of the authors of hagiographic works Shaikh ‘Abdur Rahman opens his book by recounting how the saint himself, whom he calls the Prince of Martyrs, appeared in his dream and inspired him to write the Mirror. He interprets numerous episodes of Salar Mas‘ud’s feats and miracles as visions, revealed from above. Shaikh ‘Abdur Rahman endeavours to include Salar Mas‘ud in the Chishtiyya silsila, asserting that the saint was Mu‘inuddin Sijzi’s disciple.
In witness of his statement he refers to the ‘evidence’ of contemporaries, who had supposedly observed how the founder of the Chishtiyya fraternity used to turn over the supplications addressed to him to the care of Salar Mas‘ud. This obvious anachronism has been completely rejected by many medieval historians and hagiographers. Mir’t-i Mas‘udınarrates that in the year 1011 Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi received envoys from the Muslims of Ajmer, seeking his support against the Hindu Rajas who were infringing upon their rights. As it was, the inhabitants of Ajmer were running the great risk of their request being denied them: they had not been mentioning Mahmud Ghaznavi’s name in the khuţba, i.e. the sermon accom-panying the Friday prayer, in the course of which the khaţb prays for the living Caliph and the ruler. And it must be said that the mention of his name in the khuţba was one of main external criteria for independence from a ruler in the Islamic world. In exchange for the inclusion of his name in the khuţba Mahmud sent his troops to Ajmer under the command of Salar Shahu, who defeated the Rajas and subjugated the regions adjacent to the city. As a reward Mahmud gave his sister in marriage to the military leader, and on 14 February 1015, during a military campaign, the future saint, Salar Mas‘ud, was born from this marriage.
As Mir’t-i Mas‘udınarrates, even in his childhood Mas‘ud demonstrated his outstanding capabilities as a military leader. As a favourite of his warlike uncle, he accompanied him in all military campaigns, particularly during the celebrated expedition to Somnath in Kathiawar. It was Mas‘ud who supposedly persuaded his uncle to demolish the famous idol of Somnath - a deed repeatedly glorified as a great feat in Persian poetry. Some of the courtiers, in particular Vizier Khwaja Hasan Maimandi, were against the demolition of the Somnath temple, but by his religious zeal young Mas‘ud put the adult retinue of the Sultan to shame, who took action in accordance with his nephew’s advice. With the demolition of Somnath begins the legendary career of Mas‘ud as an invincible warrior.
At the age of 17 at the head of an Afghan army he arrived in Multan and, having subjugated it, made for Delhi, where he stayed for almost half a year. Then through Meerut he advanced towards the southeast, into Awadh: at first to Qannauj and then to Satrikh (now the district of Barabanki), where the troops of his father Salar Shahu joined him. In Satrikh, which had become the General Headquarters of the Afghan army, Salar Shahu died on 4 October 1032, and Mas‘ud continued the aggressive campaigns on the territories of the eastern part of present Uttar Pradesh, on the way demolishing pagan temples and converting the local population to Islam under the threat of death.
During an expedition he arrived in Bahraich, where he became interested in the ruins of a temple of a sun god on the banks of a reservoir, considered to be sacred by Hindus. According to ‘Abdur Rahman Chishti, Mas‘ud time and again declared that he wanted to erect a mosque on these ruins, in order to neutralize the evil spell of the material sun with the power of the spiritual sun of Islam. Ultimately, in the course of a battle on 15 June 1034 Mas‘ud was mortally wounded with an arrow and, while dying, expressed his last wish to be buried on the banks of the sacred reservoir. Local tradition says that Mas‘ud’s head lies precisely where there used to be the image or the sign of the sun, for which, in order to neutralize its ‘evil spell’, the young warrior of Islam had lain down his life. Having been killed while fulfilling his duty as a soldier, Salar Mas‘ud became a shahıd (martyr) and earned the honorary nickname of Ghazi Miyañ (Master Warrior for Faith).
Probably Shaikh ‘Abdur Rahman considered that the evidence of Ghazi Miyan’s sainthood furnished by him was convincing enough, but quite a number of hagiographers have not agreed with him. In early ţabaq t-i awliya there is absolutely no mention of Ghazi Miyan, whereas in later collections (for example, in Jawahir-i farıdı) he is called ‘patron of infidels’. As far as ordinary believers are concerned, in general they needed no evidence whatsoever: the saint’s baraka exerted a direct influence on them during Ghazi Miyan’s ‘urs, which was observed on the twelfth to the fourteenth of the month of Rajab and attracted every year up to two hundred thousand pilgrims.
As the small town of Bahraich could not accommodate all comers, brick platforms or chabutara, where the ceremony of the veneration of Ghazi Miyan’s banner was performed, were erected even in other towns of Awadh, in particular, in Salargarh, named in honour of the saint, and in Faizabad, Satrikh and Rudawli. In the saint’s cult the aspect of curative magic was predominant, and accordingly people started venerating him as a miracle worker, curing leprosy.3 The most active part of Salar Mas‘ud’s ‘flock’ was the Mewatis (or Meo), the inhabitants of the historic district of Mewat, to the south of Delhi.
They were converted to Islam, under compulsion, in as far back as the eleventh century, and ascribed their conversion to Ghazi Miyan, which is why they strictly observe rituals of the veneration of the saint’s banner and of offering him multicoloured flags and spears. Conversion to Islam left the mode of the Mewatis’ life almost untouched; they introduced elements of popular Indian rituals into Ghazi Miyan’s veneration. Thus, for example, on being cured of disease they used to offer to the saint figurines of horses made of dough which were distributed amongst pilgrims during the ‘urs.
If the Muslims venerated Ghazi Miyan in the first place as a warrior for faith and a martyr, the Hindus called him by affectionate nicknames, emphasizing the saint’s young age: Ble Miyañ (Revered Boy), Bale Pır (Boy Saint),4 Hat’hıle Pır (Obstinate Saint) (Rizvi 1986: 314).
The last nickname is especially interesting: one often comes across the word hathla (obstinate, teasing) in Krishna-bhakti songs (bhajans) as an epithet for young Krishna, a naughty, obstinate and mischievous child. This nickname, as with the other affectionate names, by laying emphasis on the saint’s young age, automatically suggests the idea that in the consciousness of the Hindus Salar Mas‘ud’s historical personality became identified with child Krishna, the most acclaimed hero of popular Hinduism.
There is probably even an erotic aspect that is also connected with the Indian substratum, which was imparted to Ghazi Miyan’s cult and which was at variance with the historical prototype of the saint - a stern warrior and ruthless propagator of the faith. According to popular legend, not confirmed by Mir’t-i Mas‘udı, shortly before his death Ghazi Miyan married Zuhra Bibi, a girl of noble birth from Rudawli, having cured her of blindness beforehand. The latter ‘fact’ is highly typical for the Indian hagiographic literature in general: numerous Sufis and saints married girls miraculously cured by them. Mas‘ud and his bride managed only to conclude the marriage-contract, but actually the marriage was not consummated: the bridegroom was killed before the nuptial night, and Zuhra Bibi remained a virgin. After her death she was also buried in Bahraich, but a stone from her burial-vault was taken to Rudawli, where another cenotaph was built (Gazetteer of Oudh 1985: 236).
Here on the first Sunday of Jet’h a fair called Zuhra-melwas celebrated annually, attracting rural Muslims and Hindus of lower castes. On the festival day pilgrims used to bring offerings, called ‘Zuhra’s dowry’, to the saint’s wife (Gazetteer of Oudh 1985: 132), the main offering being the nuptial bed. Some rites of Ghazi Miyan’s ‘urs in Bahraich also reproduced the wedding ceremony. Two boys in the regalia of bridegroom and bride, depicting Ghazi Miyan and Zuhra, were seated on an eminence, and this tradition cannot but remind one of a similar representation of a young couple - Rama and Sita - during Ramlıla, when the Northern Indian folk dance drama recounting the stories from the epic Ramayana is performed.
It is superfluous to observe that such types of rituals ran counter to the prevalent Muslim practice of the veneration of saints, which rules out dramatization or anything erotic, including a nuptial aspect. The fact that the features of ‘obstinate’ youngster and bridegroom became manifest in the image of the warrior saint is undoubtedly indicative of the Indian influence, in particular, the Vaishnawa cult. It is not unlikely that in the hypostasis of obstinate youngster Ghazi Miyan’s image became united with the traits of Lord Krishna and as a warrior and heroic husband he was identified with Lord Rama, whose birthplace and cult centre were in the very neighbourhood of Ayodhya, which was close to Bahraich.
The main ritual of Ghazi Miyan’s cult - the veneration of his ‘alam (banner) - is the so-called ‘fact of twin motivation’. The veneration of a military banner and processions with flags and spears, which became a part of the saint’s cult no later than the fourteenth century, are typical also for Shi‘a mourning rites in the month of Muharram, which became widespread in the neighbouring districts of Faizabad and Lucknow in the eighteenth century. Obviously, the rituals of the saint’s ‘urs had a direct effect on the formation of the ritual practices of the Shi‘a of Awadh. However, a procession of pilgrims with multicoloured flags, and also the veneration of jhanda(banner), is a constituent part of many indigenous Indian rituals, pertaining even to the pre-Islamic epoch (for example, the pjaof God Indra’s banner or staff).
Representatives of normative Islam clearly realized the ‘pagan’ substratum of Ghazi Miyan’s cult. It has already been mentioned that certain rulers had forbidden the celebration of his ‘urs on account of the elements of nuptial eroticism in the saint’s veneration ritual. In the nineteenth century veneration of Ghazi Miyan by Hindus provoked ironic bewilderment amongst Englishmen. The British Resident in Awadh, William Sleeman, wrote: ‘Strange to say, Hindoos as well as Mahommedans make offerings to this shrine, and implore the favours of this military ruffian, whose only recorded merit consists of having sent a great many Hindoos to hell, in a wanton and unprovoked invasion of their territory’ (Sleeman 1971: 69).
The saint’s authority did not wane with the passage of time, however. Even in the eighteenth century the great Punjabi Sufi poet, Warith Shah, names him among the legendary group of the most venerated saints - the Five Pı¯rs. Neither Naqshbandiyya reaction, nor Puritanim of the Wahhabis, nor reformists’ criticism could under-mine the foundations of the saint’s cult. Those who could not reach Bahraich celebrated Ghazi Miyan’s ‘urs at his fellow-fighters’ tombs (mostly fabricated ones), which are scattered over a vast territory extending from Uttar Pradesh to Bengal.
Thus in various districts the following mazars of Salar Mas‘ud’s military officers were venerated: in Gopalau - the mazar of Makhdum ‘Azizuddin (also known as Lal Pir), in Qannauj - the grave of the army kotwal Miyan Rajab, and in Tambaur - the mausoleum of Burhanuddin. Finally, in Satrikh even the saint’s father Salar Shahu’s mazar, called Birdha Baba by Hindus, became a place of pilgrimage.
According to popular belief, after their martyr’s death the men in Ghazi Miyan’s army became not only saints, but also ghosts. Miyan Rajab, for example, could appear before the eyes of the people in the form of a headless horseman. At night in the suburbs of Faizabad wayfarers used to come across a whole army of the saint’s soldiers turned into ghosts (Crooke 1968: 232).
Obviously, several factors were conducive to the transformation of Salar Mas‘ud’s tomb into an ‘inter-religious sanctuary’. First, the saint’s maza¯r has been erected where there used to be a sun temple, and it was on the banks of a sacred reservoir, in short at a place consecrated by tradition. Here historical topography itself became the source of syncretism. Second, there took place a mutual identification of the saint’s image with local deities, most likely with Rama and Krishna. In this case it so happened that emphasis was laid upon secondary elements of the saint’s life (his young age, the legend about his marriage), and the basic historical facts (military feats, proselytizing activity) were relegated to the background. In other words the veneration of Ghazi Miyan is the fruit of synthesis and the mutual identification of two traditions, in the process of which Muslim ziyarat played the role of substratum, whereas the Hindu practice of pilgrimage was vested with the function of amplifying a resonator.
The cult of the Ghazı, and consequently of warrior saints, was articularly developed in medieval Bengal, the Islamization of which took place in several stages. Jalaluddin Tabrizi, who had started proselytizing amongst the Bengalis, was not averse to methods involving force. His mission was continued by Shah Jalal (died in 1347), the saint who is credited with the conversion of the inhabitants of East Bengal, and whose tomb in Sylhet (Bangladesh) even up to the present day is a place of pilgrimage. Muhammad Ghawthi Shattari has described Shah Jalal’s life in the hagiographic collection Gulzr-i Abrr. Shah Jalal was born in Turkestan where he was initiated into silsila-i Khwajagan.
He considered himself a khalıfa of Sayyid Ahmad Yasavi (died 1169), the eponym of Yasaviyya ţarıqa, who had died long before Shah Jalal was born. Shah Jalal was given an assignment in Bengal, which was called dar al-harb (‘territory of war’). This was the term used by Muslim faqıhs to denote non-Muslim countries, which were at war with the faithful, whereas the absence of military operations was considered to be an armistice. The purpose of Shah Jalal was to transform Bengal into da¯r al-șulh (‘the territory of a peace treaty’), i.e. into a region which has, on being conquered, concluded a treaty (șulh) determining the extent of tribute and the legal status of non-Muslim inhabitants.
Other Parts of the Book, Muslim Saints of South Asia: