WITH THE NAKED SUFI

Hindustan Times
June 27, 2008
India

NEW DELHI, India

The sufi shrine of Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed in Old Delhi, shaded by a
large neem tree and lying opposite the eastern gate of Jama Masjid,
is a bubble of serenity in the otherwise chaotic district. The noisy
biryani sellers and quarrelsome Bangladeshi beggars in the alley
outside are unable to disturb the quiet that reigns inside the shrine.

Cross the entrance and you are in a chamber that has been distilled
of all the turbulence of the worldly world. Here you can be as
calm as the Buddha and as cosy as when you were in your mother's
womb. Nothing stirs the senses. Not even the flaming red walls of
the dargah. Everything - the tomb, the tiny courtyard, the sunlight,
the occasional pilgrim - conspires to make you lose the concerns of
the day. The weary body starts surrendering itself and the worried
mind starts forgetting its burdens. The heavy weight of one's being
becomes as light as a mynah's feather.

The tranquility of the dargah is misleading, though. Its patron
saint, Sufi Sarmad, lived a controversial life and died a violent
death. People say Sarmad was an Armenian Jew from Iran who converted
to Islam, came to Sindh, fell in love with a Hindu boy, grew oblivious
to society's conventions, discarded clothes, became a naked fakeer,
and arrived in Delhi.

The Sarmad legend

The Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, the heir anointed, took to the
naked sufi and became his disciple. But history strummed its own
tune. Aurangzeb, Dara's younger brother, rebelled against his father
Shahjahan, killed Dara, and was crowned as Hindustan's emperor. Not
long after, Sarmad was martyred by Aurangzeb's executioners and soon
he came to be known as Sarmad Shaheed.

This verse is displayed outside the dargah: And call not those who
are slain

Dead Nay, they are living Only ye perceive not

However, all the ishq, junoon and khoon that defined Sarmad's life
seems to be forgotten within the blood-red walls of his dargah. That
Sarmad is a sufi saint is perhaps enough in itself. Who cares for
his story? Devotees come, pray, make wishes, sit, doze off, wake up,
go away, and come back again. The legend lives on.