With the administration allowing the VHP to have its way and the Press implicitly supporting it, the Hindutva agenda for capturing the shrine rolls on ahead unhindered
By Yoginder Sikand
In the third week of December 1999, a large mob of some 5000 Hindutva activists, led by prominent leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, descended on a remote Sufi shrine, the dargah of Dada Hayat Qalandar, in the Baba Budhan hills in the Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. Their agenda: to capture the dargah and to convert it into a Hindu temple. Fiery speeches against the Muslims were delivered, threats were issued of forcibly 'liberating' the shrine by next October if the government did not give in to their demands, and Muslim graves in the vicinity of the shrine were vandalised. A puja was performed at the shrine and an attempt was made to instal an idol of the three-headed deity Dattatreya inside the shrine. The police, who were posted there in considerable strength, stood as mute spectators. The district administration, instead of banning the entry of the mob, allowed them to go ahead with their mission relatively unhindered.
The controversy over the dargah of Dada Hayat once again came to the fore, with the death of the fifteenth sajjada nashin [custodian] of the shrine, the late Pir Sayyed Muhammad Shah Qadri Qalandar in October, 1999. The VHP had demanded that the body of the late Pir be exhumed from its grave and that a Hindu [read Brahmin] be appointed as custodian of the shrine in place of the Pir's son, Sayyed Ghaus Muhiuddin.
Two months later, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal once again decided to rake up the issue by organising a three-day so-called Dattatreya Jayanti at the dargah.
The dargah controversy hit the headlines of the local English and Kannada dailies. In reporting about the so-called Dattatreya Jayanti, almost all the papers sought to present a very distorted picture of the history of the shrine. The general image that was sought to be portrayed was that the shrine in question had actually always been a Hindu temple and that somehow even Muslims have also begun to revere it. Further, the Dattatreya Jayanti was projected as a traditional ritual associated with the shrine, and, therefore, the demand that the Jayanti not be allowed was construed as interference in the 'traditional' religious practices of the local Hindus.
Both these assumptions are, however, wholly misleading. The history of the shrine is shrouded in mystery, but the existing evidence clearly suggests its Muslim origins. Its founding is associated with a very early Arabian Sufi, one Shaikh Abdul Aziz Makki, more popularly called Baba Budhan. Abdul Wasi Asri and Abdul Jabbar, in their Tazkira-i-Dada Hayat Mir Qalandar, write that after travelling to India he settled down in a cave high up in the densely-forested Baba Budhan hills and was one of the first Muslim missionaries in the area. Here he made several converts to Islam. Many Hindus who did not convert, were still greatly impressed by his character. They saw him as an incarnation of their god Dattatreya.
This association of a Muslim Sufi with Dattatreya is hardly unique. In the Deccan and other parts of southern India, scores of Muslim Sufis are till this day revered by their Hindu followers as forms or incarnations of Dattatreya. Marianne Warren, in her Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism writes that among the several Sufis who are believed by their Hindu followers to have been forms of Dattatreya are Sayyed Chandasahib Qadri, preceptor of Janardhan Swami, the guru of the noted Maharashtrian bhakti saint Eknath [1533-99] and the Sai Baba of Shirdi [d.1918].
The dargah of Baba Budhan has, since its very inception, been looked after by Muslim custodians or sajjada nashins. From the sixteenth century onwards, the custodianship of the shrine has been hereditary, starting with one Sayyed Shah Jamaluddin Maghribi, a native of Yemen, who settled down there. Maghribi is credited with the introduction of the cultivation of coffee in the region, which is today the mainstay of the local economy. He brought along some coffee seeds from Yemen, and first planted them at Takht Bagh, near Attigunde, some three kilometres from the dargah of Baba Budhan. From there he despatched groups of his disciples to various places to spread Islam and teach the converts the art of growing coffee. Abdul Wasi Asri writes in his Qalandar Bar Haq that Maghribi sent a group under Miskin Shah to Hosalhallipet, another under Badla Shah to Vastara and yet another under Chungi Shah to Belur for the purpose. Other groups were also despatched to Coorg and the Nilgiris.
Maghribi died on 22 Shaban, 1125 A.H.. Before his death, he appointed his nephew, Sayyed Musa Hussain Shah Qadri, as the custodian of the shrine. The custodianship of the dargah has, till today, been vested in this family. The late Pir Sayyed Muhammad Shah Qadri, who died in October 1999, was fifteenth in line from Sayyed Musa. It is striking to note that despite the custodianship of the shrine having always been in Muslim hands, many local Hindu rulers have, over the centuries, patronised it and there is no record of their having ever objected to Muslims' controlling it. Thus, during the time of the second sajjada nashin, Sayyed Jamal Shah Qadri, Channamaji, the Hindu queen of Nagar, contributed liberally for the repair of the dargah's alsah khana, the storage house for the protection of the faqirs resident there. Likewise, Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar III of Mysore, too, was a great patron of the dargah, and would regularly visit the shrine to seek spiritual instruction from the then sajjada nashin, Pir Sayyed Murtaza Shah Qadri. In fact, in the Hindu kingdom of Mysore, the sajjada of the Baba Budhan dargah was the only Muslim Sufi to be exempted from personal appearance in the civil courts of the state.
In other words, as can clearly be seen from this historical evidence, the claim that the dargah is actually a temple and thus should be handed over to the Hindutva groups is completely hollow.
Similarly, the argument that the so-called Dattatreya Jayanti celebrations are part of the traditonal rituals associated with the shrine is also false. There is no record of any such puja having been conducted at the shrine, even so late as in the 1980s. It was only in the wake of the agitation for the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the early 1990's that local Hindutva activists, including some top BJP leaders, began insisting that Hindu puja be conducted at the shrine. The matter was taken to the Karnataka High Court, which ruled that only those rituals be allowed at the shrine as were followed in the period before 1975. These essentially consisted of offering fatiha— reciting the opening verse of the Quran— inside the cave and the breaking of coconuts in its courtyard. Very clearly, then, the Brahminical puja conducted at the dargah by the VHP in December, including homa and worship of images of Ganesh and Dattatreya, are in gross violation of the court orders. Hence, in no way can it be said that the Dattatreya Jayanti, itself a post-1975 invention, is a traditonal ritual that can be allowed.
But with the administration allowing the VHP to have its way and large sections of the press implicitly supporting its claims, the Hindutva agenda for capturing the shrine rolls on ahead unhindered.