KARACHI: Nearly 70 kilometres away from Dadu, dozens flock to a newly built shrine dedicated to “Murshid ji billi” – the pet cat of Pir Gaji Shah.
Research scholars say Pir Shah, a spiritual leader, was a military commander of the Kalhoro dynasty in the 1690s in Sindh. However, he has a following from across Pakistan, especially Balochistan and Punjab, who attend a three-day Urs celebrations every year.
“Gaji Shah laid down his life while defending the local people from foreign invaders,” said Manzoor Hussain Khoso, a caretaker of the Gaji Shah shrine. “After his death in the hills of Dadu, his body is said to have been transported to this place by his camel.”
Shah’s camel is also considered sacred by his devotees.
The cat, however, has its own tale. According to traditions read out to The Express Tribune by Khoso, it was the beloved cat of the spiritual leader. Even her death had a story: walking beside the spiritual leader, the cat stopped after a reproach from her master, and died.
Urs celebrations: ‘Bahishti Darwaza’ opens for devotees at Farid’s shrine
Shah’s devotees pay tribute to his cat and camel during the Urs. “We love and respect everything associated with the spiritual leader,” he said. “But due to lack of awareness and literacy, some people bow down to the cat’s grave despite being told not to.”
Shah was also famous as the “King of Djinns” – to this day, many visit his shrine for exorcism. “People who are possessed come here for healing,” explained Khoso. “They spin their heads to the tune of “Surando” [a local musical instrument] in the courtyard of the shrine until they are unconscious.”
“While unconscious they are cured with the blessings of the spiritual leader,” claimed Khoso.
Research scholar Aziz Kingrani paints a more practical picture of the traditions, however. “Gaji was not a saint,” he told The Express Tribune. “Ghazi Khoso, alias Gaji Shah, was appointed by the then Kalhoro ruler, Mian Nasir Mohammad Kalhoro, to defend Sindh’s border areas with Balochistan.”
“Ghazi was killed in 1691 during a fight between the Brohi tribe of Khuzdar area of Balochistan and the Kalhoro army,” he explained. “He was laid to rest here and people started revering him.”
Kingrani said that Gaji was given the title of Shah by the Kalhoro rulers, adding that the famous ruler of the dynasty Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro was also given the title of Shah.
Uch Sharif: where the shrine culture began
On the exorcism ritual, Kingrani said people suffering from various diseases, including hysteria, visited the shrine believing it to be the impact of ‘Djinns’ and having faith that with the blessings of Shah, they will be helped.
On the other hand, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) legislator Ghulam Shah Gilani insisted Shah belonged to the Uchh Sharif area of Multan and was given in the service of the local Khosa tribe by his father.
“The Kalhoro rulers hired him to fight notorious dacoits and invaders after looking at his powerful built and influence,” said Gilani. “He laid down his life while defending this area.”
“He had shown his influence through the divine power instilled in him,” the PPP lawmaker claimed. “That is why local residents started considering him a spiritual leader.”