By Arif Mohammed Khan
In Delhi, buried outside Jama Masjid, lies the great naked Sufi saint Sarmad who was beheaded in 1661 during the reign of Aurangzeb. Apparently, the charges framed against Sarmad by the officials of Aurangzeb included violation of Shariat norms — as he refused to wear any apparel to cover his body — and public display of heresy and disbelief. Sarmad was executed after the staging of a summary trial, but it is fascinating to note that the man declared guilty of blasphemy and disbelief has become a legend in Sufi lore and is acknowledged as a martyr commanding universal reverence and adoration.
Who was Sarmad and why was he beheaded? History does not give much of an account and it appears that the political correctness of the period kept historians from narrating the details of the tragic episode. However, the reluctance of the historians could not suppress popular imagination which associated numerous miraculous stories with Sarmad, and these were duly recorded by latter-day chronicles.
Most historical accounts describe Sarmad as being of “foreign origin, an Armenian merchant who came to India in the reign of Shah Jahan”. Like other Iranian traders, Sarmad first came to Sindh and settled in Thatta, a prosperous trading town. It was here that Sarmad passionately fell in love with a local girl, became distracted and lost all his merchandise and wealth. He became so obsessed with his love that he would go about the streets naked and give poetic expression to his feelings, unmindful of public attention.
Other accounts insist that the focus of his affection was a young boy — Abhi Chand. Sarmad would go and sit at his beloved’s door and shower him with poetic praises. The father of the boy, seeing the purity of Sarmad’s feelings, allowed him to come to his house. Over a period of time, Sarmad and Abhi Chand became so attached that they could not bear to live apart. Later, both of them left Thatta for Delhi. Sarmad’s reputation as a man of piety and supernatural powers had preceded him and the people of Delhi flocked around him.
Prominent among his devotees in Delhi was Dara Shukoh, the saintly Mughal prince. Sarmad had, on one occasion, predicted that Dara Shukoh would inherit the empire. But after the bloody war of succession, it was Aurangzeb who captured the throne. The new emperor not only eliminated his rival siblings but actively pursued the partisans of his brother. In this situation, there was no escape for Sarmad, who not only sympathised with Dara Shukoh but had publicly denounced the royal bloodbath.
THIS WAS THE background when Aurangzeb deputed his chief justice, Mulla Qawi to prepare the ground to punish Sarmad. Accordingly, inquiries were made and Sarmad was summoned to appear before the royal court.
Apart from nudity, Sarmad was Shikoh with denying the night journey [mairaj] of the Holy Prophet, on account of what he had said in the following couplet:
The mullah says that Ahmad went to the heavens
Sarmad says that the heavens were inside Ahmad!
Further, he was accused of not reciting the full kalima — the Muslim formulae of faith. Sarmad used to exclaim, “There is no God,” but did not affirm “except Allah”. When pressed to explain, Sarmad said: “I am drowned in negation and have not yet reached the state of affirmation. If I recite the full kalima now, it will be a lie.” The Qazi’s verdict condemned him to death, but the popular verdict hailed him as a martyr, who was executed to please a spiteful king [¼]
Arif Mohammed Khan is a former Union Minister
Source: Covert Fortnightly Magazine