Animal-healing saint of Tharparkar
Tharparkar is a region where saints preached harmony and tolerance transcending communal differences, bringing both Muslim and Hindus closer together at shared religious spaces – with the latter venerating and taking care of all the Muslim shrines. One such shrine is that of Chhuto Faqir Bhootariyo which is located 5 km east of Mithi at Malhanhor Vena.Formerly, the village was known as Malhanhor ‘Bhootariyo’ due to abundance of demons (bhoot) in the area. People of other villages in Tharparkar used to identify the villagers of Malhanhor as ‘Bhootariyo’ – referring to the thickly forested area dominated by the demons in the village. People were scared of visiting this area, fearing the wrath of demons, and nobody dared to enter and violate the demon-dominated space in the village. It was Chhuto Faqir who used to halt to pray at Bhootariyo while on his way to Kunari. Chhuto Faqir was a saintly person who used to take his cattle from his village Khario Ghulam Shah to Darelo and other villages in Kunari. In times of drought, the people of Tharparkar used to take their animals to the barrage-irrigated area where both grass and water were abundant. One day ChhutoFaqir got ill whilst herding his cattle and died at Darelo village. Before death, he wished to be buried at Bhootariyo at Malhanhor village – hence he became known as Chhuto Faqir Bhootariyo.Water vessels at the shrine of Chhuto FaqirToday, the shrine of Chhuto Faqir is frequented by both Muslim and Hindu devotees. It also attracts a large number of Dalit devotees. Currently the shrine is being managed by the Chhuto Faqir Committee which comprises three members – one from the Muslim community and two from the Hindu community. The caretaker of the shrine is Dan Singh, who is from the Rajput Sodha community and visits it on every Monday. In order to manage day-to-day activities at the shrine, the committee has also appointed a Muslim caretaker Usman Bajeer, who stays at the shrine. A room has been given to him to clean the shrine and take care ofthe devotees who visit.Once demon-driving dervish and herder, today Chhuto Faqir is patron saint of the majority of pastoralist communities of Tharparkar. Both Muslim and Hindu communities bring their animals to the shrine of Chhuto Faqir. Both Muslim and Hindu pastoralist communities believe that a certain disease locally called ‘Rar’ or ‘Barki’, common in goats and sheep, is cured by Chhuto Faqir. When any pastoralist community brings their animals to the shrine, if one animal dies at the shrine, it is considered auspicious – since it is believed that the saint has cured all other animals and no more would die. Then, it becomes obligatory for each of the pastoralist communities to sacrifice one animal at the shrine of Chhuto Faqir during his annual festival, which takes place in August. Langar is also held during that festival to feed the public belonging to both faiths.>Closer view of Chhuto Faqir’s shrine, photo taken in 2011If one animal dies at the shrine, it is considered auspicious – since it is believed that the saint has cured all other animals and no more would die. Then, it becomes obligatory for each of the pastoralist communities to sacrifice one animal at the shrineChhuto Faqir is the patron saint of Muslim communities include Bajeer, Hajam, Dal, Sama, Sameja, Khakhan, Sodha Rajputs, Maher and almost all pastoralist Hindu castes including Maher, Bhatti, Suthar, Bhil, Kolhi, Meghwar, Malhi, Dhandal Rathores and Dohat Rathores. Rathore Rajputs also invoke Pabuji – a tutelary or family deity (Kuladevata) of the Rathores. In every hamlet and hearth of the Rathore Rajputs are thans (open-platforms) of Pabuji where he is worshipped. Rathores pray at the shrines of Pabuji and engage in manat vows. When cattle have a certain disease they invoke Pabuji to cure them. Or when cattle are not giving milk, the Rathores also pray at his shrine and make vows.Apart from annual festival at the shrine of Chhuto Faqir, the shrine also attracts many devotees on every Monday, who visit it to seek the blessings of the saint. In addition to his popular identity as an animal-curing saint, the shrine also provides the space to both lower- and upper-caste Hindus and Muslims to come together and celebrate his festival together. The Muslims offer prayers and Hindus perform dhoop. A large number of Kaunras (water vessels) are placed in the shrine, which are used by Muslim devotees to perform ablution (wadu).Miniature cradles offered at the shrine of Chhuto FaqirMany childless couples visit the shrine in hope of seeking boons. As a supplication to the saint, they leave behind a miniature cradle as an entreaty to the saint. When their wishes are fulfilled, they place a triangle-shaped object or toy in the cradle – symbolising that their family is now complete with the birth of a child. The couple believes that the triangle-shaped toy represents mother, father and a child – the complete family. These triangle-shaped toys are found at almost every shrine in Sindh –either left in a miniature cradle or tied with to the branch of a tree – or placed near the grave of the saint. Locally these are called ‘chatoon’, literally meaning ‘parrot’, and are actually are tied with a wooden frame (manhrakhani) over a newly born baby – the first toy gift from the mother that the newly born baby receives to play with. These chatoon or triangle -shaped toys at various shrines are a token of manat by mother to the saint.The dome over the grave of Chhuto Faqir has been built by the Chhuto Faqir Committee. The shrine is surrounded by a wall enclosure and a small structure housing only the grave of the saint and a small room for a Muslim caretaker to stay within the shrine. The annual upkeep of the shrine is also handled by the committee from the donated money of the devotees.Like Chhuto Faqir’s shrine in Tharparkar, there are quite a few Muslim and Hindu shrines in other districts of Sindh which are believed by many to have supernatural powers to protect and cure animals. It is believed that Lal Chhato Shah also had mystical powers to protect and cure the cattle of the pastoralist communities in Lower Sindh (Thatta and Badin). Lal Chhato Shah was a son of Shah Wajiuddin – the chief disciple of Sakhi Jamil Shah Girnari – and is believed to have mounted on a calf and disappeared. He is believed to be a living saint whose shrines have been made in many places in lower Sindh: at water bodies such as ponds, canals, streams or lakes where he is known to have reappeared. This, in fact, reflects how much the pastoralists value water and thus personified Lal Chhato Shah as their tutelary saint, conserving water for their devotees’ animals in the wilderness of Sindh. Likewise, Chhuto Faqir’s shrine is also tutelary shrine for many of the pastoralist communities in Tharparkar, who also used to distribute the first milk of cows, goats and sheep (doch) amongst devotees – a custom which has now died out.