- Login | Register
- Current Issue
- Most Read
- Back Issues
What a privilege it has been to talk to some of the finest Urdu and Persian scholars with regard to Bedil's Mazaar. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi saheb was kind enough to respond to my query:
"As far as I know, Bedil's house (in which he was buried) was washed away by the Jamna in of her mighty course-changes. What now goes by the name of Bedil's mazar is spurious. I heard some while ago that when the President of Uzbekistan was due to visit here, he expressed a desire to do the fatiha at his mazar. So the archeology people tried to spruce up the phoney mazaar..."
L'affaire Bagh-e-Bedil continues. This should interest even those who otherwise don't care much about history or poetry, as it is a fascinating story by itself. While filling us in on matters of grave concerns, Naim saab had also pointed us to a Wall Street Journal (July 10, 2006) article by Masood Farivar which described a war of words between two Afghan poetry groups. The very first sentence was captivating enough to want to read on: "There aren't many places in the U.S. that can count poetry societies run by Afghan cab drivers. Washington has two. And they don't like each other."
It seems very appropriate to focus here not on the war of words, but on one of the groups, "An Evening with the Dervishes" that apparently "prefers what it calls the serious, scholarly pursuit of poetry. The group views itself as a literary clique focusing on masters such as Abdul Qadir Bedil, a 17th century poet and Islamic mystic, or Sufi. Its gatherings feature top scholars and poets."
And since we have been discussing popular-acceptance of the current site of Bagh-e-Bedil as the tomb of Bedil, perhaps it is appropriate to begin with this quote from one of the members, Yusuf Bakhtary, who quotes Bedil: "Hypnotized by the spell of popular acceptance, how long shall I keep on uttering [a] vulgarity?"
The poetry debate goes back to the early 1980s, when Maroof Popal, who left Afghanistan in 1978, began driving a taxi at Washington D.C.'s National Airport. There, he met other Afghan cabbies once or twice a week to read the poems of Bedil in any available space: the back of a furniture store, the showroom of an Afghan-owned car dealership.
At the end of 12-hour shifts, dog-tired and sometimes hungry, they'd sit cross-legged in a circle. Over cups of tea and candies, they tackled some of the most technically difficult poems written by the great Sufi poets, occasionally pausing for philosophical reflection over individual words -- "fog," "mirror," "silence."
Every now and then, when they found themselves stumped, they'd call upon a poet and Bedil scholar, M. I. Negargar. Calls to the former Kabul University professor -- who had taught one of the cabbies and lives in England -- soon became an integral part of their readings. Chipping in 25 to 50 cents each, they'd buy a phone card and hunch over the speakerphone as the professor brought the poems to life.
As Afghanistan degenerated into civil war in the 1990s, ethnic tensions flared among the exiled Afghans. Hoping that poetry would unite the community, the cabbies joined other like-minded Afghans to underwrite monthly public readings.
"People were revolted by politics," says Hashim Rayiq, a local Afghan civil engineer who helped formalize the poetry sessions. "I said, 'Let's have at least one night without politics.'"
The group they formed in summer 2000 -- "An Evening of Sufism" -- was quickly a hit. Within months it was holding monthly gatherings attended by hundreds, first in a banquet hall and later in a church and eventually in the Masonic Lodge. As the Taliban fell in 2001, it thrived.
"No Afghan organization has lasted six years," Mr. Rayiq says proudly.
Unless you count a 2004 rupture, that is. Maroof Popal and others say "An Evening of Sufism" was infiltrated by Tajik nationalists who supported the Northern Alliance, as well as former Afghan Communists. The newcomers, they say, tried to exclude the works of Pashtuns -- Afghanistan's dominant ethnic group, from which the Taliban hailed -- from the proceedings.
Wali Popal, the moderator of "An Evening of Sufism," denies the charges.
Yet even before politics intruded, some of the cabbies, who were never comfortable with the proliferation of poets and the size of the new group, had been itching to return to the Bedil readings and scholarly debates. Along with Maroof Popal, they broke away and founded "An Evening with the Dervishes" in late 2004.
There is more to report on the matter of Bedil's grave. Just as we are about to go to press, Naim saab in Chicago has been able to hunt out the book he was looking for and this is what he has to report further on the subject that has been causing us a grave concern:
1. Life And Works Of Abdul Qadir Bedily by Dr. Abdul Ghani, 1960
"[Bedil] was down with typhoid fever towards the end of Muharram 1133 AH (Nov. 1720). After four or five days the fever disappeared, and, thinking that he had recovered, Bedil took a bath on the 2nd of Safar 1133 AH (December 3, 1720). On Wednesday the 3rd of Safar there was a relapse of fever which remained for the whole of the night. Nawab Ghairat Khan Bahadur . . . was with him for the whole of the night. Sometimes Bedil swooned, and then came to himself. When he regained senses, he would burst into laughter involuntarily. The hopes of recovery waned at last, and at dawn the condition changed horribly. It was Thursday, 4th Safar 1133 AH (December 5, 1720) when six gharis had passed after sunrise, the Bedil's soul winged its way to Heaven. His sacred remains were buried in the courtyard of his house, on the bank of the river Jamna, at the place specified by himself." (pp. 110-11)
The above statement is based on three impeccable contemporary sources, including Bindaban Das 'Khushgo', a most ardent admirer of Bedil who was in Delhi then. Khushgo clearly says that he was buried in a grave dug into a chabutra that bedil had got built for that very purpose ten years earlier.
Sirajuddin Ali Khan Arzu, another contemporary, gives the 4th of Safar as the date of the annual 'urs. While Dargah Quli Khan, who came to Delhi only in 1738, mentions that the 'urs was held on the 3rd. It's quite possible that the ceremonies began the night of the 3d and concluded the next morning, at the approximate time of Bedil's death. He also implies that the grave was well maintained.
Some other, non-contemporary, later sources have mentioned the 3rd as the date of actual death. Their confusion is obvious.
Hasan Nizami, in 1941, translated Dargah Quli Khan's book into Urdu. Curious about Bedil and the fact of his grave being unknown to anyone in Delhi, he published a query in his magazine (where the translation also appeared). He received one response. here is what he wrote in re the matter to Dr. Abdul Ghani, as reported by the latter:
"On reading [Nizami's] note, Maulana Shah Sulaiman Sahib [of] Phulwari wrote to him that the tomb was in front of the Old Fort and in the vicinity of the tomb of Hazrat Malik Nur-ud-Din Yar-e-Parran. The Maulana [i,e, Nizami] went there. No vestige of the tomb was left, but he says he discovered the site. A request was then made to the present Nizam Asif Jah VII, who remitted Rs. 2,000 and the tomb with a marble tomb-stone and low enclosure of bricks was rebuilt. The inscription on it reads . . . 'The tomb of Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil. Date of death: 3rd Safar, 1133 A.H. (Necessary repairs and constructions made in 1359 A.H. through the royal regards of His Highness Asif Jah VII, the ruler of the Deccan)." (pp114-15)
The Urdu text of Nizami's letter is reproduced in the book mentioned below.
2. Hayat-i-Bedil Aur Digar Mazamin by Dr. Amanat, Allahabad, 1980.
He has a long essay on the life and death of Bedil, entitled "Hayat-i-Bedil" (Bedil's Life).
He quotes Khushgo about Bedil's house that was bought for him by Nawab Shukrallah Khan. It was "outside the Delhi Darwaza and the Shahar-panah (Delhi Gate and the City Wall), in muhalla Khekariyan and beside Guzar Ghat, [and was known as the haveli of] Lutf Ali."
The annual celebration is described in sufficient detail by several eye-witnesses, including Khushgo and Arzu and Dargah Quli Khan, in that chronological order. Apparently it was a big event in Delhi's cultural/literary life.
According to Dr. Amanat, the last mention of the grave and the ceremony is dated 1771. (p. 75) By then Delhi had been plundered over and over again, and its elite and poets were leaving it increasing number for safer and more rewarding places. On such person was Ghulam Hamdani Mushafi, who left Delhi and found refuge in Lucknow. In his tazkira (account) of the Persian poets of his age, he includes Bedil 'for blessing,' but adds ten years to his date of death (1143 AH). He also writes: "Bedil's grave was built in his house which is now only a deserted ruin." Mushafi wrote his book in 1199 AH (1784-85).
Several sources mention the names of two shagirds of Bedil and the son of a cousin of Bedil who organized these ceremonies. The son of the cousin is described as a lout who had little of Bedil's spark, but earned a good living selling the various pills and pastes that Bedil used to make for himself and his friends.
3. The Wikipedia entry mentions two Afghan scholars. It claims that Saljuqi 'proved' that the grave was in Kabul. He does not do so; in fact he bases his assertion entirely and exclusively on the other scholar, Mohammed Da'ud, whose book I have not been able to locate. The two scholars suggest that Bedil was a Barlas Turk; he in fact belonged to another tribe called Arlas, as firmly concluded by Dr Abdul Ghani. Certainly, if the bones had been removed seven months after Bedil's death, as the Afghan scholar is reported to have established there would have followed a big uproar among Bedil's disciples and admirers, and the annual ceremony would not have continued for fifty years.
4. I must however express my greatest admiration and gratitude to Afghan scholars and literati for keeping Bedil alive for us and for making excellent editions of his books. We have yet to do that in India and Pakistan.
Saeed Naqvi's article, Bagh-e-Bedil (City Limits, March 2007), about Persian poet Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil's tomb being situated on the pavement opposite Pragati Maidan, seems to have stirred up an old forgotten debate. Professor C.M. Naim, at the university of Chicago, was the first to alert us to the possibility of this not quite being the actual site of Bedil's grave:
"Bedil is said to have had his own grave already prepared in the house where he lived. He was buried in it. The house was outside the Delhi Gate of what was then called Shahjahanabad or the New City, in an area called Khekariyan. Quite close to the river. A big annual urs even continued to be held there for at least forty years... The last mention of the grave dates to 1788 (?) when the poet Mushafi wrote that Bedil was buried in his house but now alas there is no sign left of the house or the grave."
Apparently, the house and the neighbourhood had not survived the twin ravages of the bloody raids by Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali.
Meanwhile, another historian in Delhi, Prof Nayanjyot Lahiri, was inspired enough by the article to visit Baagh-e-Bedil, and wrote to us to point out that the historical records did not say anything about this site being Bedil's tomb:
"Volume 2 of Maulvi Zafar Hasan's 'Monuments of Delhi - Delhi Zail' describes it as an unknown tomb (p. 55, No. 88). Also, that volume mentions that 'there is no trace of any grave within' -- whereas today, there is a grave! The relevant INTACH volume entitled 'Delhi: The Built Heritage' (p. 205, volume 1) describes it as a late Mughal dargah but does not mention Bedil. This was published in 1999, it is logical to therefore assume that the identity of the tomb was only ascertained after that date. From enquiries that I made with the person who cleans the tomb, it seems that the inscribed slab that is high above the northern wall there was put up a couple of years ago."
This mystery of the new slab is soon clarified when we learn that the dilapidated tomb was spruced up and plaques were put up at the instance of MEA officials as recently as 2006 because Emomali Rahmanov, the Tajikistan President, had expressed a wish to visit the tomb.
Last day before we go to press, and our grave confusion about the whole maajraa about the mazaar gets further confounded when we look up a Wikipedia entry:
"Mohammad Daoud Al'Hossaini, an Afghan Bedil expert, arguably showed that seven months after his funeral, Bedil's body was brought back by friends and relatives from Dehli to Khwaja Rawash, where the relatives of Barlas-e Tshaghatai lived. The grave is also called Bagh-e-Bedil (Garden of Bedil). Sallahouddin-e Saljouqi prooves this thesis on p.87 of his book "Naqd-e-Bedil", that Bedil's grave does not exist in Dehli, but in Khwaja Rawash."
While there seems no dispute among Indian historians on where he was born, Wikipedia confuses matters some more by saying that "according to some other sources, he was born in Khwaja Rawash, an area of Kabul province in today's Afghanistan," a claim that is echoed by many internet sites, including http://devoted.to/bedil
By now, we are all reciting Ghalib's naa koii mazaar hotaa... which seems to segue into a soulful rendition of yaa ilaahii ye maajraa kyaa hai..., when Rajeev Kinra, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, steps in to confirm Naim sahib's hunch:
"Dargah Quli Khan mentions Bedil's tomb in "Muraqqa'-i Dehli", but gives no specifics other than it being located in "old Delhi" (dilli-yi kuhna). See Khaliq Anjum's printed edition: persian text, p.57, urdu trans, p.122-3, and editor's note on pp. 198-9. In the editor's note Anjum, like Naim Sahib, points out that Bedil was buried in his house."
We are about to go to press when Naim sahib, while looking up various Persian accounts in Chicago, suggests that perhaps Mr Khaliq Anjum, who is also the General Secretary of Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu, could be contacted. So we somehow manage to locate Mr Anjum who immediately confirms that Bedil was indeed buried in his haveli in Old Delhi -- deep inside Daryaganj, he says. He also adds that Bedil's grave was certainly not in what is called Baagh-e-Bedil now and that someone had just perhaps acquired the prime real estate -- "jhuuT bol ke" -- from the authorities, perhaps in order to honour the great poet's memory. Who would know more? we ask. He suggests that we could try contacting Khwaaja Hasan Saani Nizami of the Nizammudin dargah.
So we do. Khwaaja sahib is vehement and categorical: "Who says the grave is not in Baagh-e-Bedil? Ye sab jhuuT hai." He adds that his father, the late Khwaaja Hasan Nizami, was the one who first got the grave re-discovered and the tomb was built with financial help from the then Nizam of Hyderabad. He is hazy about the dates, but puts it somewhere in the 1930s. He says that some Afghans had wanted to rebuild the tomb, and his father had been involved with the rebuilding in the 1950s as well. He also recalls being witness to a similar contentious debate about the provenance of the grave, as a child, decades back, between Maulana Arshi, Hazrat Abdul Kazim Qaiser and many other eminences of yore. Was it conclusive? we ask. Of course, he says: it was settled. How? He is satisfied that the eminences would have definitely been able to convince the sceptics among them with something conclusive.
Anyway, was this tomb always called "Baagh-e-Bedil"? we ask. No, he says, that was done much later, at the suggestion of Naqeeb Bilgiraami sahib of Hyderabad who was a great Bedil fan, and used to be friends with Mohammad Yunus, a man best remembered as Mrs Indira Gandhi's special envoy...
Is there any way to find out how the grave was rediscovered? we wonder. Nizami sahib sounds affronted at the very idea that anyone would want to rake up what was settled to his satisfaction in childhood. He says as proof he can even show us a photograph of the eminences mentioned above gathered together, discussing this very subject! We are not sure how that photograph would help settle matters. He scoffs at the mention of documented history and suggests that perhaps we could engage the services of one of the dervishes at the Nijamuddin dargah -- or a muriid perhaps, he adds helpfully, who might go into a samadhi and travel back in time...