Hazrat Shah Jamal: The King of Beauty, Piety and Radiance

Faisal Hassan

The tomb of Hazrat Shah Jamal adorns the skyline on Khair road; the adjacent localities received their name Shah Jamal from the Sufi saint unarguably, another very densely populated Muslim neighbourhood, Jamalpur has come up in the civil lines area, owing its name to Hazrat Shah Jamal.

Sufi shrines quintessentially create a cosmos around a saintly person in which solace seekers exist much like the revolving planets, which orbit around the sun, rarely crossing paths with each other. Then there are convergence and divergence over spiritual matters which are seemingly political, inclination and deviation which are largely philosophical.

But what surmounts these misnomers is the glory and sacredness attached to these citadels of veiled and unveiled charisma of Sufi saints. These shrines constitute a very significant part of the usual lives of orthodox Muslims, significantly influenced by tasawwuf or in other words, Sufism.  At present, when being Jamalpuri is more of an abuse than demonym in Aligarh, the name Shah Jamal means nothing more than a Muslim ghetto, while Jamalpur remains a frugal suburb of it, there is a need to look back and beyond.

On the west end of the city of Aligarh, lies a grove of graves, the central tomb houses the grave of a Sufi mendicant, Hazrat Shah Jamal Shamsul Arifeen (R.A.). Hazrat Shah Jamal was a Sufi saint of Chishti tradition, popularly known as Shamsul Arifeen meaning ‘the sun of piety’, because of this title he has been regarded the light of this town.

Spiritually inclined people of the city visit the shrine in the morning hours for reciting fateha for the saint, by doing so they seek blessings of the saint before they set off to face the world. Thursdays and Fridays are two important days when solace seekers throng the shrine making wishes and paying homage to the saint.

Hazrat Shah Jamal is among the first Sufis who settled at Aligarh, so he could be well credited as the fountainhead of Chishti tradition in this region of the country. He is also mentioned by Ibne Batuta in his book Travels of Ibne Batuta (Rihla), which holds him in high reverence in Aligarh and the areas nearby.

The tomb of Hazrat Shah Jamal adorns the skyline on Khair road; the adjacent localities received their name Shah Jamal from the Sufi saint unarguably, another very densely populated Muslim neighbourhood, Jamalpur has come up in the civil lines area, owing its name to Hazrat Shah Jamal.

Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jamal | Faisal Hassan

The elevation of tomb puts before an amalgamation of ancient and modern building styles, going by the arches and engravings. It is built with red sandstone and is identifiable with the popular patterns of sultanate period having beautiful engravings in Arabic, most prominent of them being the sacred name of lord, ‘Allah’, engraved on all its arches. Besides the central tomb there are graves which tell a different story, upon a closer look, the scenery brings back to life the times which would have been.

The trail of these graves hints towards some ballistic aggression involving Muslims which could have probably taken place much before they began to settle down in the town. The sheikh community in Aligarh traces its lineage to Hazrat Shah Jamal, supporting their claim with a conviction that Hazrat Shah Jamal was a Tatar dervish who had Turco-Mongol origins.

He migrated to Aligarh and made this place his abode before the invasion of India by the Ghurids or Ghoris during the mid 12th century. Although the reign of Ghoris was not long-lived, yet their slaves became the rulers of Indian sub-continent. Feeble and at the verge of collapse, Ghoris states managed to remain in power until the arrival of the Timurids, the conquests of Mohammed Ghori are believed to have laid the foundations of Muslim rule in India. Qutbu l-Din Aibak, a former slave or Mamluk of Ghori, became the first Sultan of Delhi, marking the beginning of the Delhi Sultanate.

Legend has it that Hazrat had predicted the invasion much before it actually happened, further referring this story to the mention of two disciples of the saint, who lost their lives in the battles that followed the invasion. Often attributed to the testimonies of two of his disciples whose graves are located in the Balai Qila area also known as Upper Fort, the miracles of Hazrat Shah Jamal have lived beyond life and times. One of those disciples was buried in the Mamu Bhanja locality of Aligarh town whilst the tomb of the other disciple overlooks the city, situated near the railway station, popularly known as Amba Aulia.

During the Ghori invasion, several other disciples died and their graves are spread all across the city, adding glory to the courtyards of Sufism. Most of these graves ushered as noted shrines as the times changed and were awarded endowments by the rulers and patrons of those times but due to the lacunae in handling the affairs of these spiritual citadels, the ilk of servants of these shrines fell prey to greed and misery and subsequently all the properties which were attached to these shrines today stands disposed of.

The shrine of Hazrat Shah Jamal is no exception to this ignorance; it has gotten into delirious condition and needs immediate attention. The central tomb has fallen into a ramshackle, having no real means of repair or rehabilitation and there seems to be almost no hope for it, as the grove of graves has condensed into a mere graveyard.

Hazrat Shah Jamal : Water colour painting from the British Museum

The unsubstantiated social stratification across the Muslim society has barely spared anyone as there remains a conflict of identities among the custodians of these spiritual centers, and for conflict like those to exist; there are more reasons than one. Considering the case of this 12th century shrine, the journey of inheritance has not been very smooth ever since the saint left for his heavenly abode. The later citizens of this insomniac town could not keep up with the spiritual legacy of Hazrat Shah Jamal Shamsul Arifeen (R.A.).

Initially the communities of weavers and artisans looked after the shrine, with their socio-economic progression and newly acquired status of theirs; they went up to overthrow the hereditary caretakers of the shrines, the traders and merchants. As a result the disagreements turned into resentment and over time it grew into a trench between these two communities so much so that they ended up having two parallel celebrations of Urs festivals.

Consequentially the shrine bore the brunt of these insignificant things in terms of the loss of identity and credit, while a comparatively newer shrine was rising to prominence. Also the drastic change in the spiritual obedience of the citizens of this town, in terms of ideologies, as a consistent assertion has been running through the beliefs and practices among the mutual coreligionists. Sufism has suffered irreparable losses due to such events of past and impact of those losses are imminent across the Muslim diasporas of the present day Aligarh.

It is a moment of introspection for every sensitive person that the shrine of a saint who is considered the king of beauty and piety rests in ruins and ignorance. Though the shrine needs patrons for its upheaval more than anything at the moment, yet it is a serenading retreat to have the candles and incense lit at the shrine of Hazrat Shah Jamal, adding more fragrance and the light to its ambience full of divinity, piety and enlightenment.

Faisal Hassan

Faisal Hassan

Faisal Hassan is a researcher in Transpersonal Psychology at the Department of Psychology, Aligarh Muslim University. He has been conferred with research award by World Health Organization for his work on mental disorders. He has cofounded Gross National Happiness-Sweden and was honoured with Excellent Academic Contribution Award by Oxford Evidences and Interventions (OXEVIN), Oxford, United Kingdom.

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