Notes on the History of Satpanth.


Tradition concerning the origin of the Satpanth community is on the whole quite faithfully summed up in the slokas 75-97 of the Jannatpuri, translated here. This, of course, is not history based on facts but religious legends which care little for chronology and the correct perspective of events. I have not yet found any direct indication in the gnan source ; that Pir Shams, who is, in fact, supposed to be the earliest Persian missionary, was the same person as the son of the last khudvand of Alamut, Ruknu'd-dn Khrshh (d. ca. 656/1258), or had anything to do with the associate of Jalalu'd-dn Rm, Shams-i tabrz. It seems, however, that this is silently admitted by the Jamat. The spirit of the doctrine clearly shows beyond any doubt that the Ismaili element in the Satpanth was the later form of the post-Alamut Nizari Ismailism of Persia.

In my paper on the sect of Imam shah (pp. 28-45) I have already shown how fictious are the available genealogy of the Pir's . All of them seem to be of a very late origin, and are designed to serve two different purposes, namely, to dissociate the promoters of Satpanth from Ismailism while, on the other hand prove that the Pir's were the descendants of the earliest Imams. In order to achieve this purpose, the authors of such genealogies had to give up the theory that Shams was the son of Ruknu'd-dn Khurshh, and make him the descendant of Muhammad b.Ismaili through a different line. All this, as far as it is possible to see, deserves not the slightest credit from the historical point of view as it is entirely unsupported by any evidence. We come to a more or less historical ground only with Imm Shh and his father, Hasan Kabrud-dn of Uchchh, who flourished towards the very end of the ninth / fifteenth c. and beginning of the tenth / sixteenth c. It is obviously at this period that the maximum of Persian influence was experienced by Satpanth, through direct contact with the Imams, to which many allusions are contained in the gnans . The question whether the Pirs really formed a kind of a dynasty or a spiritual "line", or that this is merely an aberration of failing historical memory, cannot as yet be solved. Unfortunately, biographical and historical information concerning these saints is hopelessly insignificant.

It is characteristic of the gnan literature that it makes Uchchh (or Unch, Onch, as it spells it) and Multn the main scene of the activities of its heroes. These places, in what in early Middle Ages constituted the Upper Sind, but is now Western Punjab, had a much longer connection with Ismailism than the short memory of the popular tradition accepts. As is known, Sind was occupied by the Muslims under Muhammad b. Qsim of Ath Thaqafi, under the instructions of Qutayba b. Muslim, of Khorasan, in 92/711. The centre of administration was Multn. It may be noted that Sind, due to its geographical position, was the portion of India which always made first contact with the West. Leaving aside the still mysterious period of the Mohenjodaro civilisation, even in historical times it was periodically invaded from the West. It was for some time occupied by the Persians under Darius 1, then later was passed through by Alexander's forces, still later invaded in turn by the Scythians, Ephtalites and Eastern Turks, and ultimately by the Muslims who penetrated it apparently through Sijistn and Makrn. The early history of Muslim rule in Sind is little known, but it appears that by 257/871, at the time when the Abbasid caliphate entered its last stage of decay, Sind was one of the earliest examples of a province which became de facto independent. It became split into two separate states under local Arab rulers, one with Mansura about fifty miles from the present Haydarbd, as its capital, and the other with Multn which, however, at the time occupied a site slightly different from the present one. Soon after this the rulers of Multn became Ismaili, and, as it is possible to see from the Ismaili sources which gradually become accessible, recognised the sovereignty of the Fatimid dynasty of Qayrawn and later of Cairo. It is difficult to see when exactly the change had taken place. But it is possible that Ismaili propaganda was started at a very early date in Sind. A very valuable indication is preserved in the Sharhau'i-akhbr (composed about 350/961) by the great Fatimid jurist Qd Nu'mn (died in 363/974). He quotes the lost Sra of Mansru'al-Yman, or Ibn Hawshab who, as is known, was in 266/880 sent from Kfa to the Yaman as a missionary. He settled in 'Adan (Aden) where there already existed a considerable Shi' ite community. He married the daughter of the head of their of their community a certain Ahmad b. 'Abdi'l-lh b. Khulay', and later sent his nephew, al-Haytham, as a d' to Sind. The latter was the first man who carried propaganda there on his, i.e. Ibn Hawshab's, behalf (therefore, in addition, there were other d's already working there). "He converted a large number of people, and the dawat, i.e. Ismaili community exists there to this day (i.e. about 350/961). It has come into the open (zaharat) , consolidated its successes, and has overcome resistance (qaharat) under his successors. It was a great success, to the glory of God."

All extract from an epistle of caliph al-Mu' izz li-dni' llah (041-365/953-975) is quoted in the Uynu'l-akhbr by Sayyid-n Idris. It is addressed to Hakm b. Shaybn, the chief d' of Sind. It is apparently the same person as Jalam b. Shaybn, mentioned by al-Brn l whom the latter regards responsible for the destruction of the famous temple of the sun god in Multn .2

This was the situation before the raids undertaken by Mahmd of Ghuzna which were accompanied by much slaughter, rare and plundering, and which temporarily brought Sind under the nomination of the Ghaznawides. We may note that Sind was by no means the only "island" of the Fatimid domination in the East. Nearby, South of Kirman, in Jruft, which at the time had an outlet to the entrance of the Persian Gulf, and thus was on the sea route from Sind to the West, wild Baluchis (or Kufs, Kufj, Kufich) regarded themselves as the subjects of the Fatimid caliphs. Sayyid-n Hamdu'din al-Kirmn (d.ca. 411/1020) corresponded with the d's who ruled there 3 and the famous Nasir-i Khusraw, who later on travelled there on his return journey, also mentions this in his Safar nama.

When the Ghaznawid rule rapidly degenerated, the Ismaili leaders, who obviously were thus not completely exterminated, again seized authority, and quietly ruled the province for more than a hundred years till the final conquest of Sind by the Ghurides in 571/1175, when a Turkish slave, Nairu' din Qubcha, was appointed governor. This change was accompanied by a more thorough slaughter and destruction, and the Ismaili movement had to go underground.

Although early history of Sind under the Muslim rule is deplorably vague, and information concerning religious movements in it is not easily available, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Ismailis were not alone in spreading their ideas there. The new colony, as usual, attracted a motley crowd of adventurers, certainly of the most varied religious complexion. There are indications that even the Druze heresy which sprang up under al-Hakim (386/411 / 996/1021) in Ismailism, apparently soon spread also in Sind. 4 Possibly the Qarmatians of Bahrayn also had a following there.5

We may believe that various shades of Islamic heterodoxy represented in Sind where they could spread more easily than in more Islamized provinces. This probably accounts for the fact that immediately after the Ghurid conquest, with the installment of strictly orthodox Sunnite rule with its Turkish outlook, Sind became covered with a remarkable variety of Sufic organisations. Even long centuries have not entirely obliterated all traces of this immense wealth of Sufic sentiment. Numerous shrines scattered there still bear witness to the former devotion, and even today Sufic life is not yet completely extinct there. Although much labor, time and money have been wasted on the study and printing of various theoretical works of Sufism, repeating sweet and pious but entirely insipid ideas of the official "high class" Sufic doctrine, it cannot be disputed that we still know little or nothing about Sufism as it really was. Its centre of gravity was certainly located in its elusive popular forms, the cult of popular saints, and certain heterodox ideas and practices. In all probability it was not the case that various sectarians, to conceal their persecuted ideas " translated" them into some kind of standardized "Sufic language." The process, as it still continues to trickle even now, is spontaneous. It consists of the heterodox authors giving vent to their feelings on general matters, moral ideals, and so forth, adopting the Sufic manner of expression as a ready model. And then, entering into the spirit it of Sufic symbolism, they would, either intentionally or not smuggle their prohibited ideas in a symbolical form. The immense difficulty in dealing with such conventionalized relics of interesting sects lies in the necessity of knowing beforehand what is their aim, to what they alluded. Otherwise the student may be sure to pass blindly even the most transparent allusions. As an example the well-known poetry of Nasir-i-Khusraw presents many striking instances of this.

Sufic guise was successfully used even in ordinary life by Satpanth prs. To this day "Shams Tabrez", as they call Pir Shams in Multan, Hasan Dary (Hasan Hassan Kabir ud din) and Haji Sadar Shah ( Pir Sadrudin)near Uchchh, all are revered as Sufic Pir's, believed to belong to the most uncompromising Sunnite persuasion.

Retuning to the history of Satpanth, it is necessary to note that its own tradition regards as the earliest Pir the saint whose name is preserved as Sat Gur Nr, i.e. "True Teacher Light", and whose shrine is in Navsari. Some miracle stories are preserved about him in the gnans : he comes to Navsari, where he makes temple idols dance, bring water, etc., then marries the daughter of the local king (almost invariably an item in the programme of the saints' activities); he often leaves his body to wander about "in spirit," turns into a green parrot, and so forth. In short, he presents a fine specimen of a jogi of high training. We may therefore be surprised to learn that popular tradition makes him the same person as the grandson of Imam Jafar Sdiq, Muhammad b. Ism'l. The latter, born ca. 120/738, after the death of his grand-father (ca. 147/765) left his native Medina for the East, where traces of him disappear. The date of his departure is variously given, and generally there is nothing certain in his biography, but in any case the change from a Medina Arab aristocrat to a Gujrati Jogi , no doubt, requires much strain on the imagination. Moreover, the learned Satpanthis mention the date of Sat Gur Nr's death as 487/1094 (which is, in fact, the date of the death of al-Mustansir bi'llah, the Fatimid caliph) thus attributing the saint with a longish life of 367 years. We may therefore legitimately relegate all the stories to the sphere of miraculous and believe that all these stories were concocted probably some 150 years ago, when one of the branches of the Pirana Sayyids established themselves in Navsari, making use of a half forgotten local shrine of an early saint.

The next Pir , in reality apparently the greatest of them in popular tradition, is Pir Shams. He also appears as a figure resembling the powerful Indian jogis or rishis. Generally speaking, amongst various ideals of saintship, in true Indian style, Satpanth has much admiration for the type of the primitive powerful shaman, or medicine-man, who, either by the caprice of a deity, or by his personal attainments, acquires immense magic power obeyed not only by living beings but even by inanimate nature. It is such a great contrast with Persian Sufic saints who follow the Hellenistic- Christian pattern of the enlightened and morally perfect philosopher whose principal attainment is great love for humanity. He walks about amongst suffering mortals, by his wise advice curing the sinful souls from the ills to which they subject themselves. He rarely condescends to the performance of theatrical miracles, and chiefly acts in the spiritual sphere. Quite different is the primitive shaman type of saint. He is jealous of his prestige and extremely dangerous to deal with. For a trivial offence, at which the Persian Sufic saint would merely smile, he will not hesitate to make use of all his immense powers to avenge. He would even move the sun to burn the whole population of a city in which some stupid men treated him as an ordinary stranger, permitting their superstitious ness to cause him an inconvenience. Such a terrifying variety of saintship, however, attracts the imagination of illiterate masses. The popular variety of wandering darwishes, qalandars always bears the permanent epithet of zabardast , i.e. severe - cruel. Their method of begging for alms was not to propitiate the donors, but to frighten, intimidate them. Stories in which admiration for the saints of this type is expressed are full of instances in which they take the law into their hands at the slightest provocation .

Tradition about Pir Shams is extremely instructive as a substantial accumulation of folklore motifs in which various features of this mentality come up prominently. It is a product of a very long period, and an exceedingly complex precipitation of the most heterogeneous layers. There is, of course, almost nothing in the way of history of real events around which the legend had developed. Most probably the nucleus of the myth really belongs to Sind, or Multan, which plays the central part in the story. It may be noted, however, that the association of the Multani Shams with Shamsu'd-dn Muhammad, the son of Ruknu'din khair -i-Shah and, in his turn, the association of the latter with Shams-i Tabrz the friend of Jallu' d-dn Rmi, the author of the famous Mathnawi , "the Coran in the Persian language," added to the myth features clearly derived from Christianity. Thus a "Sind to Qonya" legend was produced which, as it seems, really incorporated various folklore motifs and religious relics of many nations residing between those extreme points. Stories about Shams are extremely popular amongst the darwishes of Persia and even much further Westwards and Northwards, especially his -so-to-speak masterpiece in miracle working, the bringing down of the sun. Such a complex agglomeration of influences makes it very difficult to reach a definite conclusion as to the real origin of the myth.

Starting with the more easily identifiable elements, namely Christian, we may point out the fact that in Persia, where many stories are narrated about the saint, he appears to be the son of Rm's own daughter and is supernaturally born without a father. Rmi finds a human skull on which it is written that it was the cause of the death of some people and will cause the death of more (also a well-known folklore motif). Rmi wants to destroy it by pounding it to powder, but his daughter mistakes it for a medicine, eats it, and become pregnant with Shams, etc., A striking parallel is found in Ali-Ilahi legends in which Mama Jalla the daughter of Mirza Man, a virgin, conceives from a particle of light descending from the sun, and gives birth to the incarnation of the Deity, Shh Khushn.6

Shams brings fried birds to life, just as in the apocryphal Gospel of Infancy, and so forth, and ultimately flees, accompanied by Rm, to Multan, walking over the surface of the sea. He instructs Rmi to repeat "0 Shams" . Rmi, however, overhears Shams saying "0 'Ali", repeats this himself, and instantly begins to sink. Shams rescues him, reproaching him for wanting to understand Ali while he has not yet even understood Shams.7 . There are many variants of the proceedings dealing with the bringing down of the sun, but here again we have ample stock of stories from the Ali-Ilahi sources in which moving the sun, playing with it, etc., are attributed to various incarnations of the Deity 8. In fact, Ali-Ilahi legends are solidly associated with the solar myth and its typical symbolism (white falcon eagle, etc.) so that it may even appear as if the miracle of Multan was not the original element, but an importation from the west. Only the fact that Multan was an ancient seat of the sun cult, the place of the famous temple of the sun god, etc, makes one hesitate in unreservedly.

Satpanth literature furnishes with certain dates concerning Shams, but it would hardly be necessary to argue that all of them are based on pure fantasy. The most interesting reference is the positive statement in the gnans to the effect that Shams was "Keshavpuri" of Multan" 9. In fact, a temple of that Hindu saint, whom the Hindus regard as the performer of the miracles concerning the bringing down of the Sun, is situated within some two miles distance from Multan, I visited it in 1933, but found no one capable of telling me more of the saint and literature in which his story is narrated. It is therefore an interesting question whether Shams was the adaptation of a Hindu original, or the latter was a case of accommodation of a Muslim saint in Hinduism.

Another interesting reference is the exceptional ease in the gnans in which a date is associated with a certain miracle of Shams, namely the Samwat year 1178, "the month was Kartik, and the day was Vad Amas (Wednesday). 10 This corresponds with 1122 A.D., or 515- 516 A.H: The Shahraja 11:says that Shams was born in Ghazn on the 17th Rajab 560/30-V-1165 , and came to Multan in 598/1201 where he died in 675/1276. Miracles are narrated in which Shams comes in touch with another Multan celebrity, the famous Sufic saint, Baha`u'd-din Zakariy Multani. (d. 665,/1266).

Until some reliable reference to Shams, as a historical figure is found, it is obvious that all such dates are useless to us. It seems, however, that the earlier ones are more credible than the later because these are obviously influenced by the theory of the identity of Shams with Shams-i-Tabriz, the associate of Rumi. The Shahjara which is an obvious concoction, fully accepting such identity, however makes Shams live till 675/1276 while at the same time placing his birth still before the Ghurid invasion of 571/1176, by disproportionately stretching his period of life. As a matter of personal opinion, I would therefore to be more inclined to accept the earlier dates as nearer to the truth. This however, brings us to a series of questions. If Shams was originally a product of the ancient dawat , before the Nizari campaign, why was that ancient period so completely forgotten. Of course, in some Garbi songs he almost appears as a genuine Hindu ascetic with only general leanings towards Islam. But, on the other band, in the story of his bringing a boy to life, we may note that he acts in an entirely Muslim milieu, and generally, in his miracles, appears as a Muslim, at once recognizable to the Hindus. The most interesting, and perhaps in a way genuine relic of the past is the story of his converting local Hindus to Islam, appointing a religious headman over them, and instructing them to pay tithes to a certain treasurer 12. All this is very much in consonance with the methods of early Ismaili missionaries. Various details, of course, could have been added later on, but popular fantasy would hardly deliberately invent the methods so different from those of later times if there was no tradition of the earlier ones.

It is quite possible that in the myth of Shams we have a relic of vague reminiscences of the ancient dawat . After the Ghurid invasion and merciless extermination of the leading classes of the community, the groups and individuals that were able to survive the calamity probably never even dared to breath the name of Ismailism, and could not preserve much of its doctrine even under the Sufic cloak of their Pirs the name of Shams, soon afterwards coupled with the innocuous name of the bizarre saint, Shams-i Tabrz, was probably deprived of many of its implications in the course of time, but later on much use of it was made by the missionaries coming from Persia who claimed to be the continuators of his work, and later on were made his direct descendants.

Nasiru'd-dn, the supposed grandfather of Pir Sadrudin, in a gnan is called the fa'rzand of Pir Shams 13. Why should the author use a foreign word for such an elementary idea as that of a son? It seems quite probable, therefore that the term implies either a "spiritual" descent, or perhaps a general idea of claiming Shams an ancestor, unfortunately for the student, nothing definite is known about the saint, or his supposed son and successor, Shiha-bu-din perhaps the same person as incidentally referred to in the gnans as Sahebdin. The next Pir Sadru-din or, as he is still known in the locality Haji Sadar Shah is buried not far from Uchchh, near the village called Jetur. Apparently nothing has been preserved in the gnans of his biography also. The Shahjara which, or course is completely unreliable, gives the dates of his birth and death as 689/1290 and 782/1380. His son and successor Pir Abu Qalandar Hasan Kabir-ru-din, or locally, Hasan Darya, the father of Imam Shah, appears to have died in the last quarter of the ninth/fifteenth c. Probably with some right the Shahjara gives the date of his death as 876/1471 and the Manazilul-aqtab 875/1470 . The unreliable Sat veni ji vel gives 853/1449, but that is obviously too early. On the whole we can easily see that the authors, trying to make Pir Shams as a physical ancestor of these Pir's and at the same time, the same person as Shams-i Tabriz and Shamsh-sud-din Muhammad, son of Ruknud-din Khurshah, had to attribute quite unnatural longevity to various Pir. 14

Nothing is preserved about the biographies of these Pir's and only vague reference to their visiting Persia, or even Badakhshan 15 are incidentally found in some gnans . Typically for such miracle stories, however, they dwell on all sorts of supernatural matters, not on historical details of the events. Sadru-din, who goes to Persia without taking with him his five year old son and future successor, Pir Hasan Kabir ud din, is "punished" by the Imam by facing a "Wall of iron", which (note the remarkable accuracy of the author !) appeared before him "on the 17th day of the month of Ashad of 1452 Samvat", i.e. 798/1396, while Pir Sadru-din was marching accompanied by 120 millions of his followers. But the infant son of the Pir could already work miracles. He made a turban, 500 yards in length, and, wearing it himself also travelled to Persia. It is really remarkable that even at such a late date as that at which gnans were composed, i.e. probably Akbar's time, or later, the learned authors did not restrain their fantasy in favour of historical sense.

For some obscure reasons, Pir Hasan Pir Kabir ud din was succeeded by his brother, Tajud-din, surnamed Shahturel, who, distressed by being wrongly suspected of some unfair act, committed suicide. His grave is in Shahturel, or Jun in Sind, district Tandoo Bagho near the station Talhr on the Badin railway. The son of Hasan Kabir ud dind-dn, Immu'dn 'Abdu'r-Rahim surnamed Imm Shah is not recognized as a Pir by the Khojas. He went to Gujarat where he founded a new branch of the Satpanth community. Its history is dealt with in my paper, often referred to here, "The Sect of Imam Shah in Gujarat". According to the Khoja tradition, for reasons which are not mentioned, the Imam of the time appointed no new Pir but instead of a , Pir sent to the people of Sind a book, Pandiyt-i jawn-mard. Such a book, by an anonymous author, really exists. It was composed, in Persian, apparently at the time of the Nizari Imam Mustansir bi'l-lh (II) who lived and was buried at Anjudn, a village within six farsakhs from Sultnbd of Persian Irq. He died in 885/1480, or a short time earlier, and therefore his name fits neatly into the picture as that of the Imam of the time of Tjud-dn. An abbreviation of the Pandiyat phonetically transcribed in Gujarati letters, and accompanied by a Gujarati translation, has been printed in Bombay.

From the inner evidence, with which we are concerned in the section dealing with the doctrine, it is possible to suggest that the closest contact with Persia really falls upon that later period. The Timurid empire was rapidly collapsing, Shi'ism in Persia was raising its head thus preparing the way for the approaching advent of the Safawids.The headquarters of the Nizari Ismaili movement also began to show considerable activity after more than two centuries of life in concealment. The same Imam Mustansir bi 'l-lh was in communication with Badakhshn, and it is not impossible that the vague reference in the gnans literature to a Pir's visit to that remote province might have very interesting implications.

In my introductory note to the translation of the Fasl dar bayn-i shinkht-i Imam (Bombay, 1947, the Ismaili Society's series) , I have already suggested that perhaps this strange reversal of the earlier policy may be connected with an obscure reference found in that work (end of fol. 4 and beginning of fol. 4 v). The author, who, judging from various indications, wrote towards the end of the tenth/ sixteenth c., mentions that "in these days the Imams entrusted the hujjat - ship to their own (jismn) descendants." The impression which the sentence produces is that such a change had come only recently. Perhaps the discontinuation of the office of local Pir's really was connected with the new system of appointing a close relative as the only Pir for the whole community, and the handling of matters through special agents, wakls , who merely acted as messengers. A book was probably sent therefore as a general instruction concerning the spirit in which devotion should be practiced.


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