Sufi shrines as spiritual clinics

Publication Year : 2018

Located 2 km south of Chuhar Jamali in Sujawal district in Sindh is the shrine of 16th-century Suhrawardi mystic Aban Shah, who was once the patron saint of the Kehar Jams of Kakrala State. Aban Shah is believed to have been come from the Suhrawardi family of Sheikh Bahauddin Zakariya. The shrine of Aban Shah is perched atop a hill. There are a few hills at this site and thus it is locally called “Aban Shah Ja Takkar”. All the hills are covered with tombs, shrines and graves of the disciples of Aban Shah. Some graves predate his arrival at the site. Like Aban Shah, Rajan Shah – another Suhrawardi saint from the family of Bahauddin Zakariya – was also the patron saint of the Kehar Jams of Kakrala. His tomb is located 1 km west of the shrine of Aban Shah.Kakrala was tiny state, from 1470 to 1760, ruled by the Kehar Jams, which comprised the southern parts of the present-day districts of Sujawal and Thatta – running parallel to the Arabian Sea right from Jati to Kharo Chan. This whole territory was under their dominion. It was annexed to the Kalhora Kingdom in 1760 by Ghulam Shah Kalhoro (1757 – 1772).>Chatri of Aban ShahSheikh Ismail Qureshi, the father of Aban Shah, came from Multan to Sindh in 1517 in the waning days of the Samma rulers when they were fighting the Arghuns. When the Arghuns supplanted the Samma dynasty in 1524, the founder of the Arghun dynasty, Shah Hassan Arghun decided to attack Multan. Sheikh Ismail Qureshi heard that Shah Hassan Arghun was planning to attack Multan. He went to persuade him not to attack Multan but Shah Hassan Arghun did not listen to him. The Suhrawardi saints of Multan and Uch always remained close to the rulers of Sindh and Delhi and they acted as mediators in times of crisis between the rulers of Sindh and the Sultans of Delhi. Sensing the possibility of an attack looming large on Multan, Sheikh Ismail Qureshi sent some of his disciples to inform the rulers of Multan about the intentions of Shah Hassan Arghun.Sheikh Ismail Qureshi did not return to Multan and decided to live in Sindh. He had four sons namely Shah Shahabuddin, Shah Ruknuddin, Shah Zakariya, Shah Muhammad and Aban Shah. Each of his sons became known for piety, generosity and religiosity.Shrine of Aban ShahAban Shah became the most popular saint from the family of Sheikh Ismail Qureshi. Many people became his disciples. He settled in a village of Kakrala which came to be called after his name “Aban Ja Takkar”. He was the patron saint of the Kehar Jams of Kakrala, who were known for their bravery and chivalry. They were ultimately subdued by the Kalhoras and their State was annexed to the Kalhora Kingdom (1700 – 1783). During the reign of Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro (1718 – 1753), Jam Hothi who was ruler of Kakrala, revolted against him. Mian Noor Muhammad sent his son Mian Muradyab Kalhoro to stamp out the rebellion. This he did successfully and then installed on the throne Jam Mohar, the supporter of Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro. After the invasion of Iranian ruler Nader Shah, the Jam Hothi regained his State from Jam Mohar. Eventually, the dominion of the Jams of Kakrala virtually came to an end when Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro(1757 – 1772) became the ruler of Sindh and he made Jam Hardarjias the new king in the place of Jam Desar –who fled to Kutch after his defeat.Aban Shah remained the patron saint of the Kehar Jams of Kakrala, who always visited his shrine and that of Rajan Shah to seek their blessings. The tomb of Aban Shah is also believed to have been erected by one of the Kehar Jams of Kakrala. The tomb is perched on top of a hill which is accessed through a stairway. An eight-pillared canopy or chatri is built over the graves of Aban Shah and his two sons, which lies inside the wall enclosure. The Kehar Jams of Kakrala built many chatris and domed structures over the graves of saints and their ancestors. There were two graveyards of the Kehar Jams, one at Aban Shah and the other at their capital Dera – which is now in ruins lying near Mian Usman Shah Ja Quba at Chach Jahan Khan. There were thirteen stone canopies over the graves of the Kehar Jams which could not withstand the vagaries of weather. It was not only the male members of the Kehar Jam family who built tombs for their patron saints but also the females. The tombs of Abro Halani near Jati were commissioned by a woman from the family of the Kehar Jams of Kakrala.Tomb of Sardar Daud Kehar at Aban Shah Ja TakkarThere are also a few structures of the Kehar Jams at the graveyard of Aban Shah. Of the canopies built by the Kehar Jams of Kakrala, are all now caved in. There were three stone canopies at Aban Shah. One of the canopies, which was said to be of a female, collapsed two years ago. Northwest of this collapsed canopy is the tomb of Sardar Daud Kehar, which is in a deplorable condition. This is the only surviving monument of Kehar nobles in the graveyard of Aban Shah. There is another shrine on top of the neighbouring hill which is said to be of Lal Chhato who was a son of Wajuddin, the chief disciple of Sakhi Jamil Shah Girnari, whose tomb is located at Pir Patho.Aban Shah had four sons, namely Shah Salahuddin, Lal Muhammad Shah, Shah Ismail and Sajjan Shah alias Dadan Shah. The family of Aban Shah also produced many eminent Suhrawardi saints whose shrines are located in Sujawal andThatta districts in Sindh and in Kutch, India. The descendants of Aban Shah now live in the villages of Bahauddin Pur in Jati Taluka, and in Khari and Karim Dino in Shah Bundar Taluka. Once patron saint of the elite family of Kehar Jams, today he has become the saint of the common people with powers of healing attributing to him. Aban Shah has now become a spiritual surgeon for poor people who cannot afford to visit the doctors. Instead they visit Aban Shah believing that he would cure their ailments. Now the saint is called ‘100 Seriyon Wala Ruhani Surgeon’ as the 100-step hike up to the shrine is part of the spiritual healing process.Now the saint is called ‘100 Seriyon Wala Ruhani Surgeon’ as the 100-step hike up to the shrine is part of the spiritual healing processIn any case, the poor devotee has to pay the fees – whether to a medical doctor or to the spiritual surgeon. The devotees have to drop Rs.100 or sometimes Rs. 500 or Rs.1000 in the box which is placed near the grave of the saint. This instills some degree of fear amongst the devotees – that not dropping money into the box is tantamount to angering the saint. The poor devotees also bring with themselves padlocks to lock them on the suspended metal chains at the grave of the saint. These they unlock when they believe their wishes have been fulfilled.It has now become a booming business of turning Sufi saints into spiritual surgeons and their shrines into spiritual clinics. This trend is fast spreading to other shrines in many districts of Sindh. The most famous shrine of ‘Ruhani Surgeon’ in the district of Sujawal is Shah Yaqeeq Bukhari, which is mainly frequented by Karachiites.

The author is an anthropologist and teaches at the Department of Development Studies, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)

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