by Faisal Hassan
Aligarh is mentioned as Sabzabad in the travelogues of 14th century traveller Ibn Batuta, sabz means green and abad refers to habitat place. It was later known as Koil during the 16th century India when emperor Akbar ruled the subcontinent and beyond.
Subsequently popularised by the name, Allygurh in the 18th century, when the French inhabitants of this mango grove colonnade ploughed its terrains. Once upon a time, the home to indigo planters from France and Britain, Aligarh rose to eminence during the 19th century on world’s map.
From becoming the dreamland of Scindias, to the garrison of Perron and fortress of pride of the British, the story of Aligarh’s becoming has been imprinted on the casket of times, times which would never return but always remembered, lest we forget.
Aligarh has been a citadel of Sufism ever since it stepped in India during 12th century, the doting shrines in the city confirms this premise, throwing their gates open to everyone. Sufism or the popular Islam in India has been welcoming followers of all religions and faith on the pedestal of humanity for it believes in a higher plane of consciousness where entire humanity is one.
By the rails in this sleepy town, sleeps a saint who saw it all and became an enclosure into the unseen but ecstatic past of a modern day smart city of north India. Hazrat Sayyid Tahabbul Husain, popularly known as Barchhi Bahadur, a 12th century Sufi saint, who was initiated into the Chishti order by Hazrat Sayyid Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki of Mehrauli, Delhi which had him into the company of Faridudduin Ganjshakar, the master of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.
Chishti Sufi order has been the most popular Sufi school of thought across all the orders in India because of the phenomenal philanthropy done by its founder Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Chishti doctrine has many spiritual practices through which a solace seeker attempts to build a bridge between him and the supreme lord, qawwali is the most enigmatic experience amongst all those practices.
It has a celestial attraction which takes aback the listener to a state of trance and realise the ultimate truth and meaning of life, passing through the labyrinths of ecstasy and mysticism. Sufis are believed to be the persons who can experience something more complete, to whom death is a festival of annihilation into the eternal illume of the supreme. The Urs festival held at Sufi shrines supports the conviction that death is an occasion of rejoicing and being lost into the creator’s aurora forever.
Barchhi Bahadur used to carry a spear with him which gave him the name by which he has been popularly known to the present day. The erstwhile town of Koil wasn’t densely populated until the French made this town an important garrison for multiplying their arsenal, eventually British took over this town during the siege of Allygurh and began the developmental work in and around the town.
It was the time when they were laying down the rail track that they encountered a situation that was incomprehensible, the track laying process had partially damaged the shrine of Barchhi Bahadur. It was then believed to have angered the saint, tired with their efforts they consulted the elderly and the clergy, who advised them to not to do any damage to the shrine and get the repairs done immediately.
The British engineers followed the advice and got the shrine repaired, following which the track was successfully laid. The city then began swarming around the saint’s courtyard and in early 19th century, Hazrat Zorar Husain alias Zorar Shah, a noble from Aligarh visited the shrine and meditated therein.
During the much asserted spiritual dialogue between him and the Saint, he found a talisman which transformed the shrine on the outskirts of the city into an ever evolving centre stage of spiritual retreat. The Urs of Barchhi Bahadur is an annual event observed with great zeal and festive fervour and the ambience of the shrine is inexplicably divine.
With years passing by the popularity of Barchhi Bahadur has grown many folds and intrigues every passerby with its enchanting and enigmatic pull.
Legend has it that when the master of Barchhi Bahadur, Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki was nearing his annihilation into the supreme master, so he made a will which had some conditions, it was then read publicly after Khwaja passed away.
The will emphasised that the Janazah prayers would only be performed by the person who has done no haraam in his life and has never left the sunnah of asr prayers. The teary eyed sultan of Delhi, Iltutmish came out of the congregation, saying that, “I never wanted to reveal myself to anybody but the will of Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki wants so”. Barchhi Bahadur was favourite disciple of Khwaja, so he was made the prime spiritual guide for the Mamluk Sultanate of Delhi.
Iltutmish and Barchhi Bahadur epitaphed their affection onto the times by spearheading the construction of Qutub Minar in Delhi, honouring their spiritual master by naming it after him.
So it could be correctly said about the saint that he once ruled India, though this reign was not political but spiritual. The reason that his story must be told is that amidst changing lifestyles of modern civilisation, religiosity is fading and spirituality is blooming. The shrine of Barchhi Bahadur is the perfect example of India’s composite culture as evident from the multicultural attendance of solace seekers from near and far.
Two of my personal experiences have inspired me to pen down this ode to yet another star of Chishti constellation. The first being a close friend whose father stopped his mother from paying homage to the saint as they came from another sect, following by his father’s illness which wasn’t treatable and then his mother asked his father for repentance. My friend’s father went to the shrine and offered apologetically repentance and with that he walked home healthy.
Another memoir is from a college senior whose non-Muslim family living in Punjab asked him to visit Barchhi Bahadur without a miss to convey their Salaam, while he was visiting me in Aligarh. Dotted extravagantly by spiritual pilgrims on Thursdays, this Chishti shrine serves as a refuge from the chaos of everyday life, and in the quiet of a person’s singularity enlightens him to a new dimensions of being and not being.