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Jhule Lal of Sindh and Ismailism

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2020 5:29 am    Post subject: Jhule Lal of Sindh and Ismailism Reply with quote

Jhulelal (جهوللال), or Khawja Khizr (خواجہ خضر), is said to be the unifying force and is central to all cultural activities of the Sindhi community. Sindhi Hindus regard him as a water god, who is said to be an incarnation of Varuna; this ancient Vedic deity is said to have been adopted into the Indus Vedic culture from the Iranian Avestan's deity "Ahura Mazda". Sindhi Muslims consider him to be a saint and refer to him as Khwaja Khizr. Historically when Sindhi sea merchants ventured out to sea, they would ask Jhulelal for a safe return by chanting "Jeko Chawundo Jhule Lal Tehnija Theenda Bera Paar" (جيڪو چوندو جهولي لال ، تَنهن جا ٿيندا ٻيڙا پار) which translates roughly into "whoever says Jhule Lal his/her ship will reach the shores (safely)." Fishermen and mariners hold more honour and regard for him. He is also known as by the names of Zinda Pir (زندہ پیر), Sheikh Tahir (شیخ طاہر), Odero Lal (اوڈیرو لال) and Amar Lal (امر لال).

— Iconography

In the most common form, Jhulelal is represented as a bearded man sitting cross-legged on a lotus flower and holding a sacred text or a rosary. The flower rests on a pallo fish (پلو مڇي), which is seen floating on the Indus (Sindhu) River. He wears a golden crown with a peacock feather. Generally, temples represent him in this form. In another form, he is shown standing on a pallo fish or lotus flower, holding a staff with both hands to indicate leadership.

— Origins

In pre-Islamic Sindh, a cluster of specific sects and cults observing various symbols with their own beliefs existed within Buddhism and Vedic Hinduism. The people of Sindh incontestably sanctified the Indus over a long period of time. Its regular flooding and receding brought promise of vegetation on the cultivable soil was attributed to a divine spirit. By extension, the divinity was also identified with the act of human fertilization. The origins of Jhuelal differ depending upon local Hindu and Muslim oral traditions.

— Hindu view

In the 10th century, Sindh came under the rule of the Soomra dynasty. Mirkshah is said to have been a tyrannical king, however no such name exists in Sindhi literature relating to this time period, suggesting that “Mirkshah” may have been only a mythical king. There is speculation however he was a local king in an adjoining part of the dynasty (possibly near Thatta), which entertained some degree of autonomy. Regardless, the story of Mirkshah goes as follows. Mirkshah was viewed as both a tyrant and a religious fanatic. Surrounded by mullahs, he was advised by them to "spread Islam" in order to be granted entry into heaven. Swayed by the promise, Mirkshah passed a royal decree or "firman" (فرمان ). He then summoned the 'panchs' (representatives) of the Hindus and ordered them to embrace Islam or be killed.

The Hindus begged Mirkshah for time to consider the firman and the King agreed to give them forty days. The Hindus began praying to Varuna, the Vedic god of water, to come to their aid. They prayed for forty days along the Indus River continuously and neither drank or ate. On the fortieth day, Varuna spoke those praying along the banks and stated he would take the form of a mortal and be born in Nasirpur. A mysterious child was then born in Nasirpur on the first day of the Hindu month of Chaitra – the local Hindus considered the child to be the mortal form of Varuna and named him “Jhulelal”. Although the exact year of Jhulelal's incarnation is not known, his birth year is estimated sometime in the mid 10th century AD. News of a mysterious child being born reached the King, but scoffed at the thought of a child being a saviour. He then ordered a minister, named Ahirio, to see the child in Nasirpur and report back. Ahirio, not wanting to take any chances, took with him a rose dipped in poison. It is said that at first glimpse, Ahirio was astonished, claiming he had never seen a child so dazzling or more charming. He offered the rose to Jhuelal, who then smiled at him, causing the rose to blow away. Ahirio is then said to have witnessed the child transform into an old man before his eyes, and then transform into a young boy on horseback with a sword in his hand – and then disappeared.

Ahirio frightened and confused rushed back to the palace and narrated what he saw. Mirkshah was not convinced and lambasted Ahirio as being a fool. The following morning Mirkshah ordered Ahirio to bring Jhulelal to him. Ahirio set out and began walking the banks of the Indus River calling out and summoning Jhulelal to the palace – he is then said to have seen an old man with a white beard, floating on a fish down the middle of the river. The old man then leapt onto shore, upon a horse and galloped away with a sword in his hand. Jhulelal then appeared before Mirkshah at the palace and is said to have proclaimed, "Whatever you see around you is the creation of only one God, whom you call Allah and we call Ishwar." The mullahs urged Mirkshah not listen – the King then ordered his soldiers to arrest Jhulelal. As his soldiers moved towards Jhulelal, a huge wave crashed upon the palace, flooding the courtyard, followed by fire, which began consuming the entire palace.

Jhulelal is then said to have spoken again and uttered, "Your God and mine are the same. Then, why do you persecute my people?" Terrified for his life, Mirkshah begged Jhulelal for forgiveness and agreed to treat Hindus and Muslims alike. Upon that, the flood receded and the fire was put out. Jhulelal named his cousin, Pagar, as the first Thakur (Priest) of the religious sect that believes in Water god and then gave up his mortal form at the village of Thijahar (now Odero Lal). Hindus and Muslims from the entire village, including Mirkshah's representatives, were there to witness the spectacle. Both a temple and a Dargah (shrine) were erected at the site.

To this day, the Shrine at Odero Lal (اوڈیرو لال درگاہ‬‎), also spelt Udero Lal, is used by Hindus to worship Jhulelal, and by Muslims to revere Jhulelal (who they call Khwaja Khizr). The shrine is noted for being jointly used by members of both faiths. Despite differing views on the origins of Jhulelal, both communities equally display reverence for the nearby Indus River at the shrine. There are however several glaring issues – the first is that there is no written history of these events ever occurring. Secondly, the Vedas themselves don’t answer who is the creator. There is no unanimous statement about who really created the universe. Today, most Hindus say Shiva created this entire universe, while others say Vishnu or his avatars created it. However, these gods and stories are written in the Puranas and Upanishads, which was neither written in the Indus Valley nor followed here. Furthermore, Ishwar is never mentioned in the Vedas either.

— Muslim view

Coinciding with the advent of Ismailism in Sindh in 10th century A.D., the supernatural divinity was given a distinct human shape in a Muslim Sufi patron, Darya Shah Zinda Pir popularly known as Khwaja Khizr. The legend of Zinda Pir, which resembles strongly with the Kazaruni Sufis of Iran, originated as a water spirit to guide mariners and travelers to and from the Indus River and Persian Gulf. The folkloric tradition of the region elevated Zinda Pir to something like a river god and his followers both Muslims and Hindus became Daryapanthis. This is despite the fact that Muslims were not religiously supposed to worship water or river.

Interestingly at the tomb of Mangho Pir, who Sheedis revere, crocodiles were shown in painting as a reminder to protect mariners on the river from possible risks. Sindh was one of the first regions in the Indus Valley to establish extensive sea trading networks in the Persian Gulf. However, despite such a commercial location and extensive trade relations, no sources mention either Khwaja Khizr or his followers at least prior to the ninth century AD. Chachnama too fails to point out Khwaja Khizr, while al-Baladhuri, who describes the history of Sindh up to 842 AD in his work Futuh al-Buldan, also doesn’t mention Khwaja. Clearly the legends relating to Khwaja Khizr emerged some time in the 10th century, coinciding with the introduction of Ismailism in the Indus Valley. The first Ismaili missionary came to Sindh in 883 AD. Later Ismaili doctrines were encouraged and adopted under the Soomra ruling class. Chachnama mentions Jatts and Sammas as the original tribes of Sindh without any reference to Soomras. It is evident that political developments in the weakening hold of Arabs both in Sindh and the Islamic world in general might have partially encouraged the Ismaili doctrines of the Fatimids of Egypt through their increasing trade activities. While the interrelationship of communities witnessed gradual assimilation in Sindh, the Fatimids, a breakaway group within Islam was also trying in favour of Ismaili doctrines through the Yemenite dawa.

The Ismailis succeeded in building up their influence in lower Sindh and finally in the 11th century with the support of the Soomra community. Ismailism was manifest in Sindhi society subscribing to the Ismaili cause of the Fatimids, and Sindh with Deybul port was important for the Fatimids in terms of their plan for expanding influence, due to its geographical location in relation to the Ismaili dawa centre in Yemen. Sindh also offered commercial advantage and possession of Deybul and other ports to the Fatimids, which could deprive their rival Abbasids of lucrative trade the Arabian Sea coastline. The two-fold aim of the Fatimids were to gain supremacy over the Abbasids by controlling trade on the Arabian Sea through Sindhi ports and to perpetuate their impact through the Ismaili dawa. The Ismaili missionaries preceded the political and commercial power and the supporting evidence comes from Idris history of Sindh dawa. According to one geographer al-Maqdisi, who visited Sindh in 990 AD, the Khutba was read in Multan in the name of the Fatimids and all decisions taken accordingly.

The river cult, which had its origin among the indigenous Hindu population for its sanctity, was possibly exploited by the Ismailis to create a sort of divinity with Khwaja Khizr. It appears that the role of mercantile traditions of Sindh have long been a significant factor. Khwaja Khizr not only became patron saint of bhishtis of Indus River and protector of boatsmen but also was regarded as ‘god of water’ both by the Hindus and Muslims. What the Kazaruni Sufis were doing for mariners and travelers on the sea-routes in the Persian Gulf, Khwaja Khizr had done the same for the Indus River and its tributaries – the water of which was no less sanctified than the wells of Zam Zam in Makkah. For Kazaruni Sufis protection of mariners from storms and pirates through magic became the focal point of their zawia. Similarly Khwaja Khizr possessed all these properties, with its baraka and Khanqah built on the river bank at Bakhar-Sukkur.

Courtesy: Ancient Pakistan
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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PostPosted: 12 Jan 2020 06:15 pm Post subject: Reply with quote
JANUARY 13, 2020
Suneela Ahmed Updated January 12, 2020

Recently when I was in Sukkur, the arcane name of Khawaja Khizr popped up frequently in conversations with the locals. As familiar as the name Khawaja Khizr may be, the man behind it is shrouded in mystery. I myself had never paid much attention to the legends associated with him. Believed to be a saint to some, an angel or a prophet to others, locals narrated multiple stories associated with Khizr in an impassioned manner.

Revered by Hindus and Muslims alike, Khawaja Khizr is known by various names: Zinda Pir, Jinda Pir, Jhoolay Laal, Darya Laal, Udero Laal. Irrespective of the name, the iconography of this figure remains the same: a turbaned saint wearing a green robe, white-bearded and riding a fish. A myth related to Khizr narrates that he rode on the back of a fish to save a damsel in distress. The fish is identified as the palla locally. It is a sweet water fish found in River Indus, and it swims against the water current.

Another story known to many Muslims is that Khawaja Khizr is the saint who guided Prophet Moses. He is believed to be the righteous man possessing great wisdom, as mentioned in Surah Kahf in the Quran, who taught Moses to be patient and not ask questions. The Quran does not mention him by name, though.

Saint, angel or prophet? The iconography of the green-clad guide associated with water survives on an island off Sukkur

As his name often came up during my visit to Sukkur, I made a mental note to research this figure. So I set out to research and dig up some answers about the man behind the myths. Serendipitously, I found that an island on the outskirts of Sukkur and Rohri is believed to house the grave of Khawaja Khizr. This shrine was built in 925 AD on the island known as Haji ka Tau. It is located north of Bukkur Island fort, and can be reached via a short boat ride from Sukkur. The island comes under the ownership of the Evacuee Trust of Pakistan. The Qureshi Family of Rohri, the gaddi nasheen or caretakers of the shrine, are responsible for its upkeep and maintenance.

The islet situated in River Indus lies almost equidistant from Rohri and Sukkur. About half an acre in diameter, the tiny island is quite run down and unkempt. Yet as it all came into view, I was simply mesmerised. Both the island and the grave itself are not majestic in any aspect but the overall rustic ambience and unassuming presence of this spatial marker left a lasting impression on me. The space itself seemed to speak about life and death, about the passage of time, ageing, selflessness, devotion, faith and belief. And all of these intangible qualities are associated with Khawaja Khizr.

The sanctum of Khawaja Khizr is enclosed in a perforated jaali and is placed on a raised platform. This is believed to be the seat of Khawaja Khizr, but there is no historical reference that he visited this place in person. The jaali has many coloured pieces of cloth tied to it, representing various supplications (mannats) that people make here. The sanctum also has many large alams (flags or signs) posted, indicating the caretakers of the shrine are Shias.

The story behind the construction of this grave traces back to the early ninth century. The daughter of a Delhi merchant, on his way to perform pilgrimage in Makkah, was asked for in marriage by a Hindu king named Daluraj. The merchant’s daughter was known for her beauty. Her father refused her hand in marriage because a Muslim is not allowed to marry a Hindu. Legend has it that the girl prayed to Khawaja Khizr for help.

Soon Daluraj showed that he intended to abduct her and carry her away by force. So the merchant was ordered by Khawaja Khizr to cut loose his boat which was en route to Makkah. No sooner than this was done, the River Indus changed its course, and started flowing towards Rohri, carrying the boat and its passengers to safety. The merchant then constructed the shrine and a mosque in gratitude, dedicating it to Khawaja Khizr.

Over the years, many structures were added to the island, including lavish entrance portals, a mosque and retaining walls (since the island is prone to erosion, a structure designed and constructed to resist the lateral pressure of water was constructed to prevent this natural phenomenon). But these structures have vanished over time. Today, the island wears a minimalistic look. But even though there is an absence of any expensive structures, the mere presence of this islet at the mouth of the Indus is intriguing for travellers.

Even in the bustling metropolis of Karachi, a temple dedicated to Darya Laal is located near Custom House near Native Jetty Bridge. It houses a statue of Udero Laal, which has the same iconography as Khizr, Darya Laal or Jhoolay Laal, essentially as the river deity.

Khawaja Khizr was also accredited as a saviour around these parts even during modern-day history. During the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, residents of the twin cities of Sukkur and Rohri claimed to have seen a green turbaned saint on the Sukkur Barrage, signalling towards the skies. They believe the cities of Sukkur, Rohri and the Sukkur Barrage were kept safe because of him.

According to older images of the island, and as mentioned previously, there used to be an upsized entrance portal marking the entrance to the island, along with a mosque, and fully grown date palms and other trees, and the total original size of the island was threefold. Over time, corrosion has given way and a major chunk of the island has sunk under water.

The remaining walls and rubble masonry are in a precarious condition and although the Endowment Fund Trust (EFT) sanctioned an amount of five million rupees in 2014 — according to the Annual Report 2010-2015 of EFT — for the reconstruction of the island, work does not seem to be on the cards in the near future.

One of the reasons for the island to have fallen prey to neglect is the fact that, historically, the place was revered by both Hindus and Muslims, but there came a time when a rift occurred between them, which resulted in communal disturbance. Khwaja Khizr was compartmentalised into Hindu and Muslim sections, and the need to separate Jhoolay Laal or Darya Laal was felt by the Hindus. This resulted in a temple that was constructed on the mainland of Sukkur, facing the river.

Upon further research I also discovered that there is a Tomb of Khawaja Khizr in Sonipat in India and a Dome of Khizr on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Khizr is described not only in Islamic texts and theology, but is also known in Zoroastrianism (Michael Strausberg, Zoroastrian Rituals in Context, 2004). On a pilgrimage route to Yazd in Iran, six shrines are to be visited, and one of the shrine is of the ‘Pir-i-Sabz’, the green saint. It is regarded as the holiest place for the Zoroastrians living in Iran. The iconography of Pir-e-Sabz is similar to the imagery of Khawaja Khizr. Pir-i-Sabz is also associated to the goddess Anahita, to whom worshippers pray for rain and to celebrate the start of spring.

Shia Muslims believe that Hazrat Khizr, accompanied by Muhammad Al Mahdi, ordered the construction of a mosque near Qom, in Iran, a holy site and a destination of pilgrimage for the Shia community (“History of Jamkaran Mosque”, Jafariya News). Even for Sunni Sufis, Al-Khizr holds a sacred place, and many Sufi sects consider him to be alive and tell stories of having personal encounters with him. What is common, however, in many stories about Khizr is his connection with water, or rituals related to water.

In City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, William Dalrymple writes about the Sufis he encountered in Delhi and their association with Khizr. Khizr is revered as a supernatural being, with extreme might and considered omnipotent. He is also a revered figure in the Chishti tradition, as he is believed to have built the stepped well at the Tomb of Bahauddin with his might. The place where the tomb now stands was originally chosen to be his khanqah [gathering place] by Baba Bahauddin and there was no source of water nearby. On praying and asking for help from Khawaja Khizr, the well was built in no time.

Dalrymple also mentions a ‘Makan i-Khizer’ (House of Khizr) where it is believed that Khizr could be summoned any time by saints and religious scholars. According to Dalrymple, “The Green One, it turned out, was once celebrated throughout Islam. He was said to be the unseen guide and protector of all Sufis, a mysterious figure who would rescue dervishes lost in the billowing sands of the Sinai or drowning in the Nile or the Oxus. He appeared in the wilderness and, to those who deserved it, he imparted his God-given knowledge.” Dalrymple also mentions to have met some dervish who still visited ‘Makan-i-Khizer’ in Delhi and meditated for 40 days in the hope of meeting Khizr.

Some of these fables over time become so ingrained in the lives of people that it is difficult to disassociate myths from reality. As far as Muslims are concerned, many of them believe that Khizr still lives and guides people who are lost, or those who call him for help, and the temples and shrines dedicated to him are proof that he is still revered as a living legend.

Even in the bustling metropolis of Karachi, a temple dedicated to Darya Laal is located near Custom House near Native Jetty Bridge. It houses a statue of Udero Laal, which has the same iconography as Khizr, Darya Laal or Jhoolay Laal, essentially as the river deity. The exact dates of construction for this temple are unknown. An urs was also annually celebrated previously and a large festival was organised around this period, with offerings being made to the sea to please the saint. Another temple in Jodia Bazaar also houses a statue of Udero Laal. His association with water is the reason that temples dedicated to Udero Laal always have a well, and the water in these wells is believed to be sacred.

Although there is nothing concrete to validate the existence of the elusive Khizr, his devotees believe in him with much conviction. The fables about him are supported by the physical markers whether in India, Pakistan or Iran and his iconography and legend lives on.

The writer is an architect, urban researcher and assistant professor at NED University of Engineering & Technology

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 12th, 2020
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