By Anna Suvrova
Let us return to Pir Badr. At the end of his life he left Chittagong and returned to the places of his youth, Bihar, and that is where he was buried in a tomb, called Chhot’ıDargh (Little Dargah). At the same time dummy tombs of the saint were erected on the riverside in Chittagong, Arakan and Tripura.
The main centre of the saint’s cult, asthna, is the same hillock in Chittagong where his zawiya (cell) was situated, and where he used to meditate and pray during his lifetime. Hindus and Buddhists of Arakan used to offer to the tomb the income from their neighbouring villages, instituting a kind of waqf, and thereby transformed it into a centre of pilgrimage. Pir Badr’s popularity in the regions bordering on Burma made the English travellers and scholars of the past century think that he was a Burmese saint.
Although the South Asian saints from time to time actively interfered in politics, in the Middle Ages their participation in the expansion of Islam by force of arms was more limited than in other Muslim countries. When in 1327 Muhammad bin Tughluq exhorted Sufis to enter into a jihad against the Mongols, who had devastated Punjab and districts around Delhi, most of them refused to collaborate with the authorities, as their hostility to the Sultan was more intense than their fear of Timur’s conquests. In India it is difficult to find analogies with wandering Turkish dervishes - bb, who used to stiffen the fighting spirit of ghazıs in Anatolia in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries.
It is no less complicated to detect a connection between Indian Sufi fraternities and clandestine militarized organizations of artisans or aristocracy futuwwa, a connection about which many researchers of the Turkish and Near Eastern Sufism write as if about something which goes without saying. For the Indian Sufis futuwwa was not the aggregate of chivalrous and martial virtues but an ethical ideal, in accordance with which others’ spiritual welfare had to be given preference over one’s own. Besides this they interpreted the concept of jihad itself in spiritual sense, as a mortification of the sinful soul on the path of its purification, or mujahada.
Furthermore the South Asian Sufis did not have to come forward in defence of Islam against external enemies, Christians, as their brothers and contemporaries did in the Near East: ‘Abdallah al-Yunini, nicknamed Asad ash-Sham (Lion of Syria) who participated in Saladin’s campaigns; Ahmad al-Badawi, whose preaching activity spread widely during the Crusade of Louis IX; and al-Jazuli, who came out against the Portuguese threat to the independence of the Muslim Maghrib. Only consid-erably later, at the end of eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, did the Indian Sufis and awliyastand upon the front line of the Muslim resistance to colonial expansion. The most widely known of them attained martyrdom, like Ahmad Shahid (1786-1831) and Isma‘il Shahid (1781-1831), founders of the muj ¯hidu¯n movement, and were ranked among the saints. There were, however, a few South Asian saints who called their disciples akhı (brothers), analogous to the name used by Turkish craft-guilds, who were considered to be warriors for the faith. In the fraternities instituted by them rituals of initiation were borrowed from futuwwa. If one were to believe Ibn Battuta, akhıand futuwwa were synonymous concepts:
An Akhi, in their [Turkish] idiom, is a man whom the assembled members of his trade, together with others of the young unmarried men and those who have adopted the celibate life, chose to be their leader. This is [what is called] al-futuwwa also ... Nowhere in the world have I seen men more chivalrous in conduct than they are. (The Travels of Ibn Battuta 1962, 1: 419)
Although the system of akhı in its Turkish form does not have analogues in Indian medieval society, it is obvious that Jalaluddin Surkhposh Bukhari’s grandson, Makhdum-i Jahaniyan Jahangasht, famous for his puritanism and religious militancy, made use of it as a model for the Jalaliyya order founded by him. Thus, Jalali neophytes wrapped their belts around their waists and tied their turbans in a special way and were given some salty water to drink at the time of their initiation into futuwwa, and the same procedure was followed during initiation into the maternal Suhrawardiyya order. Jahangasht called his disciples akhı and borrowed his ideal of spiritual brother-hood from the Anatolian craft-guilds and the akhıand futuwwa organizations in Khurasan and Transoxania. ‘Like the Ayyars of Iraq and Iran who were associated with the Futuwwa organizations, the Akhis were also warriors of the faith and claimed to have restored Islam to its pristine purity’ (Rizvi 1986: 281).
At the same time both Jalalis as well as Madari dervishes who were similar to them had a bad reputation for being be-shar‘. Armed with katars (daggers) and lat’hıs (battle cudgels) they were the indispensable participants in urban turmoil and disturbances, the most active part of an urban rabble, instantly responding to any instigation for mutiny. In the year 1659, during the disorders in Delhi connected with the execution of Shaikh Sarmad and Dara Shikoh, dervishes of these orders converged in the capital in groups, burning houses and plundering and ransacking the shops of Hindu tradesmen. In peace-time Jalalis and Madaris lived by begging in bazaars and fairs, or entertained the mob with istidraj (‘dirty miracles’ or ‘divine deception’) of the lowest sort: thus, for example, Jalalis, who were Shi‘a, used to swallow living snakes and scorpions, calling them ‘Imam ‘Ali’s fishes and shrimps’.
The eponym of the Madariyya order, Zinda Shah Madar, who has already been referred to in this book, was not a warrior of Islam, but carried out jiha¯d throughout his life against those who, as it turned out, constituted the milieu of his posthumous devotees - i.e. the Hindus of Awadh. Although Badi‘uddin Shah Madar is apparently also a historical person, the actual facts of his life have been dissolved in the great number of legends surrounding this saint. The basic source of information about him, the hagiographic Mir’t-i Mad rı (‘Madar’s Mirror’, 1654) of Shaikh ‘Abdur Rahman Chishti, the author of the above-mentioned Mir’t-i Mas‘udı. He narrates that the saint was born in Aleppo in 1315. At the same time other hagio-graphic texts mention 1050 as Shah Madar’s date of birth, asserting that he lived for about four hundred years. Equally improbable seem to be the legends of Madariyya, which purport that its founder did not take food over a period of twelve years and never washed and did not change his clothes, since throughout his Methuselahian life he remained in a state of unsullied ritual purity.
By birth Shah Madar was a Jew. Madariyya’s legend insists that he adopted Islam in Najaf and took initiation from the Shi‘a twelfth ‘hidden’ Imam, Muhammad bin al-Hasan. Considerably more probable seems to be the version of Mir’t-i Madarı, according to which the saint adopted Islam in Mecca under the influence of his meeting with the well-known Sufi Ashraf Jahangir Simnani (who died in 1415). The same Simnani, whose murid Shah Madar became, sent him to India, where the future saint visited Ajmer Sharif, and subsequently lived for some time in Kalpi and Jaunpur. The peevish disposition of the future saint was the source of his constant conflicts with Qadir Shah, the ruler of Kalpi and with the Sultan of Jaunpur, Ibrahim Sharqi. In a fit of temper Madar cursed the former, so that the entire body of the ruler became covered with boils.
Having failed to get on with the high and mighty of this world,Shah Madar settled down in the small town of Makanpur (now Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh), where he terrified the whole district: an infidel (that is, a Hindu) had only to look at his face and he (i.e. the infidel) instantly fainted away. Apparently, that is why Shah Madar’s face was always covered with a veil, which, in the opinion of his followers, brought him close to the images of the Prophet, to whom he directly traced his spiritual genealogy. The saint’s foes, and there were quite a lot of them both among the ‘ulam and among moderate mystics, used to compare Shah Madar with the eighth-century false prophet al-Muqanna of Khurasan, whose face was lso always covered with a veil, but certainly not because divine radiance emanated from it.
In order to convert pagans to the true faith, the saint did not choose the path of spiritual jihad: he used to inflict upon the inhabitants of neighbouring villages hordes of snakes and scorpions, which were, apparently, under his command. He also invoked natural calamities on them, destroyed their standing crops and killed their babies. After a few years of such an original proselytizing activity the district of Makanpur was completely Islamized.
One only has to wonder at the good nature of the Hindus of Awadh, who after all the torture nonetheless proclaimed Shah Madar to be an incarnation of Lakshman, God Rama’s brother, and became the main adherents of his posthumous cult. Muslims regarded the short-tempered saint with less reverence; in their midst his role was limited to the status of corporate protector of those of low caste: bhat’hiyar (innkeepers), kahar (palanquin bearers), bhand’ (vagrant actors and conjurers), i.e. representatives of employment connected with roads and journeys. In this sense the image of Zinda Shah Madar was identified with the epitome of the roving character, Khizr, the chief patron of wayfarers.
Apparently Sultan Ibrahim Sharqi was also a forgiving person, who, in spite of the quarrels with Shah Madar in his lifetime, erected a tomb for him in 1434, which immediately turned into a centre of pilgrimage and a place for the saint’s veneration. The dargah in Makanpur was reputed to be miracle working. The Madari dervishes who lived there used to walk half-naked, but at the same time were armed, covered their body with ash, tied iron chains around their neck, adorned their heads with black turbans and made their appearance everywhere with black flags in their hands - an infernal appearance indeed. They did not observe the mandatory time of prayer and fast; swallowed a lot of Indian hemp (bha¯ ng) and, being in a state of narcotic intoxication all the time, got involved in scuffles with pilgrims and local inhabitants, continuing the tradition of their eponym. It has already been mentioned that in search of piquant sensations they used to betake themselves to the capital or other big cities, where they took part in more serious conflicts. The Madari dervishes’ favourite pastime was to sit around a bonfire and tell fantastic stories about the founder of their sect.
One of these legends, which is downright blasphemous, claims that during Mi‘raj the Prophet reached the gates of paradise and discovered that they were narrower than the eye of a needle. Not knowing how to get inside, he asked the angel Jibrıl about it and the latter explained that the Prophet should exclaim Dam Madar (‘Madar is Life!’), the ritual formula of Madariyya (it also means ‘do not breathe’, ‘hold your breath’, and in a profane vulgar sense, to ‘croak!’).
Only having done justice to the founder of the dubious fraternity, could the Prophet have entered paradise (Meer Hassan Ali 1975: 375)! The term dam, meaning ‘breath’, ‘life’ and ‘spirit’, is central to the ritual practice of the Madariyya sect. Breath control, or ‘breath retention’ (habs-i dam) was always present in Sufis’ psycho-technical exercises; dhikr is impossible without it. Al-Hujwiri quotes Bayazid Bistami, who had said: ‘For gnostic (‘arif) faith is holding of breathe’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 210). Founders of Sufi fraternities supposedly learnt the technique of habs-i dam from the legendary Khizr. As for Madaris, they originated the doctrine according to which God was the spirit, Muhammad was the body, and the four righteous Caliphs were the hands and feet. In this ‘organism’, isomorphic to the world of Islam, Shah Madar was assigned the role of breath, and holding it, a dervish simultaneously retained in himself the presence of the saint as well as his very life.
It is not difficult to see in it a parallel to the teaching of the esoteric sect of Naths, whose ritual and psycho-technical actions were directed towards retaining prn¸ain one’s body, understood both as a physiological act of breathing and as mystic vital energy, a direct analogy to the concept of dam. Like Naths, Madaris also strictly observed celibacy, since the outflow of semen came under the category of the same loss of vital energy. The same notions about isomorphism of the universe and the human body are typical for Naths as they are for Madaris.
Finally, Naths, like the Madaris (who sometimes were called be-qaid-o be-nawa, i.e. ‘without ties and worldly concern’), did not follow the conventional rituals of Hinduism, did not make offerings in temples and did not celebrate religious festivals. The Muslim mystics had been familiar with the teachings of the Naths since the earliest times, and scholars think that the term jogı (or yogi), which one comes across all the time in the Indian Sufi texts, applies precisely to Naths. Taking into consideration the fact that the Madariyya sect came into being fairly late and exclusively on Indian soil, it can be surmised that here the question is not of typological similarity, but of direct influence.8 The main event of Shah Madar’s ‘urs, celebrated in the month of Jumada’l-awwal, was the fire walking of the dervishes, accompanied by yells of Dam Madar. A shallow ditch was filled up with burning ash and smouldering charcoal.
To the beat of drums the dervishes stepped one after the other onto the fiery carpet. Brandishing cudgels over their heads, they slowly, dancing in time, moved along the ditch, invoking the saint. Participants of the ritual used to be in such a deep trance, that burning coal and ash did not cause them any serious burns. Perhaps because of these ‘circus-like’ performances of his disciples Shah Madar also became the patron saint of jugglers, acrobats and others who earned their keep by exhibiting tricks with monkeys, snakes and bears.
In spite of the horrible reputation of the Madaris their dargh in Makanpur attracted thousands of pilgrims. The main reason for this was their reputation for curative magic: Shah Madar cured snakebites and scorpion stings and treated male impotency. Strict and pious Bada’uni confessed that having visited the tomb in Makanpur, he ‘was captured in the net of desire and lust’, however, according to his own testimony, he received ‘chastisement for that sin even in this world’ (Schimmel 1980: 136). Unlike any other ziyarat pilgrimage to Makanpur was not flaunted, since it presupposed in the man con-cerned a certain deficiency. It appears that veneration of Shah Madar was influenced by Hindu erotic cults to a greater extent than was devotion to Ghazi Miyan.
For this very reason women were strictly prohibited from entering the tomb, but even in their midst, behind the parda, legends were in circulation about Shah Madar’s ‘miracles’ which supposedly gave a boost to male potency. Mrs Meer Hassan ‘Ali, an English lady who left behind famous records of nineteenth-century Muslim India, visited Kanpur more than once and wrote about the reason for this prohibition:
I have conversed with a remarkably devout person, on the numerous extraordinary stories related of Maadhaar’s life, and the subsequent influence of his tomb. He told me that women can never, with safety to themselves, enter the mausoleum containing his ashes; they are immediately seized with violent pains as if their whole body was immersed in flames of fire. I spoke rather doubtingly on this subject, upon which he assured me that he had known instances of one or two women who had imprudently defied the danger, and intruded within the mausoleum, when their agony was extreme, and their sufferings for a long time protracted, although they eventually recovered. (Meer Hassan ‘Ali 1975: 374)
In the same place Mrs Meer Hassan ‘Ali retells the story about an English officer, who together with a group of his colleagues visited the fair, which took place annually during the saint’s ‘urs (troops of the East India Company were quartered in Kanpur). In spite of the persistent persuasion of the supervisors of the dargah not to come near the tomb he came inside and fainted on the spot. Efforts of the attendants of the tomb and friends of the Englishman were of no avail. ‘When able to speak, he declared himself to be on the eye of death and in a few short hours he breathed his last’ (Meer Hassan ‘Ali 1975: 375).
A decade earlier than Mrs Meer Hassan ‘Ali the darg h in Makanpur was visited by an English traveller, Viscount George Valentia, who has left an interesting description of the atmosphere reigning there: Mounting our elephants ... we set off for the rowzah, or tomb. At the gate of the outer court we were received by a great number of the priests, and conducted through three courts to the shrine. In each of these were multitudes of Faquirs, roaring, dancing, and praying with the most frantic gestures. The drums and shrill trumpets, with large brass basons, beating with hollow sticks, added to the discordance of the noise. Even the walls were crowded, and we should have made our way with difficulty, had it not been for the exertions of our Faquirs, who, expecting a handsome present, repelled the crowd, and repressed with indignation the demands of some of the most superstitious, that we should take off our shoes ... The tomb itself is placed in the centre of a square building, with four windows of fret work; through one of which is occasionally an opening. It is of the usual shape and size, and is covered with cloth of gold, with a canopy of the same over it, highly perfumed with attar of roses. We went the circuit, and looked in at each window; afterwards we visited the mosque, in front of which is a fountain, and two prodigious boilers, where a constant miracle is performed; for if unholy rice is put into them, they still continue empty: I had no time to see this executed, but it is a trick not very difficult to play ... On reaching the tents, I found many of holy men in attendance, inasmuch as they were afraid of trusting each other, although each considered himself as perfect. I gave them two gold mohurs, about which they wrangled abundantly.
At his particular request, I appointed the Faquir Kurimmuddien my Vakeel in the court of the holy saint Huzrut Syed Buddiudien Kotbal Muddar ... At these fairs all the rascals in India are assembled; we therefore expected some attempt might be made to rob us, but the night passed off quietly. (Valentia 1811: 161-2) In spite of all the ill fame and notoriety of the Madariyya sect, the outstanding spiritual services of its eponym were acknowledged both by contemporaries and posterity. Judging from malfuzat Laţa’if-i Ashrafı (Stories of the Nobles) of Ashraf Jahangir Simnani, who was not only a saint, but also a serious Sufi author and theologian, he often journeyed all over the world in Shah Madar’s company. However, the reference is most likely to a spiritual journey, which Sufis used to perform in the mystical state of ţair.
Other Parts of the Book, Muslim Saints of South Asia: