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Nagore Meeran Sahib
By Iqbal Mohammed, Nagore

The Nagore Dargah of Meeran Sahib Abdul Qadir Shahul Hamid Badshah is a spiritual shrine in South India. The Dargah is located in a small town, Nagore, in Nagapattinam District of Tamil Nadu, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

The Nagore Dargah shrines are situated at three locations, Nagore, Vanjur and Silladi. The main campus is at Nagore, spread over an area of about five acres, which is enclosed by compound wall, with four impressive entrances, one each on the north, south, east and west. In front of the western gate, just outside the compound, is a large tower, 131 feet tall, called ‘Periya Minara’. Nagore Dargah literature discloses that Tanjur King Pratap Singh built ‘Periya Minara’ around 1760 AD, about 200 years after the death of Meeran Sahib. He is said to have built it in appreciation of having received the grace of Meeran Sahib.

Inside the compound of the main campus, the golden dome building houses three tombs in three separate chambers. The doors of these chambers are made of silver. In the tombs lay buried the mortal remains of Meeran Sahib, his son Syed Mohammed Yusuf and his daughter-in-law Saeeda Sultana Biwi. Aside the tomb of Meeran Sahib is placed a golden box. The contents of the golden box unexpectedly are a pair of wooden slippers, believed to have been used by Meeran Sahib. On enquiry an astounding story was revealed. Once a carpenter suffering from disease approached Meeran Sahib requesting him to cure him which Meeran Sahib reportedly did by the grace of Allah. The gratified carpenter made from the finest wood a pair of soles for slippers.

Adjacent to the golden dome building is the ‘Peer Mandap’ where the ‘Peer of the Dargah’ stays fasting for three days during festive season of the Dargah. Further away is a mosque where prayers are held regularly. Friday congregations in this Mosque are massive. About two kilometres away due north from the main campus is the Vanjur Shrine where Meeran Sahib reportedly stayed in meditation for 40 days inside an underground cave. About a kilometre east of the main campus is located the Silladi Shrine, overlooking the Bay of Bengal.

Every year, during the lunar month of Jumada al-Thani, the Nagore Dargah Shrines celebrate a festive season known as ‘Kandhuri Urs’. Pilgrims, including non-Muslims, from far and wide come for ‘ziyarat’. It is obnoxiously painful to note that the votaries worship him, instead of respecting and revering him. Kandhuri Urs marks the death anniversary of Meeran Sahib. The urs commences on the first of Jumada-al-Akhira’ when pilgrims assemble at Meera Pally (17th century mosque) in Nagapattinam. They proceed towards Nagore in procession with a Rath that carries flags of the Dargah. On reaching Nagore Dargah Complex, the flags are hoisted marking the inauguration of Kandhuri Urs. Votaries of Meeran Sahib start performing their troth (pledged word). On the tenth day a grand procession again starts at Nagapattinam; this time from ‘Koottadi’, an open ground solely retained for this festivity. The procession carries Koodu, a pot containing Sandalwood paste. The procession ends at the tomb of Meeran Sahib and the sandal paste is spread over his tomb. On the fourteenth day the flags are quietly pulled down marking the end of the festive season.

In the history of Nagore Dargah shrines, one name that shines forth is that of SV Syed Mohammed Hussein Alim Sahib Washathari (1909 -1982). He claimed that he was the fifteenth generation descendent of Meeran Sahib. Pilgrims visiting the shrines regarded him as a great Peer. He organized the activities of administration and maintenance of the shrines under a registered ‘Dargah Trust’. Presently his son, V.M.Shahul Hamid Sahib Washathari, is the Khalifa -al-Qadari and his two son-in-laws are trustees. Alim Sahib Washathari has played a significant role in propagating the tales of Karamat (miraculous deeds) of Nagore Meeran Sahib. He published a Tamil book The Ocean of Mercy in 1963. The book was written by AR Syed Haja Mohideen alias Ravinder, who works as a dialogue-writer for the Madras film industry. The Ocean of Mercy has gone for seventeen reprints since.

The Dargah Trust calls its spokesman and official orator as Dargah Vidvan. Presently the Dargah Vidvan is VKM Ariff Navalar. He has written a preface, a masterpiece in eloquent Tamil, to the The Ocean of Mercy. Narrating the authenticity of the book, he claims that the biographical account of Meeran Sahib was originally found in the Tamil epic Kanjul - Karamat, which was written in 1898 by Gulam Qadir Navalar and published in 1902 by Syed Mohideen Sahib Maraikar - 340 years after the death of Meeran Sahib.

The Ocean of Mercy describes in good length the unwieldy Karamat that were supposed to have been performed by Meeran Sahib. Scattered over this lengthy revolting description could be found glimpses of biographical accounts of Meeran Sahib.

The book reiterates that Meeran Sahib was born at Manikapur near Ayodhyapuri in the decade 1490-1500 AD. His parents Syed Hassan Quddus and Saeeda Ali Fatima were descendants of Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him). He became Hafiz-al-Qur'an at the age of five. He learnt Arabic and Persian. When he turned 18 years of age, he went into the Gwalior kingdom in order to become a student of Syed Mohammed Houdu Shathari, who was a Teacher and Social Reformer, known in the Gwalior Kingdom to have worked for reforming the prisoners. He stayed for ten years with this teacher and worked to civilize the criminals. On the demise of his teacher he continued his work. As part of this social reformation, he took his students to Ajmer in order to visit the tomb of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Later he undertook a journey with his students to Mecca and Medina. He performed Hajj.

On his way back to India, he, with his students boarded a ship, travelled across the Arabian Sea and reached the shores of Kerala. He landed at Ponnali Harbour of Malabar area. He started Islamic Tabligh and kept moving east across the peninsula until he reached Kayalpattinam of Thanjavur Kingdom (presently in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu). The King of Thanjavur, Achuthappa Nayakar, heard about the works of Meeran Sahib and was much impressed. He was suffering from an incurable disease. From Meeran Sahib he sought the cure. Meeran Sahib cured him from his illness. The gratified king donated, among other endowments, five acres of land at Nagore (where the present Dargah Shrines are located) to Meeran Sahib and requested him to stay in his kingdom. The book The Ocean of Mercy informs us that Meeran Sahib did not marry. It is surprising particularly because the tombs of his son and daughter-in-law are found at the Dargah Shrines. The book claims that it is by an act of ‘Karamat’ that Meeran Sahib begot a son

It appears that Meeran Sahib is one among the many holy men who have been maligned by their descendants and followers. His followers have concocted denigrating stories about him in order to keep themselves in the Dargah business. There is no doubt that it is by the hard work of people like Meeran Sahib and Syed Sultan Ibrahim of Erwadi that Islam spread in the remote corners of the Indian Peninsula. Meeran Sahib undoubtedly came into this country for Tabligh. He learnt the unfamiliar ‘Tamil’ language in order to propagate the Word of God. And his works have today borne fruit. An estimated ten million Tamils today profess the faith of Islam. This by all standards is the irrefutable ‘Karamat’ that Meeran Sahib has performed. The Tamil Muslims should appreciate this Karamat; instead of vainly and wickedly implicating this holy man in the ‘Ocean of Mercy’.

Tamil Nadu is a fair playfield for Tabligh work. It has remained so throughout the past century, mainly because Tamil Hindus do not suffer from ‘Islamophobia’, a term recently coined to denote ‘hatred for Islam’. The reason for the prevalent favourable conditions for Tabligh in Tamil Nadu is that the Tamil Muslims, during the early part of the last century, did not involve themselves in the pre-Partition politics of the Muslim League, and thus refrained from creating ‘Islamophobia’ in Tamil Nadu. One other reason is that the Tamil Muslims, unlike the North Indian Muslims, were not rulers of their country in the past. They do not suffer from resentment for having lost their ‘ruler’ status.

Even the half-heartedly Tabligh work carried out recently by Tamil Muslims in Madurai District has helped hundreds of people to accept Islam at South Kilappatti village. It must be admitted that Tamil Nadu is not free from anti-Muslim activities. A closer look at these activities would reveal that the anti-Muslim activities are aimed to provoke militancy among Tamil Muslims. It is at such testing times that the Tamil Muslims should stand up tall, should be willing to make sacrifices and practice the acumen (Hikma) preached by the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). There is however hope for the better as the recently formed Tamil Muslim Munnetra Kazhakam (TMMK) is determined to strive for the upliftment of Tamil Muslims. The TMMK must not restrict itself merely for securing material benefit to Tamil Muslims, but it must contemplate to secure the favourable conditions for Tabligh in Tamil Nadu through its publication Unarvu. Tamil Muslims must work for peace for which stands Islam.

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