I Wish I’d Been There
By Karim Maherali
This is indeed an interesting and reflective series about our illustrious history with all its glories and tragedies. There are many moments in our history that have had profound impact in terms of transformations of societies. The revelation brought down by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) heralded a new phase in our eternal history and made the institution of Imamat apparent to the world at large, and provided the basis of major social cultural transformations throughout the Muslim World. The glorious Fatimid period enabled our Imams to directly influence the time through their governance, which brought about major social and cultural changes. The Nizari-Musta‘li schism and the initiation of Nizari period at Alamut resulted in the proclamation of ‘qiyama’ or resurrection by Imam Hasan ‘ala dhikrihi’l-salaam that elaborated a highly developed and complex teaching in response to the newly changed circumstances.
To me, however, the establishment of the Satpanth tradition in the Indian Subcontinent is of particular personal significance because it provided the basis and context for the promulgation of the Ginanic tradition which is particularly in my heart. The Ginans have contributed greatly to my understanding of the principles and ethics of our faith and provide ongoing inspiration and sustenance of faith. Hazarat Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah once gave an analogy of the Satpanth mission as a plantation. In that context Pir Satgur Nur cleared the land. Pir Shamsh ploughed it, Pir Sadr al-Din watered it and Pir Hasan Kabirdin bore the fruit. From this perspective, I Wish I’d Been There when Pir Satgur Nur arrived in India and spread the faith through not only meaningful discourses but also by the demonstration of supernatural powers.
An elaborate discourse and a series of remarakable miracles that Pir Satgur Nur performed are be found in the Pir’s composition known as Putla (idols). The transliteration (accents omitted) and translation of the Ginan are as follow:
PUTLA (THE IDOLS)
aad gur bhiramaa nur sat-gur naam,
ja(n)pudeep maa(n) gure keedho mukaam…. 1
The name of the Primal Divine Guide is Nur Satgur,
who made his abode in India.
setar-deep delam des ho jaann,
teeaa(n) nur sat-gur betthaa ho aann….2
Know that there is a country in the land of the West called Dailam (Northern Iran)
It was there that Nur Satgur dwelt.
delam des thee peere(n) keeaa ho aann,
teeaa(n) aaveaa nagaree bheeladdee ho jaann….3
From the land of Dailam came the Pir.
He came to the city of the Bheels [Bhils]
bheeladdee nagaree thee tarat aaveaa ho dev,
taare hee(n)dusataan maa(n)he aaveaa tat khev….4
From the city of the Bheels the divine lord quickly proceeded.
Then he entered Hindustan.
kha(n)dd gujaraat jaanno aann,
maa(n)he paattann nagaree ut-tam jaann….5
Know that in the realm of Gujarat,
the city of Patan [medieval capital of Gujarat] is supreme.
teeaa(n) raaj kare jesa(n)gh ho raae,
teeaa(n) pun paveetr dharamaj thaae….6
There King Jai Singh ruled.
Good deeds and pure righteousness only prevailed there.
sat-dharam tannee pireet kare apaar,
maahaagunnava(n)taa aaveaa dayaal….7
They had boundless love for the true faith.
And then the most virtuous and merciful lord came there.
taare raajaae deraa kholaaveaa duaar,
ubho rahe pujaaro tenne tthaar….8
The king ordered the gates of the temple to be opened.
A priest used to stay standing in that place.
teeaa(n) dev kee pujaa pujaaro re kare,
teeaa(n) nur sat-gur aavee sa(n)chare….9
There, as the priest was worshipping the god,
Nur Satgur came and approached.
taare deraa maa(n)he peer betthaa ho jaae,
eesavar nee pi(n)ddee upar meleaa ho paa(n)e….10
Then the Pir sat resting in the temple,
with his legs stretched, in front of the idol.
taare pujaaro aaveo tenne re tthaam,
jue to deraa maa(n)he peere(n) keedho mukaam…..11
The priest then came to that place.
He looked and saw that the Pir had made his abode in the temple.
taare musalamaanee teeaa(n) deettho rup,
ehevo gure keedho sarup……12
Then he saw that he had the appearance of a Muslim,
for this was the form that the Guide had adopted.
taare ubho pujaaro gur ke paas,
sunno ho saaheb hamaaree aradaas….13
The priest stood beside the Guide.
‘Listen, sir, to my request.’
pujaaro kahe dev nee murat upar kem raakheo paa(n)e,
e murat puje chhe jesa(n)gh raae…..14
The priest said: ‘How can you stretch your feet in front of the image of the god?
This image is worshipped by King Jai Singh.’
taare nur sat-gur boleaa vikheeyaat,
sunno pujaaraa hamaaree vaat…..15
Then Nur Satgur uttered these well-known words:
“Listen, priest, to what I have to say.”
jo e dev tamaaraa hove sahee,
to tam saathe kaa(n)e ku(n) bole nahee….16
“If these gods of yours are real,
why do they not speak to you?”
taare pujaare peer su(n) vaataj kahee,
e pathar kee murat peer bole nahee…..17
Then this is what the priest said to the Pir:
“These images are of stone, O Pir! and so they do not speak.”
parabat naa je aanneaa pakhaann,
ghaddee putalaa ne maa(n)ddeaa ma(n)ddaann…..18
“Stones were brought from the mountains,
then the idols were fashioned and set in place.”
maannase ghaddeaa putalaa ne maa(n)ddeaa ma(n)ddaann,
te kem peer bole ho jaann…..19
“Men fashioned the idols and set them in place.
So how, O Pir! can they speak?”
nur sat-gur pujaare su(n) vaataj kahee,
ke hamaare hukam su(n) e bole sahee…..20
Then this is what Nur Satgur said to the priest:
“At my command they will surely speak.”
taare nur sat-gur vaa(n)chaa ochare,
te naache putalaa ne nirataj kare….21
Then Nur Satgur uttered the words.
The idols danced and frolicked merrily.
vaajee(n)tr vaaje bahu chitraamann tannaa,
vajaavaa laagaa peer ke pharamaane ghannaa…..22
Instruments of many kinds played.
Many of them began to play at the command of the Pir.
vaaje vaajaa pathar tannaa
taadd maddada(n)g a(n)tee ghannaa….23
Stone instruments played,
with many cymbals and drums.
venn vaa(n)salee vaaje bahu bula(n)d,
teeaa(n) deval maa(n)he bahu huo aana(n)d….24
Many flutes and pipes played loudly.
There was much merrymaking in the temple.
tab pujaaro laago peer ke paa(n)e,
pachhe raajaa paase doddeo jaae…..25
Then the priest fell at the Pir’s feet.
Afterwards he went running to the King.
The verses which then follow describe what happened when the King came to know of the incident. Amazed by the news, the King set out to verify the facts provided by the priest and meet with the Pir. The King arrived at the temple with his entourage, amongst whom was his great priestly monk Kanipa.
The Pir placed his hand upon the King’s head and said: “I value your commitment to truth.” As the King had gone out of his way to witness the incident, it was the desire of the Pir to show him the true path. The King prostrated himself before the Pir. This aroused the anger of the monk Kanipa who made a challenge to perform a feat. The Pir accepted the challenge cheerfully and ordered an idol to fetch water from a nearby lake. The idol heeded by taking along with him a jug, filling it with water and in the process emptying the entire lake of water. This caused all the aquatic life to perish due to lack of water and aroused great concern amongst the people. The monk Kanipa was overwhelmed.
The Pir then asked the monk to order the idol to empty the contents of the jug into the lake. As the monk was helpless in this regard, the Pir himself ordered the idol. The lake filled up and all the aquatic life was restored.
Having been defeated, the monk tried a new challenge. He sent his wand high up in the sky through his latent powers and asked the Pir to bring it down. The Pir took off one of his sandals and ordered it to bring down the wand. The sandal flew with lightning speed and brought down the wand. Those who watched the feat were spellbound. Many such miracles were performed.
Having seen these wonders, the King, the Queen and many other persons including the monk embraced the Satpanth tradition. I Wish I’d Been There to see their acceptance of the path of Satpanth (True Path or Sirat al-Mustaqim) at the hands of our revered Pir, and to have listened to the entire discourse that the Pir had with the pujari (priest). Fortunately the Pir’s composition, Putla, has captured these moments remarkably well . To this day, many individuals of all backgrounds visit the tomb of Pir Satgur Nur and pay homage to it. According to Tawarikh-e-Navsari, he was considered as the Chief Pir among all the Ismaili Pirs of the Indo-Pak subcontinent.
Author’s note: The translation has been adapted from Ismaili Hymns from South Asia: An Introduction to the Ginans by Zawahir Moir and Christopher Shackle, 258 pages, hardback, published by Routledge (2nd revised edition, 2000).
About the writer: Karim Maherali is a 1987 graduate of the Waezin and Teacher Training Program from the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, UK. He is currently employed as an IT professional at the City of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. His academic credentials include a BSc (Honours) in Actuarial Sciences and a Diploma and MA in Education. He is a frequent contributor on Islamic issues on various blogs, Web sites and newsgroups.