By Anna Suvrova
During the reign of Mahmud’s descendants, in particular during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim (1059-99) Lahore acquired fame in the subcontinent as a major centre of Muslim culture and scholarship. Suffice it to say that it was in Lahore that al-Hujwiri’s younger contemporaries; the famous poets Abul Faraj Runi and Ma‘sud Sa‘d-i Salman lived and created their works in Persian.
The author of Kashf al-Mahjub was not the first Muslim mystic to settle down in Lahore.15
Having taken up residence in the western outskirts of the old city, near Bhatti Darwaza gate, he started teaching numerous disciples, built a mosque, which has not survived to the present day (and by the side of which he was subsequently buried), and worked on his book, which brought him everlasting fame.
Nothing reliable is known about his subsequent life in Lahore. Soon after al-Hujwiri’s death his Mazar became the favourite place of seclusion and meditation for his disciples and followers. The initial construction of the tomb is ascribed to the already mentioned Sultan Ibrahim Ghaznavi as well as to a private person, Hajji Nur Muhammad Faquir, who supposedly erected a dome over the burial-vault.
It was Emperor Akbar, during whose reign Lahore became the Mughal capital, who finally completed the construction of the architectural complex of the Dargah. However, the tomb continued constantly to be reconstructed and expanded till recently. Its spacious arched row, where there is a mosque and halls for Majalis, has been built in our times, and the massive silver doors are a gift of the last Shah of Iran.
With transformation into a popular saint, al-Hujwiri, as usually happens, lost his original name and acquired the nickname Data Ganjbakhsh, consisting of two synonymous parts: data (Sanskrit for ‘giver’, or ‘generous’) and Ganjbakhsh (Persian for ‘generous’, or ‘lavish’). However, in everyday life he is called by a still shorter name - Data Sahib.
Combination of synonyms of Sanskrit and Persian origin in the saint’s nickname gives an indication of the social environment of his devotees as well as of the type of sainthood: Punjabi Hindus venerated him as much as the Muslims, and bound-less generosity was considered to be the peculiarity of his baraka, according to which Data Sahib met any wish whatsoever of the suppliant.
Dara Shikoh, who often visited the tomb of the saint, has written: ‘It is common knowledge that here is satisfied the requirement of everyone, who in the course of forty nights from Thursday to Friday or on forty days consecutively circumambulates this venerated tomb’ (Dara Shikoh 1965: 148). The inscription on the saint’s tomb also says more or less the same:
Bar astan-i tu har kas rasıd matlab yaft
Raw madar ki man naumid bar gardam.
(Everyone who reached your threshold got his wish. Do not let me return disappointed.)
Because people supplicated Data Sahib for highly different reasons he is most venerated in South Asia as a type of universal saint, not connected with a particular social group or motivation of devotion - a general saint, ‘for all seasons’ as it were. By virtue of the universality of his baraka Data Sahib became the first and foremost patron saint of Lahore. In this role he outshines other patron saints of this town such as the wandering malamatı poet Madho Lal Husain and the already mentioned preceptor of the Mughal elite, Miyan Mir. Over the years Data Sahib came to be regarded as a peculiar elder, a doyen of the corps of saints.
Thus, Dara Shikoh writes that ‘he surpasses all the saints of India and no new saint can set foot on this land without first obtaining his spiritual permission’ (Dara Shikoh 1965: 149). To a certain extent these words are true, for the path of numerous mystics, arriving in India from Afghanistan and Central Asia, either started from Lahore or passed through it.
Moving along the road, connecting the old capital Lahore with the new ones - Delhi and Agra, a pious person simply could not avoid the tomb of the elder of the Indian saints. The spiritual energy emanating from Dt Darbar (this is what traditionally the saint’s tomb is called) shaped the new generations of Auliya.
Here at different times Mu‘inuddin Chishti, Baba Farid and Miyan Mir performed Muraqaba; leading the life of a mendicant, Madho Lal Husain actually lived in Data Darbar; mystics of Punjab Sultan Bahu (1631-91) and Bulle Shah (1680-1752) mentioned him in their verses. Finally, contemporary tradition says that the idea of a separate state for Muslims in the subcontinent actually occurred to Muhammad Iqubal in Data Darbar (Goulding1925: 2).
Iqubal, in spite of his somewhat snobbish dislike for prism and popular religion, has done justice in full measure to Data Sahib, depicting in the poem ‘The Secrets of the Self’ (Asrr-i khudı, 1915) his ‘possible meeting’16 with another eminent saint of the subcontinent, Mu‘inuddin Chishti (Iqbal used his another title Pir-i Sanjar). Despite the abstraction of reality and historical facts, typical for the poetics of the genre of Masnawi, Iqubal quite comprehensively answers the question of why al-Hujwiri was venerated as so influential a South Asian saint:
The saint of Hujwir was venerated by the peoples and Pir-i-Sanjar visited his tomb as a pilgrim. With ease he broke down the mountain-barriers and sowed the seed of Islam in India. The age of Omar was restored by his godliness. The fame of the Truth was exalted by his words.
He was a guardian of the honour of the Koran. The house of Falsehood fell in ruins at his gaze. The dust of the Punjab was brought to life by his breath; Our dawn was made splendid by his sun. He was a lover, and withal, a courier of Love: The secrets of Love shone forth from his brow. I will tell a story of his perfection and enclose a whole rose-bed in a single bud. (Iqubal 1977: 95-6)
Thus Iqubal lays emphasis on al-Hujwiri’s exceptional role at the initial stage of the Islamisation of India: he ‘sowed the seed of Islam in India’; ‘our dawn’, i.e. the dawn of Islam in the subcontinent, ‘was made splendid by his sun’; at his gaze fell in ruins ‘the house of Falsehood’, i.e. the Hindu polytheism and other native religious beliefs.
Then Iqbal dwells on the Sunni godliness of the saint, owing to which ‘the age of Omar’, the second righteous caliph of the Muslims, ‘was restored’. The Sunni tradition in general depicted Omar (‘Umar) as an ideal ruler and as a godly ascetic, who laid down numerous religious and legal injunctions of Islam, in particular the practice of. ajj.
Reference to the authority of Omar’s personality and the line ‘He was a guardian of the honour of the Koran’ testify to the Sunni conservatism of the saint, to his allegiance to the religious law. The verse ‘The fame of the Truth was exalted by his words’, probably alludes to Kashf al-Mahjub. The spiritual services of the true mystic have been mentioned in the couplet: ‘He was a lover, and withal, a courier of love, / the secrets of love shone forth from his brow.’
Finally the line ‘The dust of the Punjab was brought to life by his breath’ records Data Sahib’s role in the genesis of the cult of the Punjabi Auliya, for the image of the ‘living dust’ or ‘living ashes’ (khak-i zinda) is associated by hagiographic literature with the remains of the saints and with the dust of their tombs.
Further on in the poem Iqubal calls the saint ‘The wise director, in whose nature / Love had allied mercy with wrath’, i.e. the aspects of Divine beauty and grace (jamal) on the one hand and of Divine majesty and wrath (jalal) on the other.
And further on in the same section of the poem Iqubal puts in al-Hujwiri’s mouth his concept of an active, energetic personality khud, the revelation of whose secrets is the main purpose of his mathnaw.
Obviously Iqbal was impressed by the figure of al-Hujwiri as well as by the type of sainthood personified by him,17 since sukr (sobriety), envisaging absolute self-control and moderation, obedience to religious law, eulogized by the poet, and, what is still more important, absence of ‘Vedantic’ syncretism, which he rejected and to which he attributed the excesses of ecstatic Sufism and the concept of wahdat al-wujud (unity of Being), were inherent in the convictions and world view of the author of Kashf al- Mahjub.
Data Darbar has not changed much since the days Iqbal used to visit it: in the second half of the twentieth century the Dargah was repaired more than once but it was not reconstructed. In pictures and coloured photographs the dome of the tomb is shown to be a rich emerald colour.
In reality, from a distance it seems to be a moving and swaying white-grey mass with islets of green, since from the spire up to the drum it is covered completely with a living carpet of pigeons. When the courtyard of the tomb is not crowded one can hear how the pigeons animatedly coo, as if holding a ‘conversation of birds’ (manţiq aţ-ţair), which, by ‘Attar’s happy initiative, became a metaphor of the mystics’ esoteric and ‘obscure’ language.
A multitude of pigeons is a characteristic sign of the most important monuments of the Muslim world, for example, of Shaikh ‘Abdul Quadir Jilani’s tomb in Baghdad and of the Afghan complex Mazar-i Sharif. The prototypes of these birds, of course, are the kabtar n-i Haram (forbidden, i.e. sacred, pigeons) of Mecca, symbolizing the prohibition of any violence against any living being in the sanctum sanctorum of Islam.
In accordance with the ayahs, ‘And We made the House (in Mecca) a resort for mankind and a sanctuary’ (2: 125) and ‘Have We not established for them a sure sanctuary?’ on the sacred territory of Ka‘ba, particularly during Hajj, absolute safety is guaranteed to the people, the animals and even to the plants. This prohibition, and also the custom of breeding and feeding pigeons, was in the course of time also extended to those places of pilgrimage connected with the cult of the saints. And the pilgrims themselves, dressed in white ihram (the robe worn by pilgrims), were often compared with the ‘prohibited pigeons’.
This connotation became so entrenched in the consciousness of the Muslims that when in 1987 more than six hundred persons, performing Hajj suffered in clashes with the Saudi forces of law and order, they were called kabtarn-i khnınbal-i haram (the blood bathed pigeons of the sanctuary) by the Iranian press (Gol Mohammadi 1988). By the same token, the multitude of pigeons on the dome of Dt Darbar is also a metaphor for the abundance of pilgrims.
The domed cupola design of Dt Darbar is typical of the pre-Mughal Muslim architecture of South Asia: while erecting the cupolas topping a square building, an intermediate form of squinches or arched transitional supports was used. These squinches are the arches built diagonally across the corners of a square to create this transition from the square to the spherical base of the dome. However, the technique of erecting domes on squinches did not prove strong enough when the domes were excessively high or had too large a radius: such structures could not withstand natural calamities.
From the sixteenth century onwards the Indian architects changed over to a new design of domed structures, developed in the Timurid Herat and introduced to the subcontinent by the Mughals. This was the system of intersecting arches and shield-shaped transitional supports. These arches reduced almost to half the bay of the dome resting on them, which strengthened the design of the building (Pugachenkova 1963: 127).
The décor of the dome interior, covered with stylized arabesque ornamentation, is astonishingly rich. The frieze under the dome is decorated with a many-tier ligature of thulth script. Right under the dome there is an elevated cenotaph, surrounded by a marble balustrade with stone flower vases on consoles.
As in other tombs the sepulchre is covered with a brocade coverlet, entirely laid over with garlands of rose petals. There is no access to the cenotaph: it is enclosed, almost up to the level of the frieze, in a tall marble octagon with depressed scalloped arches on all sides, of which the top is decorated with open work carving on stone.
One part of the arches is blocked with fine marble lattice. The other part contains observation windows, through which the pilgrims can on template the sepulchre. The upper panels of the octagon are inlaid with inscriptions in Persian.18 Arched openings are curtained, as if fringed, with flower garlands, ‘consecrated’ by having come in contact with Data Sahib’s tomb.
Having elbowed their way to the arches, the pilgrims’ stroke and kiss these garlands, thereby physically partaking of the saint’s baraka. Essentially the ritual of Data Sahib’s veneration is limited to circumambulations of the octagon, accompanied by the recitation of the Fatiha, offering of flowers and distribution of Sadaqua, which testifies to the ‘moderation’ of his cult, not violating the external forms of Sunni piety.
The social composition of the saint’s devotees is extremely varied: as always, the urban lower strata and beggars predominate but there are also richly dressed women of well-to-do families, visiting Dt Darbar accompanied by escorts. However, prejudices, ambitions and discords of the mortals are no longer going to disturb the eternal peace of the scholar saint, whose remarkable work was, in his own words, intended ‘for polishers of hearts which are infected by the veil of “clouding” but in which the substance of the light of the Truth is existent’ (al-Hujwiri 1926: 5).
Anna Suvorova is the Head of the Department of Asian Literature at the Institute of Oriental Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences), Professor of Indo-Islamic culture at the Institute of Oriental and classical cultures (Russian State University for the Humanities), member of the International faculty in National College of Arts (Pakistan), fellow of Academic Advisory Board, Centre for Study of Gender and Culture (Pakistan), fellow of Royal Asiatic Society (UK).
Other Parts of the Book, Muslim Saints of South Asia: