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The Lost Seers of Nila Gumbad

(The following article appeared in Pakistan Today)

Last week it took me four trips to explore the area around the famous Nila Gumbad mausoleum to arrive at a picture of a few famous seers that Lahore has, that Lahore ignores, and those that Lahore has lost.
My search began when for the last one month I had been questioning if people knew whose grave exists inside the Nila Gumbad structure. It was amazing that out of the 90 ‘well-educated’ persons I questioned, only four gave me the correct answer.
This called for a trip to the place to sort of “apologise” to the saint for the sort of ‘educated’ people he dwells in. In the mausoleum was Baoo Siraj, who lives in a house adjacent to the grave, and every day twice cleans and dusts up, all for free and out of reverence for the saint.
His ancestors have been doing this for centuries, and though the Auqaf department has a fund for this purpose, it is primarily a ‘number hanging’ game of the sort that destroyed the railways. He informed me that since 1947 over six major ‘seers’ and ‘saints’ have been lost to the crazy commercialisation drive that has overtaken our lives.
This set me on an academic search for the names and history of these lost ‘saints’. It was amazing the quality of the persons that we just dug up and have built concrete plazas on, some merely flattened, while others still have traces of them, even though people walk over them without knowledge of what they are doing. After my academic search I returned to the area, and for two days scanned every street and lane in the hot afternoons. The results have been pleasing, though the follow-up effort will have to be taken up by the appropriate people, be they private or public. My role is to identify and record, and if the need be make a noise about it.
The mausoleum of Nila Gumbad houses the remains of the great mystic Sheikh Abdul Razzaq. He belonged to Mecca city, and came to Lahore in the reign of Mughal Emperor Humayun (1508-1556). He became a ‘mureed’ of the famous saint Miran Muhammad Shah Mauj Darya Bukhari, who soon realised that his pupil had powers beyond the ordinary. He called him Sheikh Abdul Razzaq Makki. His scholarship of the Holy Quran and his pow ers of the occult attracted a very large following.
Soon he was considered as the leading ‘seer’ of his time, consulted often by the Mughal court. Abdul Razzaq Makki died in 1084 A.H. and was buried at this place. The Mughal court built him a fine mausoleum, which still stands as a testimony to the man. Next to the graves they also built an elegant mosque, which today is known as the Nila Gumbad Mosque.
When the Sikhs came to power, they ransacked the elegant building of its excellent marble, which they transported to Amritsar. Maharaja Ranjit Singh ordered that an ammunition dump be made of the mausoleum, and to one side in the mosque he housed a gunmanufacturing facility. To the western side, among other graves, he built a cannon manufacturing facility. Thus a majority of the graves of some of Lahore’s leading saints and seers were destroyed.
When the British came, they removed the arms manufacturing facility and converted the mausoleum into an eat ery, where officers of the British East India Company used to have their meals. A bakery was set up next door, the very first in Lahore. This bakery was owned and operated by a building contractor called Munshi Najmuddin Thakedar. Once the cantonment was shifted to Mian Mir, the contractor persuaded the British authorities to restore the mausoleum and the mosque. He invested in the project and on his death he was buried to one side inside the mosque.
To the west, just along the alignment where today exists the Anarkali Bazaar was the grave of Khawaja Saeed Lahori. Next to his grave were the grave of Haji Abadullah, and a third grave of the nephew of Khawaja Muhammad Saeed by the name of Abdur Rahman. Next to them is the grave of Hazrat Shah Sharaf. In an earlier piece I had dwelt on the grave of Shah Sharaf, who was originally buried at Bhati Gate. When Maharajah Ranjit Singh ordered that the grave be removed to make way for the expansion of the defences of the city, his grave revealed a man, buried over 100 years earlier, as fresh. The famous Fakir Nuruddin got the saint reburied near the Nila Gumbad.
After 1947 the entire area underwent a massive change, in which new shopping plazas came up. If you happen to walk through the ba zaar, the building to the south of the old Hindu temple to the east of the Punjab University, in which a number of clothes shops exists, is where a few well-known shoe shops exist. If you walk inside the narrow alley of shops, to one side, under a staircase, is the grave of this famous seer. This is what one can call a picture of the age in which we live. All the other graves have been cleared and new shops made on them. Mind you the original grave was built by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, an excellent structure the Sikh razed to the ground.
Outside the traffic flows past a fast deteriorating Nila Gumbad. In the narrow lanes a few graves have been left in small rooms, mostly unmarked. There is a need to research each and every one of them. The lost ones of some great saints need to be located, and if it is possible to move commercial interest, just let them be known. Inside Baoo Siraj cleans the graves and without any regret serves the great men his forefathers served. Such is the lay of the land


  1. Adding to my embarrassment, I too am among those 'well educated'.
    A well phrased one.


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