“Faridan, tum muriid, tumrii saath pushteN muriid” (Faridan, I take you as my disciple and also your next seven generations). So replied Haji Waris Ali Shah to Faridan bibi on one of his visits to my ancestral home in Ahmadpur. Faridan bibi was the second wife of my great grandfather and was requesting Haji saahab to take her as a disciple. Courtesy that statement every child born into our family becomes a disciple of Haji saahab by default. At least that is what everyone in my father’s generation likes to believe.
Haji Waris Ali Shah was born in early nineteenth century in Dewa in a family of Hussaini Syeds. His genealogy traces origin from Hazrat Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and martyr of Karbala, through 26 linkages in between. Some researchers have concluded his date of birth in the year 1809 A.D. His parents died when he was three years old and he was brought up by his grandmother. He was sent to maktab (preparatory school) at the age of five, where he learnt Quran by heart. Like all holy men, his biography has been embellished to look more holy than human.
He did not feed on his mother’s milk during daytime as an infant; neither did he take it on 10th of Moharram, the Yaum-e-Aashurah (the day Imam Husain, his relatives and friends were killed in Karbala, now in Iraq).
He seldom read his books but to the amazement of his tutor he could say his lessons correctly. He preferred solitude to books and often slipped away out of doors to spend long periods in retirement and contemplation. He was never seen playing with children of his age and took pleasure in giving them sweets and distributing money among the poor. It soon became evident to those around him that he was not quite of the earth.
When he was 11 years old, he pledged allegiance to his mentor and brother-in-law, Hazrat Khadim Ali Shah who made him his spiritual heir. At he age of fifteen he undertook a long journey of 12 years that took him to Saudi Arab (it wasn’t exactly ‘Saudi’ at that time but oh well), Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Rome, France, Belgium, Germany, and Russia. He traveled on foot and performed Hajj 10 times during the course of his journey. He also met Sultan Abdul Majid, the Ottoman ruler, while visiting Constantinople and was the guest of Prince Bismarck in Berlin. His followers claim that he was the first Sufi to actually visit Europe.
After returning from his sojourn, he resided in Dewa and preached the message of love till his death in 1905. Even today he continues to inspire millions of devotees who flock to his shrine every year. On any given day one would find as many Hindus and Sikhs if not more as Muslims visiting his shrine and seeking blessings. There is a majestic mosque and a Khaankaah (place for spritual salvation) near his shrine as well as shops selling souveneirs and sweets.
Waris kaa ko’ii waaris nahiiN
When his followers use to ask him about his spiritual heir, he used to say Waris kaa ko’ii waaris nahiiN meaning Waris (heir) will have no heir. He didn’t marry and didn’t anoint anyone as heir. Some of his disciples use Warsi as their last name as a mark of respect. Haji saahab always wore a saffron ahram (a single unstiched piece of clothing) which some of his followers don too. Another interesting fact is that his ardent followers wear a wooden sandal called KharaauuN. There are stories that even animals became his disciples. A buffalo kept on following him for a long time and eventually became his disciple. This is the reason that some of Haji saahab’s followers do not eat beef.
There is another interesting story about Haji saahab and Shah Fazlur Rahman which my father always tell me with some relish. Shah saahab was a big Islamic scholar from Ganj Moradabad and was a friend of Haji saahab. Apparently Haji saahab’s religious orientation was not upto the standard of Shah Fazlur Rahman, so he joked with Haji saahab one day that:
Haji, sunaa tum namaaz nahiiN paRhat ho (Haji, I have heard that you do not offer namaaz)
Haji saahab took affront to that statement and grabbed the hand of Shah saahab and took him into his hujraa (small chamber). And the next instant both of them were standing at the Masjid Haram in Mecca. Back in Dewa, Shah saahab was deeply influenced by the mystic powers of Haji saahab and laid down his turban for Haji saahab to walk onto.
The Family Connection
Apart from Faridan bibi, our family has had other connections with Haji saahab as well. Masih Uddin Ahmad, one of the London educated Bar-at-Law cousins of my great grandfather became ‘westernized’ in his outlook on his return from vilaayat. At my ancestral home in Ahmadpur he joked about Haji saahab and his mytical powers and then went to sleep. In the night he awoke shouting and told others that he saw Haji saahab standing next to his bed threatening to turn it over. At dawn the horse-cart was prepared and Masih Uddin Ahmad went to Dewa to become a disciple of Haji saahab. He willed to be buried at the footsteps of the shrine of Haji saahab and his grave is on the left side of the entrance to the shrine.
One of my aunts was married in a village near Dewa called Kheoli. All her in-laws are disciples of Haji saahab and he used to visit their home at Kheoli. My aunt tells me this story whenever I visit her home that during rainy days when Haji saahab came down to visit, he would walk on the wet ground and his feet never gathered mud.
It is one of the most popular and big gatherings in the city of Barabanki each year. Even though the Urs of Haji saahab is commemorated on 1st Safar every year, Dewa mela is organized at a fixed time period from 8th to 18th October of each year. The management of Dewa mela is handled by a trust whose chairman and secretary are the current District Magistrate and SDM of Barabanki respectively. The first chaadar on the shrine is always from the District Magistrate to kick start the mela. The mushaira and kavi sammelan organized during the Dewa mela have still maintained the standard and are one of the sought after events in the area. Some of the biggest poets have recited their verses at the Dewa mela. It also houses one of the biggest baazaars and villagers from far and near come for shopping goods and for an evening of entertainment.
In The End
Every marriage and each arrival of a newborn in our family is followed by a mandatory visiti to Dewa Sharif. However beliefs have certainly dulled in my generation and people now go there as a mark of respect to elders and traditions than anything else. My father tells me that when he took me to Dewa Sharif as a kid of a few months, my lips were trying to kiss the grave of Haji saahab. He can’t understand as an adult why I won’t do the things others have done before me. He can’t understand why I would not bow before the grave. He is however hopeful that the immense love my tender heart felt for Haji saahab as a kid would overcome all hurdles my beliefs poses today and one day and I will visit Dewa as a devotee and not a visitor. He is still waiting.
P.S. The picture of Haji saahab is courtesy Alif India.
P.P.S. Next in series is the shrine of Sheikh Ahmed Sarhind.