A Hindu became a Muslim to save the mandir: Champaner mahakali mandir Friday, Jul 24 2009 

17. Mandir and Dargah in One Building

Domes of mandir and dargah on the same roof at PavagadhIt was on a November day in 1484 AD that Champaner, a prestigious kingdom 160 km from Vadodara, popularly known as Baroda in Gujarat, fell to Muhammad Shah the Sultan of Ahmedabad. He had planned and tried to capture Champaner several times before, but had found the fortress called Pavagadh to be invincible. Moreover, he had as a courtier one Sadanshah Faqir, alias Sahadev Joshi, a Brahmin turned Muslim. The Faqir kept the rajah of Champaner, Pavapati Jaisinh Dev informed of the sultan’s moves. He had changed his faith merely to be acceptable Into Muhammad Shah. This legend was confirmed by the book called Rai Benirai by Ramesh Joshi, Gujarat Pustakalaya, Vadodara, 1995.
That November day, however, the sultan’s army was able to storm the fort of  Champaner. The decisive factor was the treachery of Jaisinh Dev’s brother-in-law SaiyanVankalio who showed the way to break in. The rajahs of Sirohi and Idar are believed to have helped Muhammad Shah according to Ramesh Joshi.
Although they were allies of the Muslim sultan, they did not abandon their loyalty to goddess Mahakali whose temple had, for centuries, crowned the Pavagadh hill that overlooked the city of Champaner. Even on the evening of their victory, they did not forgett to go up to the temple to get a darshan of the Mahakali. Sadanshah Faqir was waiting for them. He had feared that in the aftermath of victory, the sultan would come up the hill to see the legendary temple and its deity. The Faqir therefore implored the rajahs of Sirohi and Idar totake away the idol of Mahakali with them to one of their kingdoms and save it from the iconoclasm of Muhammad Shah.

Knowing the sultan’s temper, they were apprehensive of his vengeance in the event he found that they had smuggled out the deity on the morrow of his victory. Especially because, after apprehending Jaisinh Dev, Muhammad Shah had offered the throne of Champaner back to him, on the condition that he embrace Islam immediately. Although badly wounded and bleeding, the defeated rajah was defiant. Pulling out the sword of one of the guards around him, he swung it at the sulfan who fortuitously stepped back and saved himself, although another guard near him got beheaded. So furious was the defiance of Jaisinh. He was killed thereafter by the sultan’s soldiers within minutes.

Nevertheless, being faithfuls of the goddess Mahakali, the rajahs of Sirohi and Idar heard the reassurances of Sadanshah. If they took away the idol, the Faqir would report to the sultan that he had tried his best to hold back the deity for his royal visit to the Pavagadh temple. But before the rajahs could take away the idol, the goddess disappeared into the ground below. Her plaited hair however remained clutched in the hand of Sadanshah. Muhammad Shah could not get to the goddess, although local legend has it that he used artillery to knock down the ancient temple. One of the guns believed to have been used in the operation still lies atop Pavagadh hill.
What the old temple looked like, no one knows today. The present mandir is of comparatively recent origin; probably built by a Maratha chieftain in the decades preceding the third battle of Panipat in 1761. As a tribute to Sadanshah Faqir alias Sahadev Joshi, for saving the idol of Mahakali from the sultan’s iconoclastic fury, he is called Pir Sadanshah. A dargah in his memory was built on the roof of themandir. The author does not know of any other single construction which at once houses a Hindu temple and a Muslim dargah. On the day of his visit, a Muslim devotee was selling taveez or metal trinkets at five rupees a piece.
Hundreds of devotees go up to the dargah after having darshan of Mahakalion the floor below. Nearly all of them appear to be Hindus. The ascent to the mandir is hard work for it means climbing 2,830 feet from the foot of the hill. The author was told that during navaratri or the nine days preceding dussehra, Pavagadh is thronged by thousands of pilgrims. For those who can afford cars, it is easy to drive upto Machi. Thereafter, for Rs. 37.00 one can ride a rope wayknown in Gujarati as uran khatola. The last steps numbering about 240 again make tough climbing for the aged devotees, some of whom hire a palki carried by men for Rs. 250 each. The younger, or the poorer devotees, climb all the way.

Champaner was the premier capital of Gujarat before the rise of Siddhpur near Patan under Siddhraj Jaisinh Solanki and his father during the 10th century. Champaner rose to fame again when Muhammad Shah Begda, the son and successor of  Ahmed Shah who, incidentally, had renamed the city of Karnavati as Ahmeda early in the 15th century. Due to shortages of water, Begda’s successors had to move back to Ahmedabad. In the event, Champaner ceased to enjoy its pre-emi-nence.
Over the last several decades, serious efforts have been made by non-governmental agencies to excavate and revive the many glorious buildings that adorned the area. It is not widely known why Muhammad Shah came to be called Begda. He had earlier conquered Junagadh in the Saurashtra area of Gujarat. That was one gadh or fort. When he captured Pavagadh, he had won two gadhs. In the Gujarati language, be means two, so maybe two forts or Begda or begadha.

Going back to Champaner, its soil must be proud that it produced the unusual person of Sahadev Joshi. He gave up his faith and became a Muslim in order to save his matribhoomi or motherland, as well as his goddess Mahakali, from desecration This is the only case of a person sacrificing, as distinct from changing, his religion. Remarkable indeed!

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. Jungle Pirbaba: Mazaar was a mandir Friday, Jul 24 2009 


16. Jungle Pirbaba

Dargah of Jungle Pirbaba Baniban,Howrah district, converted overnight from a shiv templeA holy man once asked a boatman to ferry him across the river Rajpoa in what is now the Howrah district of West Bengal. Since the holy man did not have any money, he promised to pay for the voyage by giving one of his goats, of which he had many. On reaching his destination, the holy man handed over a goat to the boatman who, instead of saying thanks, ran away as if to save his life. The goat had turned into a tiger. Evidently, the holy man had supernatural powers. Local legend has it that officials of the Maharajah of Burdwan, while on an inspection tour, found the holy man living in a temple. They wondered why a Muslim saint should occupy a Hindu mandir. He treated the question as a challenge and asked for a personal interview with the Maharajah. On meeting the holy man in his palace, the prince certainly did not run away but was greatly awed by the sight of goats turning into tigers. He also acceeded readily to the man’s request for being granted some land.
Whether the grant was around the present tomb of the holy man or not is not recorded anywhere. Athough, Shri Hemendra Bandyopadhyay in his history Howrah, called in Bengali Howrah Zellar Itihas, describes these episodes. The man came from Arabia. The current caretaker of the tomb, Shaikh Maqbool very proudly told the author that the Pirbaba came from Arabia to preach Islam. His guess was that this happened some 250 years ago. Until his coming, there were no Muslims in the area. Today more than half the population of the village Baniban, which the author visited in July, 2001, is Muslim. Howrah district also has a large Muslim presence some of whom must be due to the proselytizing of this Pirba whose name was Abbas-uddin Shah, although, he was popularly known as Jungle Pir Saheb, presumably because the area was then a dense forest.

Baba’s miracles were repeatedly mentioned by the people of the mazaar. Super stition, as it were, was the theme song of the shrine. The author was told by those present at Baniban, that every year on 14th January, over a lac (100,000) of people gather at a fair. It is known as the Junglee Bilash Pirer Mela. Many Hindus also come. Almost all Hindus of the village rever the Baba but are not allowed into the mazaar premises. Several boys, including a Banerjee, whispered to the author’s two
companions, their utter surprise that we had gained easy. entry. A former member of the Wakf, who had also come along on seeing us, said that the mazaar was build by no one. Caretaker Shaikh Maqbool confimned and added that the edifice required no repairs at all. Only it was painted every year before the 14th January fair.
On the day of the Mela, quite a few women take a dip in the pond near the mazaar and then offer flowers while bathing. If the petals glide back to the offerer, she would go to the caretakers, collect a betel leaf or pann from them and consume it along with the petals. The hope would be, to be able to have a baby. On the other hand, men offer flowers in the hope that the petals would glide across the pond. If they cross the water, any wish of the offerer would be fulfilled. Such is the magnet of faith or superstition! Or the charisma of the Pirbaba. One of the elders who had also joined us, pointed to a tree close to the mazaar. Its leaves were dark green and nearly round or oval. The fruit was black. According to the elder, nowhere else in Bengal was there such a species of tree. It had been planted by the babe and was still going strong!

To satisfy the author’s curiosity, several of the folk present recounted the greatness of Pirbaba. It was little wonder they said, that on the night after he had ascended to heaven, all of a sudden the mazaar emerged miraculously. Obviously, it was a divine signal for his followers to bury him inside the edifice. Incidentally, the only room in the edifice is a relatively small one, and is not much bigger than say twice the area of the tombstone which is covered with a bright green and red chador. There is just about sufficient space to go around the tombstone. The height of the room is also low and proportionate to the smallness of the floor. There are no windows and hardly any embellishments. Three of the walls have approximately 20cm x 30cm depressions for holding wick lamps. The fourth wall has the only door to the room.

There is no hint of a dome which one normally looks forward to seeing in Muslim architecture. The roof is not quite flat. It is sloped on all four sides. The slopes are gradual and slightly curving. In Bengal this kind of work is called autchalah which is known to be a typically Hindu temple design. Bandyopadhyay ends chapter on Baniban in his book with a gentle remark about the Hindu similarity.

Let us see what the Howrah District Gazetteer compiled by Amiya Kumar Banerji IAS and published in Novermber, 1972 has to say. The previous gazetteer, written by L.S.S. O’Malley and M. Chakravarti and published in1909. Much of the older material has been taken while writing the 1972 edition:

The neighbouring village of Jangalbilas is a place of Mohammedan pilgrimage centring round the mosque of Pir Saheb, a Muslim saint. Popular legends connect the Pir with an unnamed Raja of Burdwan, who after witnessing a miracle performed by thePir, made free gift of the village to the latter.

The mosque is a charchala brick structure, unusual for a mosque, with a height of about 20 feet. Two stone door-jambs flanking the closed entrance on the south display geometrical designs and lotus motifs which, on stylistic grounds, appear to belong to the 11th-13th centuries although the mosque itsef could not have been built before the16th century. The annualfestival of the saint commences on the last day of the Bengali month of Poush (mid-January) and lasts for seven consecutive days. On the first two days, Hindus and Muslims alike gather on the bank of the adjacent tank and offer flowers and simi into the tank in the name of the Pir.

Apart from the look and the architecture of the mazaar, the people the author met at Baniban appeared a little uneasy although friendly. The unsolicited state ment by the caretaker soon after the author’s arrival that the edifice needs no repairs seemed hasty, although the author took no note of it immediately. When the former member of the Wakf board volunteered to say that no one built the mazaar, but it had suddenly emerged overnight, the author wondered why was this assertion made inspite of the author not asking about its origin. Then on the way back, the author’s companions told him that Hindus were not allowed inside the mazaar. This was surprising, as Muslims welcome everyone to most of their holy places, certainly to mazaars and dargahs. Why was Baniban an exception? Was the mazaar a Shiv or Shankar mandir before Pirbaba’s death? The author cannot but suspect so, since that July morning.

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