Distortion of history, fading memories
Vijay Manohar Tiwari
CLOSE to the Nepal boundary Bahraich is a backward district of Uttar Pradesh. Afghan invader Salar Masud Ghazi, Mahmud Ghaznavi’s cousin, was killed here in a battle. In fact, Masud was the son of Ghaznavi’s sister. The same dreaded Ghaznavi, who through repeated attacks shattered India a thousand years ago. The place where Masud and his soldiers were killed is now an area dotted with old graves scattered far and wide. Strangely enough, with the passage of time Masud’s grave has taken on a holy aura.
It is now a Sufi Saint’s mazar (shrine). People started coming here to seek mannat, the wishes they want to realise with the blessings of Sufi Saint Masud! Once an abandoned grave it has now turned into a place of reverence buzzing with hundreds of devotees visiting daily. A staff of 125 people takes care of the shrine and the visiting devotees.
Ghaznavi attacked India seventeen times, plundered and devastated many cities including Mathura, Vidisha and Somnath and turned several glorious temples into ruins. But this area bore the brunt of his initial attacks. Ghaznavi’s army trampled the area many a time. During these attacks his army developed a penchant for brutally plundering temples and market places. During a series of attacks his cousin Masud also attacked the area to test his fortunes in India in 1032.
Local ruler king Suhel Dev led a joint army of 17 kingdoms and gave stiff resistance to Masud’s army. Among all the battles fought against Turks, Mughals and Moguls, this battle of Baharaich has a special significance in the history of India. Masud’s army couldn’t last against Suhel Dev’s formidable defence. Along with all his chieftains Masud died on the battlefield. No prisoner of war was taken, no mercy was shown. All soldiers of Masud’s army were annihilated. The place, where their bodies were buried is known as Ganj-e-Shahidan, the colony of martyrs. Shahid means Islamic crusaders, who sacrificed life while fighting kafirs (unbelievers). Masud is also called Ghazi Miyan, one who fights for Islam, the crusader.
Ganj-e-Shahidan boasts of a dargah (shrine) surrounded by many big and small graves, where hundreds of thousand people visit every year. A religious congregation is held every year in later half of May. People come here from remote places. I was told that of the visiting devotees 80 per cent are Hindus. The morning I reached there I saw that many rural Hindu families were getting their children’s heads tonsured. When their mannat gets fulfilled people return here to get their children’s head tonsured as a token of gratitude and respect exactly like they do at Hindu holy places.
Khurshid Ahmed Rizvi has been a care taker for this dargah for the last twenty years. The managing committee that takes care of this place commands a staff of hundred and twenty five workers. I met him at committee office. Rizvi says, “Only one thing goes against Masud that he was cousin of Mahmud Ghaznavi. Otherwise Masud was opposed to Ghaznavi’s policies that invited him Ghaznavi’s wrath and consequently was expelled from the court of Ghazni. Ghaznavi’s chief minister Ahmed Hasan Mahamandi too didn’t like outspoken and candid Masud. These qualities went against him. At the age of 18 Masud came here with massive army. Later on Firozshah Tughlaq identified Masud’s grave and built a mausoleum there.”
According to Rizvi, the area was under Buddhist influence. At that time bottom rung of the society was mired under poverty, oppression and atrocities by upper caste people. They weren’t looked up on even as human beings. Thakurs and Zamindars (feudal lords) from Meerut to Kannauj used to recover heavy taxes from them. The tax named as Turk dand, was half of the total earnings. The same feudal lords invited Masud to rule the area. Masud’s father stayed behind at Barabanki. You can see his mazar (tomb) still there. Starting from Ghazni the father and son along with their army, passed through Sindh, Kashmir, Meerut, Moradabad, Pilibhit, finally reaching Bahraich.
Rizvi argued that Suhel Dev succeeded in uniting Thakurs against Masud in the name of Mahmud Ghazi. The battle that ensued took the toll of Masud. Interestingly, both Hindus and Muslims visitors are oblivious of the historical events took place here centuries ago. For them this is merely a place, where they can seek mannat and hope to see them realised. Not even one per cent of them knew who is buried there and with was intention he came to that area centuries ago. Rizvi couldn’t tell which contemporary historian recorded these facts.
While passing through Bahraich during recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly election coverage, I too visited the dargah. Inside, a few maulavis (priests) were sitting near the grave. They asked names of the visiting devotees, turned towards grave and prayed for them. Drawing similarity with tradition of ancient Hindu temples, where before performing rites and rituals priest used to ask devotee’s name and gotra (pedigree). Many rural Hindus were getting their children’s head tonsured at the hands of Muslim barbers. At the Dargah gate, one can see wonderful exhibition of ancient weaponry showing all kinds of swords and shields of the era lapsed into history.
Bahraich is near another ancient city Shrawasti, which has its relation to Gautam Buddha. In his times Lord Buddha visited this city many times. He stayed at Shrawasti most than any other cities during chaturmas (four months of rainy season). On the way to Shrawasti, I visited the ruins of an ancient temple. This is the birth place of Jain teerthankar Sambhavnath, one of the wonderful monuments of red brick. But these facts related to totally another era, some two thousand and five hundred years back. Since then this area has been witness to innumerable tsunamis of history giving it altogether new identity every time. King Suhel Dev, who crushed Masud’s attack, belonged to same Shrawasti.
Renowned historian Dr SK Bhatt says, “Shrawasti-Baharaich area has been under Buddhist influence for the last two thousand and five hundred years. Though Islam entered here like a hurricane with innumerable invaders like Ghaznavi and Masud, people who accepted Islam still carried deep Buddhist influence with them. Because of this, Sikandar Lodi put a blanket ban on holding of yearly urs (congregation) at Masud’s grave. He was displeased with the streak of Hindu and Buddhist traditions on urs. Aziz Ahmed’s Study of Islamic Culture in Indian Environment published by Oxford University Press also confirms this as historical fact.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees, who visit here every year know nothing about history. Dr Bhatt says, “Only historical document confirming Mahmud Ghaznavi’s attacks on Kannauj and subsequent plunder and devastation of this ancient city is Jainual-Akhbar written in 1052. It’s a contemporary Persian document, which again confirms the fact that before Mohammad Ghori established his reign in India, innumerable Islamic invaders attacked, plundered and devastated this area for decades. Salar Masud Ghazi’s battle with Suhel Dev is a glorious chapter in Indian history but history books hardly mention it.
(Courtesy : www.bhaskar.com)