Friday, February 12, 2010
by Devu Pattar, translated by Savitha Karthik, Thursday 11 February 2010, Deccan Herald
It is heartening to see Sufi poetry written by a Persian saint on the walls of a Dargah in Ashtur village of Bidar taluk. The Dargah is home to a rare breed of secularism, visited by Hindus and Muslims alike, writes Devu Pattar
Rich tradition: Bidar is a great centre for Sufi art and culture. Photo by the authorThis might seem strange, but it’s true. The Sufi poetry written by a saint who lived in North Iran nearly five hundred years ago, can be found on the walls of a Dargah in Ashtur village of Bidar taluk.
Once you step out of Bidar fort and walk three kilometres, you can spot a row of graves belonging to Bahmani rulers. This is even before you step into Ashtur village.
The backdrop of the setting sun, the colour of the twilight and birdsong only add to the charm of these ancient structures.
Everyone who knows history needs no telling that there were two kingdoms from the south that fought against Tughlaq’s rule, and built their own empires. One is the Vijayanagar Empire of Hampi, the other, the Bahmani Empire that was founded in Gulbarga and ended in Bidar. After Alauddin Bahmani Shah who founded the empire in Gulbarga, eight kings ruled the empire. Among them, the eighth ruler Firoz Shah was one of the most significant. He had a deep interest in Persian poetry, art and culture, and was known to invite poets and scholars from Iran to his court. While some accepted the invitation, others sent their poetry to the king.
Khwaja Bande Nawaz’s visit
The well-known writer Khwaja Bande Nawaz was said to have come to Gulbarga during Firoz’s reign. While Firoz was hoping to elevate his son to the throne, his brother Ahmed was also eying the coveted position. Bande Nazwaz is said to have supported Ahmed, causing distress to Firoz. Eventually, Ahmed won the battle of the brothers. Tired of the palace intrigues and the bloodshed, Ahmed sought to shift the capital of the kingdom to Bidar. Meanwhile, both Firoz and Bande Nawaz had breathed their last.
Bidar, it turned out, was the ideal capital for Ahmed, with its fertile land,good drinking water resources, and its geographical position, that of being at the heart of Deccan region. Also, it was to Ahmed’s advantage that it was at a reasonable distance from the Vijayanagar Empire. While in Bidar, Ahmed continued the tradition that his brother started, that of inviting poets and scholars from Persia.
Ahmed was a great believer in Hindu-Muslim unity, and was a lover of the Sufi school of thought.
With the death of Bande Nawaz, Ahmed missed a spiritual advisor. To fill that void, he invited Sufi poet Niyamathulla [i.e., Shah Ni'matullah Vali (ed.)] from Kirman region of North Iran. Niyamathulla, known to be the father of the Nakshabandi [(sic) Ni'matullahi (ed.)] tradition of Sufism, was then 98 years old, and couldn’t take up the arduous journey to Bidar. He instead sent his poetry as a gift through his grandson. While all is the historical background, even today, one can see beautiful Sufi poetry in the memorial of Ahmed at Ashtur. The poetry is a reflection of a blend of Hindu and Islamic cultures.
Beautiful calligraphy, evolved from an interface of two cultures, can be found in Ashtur’s Ahmed Shah Wali Dargah. Ahmed Shah’s memorial is considered by Hindus as Allamaprabhu’s temple, and by Muslims as Wali Dargah, and is home to a rare breed of secularism.
It is stunning to see the beautiful lines of Niyamathulla’s poetry engraved in gold and a variety of colours. Even on the interior walls, Niyamathulla’s lines have been beautifully depicted.
“All that we see and observe is true.
But, that is not the only truth.
One’s search must continue till one understands the mystery behind life.
One might lose out on the real truth if one goes by the surface.
If the lord hands over a cup of madira, how does one ignore it?
It behoves well for the follower to listen to what he is told and do as told,"
says one of the engravings here.
There are several such. And not all of them are limited to Niyamathulla’s poetry. Even lines from the Quran have been calligraphed here.