By Ameen Ahmed
Nov 22, 2016
Tumakuru city’s initial Islamic structures trace their origin to mid-17th century, consequent to the Mughal invasion of Bijapur kingdom. It is said that among the many Sufi saints who moved out of Bijapur then was Hazrath Momin Basha Khadri, who settled in Tumakuru city with his family and followers. Sufi saints of Bijapur and the rest of Deccan region were the earliest proponents of Urdu which in its original form was called ‘Rekhti’ or ‘Rekhta’. Rekthi was a language brought into Deccan from Delhi by the army in 14th century. Enriched by the words of Marathi and Kannada among others, it came to be known as Dakhani, a dialect which is still spoken by the people in the Deccan region. Well-known Sufi saint of Gulbarga, Hazrat Khwaja Banda Nawaz is considered by many as the first prose writer in Dakhani.
In Tareeq ke Aaine Mein (Sira in the mirror of history), it is mentioned that Shah Sadruddin, a 17th-century Sufi, wrote many books on Sufism in Urdu. Upon migration, the Sufis blended with local customs and traditions. While some Islamic societies frown upon music, keeping in mind the love of Indians for music, Sufis preached equality in the form of Qawwali, a form of music which developed in this country. While Qawwalis continue to be sung regularly at famous Sufi shrines, at the lesser-known Sufi shrines in Deccan they are done so on the occasions of urs or the death anniversary of a Sufi saint.
Muneer Ahmed Tumkuri, senior writer and author, has seen the town up-close since his birth here in 1942. According to him, Jaal ka Makaan is the oldest Muslim burial ground in the city currently in use. Hazrath Momin Basha Khadri’s son Syed Shah Mohammed Murtuza Badsha Khadri is known to be buried here. The Dargah or mausoleum of Syed Shah Khadri rests on a raised square platform of Closepet granite rock. A masonry headstone towers above the two graves inside it, on north. This headstone is carved with space for lamps on all the sides with an onion-shaped dome above it and a star inside a crescent moon on top. Parapet walls higher than the graves surround them with circular minarets at corners.
There are four smaller circular minarets atop each parapet divided by taller Mehrab-shaped structures in the middle. Mehrab is the space inside all mosques facing Mecca, where the imam stands and leads the prayers. These four Mehrab-shaped structures have fine geometrical lattice work in masonry and there are entrances through them on the east and south.
This lattice work is known as Jaal or Jaali in Dakkani. “The burial ground is known as Jaal ka Makaan because of this work,” says Muneer Ahmed. The lattice work controls the light and wind surrounding the graves. It is an important component of Islamic Art of the Indian sub-continent, a highly refined form of which is present in Moghul-era mausoleums at Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.
Since early 2000s, a concrete dome covers this mausoleum and polished granite has been laid on its floor, with iron railings erected around the two graves. It is now inlaid by mirror work with verses from the Quran embossed. Engraving of parrots on the parapet walls can be seen on the Mehrab-like structures. This is very unusual as Islamic Art, particularly in the Indian sub-continent, doesn’t depict living forms except for vegetation. Women are allowed into this Dargah.
There is a single row of 11 graves of adults to the west of Syed Shah Khadri’s mausoleum, and one lone grave of an adult along with a few graves of children a few metres to its south. All these graves were open-aired and originally whitewashed. They are now painted and a single long shelter has covered them since 2016, akin to heritage Muslim graves elsewhere in India.
There is another grave built to the south-east of Syed Shah Khadri’s mausoleum. It dates back to 1301 Hijri (approximately 1883 AD) and is said to be the oldest Dakkani inscription in Tumakuru district. It has not been covered or painted and retains its original characteristic.
A casual look at the head stone reveals the names of the nation’s servicemen buried here. The city had one more 17th century burial ground surrounding the grave of Hazrath Madar Shah, another Sufi saint who is said to have come to Tumakuru from Bijapur due to the change in power there. The burial ground was demolished in early 1990s to build a shopping complex. Madar Shah’s grave is still at its original site but is enclosed in a new mausoleum.
According to Muneer Ahmed, the grave originally had besides it a stone carving of a closed fist with its index finger raised towards the sky. “According to Sufi beliefs there are five categories of worldly and spiritual affairs. The commoners are aware of only one. Sufis, throughout their lives, are in pursuit of unravelling the other four. That stone carving probably signified this aspect of Sufism,” he says. That stone carving went missing about a decade ago. A more recent plastic engraving of an open fist’s five fingers called as Panja in Dakkani stands there. Panja is derived from the Persian word Panjtan-e-Pak signifying five humans revered by Muslims — Prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fathima Zahara, son-in-law Hazrath Ali and grandsons Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain. Panja is a common feature at Dargahs across the Indian sub-continent. An 18th century Dargah of Sufi Saint Hazrath Allah Sain is also present in the city.
It was a popular tradition for kings and nobles to be buried alongside Sufis. Accordingly, many people holding high positions are buried at Jaal ka Makaan. Some graves here are said to be from the Haidar Ali-Tipu Sultan era. The Taluk of Devarayanadurga, to which Tumakuru belonged then, was for most time from early 1760s to 1799 a part of Mysore kingdom under these two rulers. In History of Principalities and their Rulers (1996), Dr Shafi Ahmed Shariff writes that Mohammed Ali Mehkri, titled Khanazad, was an important officer of Tipu Sultan and served as governor of many provinces of the Mysore kingdom. He was also an Urdu and Persian poet. According to the book, he is buried in the city.
Says Muneer Ahmed, “As heard from elders, mosques were built in the town during the reign of Tipu Sultan to accommodate his troops and officers. I have seen four mosques in the city all said to be dating to his rule.” The name of a very old residential area of the city ‘Barline’ can be traced to ‘Bar’, the Mysorean regular infantry under these two rulers. ‘Bar’ meant ‘a wall of a town, a hedge etc’. If documented properly, the life and messages of Sufi saints can throw light on the society in those days.