HERITAGE Legends drag people to the trail of Shah Abul Ullah, says R. V. SMITH
The Apni Basti Mela at Nizamuddin and the heritage walk during it, last week, brought to mind a 16th Century heritage walker who frequented the place. Amir Abul Ullah was born in 1586 during the reign of Akbar, at Narela whose Sayyid Gaon is still the final destination of some city buses. The Amir’s grandfather, Amir Abdul Salam, had migrated to Delhi from Samarqand and died during a pilgrimage to Mecca while his father, Amir Abul Wafa, died at Fatehpur Sikri. The family was thereafter taken to Burdwan by the Amir’s maternal grandfather, who was serving as deputy to Raja Man Singh, the Mughal Governor of Bengal. After his death the Amir was appointed administrator under the Raja. But later he left the post and came back to Delhi, where Jahangir, who had ascended the throne, persuaded him to become one of his courtiers. However after some time the Amir decided to renounce worldly life and become a hermit.
He founded his Khanqah (hermitage) at Lashkarpur, but from time to time made pilgrimages to the shrines of Muslim saints like Hazrat Moinuddin Chisti and Nizamuddin Auliya. It was at the mazaar of the latter that he spent a lot of time. When not engrossed in meditation he took great pleasure in walking around Nizamuddin Basti on a daily Ziarat (pilgrimage) of the Sufis buried in the area. Not only that, he also wrote down his experiences at these shrines as he found that the ambience of the Basti gave solace to his spiritual yearnings.
In course of time the Amir acquired fame as a saint in his own right and came to be known as Shah Abul Ullah. He died at the age of 71 in 1657 after his last visit to Nizamuddin and was buried at Lashkarpur, some miles upstream of the Taj. The annual Urs at his shrine is held on the 9th of the Islamic month of Safar (Dec-Jan). People who undertake the pilgrimage to the Ajmer dargah, Hazrat Nizamuddin’s and Sheikh Salim Chisti’s tombs make it a point to pay homage at the shrine of the saint on their return journey. His Urs is noted for the exotic “mehndi” (henna) ceremony at it, in which bangles are also offered. The magnificent dome of the dargah was erected by Agha Mohammad Kasim, Pir Sahib of Hyderabad Deccan in pre-Partition times, who attended the Urs every year, walking barefoot in a glamorous procession to the shrine with 100 followers from a hotel near the Agra Fort.
One story about Shah Abul Ullah is worth relating. It concerns a wandering jogi (mendicant-cum-magician) of Delhi who, while passing by the saint’s khanqah, was stopped by him. “Shah Abul Ullah asked the jogi what was he carrying in the cage held in his hand. The jogi said that it was evident to the viewer that it was mynah. On hearing this, the saint took some water he had used for performing “wuzoo” before namaz and sprinkled it on the cage. Lo, and behold, the mynah changed into a beautiful girl who stood up with a cry. Shah Abul Ullah learnt from the girl that she and the handsome jogi had fallen in love and had eloped from a village, fearing that her parents wouldn’t allow them to marry. The Shah asked the girl whether she wanted to return to her family but she refused and expressed her desire to stay on with the jogi who used to transform her into her original form every evening.
The saint solemnized their marriage and they lived and died at his hermitage. A red sandstone tomb marks the spot known as Jogi-Jogan-ki-Ziarat and many visit it out of curiosity. Shah Walliullah Dehlvi has written a moving Urdu couplet on the two lovers, observes T.S. in his journalistic memoirs. As for Shah Abul Ullah, the late Haji Muslim, a noted shoe merchant of Ballimaran, once met a sufi at the Nizamuddin dargah who claimed he saw the saint’s spirit hovering over the Basti, which he must have visited innumerable times during his lifetime. No wonder the tag of the greatest heritage walker of Nizamuddin Basti still clings to Shah Abul Ullah, the “Aftab” (sun) of the latter-day Sufi order.