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Muslim Saints Of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries Part - 27


By Anna Suvrova

The authors of different collections, ţabaqt al-awliya, write about Shah Madar with equal respect, particularly Shaikh ‘Abdur Rahman Chishti in the monumental compendium Mirat al-asrar (Mirror of Secrets), to say nothing of Mirat-i Madarı, devoted specially to the saint. A curious fact of the recognition of Shah Madar’s baraka was the visit to his tomb by the orthodox Emperor Aurangzeb, who was by no means favourably disposed to the cult of saints.

This chapter has considered four saints, who in their lifetime were warriors of Islam or carried out jihad against followers of other religions - and yet how little of their historical image and biographical circumstances has survived in their posthumous cult! In practice it turned out that the cult of the shahids in India, as in the rest of Islamic world, was mainly confined to the Shi‘a community, whereas the cult of awliya, as is generally known, grew basically on Sunni soil, gener-ously fertilized by Sufism. Violent or unnatural death could impart a halo of sainthood to a warrior killed in battle, an executed mutineer, or to a heroine of popular legend who died of love, but it does not mean that they were later venerated as martyrs.

 Death in tragic or mysterious circumstances was one of the many constituents of baraka, and there is no scarcity of various saints who peacefully died of old age in their beds, and yet became objects of such a passionate and fervent veneration, of which martyrs had not even dreamt. I would say that between martyrdom and the cult of the saint in South Asia there exists an inverse relationship: the longer a saint lived, the more he was held in respect and revered by disciples and devotees during his lifetime, the more blissful and serene was his disposition on the one hand, the more actively he was venerated after his death on the other hand.

An example can be found in the cult of such persons as Mu‘inuddin Sijzi, Baba Farid and Nizamuddin Awliya who all lived to a venerable age. Relics of military honours can, in fact, be discerned only in Ghazi Miyan’s cult, but even here nothing reminds one now of martyrdom particularly - the rites of mourning and lamentation, in which the Shi‘a ritual is so rich, are altogether absent. Functions of curative magic (the cure of leprosy) and fertility (the conjugal aspect) come to the foreground. The cult of Shah Jalal and Pir Badr, on the whole, is divested of any connection with military and proselytizing activity; images of these Muslim ghazs have been identified with the legendary saint Khizr and the rituals of their veneration have accordingly made allowance for the popular worship of spirits and deities of sources of water. Shah Madar’s life only indirectly bears a relation to propagation of faith by force of arms, but the Madariyya sect founded by him has astonishingly combined the militant expansionistic aspect of futuwwa with esoteric occultism.

In other words, the veneration of warrior saints once again confirms that there is no direct dependence between the personality of a saint, as depicted in historical and hagiographic literature, and the nature of his cult. As always, the practice of veneration of a saint’s tomb was influenced mainly by the universal notions about baraka, utilitarian objects of ziyarat (curative magic, strengthening of fertility, etc.) and etiological legends of a given locality.


Till now the discourse has been chiefly about the saints belonging to the main silsilas and attached to particular kh nqahs. Some of them, like Baba Farid, Nizamuddin Awliya and Shah Madar were throughout their life bound to one place, like veritable muqımn. Others spent many years travelling, like Data Ganjbakhsh, Khwaja Mu’inuddin Sijzi or Shah Jalal and only in their declining years did they become ‘settled’. The posthumous fame of the awliyaof both the categories and the cult of their tombs are closely connected with the places where they led the life of a hermit or preached in their lifetime, hence the abundance of local legends and toponymy, coming into being around one or another mazr or dargah and in the aggregate making up a peculiar ‘sacred’ geography of the sub-continent. However, in South Asia there were quite a lot of saints and mystics who did not belong to any ţarıqa, and who spent their entire life on the journey. The most common name for them was the word qalandar (literally ‘a rough unshaped block or log’).

The term qalandar was historically applied to various categories of mystics. Up to the fourteenth century it was synonymous with the concept of dervish and denoted a wandering mystic-ascetic, who did not have personal property or a definite place of residence. In early mystic poetry qalandar is a wanderer who has renounced everything temporal and is absorbed only in love for God. The Persian Sufis of the eleventh century, Abu Sa‘id Maihani, ‘Abdullah Ansari and Baba Tahir ‘Uryan, called themselves qalandars in precisely this sense. The last-mentioned said: I am mystic gypsy called Qalandar; I have neither fire, home, nor monastery. By day I wander about the world, and at night I sleep with a brick under my head.      (Rizvi 1986: 301)

And, finally, the word qalandar denoted a member of the mystic-ascetic movement in Khurasan, which in the course of time took shape as the Qalandariyya fraternity and by the thirteenth century reached the borders of India. The teaching of Qalandariyya differed from the doctrines of other Muslim fraternities by virtue of the serious influence of Hindu and Buddhist practices on it. Its fundamental tenets were: the rejection of the mystic-ascetic practice of seclusion and life together in a cloister; an indifferent and negligent attitude towards the mandatory injunctions (fara’id) and rituals of Islam; the avoidance of participation in common prayer and public worship; a refusal to observe the fast obligatory for all Muslims; subsistence by means of collecting alms; the absence of any property; and a nomadic way of life. Some members of the Qalandariyya fraternity also used to make a vow of celibacy.

The Qalandariyya movement came into being on the basis of the early teaching of Malamatiyya (from Arabic malamat, ‘blame’), to which al-Hujwiri has devoted a separate chapter of his Kashf al-mahjb. After giving an account of different kinds of mal mat incurred by the mystics of the past, al-Hujwiri wrote ironically of his contemporaries: In those days it was necessary, for incurring blame, to do something disapproved or extraordinary; but in our time, if anyone desires blame, he need only lengthen a little his voluntary prayers or fulfil the religious practices which are prescribed: at once everybody will call him a hypocrite and impostor. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 65)

The malamatı used to assert that ‘blame is abandonment of welfare’ (al-mal mat tark as-salamat) and in their aspiration for ‘belittling themselves’ and dissolving themselves in God intentionally attracted people’s censure and contempt by their scandalous escapades.2 In so doing they were guided by the a yat: ‘They fear not the blame of anyone; that is the grace of God which He bestows on whomsoever He pleases; God is bounteous and wise’ (5: 59).

Conscious of their own insignificance before God and in order to avoid the attention of others, the malamatıs rejected everything superficial and ostentatious, including collective dhikr and tar wih (supererogatory prayers), which were widely practised amongst Sufis, their special dress and mode of life, because they considered that these manifestations of piety were meant for the public.

However, moderate mystics did not give too much credence to them, remembering that self-abasement was worse than pride. Al-Hujwiri, speaking of people who take refuge in the status of malamatıafter having committed an evil deed, comes to the conclusion:

In my opinion, to seek Blame is mere ostentation, and osten-tation is mere hypocrisy. The ostentatious man purposely acts in such way as to win popularity, while the Mal mat purposely acts in such a way that the people reject him. Both have their thoughts fixed on mankind and do not pass beyond that sphere. The dervish, on the contrary, never even thinks of mankind. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 67)

Abu Hafs Suhrawardi in ‘Awrif al-ma‘arif makes a distinction between mala¯mat¯ and qalandar. The former, in his opinion, are truly sincere, but do not want outsiders to get to know about their ecstatic state and mystic experience. He regards the movement of qalandars as an anti-social phenomenon, considering that they consciously violate the injunctions of sharı ‘at and defy religion and society. The term qalandariyya is applied to people so possessed by the intoxication of ‘tranquility of heart’ that they respect no custom or usage and reject the regular observances of society and mutual relationship. Traversing the arenas of ‘tranquility of heart’ they concern themselves little with ritual prayer and fasting except such as are obligatory (fara’id). Neither do they concern themselves with those earthly pleasures which are allowed by the indulgence of divine law ... The difference between the qalandarı and the malamatı is that the malamatı strives to conceal his mode of life whilst the qalandar seeks to destroy accepted custom.

(Trimingham 1971: 267)

Indeed, qalandars in every way possible used to flaunt their special mystic status both in their outward appearance and in their conduct. They wore a short khirqa which came down only to their thighs, a shaggy fur-cap, a heavy iron necklace, ear-rings, looking like massive rings worn on the fingers, and wide bracelets, generally called ‘qalandar’s implements’ (lat-i qalandar). Undoubtedly these ‘imple-ments’ were a sign of humble resignation to God’s will and of repentance, since they reminded one more of a slave’s attributes than of a free person’s ornaments.

Qalandars used to shave their heads and beards, sometimes leaving the moustache untouched. All-knowing Ibn Battuta explained the outward appearance of qalandars by an episode from the biography of Muhammad b. Yunus as-Sawaji (who died in 1232), the founder of the Qalandariyya fraternity.3 A certain woman living in Sawa (Iran) enticed him into her house on a plausible pretext, and having failed to win his love, locked him up in the pantry. The ingenious qalandar, having been locked up, shaved his head and beard clean, not leaving even his eyebrows. When the temptress saw what her object of passion had turned into, she lost all interest in him and set him free. In gratitude for his deliverance from sin as-Sawaji retained this new appearance throughout his life and entrusted his followers never to part with a razor.

The Chishti malfuzaat often refers to the shocking behaviour of the qalandars. Qalandars and those congenial souls the juwaliqs were inimically disposed to the ‘settled ones’. They did not recognize their sainthood and considered them to have been secularized and ‘turned into bourgeoisie’. However, at the same time they constantly visited kh ¯nqa¯hs and had the brazenness to ask for gifts and money. The scandals which they in the process perpetrated - let us recall the breached wall in Baba Farid’s jam ‘at khana or the riot in Baha’uddin Zakariya’s kh nqah - can be only partly explained by the qalandars’ ‘programmatic’ endeavour to incur censure. The gentle and patient Nizamuddin Awliya considered a visit by qalandars to be a peculiar penance or at least a sobering agent, which God granted to the shaikhs, so that they did not get too conceited in the atmosphere of general adoration:

A juwaliq entered the room. And he began to utter some shameful remarks that are inappropriate for a saintly assembly. The master - may God remember him with favour - said nothing. In short, he lived up to the expectations that the juwaliq had on him. After that he turned to those present and emphasized: ‘This is what has to be done (in such circumstances). Just as many persons come, place their head at my feet, and offer something, so there ought to be people like this who come and speak unabashedly. It is through such acts that the saint can offer penance for those other acts’. (Amir Hasan 1992: 136)

Qalandars did not confine themselves only to shameful words: in the year 1353 a wandering dervish called Turab, who was dissatisfied with the reception accorded to him in the Delhi khnqah of the Chishtis, inflicted with a dagger thirty wounds on the great Shaikh Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Dihli.4 Earlier in the year 1290 a qalandar of the Hyderi sect5 played a fatal role in the case of the conspirator Sidi Maula: when he appeared for trial in the court of Sultan Jalaluddin Khalji, of an attempt on whose life he was accused, a Hyderi present in the courtroom slashed Sidi Maula’s throat with a razor, which, as we will recall, qalandars always kept handy. At the same time Sidi Maula himself belonged to the sect of muwallihs related to the qalandars. Elephants trampled the dervish, who had been fatally wounded by a member of his own brotherhood.

A contemporary researcher of South Asian Sufism, Simon Digby, has called qalandars and similar sects of wandering dervishes with other self-appellations, deviants, that is groups deviating from social and religious conduct (Digby 1984). Moderate ‘sober’ mystics, let alone ‘ulama, regarded qalandars and similar groups of dervishes as zindıqs. The testimony of Muhammad Gesudaraz in this respect is interesting:

People keep on saying that haqıqat is the divine secret, but I, Muhammad Husaini, say that sharı ‘at is the divine secret, because I have also heard talk of haqıqat from the mouths of muwallihs, Haidaris, Qalandars, mulhids and zindıqs (heretics of sorts); nay, I have even heard it from the mouths of Yogis, of Brahmans and of Gurus. But talk of the sharı ‘at I have not heard from the mouth of anyone other than the people of true faith and belief, i.e. Sunni Muslims. Thus it is evident that the sharı‘at is the divine secret. (Schimmel 1980: 53)

This quotation proves that, first, such an authoritative Sufi as Gesudaraz did not differentiate between qalandars, muwallihs, Hydaris and other sects of wandering dervishes and, second, equated their irresponsible utterances with the words of kafirs (Yogis and Brahmans). Gesudaraz’s stand is all the more understandable, since the ‘calculated deviation’ of qalandars and their like was in the first place directed against the authority of the shaikhs of the main silsilas and against the deep-rooted methods of transmission of baraka.

The qalandars rejected both the basic forms and methods of Sufi practice and the established relations between pır and murıd, which resupposed movement on the Path only under the leadership of a spiritual preceptor.

Generally speaking, the Muslim poetry of the subcontinent is full of scornful, even mocking remarks about hypo-critical and hidebound shaikhs, ignorant of the true profundity of mystic enlightenment. Thus, one of the pioneers of poetic tradition in rekhta Urdu, Muhammad Wali (1668-1707), in many respects reflects the point of view of malamatıs or qalandars, when he says:

Shaikh yahñ bt terıpesh na jyegıkabh Zuhd kıcho¸ ke mat majlis-i rindn meñ Shaikh!

Nothing you say will ever have any effect here. Abandon our counsels of asceticism and come and join the company of pleasure-seekers. (Matthews and Shackle 1972: 24-5)

True, attacks on shaikhs pretty early on turn into a stable semantic motif of the genre ghazal and lose any connection with critical sentiments in Sufi circles. That is why when Mir Taqi Mir depicts the image of an impudent shaikh in a highly intoxicated state distributing the attributes of his affiliation to the fraternity amongst fellow revellers and boon companions, he is only paying homage to the convention of the genre:

Shaikh jo hai masjid meñ nang, rt ko th meikhane meñ Jubba, khirqa, kurt, t’opımastımeñ in‘m kiy The Shaikh, who is naked in the mosque, was in the wine-tavern last night. In his drunkenness he pledged his coat, his patched cloak, his shirt, and his hat. (Matthews and Shackle 1972: 62-3)

Denying the role of living spiritual preceptors, qalandars at times eclared themselves to be murı¯ds of already dead shaikhs and took the oath of loyalty (bai‘a) at their graves, which called forth condemnation and resistance on the part of the heads of silsilas. Thus, one of Shakh Farid’s sons, fancying himself to be a qalandar, shaved his head and took the oath at Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki’s tomb, after which he proclaimed himself to be a disciple of this saint. Shaikh Farid was indignant at such a violation of the laws of initiation and declared: ‘Shaikh Qutb-u’d-din is my spiritual guide and master, but this form of initiation is not proper. Initiation and discipleship means that one should grasp the hand of a Shaikh [i.e. is in direct contact with him - A. S.]’ (Nizami 1955: 95).

Qalandars did not recognize khilfat-nmas and walayat - the limits of a saints’ spiritual jurisdiction - which accounts for their hostile onslaughts on khnqahs. Shaikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi, notable for his bellicose disposition, once tied up hand and foot and impris-oned a wandering qalandar, who had taken it into his head to cure people of diseases and work wonders in his walayat in the region of Lakhnauti. Complaints to the effect that juwaliqs lived by begging and deceiving people in the regions around Delhi which were ‘under his rule’ are to be found even in Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Dihli’s malfuzat. At the same time juwaliqs did acknowledge some authority, if one may give credence to the story of how they prostrated them-selves before Shaikh Baha’uddin Zakariya on hearing Abu Hafs ‘Umar Suhrawardi’s name.

Bahauddin Zakariya, being, in principle, an opponent of wandering dervishes, could not deny that amongst them also one could come across quite pious and mystically gifted people. Thus, he came across a juwa¯liq who could in the course of two cycles of prayer recite the entire Qur’an. However much the Spiritual Sovereign of Multan wished to emulate this, he did not succeed and was compelled to declare: ‘Now have I witnessed the truth of this axiom that in the midst of every group of people there is indeed one of God’s elect!’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 85).  

Not liking the qalandars as a particular social group, Baha’uddin Zakariya nevertheless found his chosen ones amongst them. His favourite disciple Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi lived the life of a typical malmat and the shaikh of Multan initiated another of his favourites, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (1177-1267), into the Suhrawardiyya order and gave him his own khirqa. May be Baha’ddin Zakariya’s contradictory attitude towards qalandars is explained by the fact that amongst them there were a number of gifted poets, and the head of the Suhrawardiyya had always had a weakness for poetry.

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