Pir Pandit Padshah
The most remarkable thing about miracles is that they do sometimes happen.
– G.K. Chesterton
In the life of the saint, called Pir Pandit Padshah, miracles happened many times, rather, were made to happen. These miracles are not gleaned from any legend. These are a part of the history of the Valley on the lips of Hindus and Muslims. No one disbelieves them.
In India, the land of mystics and occultists, these feats happen still, though few and far between.
Even the puritan Muslim Emperor Aurangzeb, whose long sway over Kashmir lasted from 1659 to 1707 A.D., recognised the powers of the Hindu Pir and conferred a high title on him. To know as to in what circumstances the Emperor did so, is very interesting to the visitor to and lover of the Happy Valley. Every Kashmiri knows this part of the story, having heard it at the feet of the grandma some day, in his or her childhood.
Rumour ran wild in the city of Srinagar, as it always does. Everybody asked everybody else, “Have you heard? Mulla Akhun Shah transports a most comely girl from Lahore every night.” The newsmonger added, in a whisper, “She stays with him for the night. Next morning she finds herself back in her chamber in Lahore!”
The intriguing hearsay reached the ears of Abu-ul-Nasar Khan, the Governor of Kashmir. Already he regarded Akhun Shah with suspicion. He had the girl traced at Lahore. She was asked to bring back some token of the place whereto she was conveyed every night by the miraculous agency. She fetched an apple with her, when, in the morning, she was back at Lahore. She said she experienced a strange sensation of being flown in the atmosphere during the night.
On this confirmation, the Governor of Kashmir determined to exploit the opportunity to humble the Mulla. But his councillors desired otherwise. One of them, Fidai Khan, asked, “Subedar Sahib, have you heard of Rishi Pir ?”
“Yes, the one people acclaim as Pir Pandit Padshah. To the pandits, his co-religionists, he is a Pandit. To Muslims, he is a Pir. To all of them, he is the Padshah (Badshah), the powerful Faqir, who though uncrowned has been enthroned by some saint, Pandit Krishan Ji Kar. We have heard he is a miracle worker.”
“Precisely”, agreed Fidai Khan, “It is he who hops the Mulla with this black magic kidnappings of girls. Akhun Shah is largely innocent. It is his master, Rishi Pir, falsely styled ‘Pir Pandit Padshah’, who gives him all his powers. You must have heard how Akhun Shah came to accept the Pir as his master?
“No, we have not, for we were away in suppressing the turbulent Chaks. Do tell us.”
“One day”, narrated Fadai Khan, “Mulla Akhun invited Rishi Pir and his disciples, numbering hundreds, to a feast, holding that when he talked so much of the oneness of God, he should accept a Muslim’s invitation. The Pir consented, saying, We will come, on one condition. Nobody must taste the edibles before we and our disciples eat’. On the fixed day, the Pir and other guests sat down to the feast. The covers were taken off the plates. Lo! an astounding metamorphosis of the dishes and other viands took place, as Rishi Pir threw a libation on his plate. Rice was converted into paddy plants, vegetables into respective plants, mutton into sheep that stood up in life and so on! A one-legged cock crowed and hobbled towards the Pir, who addressed the amazed Mulla, ‘Look, someone has tasted the leg of this fowl. Our wager has been broken. We will not eat’. The head cook was called. He confessed to having tasted a leg of the fowl. The Pir and his disciples rose and departed. From that day the Akhun recognised the Pir as his master”.
“Oh! is it?” the Subedar expressed surprise.
“Yes, Subedar Sahib, it was the talk of the town. I advise you to curb the rising power and influence of this saint-Padshah.”
Abu-ul-Nasar Khan thought over the proposition. He remembered the words of his father, Shaista Khan (the maternal uncle of Emperor Aurangzeb) spoken to him at Delhi, “Son, don’t prove an unsuccessful Subedar of Kashmir like your brother, Muzarffar Khan, whom Alamgir called back only after two years. Rule with an iron hand. Don’t allow any Kashmiri to become more powerful than he may reasonably be.” He sent for Qazi Abul Karim and his preceptor, Mir Hussain Sabzwari. The latter, a faqir who gave himself airs of more spirituality than he possessed, was especially jealous of Rishi Pir, ever since Kashmiris started presenting him tributes as if he were a king.
When Sabzwari incited the Subedar against Rishi Pir, like Fidai Khan, the Qazi, more sagacious, agreed with him to an extent; but he added: “Subedar Sahib, twenty years back in Ramzan 1086 (December 1675) the Great Fire of Srinagar, which destroyed twelve thousand houses of Srinagar, was at once brought under control, when Rishi Pir had one of his wooden sandals thrown into the fire. The Emperor heard of this when he visited Srinagar and sent the Pir presents. May be, the Emperor still honours him like that”.
“That is exactly what must be stopped”, remarked the Governor. “No Kashmiri must grow too powerful for me. We shall send a special messenger to Alamgir, telling him all about this disgraceful rumour which we have confirmed. We would tackle the Pir ourselves but we are, to be frank, afraid of the people’s reaction. Don’t you think when the Emperor hears the tale he will teach the Pir a good lesson?”
Mir Hussain and Khan agreed.
“Strange but true”, spoke Alamgir Aurangzeb in his serious tone, “here come reports from Kashmir Governor against a faqir whom we have respected”.
“Which faqir, Sire? asked Shaista Khan.
“Rishi Pir, also known as Pir Pandit Padshah. We met him when we visited Kashmir”.
Aurangzeb, in his usual secretive way, told him and the courtiers only a part of the contents of the Kashmir letter.
Shaista Khan understood that his son was acting on the instructions that he had given him. He astutely corroborated his son’s desire that “the haughty and powerful Pir ought to be summoned to Delhi in the presence of Alamghir.”
A rich Kashmir trader was present in the court. He begged permission to speak. The Emperor granted it.
“Sire”, the trader addressed the Alamgir with folded hands, “Rishi Pir is a very great saint, the like of whom I have not found in the many countries of Asia that I have travelled. Last year I was returning from Constantinople. A storm rose. It appeared that the ship was about to be sunk. I was perturbed, for most of the cargo belonged to me”.
Raising his hands, he added: “After praying to Allah, I somehow, remembered Rishi Pir, for I had heard of his beneficent miracles. In my prayer, I made a pledge that I would pay a tithe of my profit as tribute to the throned faqir. The storm, believe me, Sire, bated as soon as I opened my eyes. We found ourselves near the safe shore. The weather cry eked. We were saved.
“When, Sire, I reached Srinagar, I forgot to fulfill my mental pledge to Rishi Pir. Imagine my self-consciousness when I accosted him one day in a street. All at once I remembered and felt inwardly guilty. He pointed at me with his raised forefinger and said, ‘Look at my shoulder’ – taking up the Pheran from his neck -‘there is the mark of a wound on it which I sustained on the day when I pulled your ship ashore, and, you, good man, quite forgot your promise to a faqir ! Is that like a Musalman ?’
“Sire, I trembled from head to foot. I folded my hands, even as I do now, begging pardon for the delay. Next day, I presented the pledged tithe to Rishi Pir. There raged a famine in the city at the time. He had provisions purchased with the money – which ran over a thousand mohurs – and distributed it among the destitute folk, Hindus and Muslims.”
The Emperor and the courtiers heard the trader with rapt attention. They were all impressed, except the calculating Shaista Khan, who was preoccupied with maintenance of the prestige of the Subedar of Kashmir, his second son.
He wanted to speak, but, Souf Khan, a former Governor of Kashmir, forestalled him: “Sire, Rishi Pir is truly a very great faqir. In the year of our Prophet, 1079 (1668 A.D.) my elephant ran amuck in Srinagar. The mad elephant worked havoc in the city. There was panic everywhere. Shops were closed. People, hither and thither, driven like flies before the wind. The elephant crossed the path of Rishi Pir. His Hindu disciples and Muslim admirers fled in all directions-but not he! He raised his hand, and lo! the elephant came to a standstill, crouching down before him. From that day, Sire, I paid the tribute myself to this great Kashmir Pandit saint.”
“Allah! Great Allah !” exclaimed the courtiers, “this is no ordinary mortal.”
“True, true”, agreed the Emperor, “but what does the present report signify?”
“That, Sire”, put in Shaista Khan at the opportune moment, “this Pir is misusing his powers already. He is a unique enthroned saint. His powers may whet his ambition. He may become dangerous to the outpost of Moghul Empire”.
“We are inclined to agree”, said the Emperor, “We will summon Rishi Pir. At least we will be enlightened with more facts. Jaswant Singh, issue a farman commanding the audience of Rishi Pir in the Moghul Court of Delhi” .
Subedar Abuul-Nasar Khan anxiously awaited his messenger back from Delhi. Weeks passed and rolled into months. He had provided the messenger the completest and most speedy means of transport at every stage of the difficult journey which was especially hazardous between the Kashmir frontier and Srinagar.
Meanwhile, the prestige of Rishi Pir continued to increase. People were enamoured of his mystic, attractive personality. Not only did they call him ‘Pit Pandit Padshah’, they also spoke of him as the “Saviour who eases every difficulty”. He did perform miracles like a prophet in aiding suffering humanity.
A Muslim middle-aged woman, rich but barren, appealed to Rishi Pir to remove the curse on her which made her husband so unhappy.
“What has a fagir to do with your progeny?” he asked her.
“Sire, Pir Pandit Padshah relieves every adversity of every man, wherefore I beg you my boon.” She fell at his feet, weeping.
“Stand up, sister”, he said to her in assumed anger, “get away. Throw away all your ornaments in the Vitasta when you cross Zaina Kadal. Allah will help you!”
The woman left. She flung her ornaments, but, out of her costly jewellery, she preserved a priceless pearl. In due time a son was born to her. But he was blind of one eye!
With the customary people’s tribute of eleven and a half fractions of many things, she repaired her way to Pir Pandit Padshah. She expressed her gratefulness, but complained of the one eye of which her son was bereft.
“Why did you preserve a pearl out of the ornaments, you lover of ornaments?” the Pir questioned her. “Go away and drop that pearl in the river.”
She cast away the precious pearl. Her sons’s eye was restored!
The people heard of this. So did the Governor, who burned to see Rishi Pir growing immensely popular – a formidable rival, he thought, as he was reminded time and again of the admonition of Shaista Khan, and, he realised that Kashmiris, Hindus and Muslims, were united in the growing spirit of resistance against tyranny; Rishi Pir gave an indirect subtle lead to this national sentiment.
Every citizen came to know how Rishi Pir, for the sake of his aged mother/brought’ the water of Har Mukat Ganga to the Jhelum ghat of his mohalla, Batyar. When Kashmiri pilgrims went to Har Mukat Ganga, she said to her son, Rishi Pir, that she desired to bathe in the holy mountain lake of Ganga Bal. He pointed out, “Mother, you are aged and infirm, you cannot undertake the risky journey. However, you may give one of your bracelets to our Puroohat who is going there and ask him to drop it in the lake at the time of the holy bath”. She did so.
On the day, when pilgrims bathe in Ganga Bal bake, after dropping over the ashes of the dead, Rishi Pir said to his mother, “Mother, go to Batyar ghat and have your morning bath”.
She went and there, to her wonderment, she saw the bracelet floating in the Jhelum water ! Har Mukat Ganga had ‘come’ to her own ghat ! Her life’s ambition was fulfilled, as she bathed in the ice-cold water.
Shortly after, she died. Rishi Pir was smitten with grief at the loss of one who had suffered much for his sake, in bringing him up as an orphan boy. He went on a fast for many days.
At this juncture did the messenger of the Subedar return from Delhi, having been delayed by inclement weather on the road to Kashmir. He was accompanied by a courier and a company of soldiers, who had the summons for Rishi Pir. The Subedar was overjoyed at the success of his scheme. He deputed an additional unit of soldiers to carry out the Emperor’s farman.
The soldiers spread a cordon around the house of Rishi Pir while the courier went inside to serve the summons.
There was panic in Batyar. The Pathan soldiers did not allow the people to gather anywhere. They ejected the hero-worshipping people from Rishi Pir’s house.
Rishi Pir was left with his two chief disciples, Pandit Nana Joo and Pandit Atma Ram. He heard Alamgir’s courier over a cup of special Kashmiri tea that he had during fasts. His eyes were bloodshot with anger, but, retaining his poise with a supreme effort, he allowed a smile to play across his lips.
To the courier, he said, “Your Emperor desires us to start on the long and hazardous journey as soon as the farman is read out. This is late afternoon now. We must make preparations.”
“Yes, Pir,” said the blunt Pathan. “You get ready. We’ll leave tomorrow morning”.
The soldiers’ cordon continued as tight as it was. Others dispersed the mob; of people, who protested against the incarceration of their Pir.
Emperor Aurangzeb was in bed. He was a light sleeper, for he was always alert, suspicious of everybody. He heard a sound, a low thud in the chamber. Quickly, he sat up and lighted several candles with the one that was burning at the side of his pillow.
What did he see ?
There, before him, was Rishi Pir, riding – a leopard !
“Rishi Pir ! At this hour ?” he asked, clearing his throat with difficulty.
“Your Majesty called me”, Rishi Pir replied mockingly, in Persian.
“Oh, yes! First please send away the fearful leopard – we will talk”.
Rishi Pir dismounted. The leopard disappeared !
“You are a great, pious, God-fearing Emperor”, casually remarked Rishi Pir. “People may call me Pir Pandit Padshah and pay me tribute of their love. For their sake, I use the royal ‘we’ in my talk with them. But I am a faqir after all. Why do you injure a faqir’s feelings ?”
“We are sincerely sorry”, replied the Emperor in a penitential tone. “You are great. You have vouchsafed us a new vision. You are the ‘Emperor of Both Worlds’. I bestow that title upon you, great Pandit”.
“But, Sire”, sarcastically spoke Rishi Pir, “your mustachioed soldiers have besieged my poor cottage”.
“No, no, we don’t want your attendance at court now.”
“And, the proof?”
“Here and now, we will write a new farman”.
Fo a Emperor looked about- he found pen and paper, but not an ink pot. To himself, he said, “Where is the inkpot ? I had placed one here”.
“Sire, blood is used as ink in an emergency.”
“Yes, yes, you are right, ‘Emperor of the Both Worlds’ “, the emperor hustled as he pricked the index finger of his left hand for blood. Not much blood came out of the shrunken frame. He collected the drops on a tray and wrote a farman, revoking the previous one. He addressed Rishi Piras “Emperor of Both Worlds” and commanded the Subedar of Kashmir to personally pay an annual tribute to the Pir. He then sealed the farman with his signet ring.
The leopard reappeared with another thud. Rishi Pir rode the spotted fierce-looking beast and vanished…
The outspoken Pathan knocked at the door of Pir Pandit Padshah next morning. The two disciples, who were still there, asked the courier to take a seat. He would not sit down. He was about to walk, with shoes on, towards Rishi Pir’s throne, when the Pir shouted at him, “Foolish Pathan, know your manners!”
The ring of the voice stunned the courier. He stopped short.
“Here is your Emperor’s new farman”, added Rishi Pir. A disciple handed over the envelope to the courier. He was amazed as he saw the mark of the signet ring of the emperor. He looked at it once again, in great bewilderment. He opened the envelope carefully, and read -Allah, what was it all? He retreated, bowed low, and lower still, before Rishi Pir, saying, “Emperor of Both Worlds, forgive me. I was doing my duty”.
“We have eyes to see that. Now go to the Subedar. We want to have a chat with him”.
The news of the incredible miracle spread like wild fire. People, Hindus and Muslims, were happy that Rishi Pir’s honour was vindicated. And, now Pir Pundit Padshah was “Emperor of Both Worlds!” This triumph symbolised the end of tyranny. Mulla Shah came with his disciples and expressed his increased admiration of and gratefulness to the great Pir. So did hundreds of noblemen and commoners, Hindu and Muslim alike. Rishi Pir just smiled at them.
Abu-ul-Nasar Khan was very much disappointed when the courier showed him the Emperor’s second farman. Reluctantly, he, accompanied by Fidai Khan, went to Pir Pundit Padshah in the afternoon. He saw the Batyar locality bustling with excited, happy people who shouted slogans in praise of Pir Pundit Padshah, “Emperor of Both Worlds”, “Reliever of Every Difficulty”, and so on. They knew of the intrigue of Mir Hussain Sabzwari and, therefore, they asked the Subedar to make Sabzwari quit Kashmir. Consequently, the bogus saint himself fled.
Rishi Pir smiled as the Governor bowed deferentially. He pointed him to a pillowed seat near him. The Governor presented a huge regal tribute in obedience to the Emperor’s command.
While they talked formally, in came a disciple of Rishi Pir and addressed him, “Pir Pandit Padshah, my mother is dead! Help me!”
“What help, Nanak Shah?” questioned Rishi Pir, “Your mother was old. It is good she is dead at a ripe age. Console yourself”.
“Sire, you are the reliever of every difficulty of man. You are the Emperor of Both Worlds. You command both this and the next world. Help me, Pir Pundit Padshah, I can’t live without my mother!”
Rishi Pir mused for a few moments. “Nanak Shah, the predestined span of life can be changed only one way”, he proposed. “Will you sacrifice the years of your own life that you want your mother to live?”
“All right, Nanak Shah”, commanded Rishi Pir, “go to your home. Break fourteen water chestnuts under her pillow”.
Nanak Shah did as he was told. Lo! the spring of life returned to his erstwhile dead mother. She was alive!
The Subedar, or the others who succeeded him, presented the yearly tribute to Pir Pundit Padshah. More and more miracles in relief of the unhappy and the suffering fetched him added renown.
In Batyar, in Srinagar, there is the shrine of Rishi Pir whither repair men in the straits of life; they touch a sandal of the Pir, the only memento left- the other one was thrown in the Great Fire of Srinagar – and pay the tribute. So did every Governor of Kashmir, annually, until the late forties of this century