The unburied saint

Discussion in 'Religion & Culture' started by ajtr, Jul 8, 2012.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    The unburied saint

    He told his devotees that he shouldn't be buried because that would offend his Hindu and Sikh followers, and that he shouldn't be cremated either because that would offend his Muslim followers.

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    When Haji Kamal lights a cigarette, my friend Shahab is tempted: he too asks for one and lights up. Waris Shah's Heer is being sung from a mobile phone that belongs to someone sitting nearby. At another end of the room, young men are playing cards. An old man - he looks 100 - comes and stands near the entrance. For a minute he stands there motionless, as if frozen. Finally deciding to go inside, he takes his leather khusa off at the threshold and enters. "Aslam-u-Alakium," he says in a meek voice. Everyone replies with the requisite greeting. He sits with the group of elderly men, taking a place at the centre. Even though this is an afternoon in June, the temperature in the room is comfortable. This is due to cross-ventilation from the four entrances of the enclosure, a hallmark of Sikh Gurdwara architecture. There is no fan on the ceiling and even if there was one, there wouldn't be electrical power in far-flung villages like these.

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    Guru Arjan Dev dictating the Adi Granth

    The village is several kilometers from here, surrounded by a cluster of trees. This is the only building for miles, situated atop a mound that descends sharply. There are several such mounds and sharp descents here, vestiges of the flood that caused havoc many ages ago, resulting in the abandonment of this village and those in its surroundings. According to the Lahore Gazetteer this happened in the sixteenth century. The name of this village is Hardo Sahari. It lies on the outskirts of the historical city of Kasur. The village was repopulated after the flood.


    Several men are sitting under the ancient Pipal tree, next to the shrine. There is a disused well nearby, which doesn't have any water. There is a crater behind the building, originally a pool but now just an open field. Colorful clothes have been tied to the branches of the trees around the crater as a supplication. The shrine itself is a triple storey building, with a small green dome on the top, similar to Sikh Gurdwaras. The rest of the building is bare; its bricks are visible. The bricks are thick, as opposed to the thin ones used prior to the arrival of the British. An orange flag hoisted on top of a long pole next to the building sways in the hot summer breeze. If one drew a sword at the center of the flag and flanked it with two circular swords, this shrine would be confused with a Sikh Gurdwara. This particular design on flags is called Khanda and represents the presence of the Sikh community. Behind the building there is a young Pipal tree, next to which lies a half-ruined structure. This was the original shrine build during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). A newly constructed building next to it is used by devotees to prepare langar and for sleeping.

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    Haji Kamal


    It would have been sacrilegious to light a cigarette here according to the Sikh laws, where now Shahab along with Haji Kamal sit smoking, There was a plinth in the centre of the room for Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Book, which was read here every day before Partition. An exit behind Haji Kamal leads to a small courtyard where there is a grave covered with a green cloth containing Quranic verses. This is the grave of Sahari Mal, the patron saint of this shrine. The saint was never buried. This grave came into existence after the creation of Pakistan, about four hundred years after the death of the saint.

    "Women would bring their sick children to the shrine earlier," says Haji Kamal as he takes a loud drag from his cigarette, flicking the ash on the ground. "With the blessings of the saint, the pool had magical qualities and would cure all diseases," he says. "The pool doesn't exist anymore, but many people still come for the blessing of the saint," he adds. "Those who have a problem with the shrine don't come. No one is forcing them to come anyway. We all come because we find solace here," he adds.

    A few gypsy children enter the shrine. There is an earthen pot next to the threshold, with a bowl placed on the top. One by one the children quench their thirst.

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    The disued well

    According to the Encyclopedia of Sikh Literature, Sahari Mal was Guru Arjan's Sikh (1563-1606). Guru Arjan was the fifth Sikh Guru. What is meant by Guru Arjan's Sikh is unclear. Does that mean he was a companion or a follower of the Guru? Or was he converted by the Guru? Or simply that he was a contemporary of the Guru? This question remains unanswered. However, what is clear is that he was a Sikh and was an important person, important enough for Maharaja Ranjit Singh to summon a building over his shrine. The encyclopedia states that the Saint, who came and settled at this ruin, outside of the village, as was the tradition at that time, had Muslim, Hindu and Sikh followers. When he was on his deathbed he called his devotees and told them that he shouldn't be buried because that would offend his Hindu and Sikh followers, and that he shouldn't be cremated either because that would offend his Muslim followers. He willed that when he died his body should be positioned as if he were sitting and it should be covered with mud so that he could be interred while sitting. This way his last resting place would neither be a grave nor a stupa (from the Hindu and Sikh tradition) and all his devotees would be happy.

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    The grave

    "Yes, that structure used to exist where there is a grave now," says Haji Kamal. He finishes his cigarette and rubs it out on the floor. At 75, Haji Kamal has a long beard with a short moustache typical of Muslim wearers. He has recently returned from Umrah, which is why all the hair on his head has been shaved off and the prefix of Haji is attached to his name, Kamal. "I belong to a weak caste. It is Teli," he says. His family are from the original descendants of the accompanying village. There was a considerable population of Hindus and Sikhs here, belonging to the upper castes, while the Muslims belonging to the lower castes lived with them. After Partition, the non-Muslims were replaced by refugees from across the border, primarily from district Ferozepur, the neighboring district.

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    The Pipal tree

    "It has been about 30-40 years since we've made this grave," he says. However, even when there was no grave, Muslims were still coming to the shrine to seek the blessings of the Saint. "We know Sahari Mal was a Sikh Jutt, but that doesn't matter to us. He was a good person, close to God," says Haji Kamal. For a country made as a result of strict compartmentalization of religious communities, such syncretism stands as an anomaly. It is one of several shrines spread all over the country, where non-Muslim saints are still visited and revered by Muslims, throwing topsy-turvy the premises of the "two nation theory". They highlight the nuances of folk religion which were readily ignored at that time and even now. Because of the interweaving complexity of religious practices, the theory was never able to seep into the roots of the country, evading the formation of a "nation." It is therefore imperative at the moment to re-engage with the two-nation theory for a better understanding of our society. The practice at this shrine is an anomaly in contemporary Pakistan, but in pre-Partition days this was an accepted norm. The main reason why this shrine has retained its multi-religious character is because of the indigenous Muslim inhabitants of the village, who continued to visit it after Partition. Another reason is that the "sophisticated" culture of the city constructed by the hatred-spewing education system has still not arrived in this village.

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    The old shrine built by Ranjit Singh

    Another shrine with a similar story is a few kilometers away from here, near a village called Khalu Khara. The name of the shrine is Ram Thamman. The festival of Lohri, an indigenous festival celebrated in January to pray for the harsh winter to end, was celebrated at both of these shrines. "The festival of Lohri used to be celebrated here with much pomp," says Haji Kamal. "People used to sit here all night around the bonfire having dry fruit and then in the morning they would travel to the shrine of Ram Thamman, where they would perform ablution at the sacred pond and then return home. Some who couldn't travel all the way would just perform the ablution here." However, Ram Thamman is more famous for its Vaisakhi festival, which is still celebrated there, attended by thousands of Muslims from all over the country, who come to pay their respects to the non-Muslim Saint.

    Baba Ram Thamman was an elder cousin of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), founder of the Sikh religion. He belonged to the village of Kalu Khara. During his lifetime he came and settled at a spot outside the village, where later a shrine was built to commemorate the spot. Eventually that shrine spread and became an entire village by itself.

    "Lohri is not celebrated anymore," he says. "Now people only come in the month of Had (indigenous calendar corresponding with the Georgian months of July-August) for the annual festival. About three to four hundred people come here. There are various stalls offering eatables and other things. Singers come and there are recitation competitions. Some people travel to the shrine of Baba Ram Thamman after this. Similarly, when people come for the festival of Baba Ram Thamman, they visit this shrine," he says.
     
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  3. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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  4. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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  5. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Burial and cremation, both are valid methods of handling a departed person's remains, as per Hindu laws.
     

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