It is with profound pleasure and sense of pride that I write the forward to this publication "HEROES OF SURAT".
As a result of untiring efforts and devotion on the part of our Literary Committee the publication for this booklet has become a reality. Our aim in bringing about this booklet has been all along to provide our Jamats, true and concise history of Ismaili Heroes hither to unknown to them. Time and again our Lord Mowlana Hazar Imam has expressed ardent desire of unearthing the Ismaili History and whatever stride we have made in his direction is out of complete loyalty and devotion to Hazar Imam.
This booklet has originated from the research carried out by Al-Waez Sultanali Mohamed on the Ismailis of Surat while he was still in India. This has resulted in publication of a article in Gujarati by him. Alwaez Sultanali Mohamed is the backbone of all our activities and this booklet is the result of his relentless efforts. The publication of "Wonderful Tradition" Three editions-and the regularly published "Chandrat Bulletin" are shining examples of his devotion to duties. The outstanding achievement worth of mention is that so far 16,000 copies of Wonderful Tradition have been sold a record for any publication.
I cannot refrain from making mention of the other activities of the Literary Section, Besides publishing the Chandrat Bulletin the committee is also organising the Quiz Competition which has aroused East Africa wide interest and the Senior Quiz received world-wide support and encouragement. The Committee is also intending to publish a short story book for children with religious background which is being compiled by Al-Waez Kayamaili Sabjaali which we hope to be published in every near future.
I have every reason to be proud with the activities of all the Sections of the Ismailia association of Kisumu and take this opportunity to record my thanks and gratitude to them for their devotion and hard work. The co-operation received from East African Jamat and Ismailia Associations is also worthy of mention and perhaps without their support and co-operation many of our projects may have been shelved. Our thanks are also due to our ardent supporters Tejpar Brothers of New Suitable Press of Kisumu who have spared no pains to publish Chandrat Bulletin regularly as well as published booklets, and Ismaili Calendars with reasonable prices.
Navros Mumbarak-with best wishes and Yaa Ali Madad.
Issa H. Virani
Chairman Ismailia Association
Kisumu Provincial Committee
THE HEROES OF SURAT
There are several instances in Ismaili History, which are not recorded. These are the happenings during which momins have given much sacrifices. One of these instances is the courage shown by the "Gupties of Surat" in declaring themselves openly as Ismailis, the follower of His Highness the Agakhan, against storms of objections and hinderences from their original cast:
It was about 400 years ago, an Ismaili of Khambat (Cambay) in India, namely Jiwa, Khoja converted some families of "Hindu Kanbi" cast into Ismailism The situation was such that these families were well known in their community and had several matrimonial and business relations with other families, and thus they were not able to profess Ismaili faith openly. Hence they served Imame Zaman secretly. In Gujarati, secret means "Gupt" and consequently these people were known as "Guptis".
These families were of Mr. Motirambhai from whose generation comes Chief Vazier Kassamaili Zaveri of Bombay forefathers of Khansaheb Nathabhai Patel, Mr. Dayaram Nathu and that of Al-Waiz Rahimbhai Jaffer of Bombay.
These families adhered to the tenants of Ismailia Faith. During the next century they migrated to Surat, a famous town of Gujarat in India.
At Surat these families found outlet for propagation of their faith and they had an opportunity of meeting famous Ismaili Saint Sayyiyad Abdul Nabi.
Saiyyad Abdul Nabi was preaching Ismailism in Gujarat during the Imamat of Hazarat Mowlana Shah Nizar (a.s.) (993 A. H. to 1038 A.H.) His Mausoleum is at "Kankara Khadi" near Surat and Muslim of the area celebrate his birthday as "Urs"
The Contact of Saiyyad Abdul Nabi was much more beneficial to "Guptis" In those days even Hindus revered the Muslim saints and would not mind someone hearing their sermons.
The Gupti Jamat used to have "Satsang" i.e religious discussion with Sayyaid Abdul Nabi and invited their friends to such discussions During such Satsangs many other families joined with Guptis and Chief among them were those of "Laiwala" "Naginawala" and "Jamiatram" families.
As their faith became stronger their number grew. Every family tried that their generation also should follow this "Satpanth" true path. A girl marrying in another family would at least try to convert her husband. A boy will explain the beauty of the religion to this wife. The parents will give guidance to their children and thus the Ismailia Religion continued amongst the "Guptis"
Years passed by, but the faith remained firm. These "Guptis" even contacted the Imam of the time, at Persia.
In those days it was most difficult to travel from India to Iran (Persia). The Travellers had to take advantage of Caravans for safety. Travel was on horse, camel or even on foot. They had to pass the hazards of the desert of Sindh, Cold wind of Baluchistan, dangers of highway robbers and so on. Over and above these difficulties they were faced with two main enemies. In Persia the Majority were Ithanasharies, who were deadly against our Imam and in India Guptis were afraid of their own caste.
A person who decide to go to Iran to obtain Holy Didar Of Imam was known as "Rahi " and unless and until his return from Iran he was considered as good as dead. Even all the religious ceremonies which are observed after death of person were performed in "Rahis" presence. The Rahi would dress as a pilgrim going for "Kashi" or other religious places of Hindus and keep gold coins in a hollow stick to avoid detection by robbers. Whole Gupti Jamat would accompany him up to the boarder of the town and then would say farewell. The relatives and friends would cry as if Rahi was leaving them for ever. They all would pray that the "Rahi" may have the glamours opportunity to obtain Holy Didar of the Imam and may return with Holy Blessings for the Jamat.
During these days Sayyid Hussan Pir, Saiyyad Dadu Pir, Saiyyad Gulamali Shah (Known as Gulmali Shah) and Saiyyad Muhhamed Shah etc. were regularly travelling from kathiawad Sindh, Gujarat and Punjab to Iran. The Rahi would try to contact them and would join them as Muslim pilgrim. After a year or so if lucky "Rahi" would reach safely at Imam's "Durgah" (presence) and will fulfil his life time ambition of obtaining Holy Didar of the Imam. After receiving Holy Blessings from the Imam, he would return with Holy Message for the Jamat. These messages were known as "Dharsai Rukka" (Specimen of such Rukka is given on page No.398 of Nurmmubin 3rd Edition 1951 The Rahi would be bestowed with a title of "Daras" or "Dargahi" i.e. one who has reached the house of Imam.
When news used to reach in the town of the safe arrival of the Rahi, once again whole jamat would go to the boarder of the town to welcome the most lucky person amongst them.
The whole Jamat would gather at one place secretly, and would hear the news of Imam and when they see the Holy Message of their Imam, their joy had no bounds. No pen can describe their emotion. Their eyes would fill with tears of happiness, as if they are beholding their Imam in their presence. A glimpse of their emotion can be gathered from the ginaan such as "Shanhna Khat Aviya"and a Shahebe firman lakhi mokalya".
Amongst the "Guptis" many such Rahis took this arduous journeys and two of these Rahis were Mr. Shivlal Prabhu and Mr. Vaja Mulji. One of such messages (Rukkas) granted by Hazarat Imam Khalilullah II (a.s) (1194 to 1235 a.h.) has been preserved by Chief Vazier Kassamali Zaveri and he presented the same at High court of Bombay during Haji Bibi Case in the year 1908, proving that Ismaili Religion was an age old religion. Khoja were converted to Ismailism and even "Guptis" posses such 'Rukkas" Justice Russel, the presiding judge was astonished to see such an old document lying with Gupti Ismailis. He has mentioned this fact in his judgement.
When Hazarat Imam Hassanali Shah migrated to India from Iran in the year 1842 A.D. the Guptis also got the benefit of Holy Didar. They would come to Bombay or will wait at Surat Railway Station when Imam was travelling towards Ahemdabad. On such occasion Jamat was informed previously, they would gather and have "Satsang" At midnight they would skip out of town and then wait at Railway Station, Imam during these meetings would wear black Banglori" cap, This system continued even in times Hazarat Imam Ali Shah Datar and Hazarat Imam Sultan Muhamed Shah. It is reported that Hazarat Imam Alishah Datar (a.s) visited Gupti Jamat for five times.
During all these 350 years the Guptis kept up their original caste system of life and ceremonies. Their names, their dresses and their relations were with Hindus, Even they used to burn their deads, Outwardly there was nothing to show that they were Ismailis. Even Missionaries visited them secretly in Hindu attires.
They had a Jamatkhana at a secret place. First for about 75 years they used to meet at Mr. Jedasbhai Prabhu's house then for another 45 years their meeting place was at the house of Chief Vazier Kassamalibhai's forefathers. Thereafter a Jamatkhana was built with particular emphasis that one door was in Muslim locality and another was in Hindu locality. From Hindu locality it was just like a temple. Secret words were used to admit the member of the Jamat in proper Jamatkhana, which was on the first floor. The Jamatkhana was known as "Dada nu Ghar" ( the house of Grand father). The Khoja Ismailis of Surat had no apparent connection with these Guptis and had a separate Jamatkhana. In the year 1893 there was a great fire in whole of Surat (just like fire of London).
So furious was the fire that whole Jamat feared that Jamatkhana will be engulfed in it and will reveal true secret (if two doors) But miraculously the fire was controlled before it could reach Jamatkhana and the Jamatkhana was saved whole Gupti Jamat glorified and thanked Lord for this mercy.
Guptis were very faithful momins. They obey the firmans of Imam without arguments In 1914 Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah (a.s) asked two Guptis families living in Paris to return to India and they just obeyed and hence were saved from the disaster of world war II started just after four months.
The Guptis, though serving Imam secretly, their services were not less than those given by other Ismailis. The honour of publishing first booklet of Holy Firman Mubarak of Hazarat Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah's first visit to Zanzibar goes to Mr. Vithaldeas Nagindas Sutaria, Gupti Ismailia. For the sake of secrecy he gave his name as V. N. Sutaria as the publisher.
Mr. Dahya Prabhu was the member of the Huzur Staff of Hazarat Imam Alishah Datar (a.s) They had also established a Jamatkhana at Paris in the year 1931 Guptis living in Bombay built "Dhupelia Building and established their Jamatkhana at third floor. The Recreation club Jamatkhana at third floor. The Recreation club Institute (the present day "Ismailia Association for India) was established in this building in the year 1915. The building was also used as Jamatkhana for Khojas and Guptis when "Kandimohalla (Karimabad) Jamatkhana was being re-built.
THE GREAT TRAIL OF GUPTIS
In the year 1951 the occasion of marriage of Itmadi Huseinali Kassamaili Zaveri brought an era of trial for these Guptis. Being a devoted Ismaili the family invited Mowlana Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah (a.s.) at the marriage. The orthodox community people were enraged. They had a doubt that some of them are following some different religion but they had never imagined that they were Ismailis. The community objected to the invitation extended to Imame Zaman. The family of the bride was forced to revoke the engagement. The occasion was such that marriage ceremony would be cancelled and according to Indian Custom it was a great insult of the bridegroom and his family to return without marriage, immediately on the spur of the moment one of the Guptis offered his daughter for marriage. The opposition had informed all the Brahmins, the priests, not to perform this marriage, but the ceremony was then performed by a "Gupti" who was from a Brahmin family.
A newspaper known as "Deshi Mitra" propagated hatred against the Guptis and declared a completed boycott . The Guptis became more courageous and on 10th June 1915 published their Muslim names in Government Gazzette. During these period two deaths occurred of small children, and they were buried with Muslim ceremony. The opposition harassed Guptis with whatever means available, even throwing stones and dust on Guptis ladies. The harassment remained for four days then they changed their plans. They now approached the other families having relation with Guptis and threatened them to excommunicate if they did not sever relations with Guptis. Even Guptis. Even Guptis were threatened but on the majority it has not effect. Some did wavered and consequently it so happened that some wives left their husbands and children. Few families were disrupted. More the suppression was imposed bolder the Guptis became they even placed a sign board on their Jamatkhana declaring it as Shia Imami Ismaili Jamatkhana. Later on they openly built a new bigger Jamatkhana side by Surat also joined with them and even at present are attending this new Jamatkhana.
Hazarat Mowlana Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah (a.s.) made following firman mubarak regarding Guptis of Surat:
"It was a miracle at Surat. No where in India such an example has been set. If others follow the example of Surat the number in community may enlarge much".
(Bombay 28-1-1935 ref: Gauhare Rahemat page 42 Kalame Imame Mubin Part II page 172, firman No 337).
The Gupties "The Heroes of Surat"have intermingled with Khojas and at present are living as Khaoja Community, with a proud and precious history lying behind.
Before conveying my heartiest appreciation to several friends and elders who helped me in collection of this article, I take this opportunity to say something about the book.
In the year 1956 we were collecting material for publication of "Platinum Jubilee Souvenir" of "Jaguti" magazine published by Prabhatia Panejbhai of Bombay. Our idea was to cover as much as possible historical material not yet in respect of "Gupties of Surat" In this connection I had an opportunity to visit Surat with Mr. Kurbanali Mohamedail Mansurali of Bombay who took keen interest int eh collection and being originally from Surat helped us with all required links. We visited old Jamatkhana of Surat and also saw its system. Here we were ably helped by a learned Ismaili Varas Hassanali Mohamed Laiwala, who showed us the original Gazzete in gazzetted. He also provided us with material for this article, Later on we met Chief Vazier Khanbhadur Kassamali Hassanali Zaveri, who was very co-operative and also provided further interesting information. This article was originally published in Gujarati in "Jagruti" Magazine.
I sincerely record my thanks and appreciation for Chief Vazier Khanbahadur Kassamali Hassanali Zaveri, Khansaheb Nathalal Pate. Vazier Hassanali Mohamed Laiwala, Mr. Kurbanali Mohmedali Mansurali, and Al-waiz Amirali Amlani for giving all the assistance in collection and preparation of this article in Gujarati.
My thanks are also to Chairman and members of Ismailia Association Kisumu Committee and the Officers in Charge and members of Literary Section for giving me this opportunity to present this article in English in booklet form.
first Edition 21st March, 1968