There are many sides to Lahore and today, we are going to see Lahore, the city of 13 gates, and mazaars.
I have heard someone once refer to Lahore as “Mazaar Nagri“, and everywhere you turn in the old city, you are sure to find a shrine. Some of these are of very holy people who lived in the community, and some are of Sufi Saints, renowned and revered for their poetry and their piety. These mazaars have an endless stream of people, coming to pray at the tombs of these celebrated saints. The malangs are people you often see at these shrines. To the naked eye they are a scruffy unkempt lot, and it’s true that many of them are in a drug induced trance, but a lot of these people have attained such heights in their Ibaadat (worship) that earthly bonds mean nothing to them. We are a nation imbued in superstitions, and this has given rise to dhongi (charalatan) fakirs or power hungry pirs. They feed on the frailities of humans, their impoverished lives, their weakness and vulnerabilities.
There are a lot of people who consider tombs, shrines and going to them is forbidden from a purist point of view as a Muslim. But everyday these places have people thronging in and out their doors with their requests looking for a miracle. Job interviews, release from an ailment, or the childless couple hoping for a baby. It is the troubled that come here for solace, a little bit of peace. Outside the mazaars there are always the shops selling the usual things you will need to complete your visit. It’s not compulsory, but it is that tangible effort in lieu of the plea that seals the exchange that takes place.
You can find agarbatti, rose petals in little plastic bags, you can buy a chaadar made of flowers or one of the other ones that are embellished with finery and almost bridal in their resplendence.
The protocol is you come with a mannat (wish,desire) and you sprinkle some rose petals, light an agarbatti (incense sticks) or two, or you may spread on the top one of those fine chaadars. You may even tie a thread on one of the filagreed walls, as your heart whispers, I shall come and untie this thread, on completion of the wish being fulfilled. It is a bit outside the realms of possibility that you will find your thread later in time, when your wish is completed. But this whole place is outside the realms of possibility and reality.
One of the most famous Mazaars of Lahore is known as “Data Darbar” or “Data Sahib”. It is the shrine of the revered 11th century sufi Saint, Abdul Hussain Al Hujweri. He was of Persian descent, and is known as Data Ganj Baksh which means “the bestower of treasures”. This was because of his generosity.
The term “Dargah” is of Persian origin and means portal or threshold. It is believed that these places have become like a portal sending upwards the “mannatein” of the people on motes of light. There is a huge “urs” every year and thousands of devotees will take part in the festivities to celebrate Data Ganj Bukhsh.
The other well known shrine in Lahore is the Shrine of Madholal. Shah Hussain was a 16th century Sufi. He is so named, because of his love for his disciple, a Hindu boy named Madho. Master and disciple became known as one, and he became Madho Lal Hussain. His urs (death anniversary) is celebrated in a 3 day festival known as Mela Chiraghan.
The third famous shrine is of Bibi Pak Daman. The term “pak daman” is a term that means chaste. Bibi Pak daman houses the graves of six ladies from Ahl Al bayt (the family of Prophet Mohammed PBUH) and is used as a collective term for them.
Within each “mohalla” (locality) there are the smaller, not so well known mazaars of holy men.
The entrance to one of Lahore’s most famous mazaars, DATA DARBAR is full of stories and protocol. Every Thursday there are Qawwali sessions with separate seating for women, where the Malangs will dance in spiritual ecstasy. Next to Data Saab are endless restaurants, where only DEGHS (lit huge pots) are cooked. People who come to the mazaar with mannatein (wish, request, entreaty) with the promise that once it is fullfilled they will have a DEGH distributed. The distribution of the DEGH (Langgar) will be done amongst the many poor who throng the area. These Deghs are very simple fare, mostly being Rice and Daal, or Halwa Puri. The more affluent will most likely request “daal gosht” or Zarda, to sweeten their deal.
Who is a Malang? Immediately recognisable by his many beaded necklaces, anklets, and his unkempt get up. Looked upon some people as HOLY men, these days it is very common to find addicts gather at mazaars. The will come up to you high as a kite, and looking slightly demented, chanting in tongues. Should you refuse to give them money, they will threaten to put a curse on you. The fear of a curse keeps the money coming.
Mazaar an Arabic word synonymous to Dargah. Mazaar literally means ‘a place for visit’ and usually the tomb of a saint and dervish is called a mazaar. Mazaar is also called the grave or rauza. The tendency to show special respect for mazaars developed among people under the influence of the Sufis.