Ancient Sufi shrine at centre of another Mandir-Masjid row

IMG-20180217-WA0006In the prevailing atmosphere of hate and communal mistrust in the country, the Haji Malang dargah in Maharashtra is one of the few places where people from every faith come and bow their heads with reverence. The iconic mausoleum of Sufi saint Haji Malang, perched atop the Sahyadri range of mountains — 415 metres above sea level — is situated a few kilometres from Kalyan railway station on the Central Railway route near Mumbai. The dargah serves as a significant example of communal harmony since time immemorial.

According to legend, when the sufi baba reached the place hundreds of years ago, it was reeling under fear due to atrocities committed by the evil mortals, ‘Ayyars’ (devils in Urdu). In order to salvage the fear-stricken people, the saint reached the Brahmin village of Bammanwadi along with his Peer (spiritually acclaimed disciples), Wazirs (chief disciples) and his horse Duldul and fought valiantly against the evil forces. In the village, a Brahmin family looked after them well. Even today the dargah is looked after by the same Hindu Brahmin family whose forefathers are
believed to have guarded the shrine at that time. The Dargah Trust comprises of members of both the Muslim and the Hindu communities.

The place is revered not only by Muslims and Hindus but other religious communities too, including Christians. A Sindhi family, for the past two generations, has been running a langar service or community kitchen to provide food free of cost to the devotees.

During the time of the legendary Maratha warrior king Shivaji Maharaja, the mausoleum was gifted with two cannons that are still kept outside the dargah.

Many years ago, a lawyer named Amardas Gupta visited the shrine all the way from Kolkata (then Calcutta) and he was so entranced by baba Haji Malang’s spiritual charisma that he gave up everything and became his ardent disciple. Gupta set up an ashram near the dargah, taking the name of Bengali Baba. Even after his death in the 1970s, his ashram is visited by devotees of the Sufi saint.

On the occasion of the annual Urs (death anniversary of the saint), lakhs of devotees from different t parts of the country, some even from other countries, throng the dargah of Haji Malang to pay their obeisance to the Sufi saint of the medieval era. They reach Kalyan station by train and board either busses or auto-rickshaws to reach Bammanwadi. To reach the dargah, one has to negotiate 3,000 odd steps — a tedious task indeed, which is done by devotees brimming with their spiritual desire to supplicate before the iconic saint.

During Urs, a Palki (Palanquin) decked with flowers and fragrant sandalwood is used to take out a procession from here. According to custom, a group of people from Mumbai Dockyard come here on the occasion to take it on their shoulders for a mountain ride.

Controversy mars bonhomie

A few ultra-right organisations have sparked controversy by raking up unsubstantiated ‘history’ to claim that the dargah was originally a temple. While the rumours first started doing the rounds in the 1980s, the campaign seeking that the dargah be renamed Sri Malangarh temple has been aggressively accelerated by some saffron political outfits in the past two years.

According to caretakers of the shrine, members of the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena hold an aarti at the dargah premises on the day of poornima or full-moon every month, despite the fact that there has never been any concept of performing an aarti or pooja at dargahs. According to some caretakers of the shrine whose names are being withheld to protect their identities, the saffron groups do not limit their propaganda to performing Hindu religious rituals alone but insult the Muslims present at the shrine, asking them to remove their skull caps and verbally abuse them. In fact, saffron flags were put up in the vicinity of the dargah before the Urs festival that was held from January 15 to 31 this year. “They come with lathis, wearing saffron scarves and shout slogans of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and ‘Mandir wahin banaenge’ to intimidate the Muslim devotees,” said a person who has witnessed the aarti being performed several times.

Dargah Trust Chairman Madhav Gopal Ketkar has also filed a police complaint against those who resort to aggression against the devotees. Ketkar is also a member of the Hindu family that has been caretaker of the shrine for many generations. A case was also filed by the Dargah Trust in the district court against organisations claiming that the dargah was a Hindu temple.

The Shiv Sena had first kicked up a controversy in 1986 over the dargah claiming that it was actually the site of a 700-year-old Machindranath Panth, heir of saint Adinath. Late Anand Dighe, a mercurial Sena leader, in particular, espoused the cause in early 1996 and declared that they had been trying to “secure justice” for several years but the erstwhile Congress-led government had paid no heed.

“Now that Shiv Shahi has been established in Maharashtra, it is but appropriate that the original temple be restored and regular pooja be resumed at the site,” he had declared in February 1996. Though the renaming of the shrine was “one of the foremost objectives” of the Sena, according to Dighe, he declared that they would not do it that year, in spite of having used the renaming of the dargah as an effective campaigning tool for the elections. On February 3, 1996, the day the annual Urs was to commence (traditionally on Magh Purnima), Dighe insisted on leading 20,000 Shiv Sainiks to the shrine to perform pooja. Chief Minister Manohar Joshi along with Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray had also attended the pooja that year and declared that the Malang Hills would be developed into an all-religious shrine along the lines of Shirdi.

The Shiv Sena, whose entire politics revolves around Maratha glory, has also claimed that the shrine actually shot to prominence due to the Peshwas. The first Peshwa came to the dargah with offerings when he won his throne, as he attributed his victory to the dargah. The Urs palanquin procession taken out every year harks back to that historic event.

Haji Malang dargah is one among the few shrines in the country that are considered symbols of communal amity as people from diverse faiths visit them and pay their obeisance. But the current fissiparous tendency that has gripped our nation with octopus-like tentacles has started showing its presence here too. And the irony is that the present dispensation is not responding to it.