By Farzand Ahmed, *Strange tales behind mazars* - India Today - Lucknow, India Monday, December 24, 2009
Mazars, mausoleums and tombs of holy saints and Sufis (mystics) are considered blessed places which are thronged by people of all faiths seeking blessings of the holy ones lying there and get their wishes fulfilled.
The Sufi Foundation of India (SFI) had prepared a list of some 500-odd famous Sufism centres and tried to connect these centres from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala, Gujarat to West Bengal to create a "Sufi Corridor" against terrorism.
Yet there are numerous mazars and tombs ranging from that of Sheikh Chilli (the saint of laughter) to the tomb of Chhugalchi (one who passes on false information to create confusion) which have funny but timeless tales.
Says SFI founder Hazrat Syed Mohammad Jilani Ashraf Kichhauchhvi who thought of a spiritual voyage, while Sufi mazars and dargahs (shrines) are living symbols of love and humanism and arouse inner power among the followers as to how to have a direct experience with God, it's in human nature to invent some fascinating tales and believe in it.
Of all the tombs and mausoleums in the country Chhugalchi ka Maqbara (the tomb of the slanderer) on the outskirts of Etawah town on the Farukkhabad-Kannauj highway has a story stranger than any fairy tale and itself experiences funny actions through travellers. In fact, every mazar and tomb is revered by the devotees, who offer flowers and coins amid burning incense sticks but here it's a must for passers-by to hit the grave inside the dilapidated tomb with shoes or chappals at least five times and then pray for a safe journey.
Last week a youthful political activist from Etawah, Mohammad Mansoor, in an angry mood led a team of his Samajwadi Party friends to the tomb and asked them to shower the grave of Chhugalchi with shoes and chappals and pray to this Chhugalchi to rid the party of chhugalchis. Beating of the tomb with shoes continued for nearly half an hour. And this happens every now and then with people passing along the highway stopping at the tomb near Datawali village, some 10 km from the district headquarters, and curse the Chhugalchi who, according to popular folklore was responsible for the clash between two chieftains that led to mayhem and destruction.
Many believe that this strange character was not a fictional figure. According to an account once documented in a local Hindi journal years ago, there was a court-jester named Bhola Syed in the durbar of Raja Sumer Singh Chauhan (during Mohammad Ghauri's time). He once went to see the Raja of Ater (Bhind). Bhola in a bid to be rewarded handsomely poisoned the ears of the Raja that his friend (Raja Sumer) was planning to attack and capture his kingdom. On his return, he praised the hospitality extended to him but told Raja Sumer that his friend (Raja of Ater) was planning to attack and capture his kingdom.
This led to war and genocide. Soon the two kings came to know of Bhola's mischief and ordered that this Chhugalchi should be beaten with shoes till he died. He was ordered to be buried by the side of the road and a firman was issued that anyone passing through the area must hit his grave with shoes at least five times.
However, well-known Hindi writer Medhavasu Pathak after sifting through old records and examining various tales revealed that the real name of Chhugalchi or the court-jester was Gul Al-Farooz who was ordered to be buried half-dead and at his grave a chowkidar was posted whose duty was to ask travellers to hit the grave with shoes five times. "It has been a symbol of hatred towards those who indulged in Chhugalkhori or spreading lies against each other," Pathak said.
However seeing the dilapidated condition of the mazar and to turn it into tourist spot, SP's Kannauj MP Akhilesh Yadav announced that he would get it renovated from funds allotted to him under the MP Local Area Development scheme.
Lucknow, the city of nawabs dotted with monuments, too has a strange mazar of Capstan Baba. Located in Moosabagh at the outskirts of the city on Hardoi road, the mausoleum of Saint Mohammad Ashim, popularly known as "Wales" and "Gore Baba", a White Army Captain who died during the 1857 uprising, where both Hindus and Muslims go, pray and offer cigarettes mainly the Capstan brand. The saint, reportedly, used to smoke only Capstan cigarettes. Thousands of his devotees, who believe their wishes will be fulfilled, light a cigarette and insert the same in the cracks o the mazar.
There are also a couple of mazars of rival Sufis in the spiritual town of Amroha, the administrative headquarters of Jyotiba Phule Nagar district. One is dominated by scorpions while another is the playground of donkeys. But neither do the scorpions harm any devotee nor do the donkeys' desecrate the mazar or its campus. Both the mazars are situated a few furlongs apart and have a strange tale behind them each. One of them is the mazar of revered Sufi-saint Shah Wilyat Amrohi, popularly known as "Dada Shahwilayat", which is guarded by scorpions. According to Z. A. Najmi, a local writer-journalist, who has been researching the history of these mazars, the poisonous scorpions never sting devotees or visitors.
The history has it that Shahwilayat migrated from Wasti (Basra in Iraq) in 653 Hijri to India to spread the message of God. He had a desire of finally settling in a place where mango and rohu fish could be found. He finally reached this place where he found mango and rohu in abundance. The place was thus called Aam (mango)-Roha (rohu fish).
However, his decision to settle down there was objected to by Khwaja Nasruddin or Hazrat Khwaja Geso Daraaz. He sent a bowl overflowing with water. The message was clear: this place was already spiritually full and there was no scope for another Sufi. Shahwilayat smiled, put a rose in the bowl and sent it back to Khwaja Nasruddin indicating his presence would be as light as the rose. In anger, Khwaja Nasruddin said stay here but your shrine would be dominated by scorpions. Shahwilayat said, "Yes, but they wouldn't hurt my devotees." On the other hand, the Sufi told Khwaja Nasruddin that his shrine would be a playground of donkeys. Khwaja replied, "Yes, but they wouldn't desecrate the shrine."
Everybody in North India and Pakistan enjoys humorous stories attributed to Sheikh Chilli. He is venerated as the saint of laughter and wit but is also loved by children for his stupidity. His tomb on the G.T. Road in Haryana is different in architecture and considered next only to the Taj Mahal. Many believe that Sheikh Chilli (Sheikh Chehli) was Sufi saint Abdur Rahim alias Abdul Razzak. He was also considered guru of Dara Shikoh. The shrine, a protected one, is located 163 km north-west of Delhi (between Ambala and Karnal) is replete with its Persian influence. However, nobody is sure about the origin of Sheikh Chilli.
In Delhi, according to SFI, there are over 40 highly revered shrines and mazars but the Chitli Qabar in the Walled City doesn't fit the image of a mazar. It's stranger than the character of Sheikh Chilli and the story behind Chitli Qabar or the mazar of a piebald goat is really stranger than fiction.
Indeed, nobody knows the history or how the goat acquired such a holy image. Many believe that the piebald goat belonged to a holy person during the Mughal period.
Whatsoever the story, the mazar is located in the area where butchers have their shops. Every morning, shopkeepers go to Chitli Qabar, offer fresh flowers and seek divine blessings before opening their shops. People say as long as the Qabar exists, there is nothing to fear about. Even demolition squads dare not touch it.
But jokes apart these shrines, mazars and mausoleums continue to spread love, communal harmony and spirituality. Faith and belief after all know no logic.
[Pictures: Tomb of Shaykh Chilli. Photo: Wiki; Famous Stories of Shaykh Chilli. Bookstore: http://books4u.in/book_detail.php?book_id=3699]