Wahndo in Gujranwala district is famous only for lawlessness. But there is, near this town, the small village of Kotli Maqbara with an imposing domed Mughal structure in the fields outside the habitation. The ground floor is plain while the basement has three graves. Its minarets recall those of Chauburji in Lahore and, therefore, give us a date of construction.
In November 1991, when I was working on my book on Gujranwala, I thought I had discovered a monument that had escaped the official eye. But my mentor Dr Saifur Rahman Dar told me that this building was mid-17th century and housed the mortal remains of Divan Abdul Nabi Khan, the governor of Wazirabad, successively under Shah Jehan and Aurangzeb.
On my first visit, I was told that the building was raised by jinns and was locally known as Deo Minara — Minaret of the Jinn. No one knew who was interred within and the usual refrain was, ‘It’s been there since the time of our grandfathers and nobody knows anything about it.’ In Punjabi plain-speak, this means it could either be millions of years old or one hundred.
There was one interesting story in November 1991: a woman had, of late, started to visit the mausoleum. She dismounted from her escort’s motorcycle some ways away and came dancing to the tomb where she did all sorts of genuflexions at the subterranean graves. She told the people that a vision in her dream had informed her that these three were great heroes of Islam, who had come from Arabia and whose exertions had done much for religion in the heathen land of India. My investigations revealed that this seer of visions was a superannuated dancing woman and prostitute from Chhicherwali, a village outside Gujranwala.
Exactly a year later, November 1992, I took a bunch of college students from Lahore to Kotli Maqbara. Some local hangers-on warned me this being the hallowed burial of a great man of God, we could not go in with our shoes on. We went in nevertheless.
Done with our excursion, our bunch was at the nearby hand pump where we were joined by a group of young men from the village. I was telling the kids about Abdul Nabi Khan when one of the locals interrupted me. What on earth was I babbling on about, he demanded to know. Everyone knew that the tomb housed three saints. The man also said I could believe what I wanted, but everyone knew how supplication at the tomb was answered quickly.
Since when, I asked. And the answer: “This has always happened since the time of our grandfathers. Everyone knows of it.” However, none of the locals could give us the saints’ names.
Nine years later, in early 2001, I returned to Kotli Maqbara. The entrance to the underground burial chamber was now draped with the signature green satin of holy Islamic burials. The new steel signboard had names: Hazrat Pir Makki Shah and Hazrat Pir Atray Shah. The first one was understandable: you want to create a saint, just name him Makki Shah — from Mecca — and you get a ready-made saint. The second name was inexplicable and the third was evidently under consideration.
I went into the village and asked around. Of course, the names had been known since the time of the grandfathers. If no one remembered what the past was like only a year after it had been reinvented, it was foolish to imagine they would now want to recall the time before 1991, 10 years later.
There were stories about how supplicants’ wishes simply came true as soon as they put their foreheads to the ground in front of the graves. Now people took off their shoes about a hundred metres from the plinth of the building. There was a weekly Thursday festival and an annual urs to celebrate the death of Makki Shah. No prizes for guessing who took the pickings from the business: none but the woman from Chhicherwali, who had retired from selling her virtue — though, if she had any is questionable.
Strange place, Pakistan. Tell the truth and watch it rejected; whisper some inane notion to the winds and it becomes gospel.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2012.
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'Yeah that’s right, Express Tribune, keep mocking the poor of Pakistan and the little harmless things that give them some consolation in their miserable lives.
Do you reckon that being consoled by this little harmless things, over a period of time can become an addiction and in turn make it very difficult for them to come out of the miserable lives they live which you seem to be so much concerned about?
Poor understanding of islam, those familiar with religion say saint worship is"shirk". But pak government even spends on this activity generously. ignorance is dangerous not bliss.
It is this kind of superstitious belief, or shall we call it 'misplaced faith', that made me an atheist at a very young age. Religion is a big establishment that takes away rational thinking from people and saintly places of the kind the writer is talking about are small mafias that fool and exploit people!
Ignorance is what we are dealing here, after reading this you can easily get the idea of how the ratio of illiteracy is growing in 'Rural' areas of 'Pakistan'
Whenever I read things like this, these creating of holy men, saints, and worshiping at their feet, creation of legends, myths and superstitions and miracles, I realise just how Hindu Pakistan is.
It is interesting and encouraging to know that even in Pakistan there are atheists. Atheists are rare in SouthAsia and the ones that speak in support of such articles rarer still. The article is well written and reflecive of reality as it happens in India and Pakistan. Here people will create saints, babas and Demi gods to suit their financial and political ambition. Generally, lack of education and rational approach to life is way of life. Sad....
This is the story of this world where the truth however probable is not readily Accepted and a yarn that appeals to some people's fears and psyche gains traction. I with my family went to visit Salim Chisty's dargah in Fatehpur near Agra in 1989 and enjoyed the experience. I again went in April 2012, we were told we cannot wear shoes inside the building because it is a pious building. We deposited our shoes with some people who have started to earn money from that scam.Inside walking without shoes hurts your feet especially when it is summer. We sawalrge section covered in pigeon droppings and discarde crisp and ice cream wrappers. On pointing this out the guy who was guiding us just smiled. I suspect some mafia is operating there.
the title could have been "How Saints are made these days" to avoid the gross generalization.
A very wise article. One only needs simplicity and a pure heart to feel the beautiful message of the article.
@ayesha_khan: "If you are an atheist, perhaps your life intersects even less with those people whom you condescendingly describe as poor masses."
With due respect you are assuming here too. 1) Being atheist means less interaction with people. 2) entropy has used the term 'poor masses' in a negative way. Being atheist does not mean less intersection with people of faith or the poor masses. In Pakistan there are many people who are non-believers (particularly with Marxist tendencies) who intersect with the 'poor masses' (I don't know what is so condescending about this term if it is not spoken in a pejorative way), work for them in various capacities, and surely, do not mock their 'superstitious' beliefs. Although, they do believe religion to be a problem at a larger level.
"Nothing wrong except they are being fraudulently deprived of their earnings so that the dancing woman can make an easy living. Secondly assuming that they had a sick child and instead of getting some medical attention, they just do matthha tekna, they may be putting the child’s life at risk."
The people had health facilities available but they willingly turned to the peer's mazaar. That is definitely not the case. Poor health and education facilities combined with superstitious beliefs force these people to turn to these phony spiritual solutions, and they shower their meager incomes on these frauds. Truly sad indeed. A failure of state and people.
@ayesha_khan, Tahir Afridi
So are they responsible for their lack of education, or is it the non-superstitious educated elite that have kept them that way? So first deprive a person of education and then ridicule him for his ignorance. Instead of blaming the people or their rituals, we should blame the elites.
Good one. In societies with a Functional Literacy Rate of 0.01 per cent, this is the norm. Like the Water Car case proves, we have become suckers, all of us.
Saints and religion go hand in hand; both are born the same way.
i smell sectarian hatred in this article.
Education is a right; not a privilege. Being a free citizen every individual has the right to live,speak,write etc.It is the prime responsibility of a government to ensure that all citizens get the basic fundamental rights of citizen at their doorstep.
And I am agreed with the most of the comments pinned above. I really would like to thank you for keeping us aware and special thanks for writing for ''Pakistan''.
@ faraz Very patronizing my friend. Yes keep the people ignorant and superstitious so that they will rise up and overthrow their feudal overlords.
@entropy: "Is this also how Baba Farid or Peeray Shah Ghazi were born? Do the Pakistani liberals even know who these men were? Even though I am an atheist I find this article extremely offensive."
Since you are an atheist, you must have come to the conclusion that ALL religions have got it wrong. That means that who Baba Farid and Shah Ghazi followed must have got his religion wrong as well. They may not have been greedy worldly characters, but according to atheism they certainly were spreading ignorance and were "fake" in actuality. So what is your real problem? Did Rasul Allah get his religion wrong as well according to your atheism?
This is biggest failure of Pakistan that they have kept the people totally uninformed about their religion.Of course, this allows the grave tenders to mint money, and of course the contributors to this loot are the poor.
@entropy: "Even though I am an atheist I find this article extremely offensive. The lives of the Pakistani liberals hardly intersect at all with those of the poor masses and the yet the liberals think they have the solutions to all their problems"
If you are an atheist, perhaps your life interescts even less with those people whom you condescendingly describe as poor masses. I am not judging you for your faith/absence thereof - to each their own. But in a country where even secular (i.e. giving respect to other people's faith) is a bad word, I hardly think atheism intersects to any large extent with their value system.
@faraz: "What’s wrong if poor people gain satisfaction and peace of mind through illusions? How is it different from illusion of intellectual superiority and high culture?
" Nothing wrong except they are being fraudulently deprived of their earnings so that the dancing woman can make an easy living. Secondly assuming that they had a sick child and instead of getting some medical attention, they just do matthha tekna, they may be putting the child's life at risk.
@Junaid Saleh: and why are you so put-off by the idol-worshippers?
Wonderful article!! Clearly depicts the truth that how people create such fake saints out of nowhere and believe in them!! Asking a grave to give you this and that, what nonsense is that! Do they really believe in Allah the Almighty?? Of course, not!! They are also a sort of idol worshipers!
Though I fully agree with the content of the article, but I think, the title should have been like this "How a FAKE saint is born".
Thanks a lot Express Tribune for highlighting this social ill! Keep up the good work! Well done!!
This doesn't beat a Danday walay baba in Balochistan. The legend goes that he asked God to bury him in ground because he would not bow to a local tyrant ruler.
The reality is that it is an old calibration instrument put in by East India Company in early nineteenth century.
Their existence however, only reveals centuries of injustice being meted out to our lower classes. They need so little to have faith and we do not even give them that chance.
Wahndo is also known for its CHIRAS which are devoured in the Tikka Shops of Gujranwala However Central Asia is full of such Khota Kabars and 9 ghazis.The Takla Makan desert in Xinjiang, China is also a host to such graves.
Very close to my ancestral village in Punjab, there is another village. The inhabitants of that village were Hindu Rajputs (Sulehri and a few Cottals). Outside that village in open fields was some place of worship (not a Mandir as there is a huge Mandir in that village. If I remember correctly it was something called Devi. A few years back when I returned to village and as usual decided to go for a long morning walk. One, I was told not to go for walk by myself as things have changed and someone can hurt me. So I took a young man with me. When we passed by that Devi place, I found a grave and covered with green Satin and golden stripes. So I asked the youngman when this place became a shrine. He was surprised and give me the same story that you heard in Gujranwala. Now there is some baba jee whose mela is held every year. My contemporary and some elders were still alive. The version of the story was: it is an Evacue Trust Proerty and is about five acres. Some nearby tough has grabbed it in the name of some non-existing Baba Jee.
My investigations revealed that this seer of visions was a superannuated dancing woman and prostitute from Chhicherwali, a village outside Gujranwala.
do i get a hint of male-chauvanism here? and why are you so dismissive of the woman. just because she was a prostitute.
well, seeing all the kind of man and woman,we live among, i rate this prostitute as of much higher character.
as, she sold her body, but only her's, to eat. but if she were a dishonest politician, and given money to alleviate poverty, and had she swindled the money, wouldn't she force hundreds of other poor woman to take up this proffession.
and how organising URS, is dangerous. what even if the grave was not of a saint, but of a leacherous man. she, is just making money, the halal way. and, it's better than the antics of bhatta mafia.
i, still, maintain that she is million times better than the dishonest man, who quote quoran extensively, but seldom help the poor.
The title of this piece implies that this how all saints are born. Is this also how Baba Farid or Peeray Shah Ghazi were born? Do the Pakistani liberals even know who these men were? Even though I am an atheist I find this article extremely offensive. The lives of the Pakistani liberals hardly intersect at all with those of the poor masses and the yet the liberals think they have the solutions to all their problems!
What’s wrong if poor people gain satisfaction and peace of mind through illusions? How is it different from illusion of intellectual superiority and high culture?
That is what ignorance and illiteracy brings. Superstitions and myths.
Wow. Salman Rashid, how much you say with so few words. Laconic - thats the word for it I think. People want something to keep faith in so that they can escape responsibility for their own lifes well being. It can be an idol carved out of stone, or a tomb of some holy man. They also want their own dogmatic ways of keeping faith to be prioritized, to the point of killing people for opposing such absurd notions. Atheists keep faith in the absence of god, thus being no better than any other (in my view).
Yeah that's right, Express Tribune, keep mocking the poor of Pakistan and the little harmless things that give them some consolation in their miserable lives.
This applies as equally well to the liberals of Pakistan as it does to its poor and ignorant.