Muslim Pir and Hindu Murid

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro tells the tale of Pir Nasiruddin Shah and his student Chandi Ram, still remembered in Dodai village

Muslim Pir and Hindu Murid
The shrine of Pir Nasiruddin Shah is located about 4 km north of Larkana on the Naudero-Larkana Road at Dodai village. He was a Sufi saint who lived during the British colonial period (1843-1947). Dodai is a small village which is believed to have been founded by a person from the Sangi tribe in the 18th century and, during the British period, Pir Nasiruddin came to Dodai village. He belonged to a Syed family and they are, of course, greatly venerated in every nook and corner of Sindh. He was well-received by the villagers who offered him the opportunity to live in the village permanently. Pir Nasiruddin accepted the villagers’ offer. Soon, he began to give lectures to the villagers on mysticism. The village was inhabited by both Muslim and Hindu castes and both groups responded his teachings. Within no time at all, his khanqah (hermitage) became full with devotees. Pir Nasiruddin was very fond of nature and he planted many trees in the village. Some banyan trees which still dominate the village’s landscape were planted by both Pir Nasiruddin and his Hindu devotees. Pir Nasiruddin used to deliver lectures under the shadow of these banyan trees. In fact, he also used to hold Sufi katchery (discussions) under the shadow of the banyan trees.

He used to sit on the relli (patchwork appliqué) which was spread on the ground. Unlike other contemporary pirs, Pir Nasiruddin avoided sitting on a sofa or a cot. This showed the simplicity, pious conduct and refined manners with which he disseminated Sufi teachings to his devotees. He devoted his whole life to prayers and the practice of mysticism, the latter of which he had himself studied deeply. He never discriminated between his Muslim and Hindu devotees. His chief disciple was Chandi Ram, a Hindu who always accompanied his mentor. It is an established fact that Hindus were well-received by Sindhi Sufis at their khanqahs. Due to caste hierarchies, lower-caste Hindus were not allowed to interact with upper-caste Hindus (Brahmins and Rajputs). However, they were always welcomed by the Sindhi Sufis. Those caste-forbidden and down-trodden Hindus, who were rejected by the upper castes, found solace at the Sufi lodges and khanqahs. They were often found sitting next to the Sindhi Sufis. This is one of the distinctive features of Sindhi Sufism that attracted a large number of Hindus to the shrines, khanqahs and lodges. At several Sufi shrines in Sindh, devotees are asked by the gaddi-nashins to first visit the graves of the Hindu disciples of the Muslim saints, and only then pay homage to the mentors. And this has been the practice since the time of the saints themselves, when they were alive.

Banyan Tree in Dodai village

When Pir Nasiruddin died, Chandi Ram continued to serve his son, Abdul Rasool. The tomb of Pir Nasiruddin is said to have been constructed by Chandi Ram. It is a square building with a hemispherical dome crowned with a lantern. Chandi Ram spent a great deal on decorating the tomb of his murshid, Pir Nasiruddin. He summoned the famous artists of Nasarpur to decorate the tomb and they did so with glazed tiles. These artists also painted the interior of the tomb. An ornately carved door of the tomb was also made by the Nasarpuri artists.

Today, the tomb has lost its original beauty due to the annual repair carried out by the descendants of Pir Nasiruddin.

When Chandi Ram died, the Hindus wanted to cremate his body according to Hindu tradition, but his Muslim fellows wanted to bury him. We come across a narrative that Abdul Rasool allowed the Hindus to perform their ritual and cremate him. To everyone’s great surprise, when his body was put on the funeral pyre and was set on fire, it did not catch fire! The Hindus struggled with it for three hours but each time either the fire was extinguished by itself or it did not engulf the dead body of Chandi Ram. Consequently, Abdul Rasool, the son of Pir Nasiruddin, asked his Hindu devotees to bury Chandi Ram. Accordingly, Chandi Ram was buried in the Gyan Garden which belonged to him. Today, there is a mango orchard where his garden was once located and his grave is now surrounded by the mango trees.

Painting in the tomb of Pir Nasiruddin

Today, a few devotees of Pir Nasiruddin remember Chandi Ram and the villagers still narrate his stories of devotion to his mentor, Pir Nasiruddin. There are three banyan trees in the village that remain from Pir Nasiruddin’s time. Villagers sit in their shadow when narrating the stories of the miracles of Pir Nasiruddin. During the mela (festival), these banyan trees likewise also provide shade to his devotees. The descendants of Pir Nasiruddin, who still live in the village, hold the annual mela at his dargah. During the mela, people come from far-off villages to pay homage to the saint. On this occasion, temporary kiosks offering sweets and other items are established. A traditional malakhro wrestling match is also held, which is the main entertainment activity during the mela.

Shrine of Pir Nasiruddin

Sufiano Raag (Sufi music) is also played at Pir Nasiruddin’s dargah. The Muslim and Hindu devotees of Pir Nasiruddin are found in almost every town and village of Rato Dero and Larkana talukas. Moreover, this saint’s spiritual influence extends beyond these two talukas to other parts of Sindh.

The tomb of Pir Nasiruddin, which was built by his Hindu devotee, reflects the shared heritage of Sindh – a feature of Sindhi society that needs to be promoted and preserved.

The author is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at:

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar