Sarmad Shaheed: The Fearless Naked Fakir

The naked fakir

Existing unbeknown to the everyday stream of visitors of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi are the twin shrines of Shaheed Sarmad and Hare Bhare Shah (R.A.). Their tombs lie opposite the eastern gate of Jama Masjid, the great Mughal Era mosque which was built by Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666).

Amid the clamorous Delhi-6 (a pin code zone) and surrounded by the open-air stalls of Meena Bazaar, the shrines of these two saints rest in relative peace. Except the locals and a few ardent lovers of the city, not many people pay heed to these dargahs. While the grandeur of the mosque built by a king attracts widespread attention, a humble monument to the memory of Sarmad Shaheed resonates with legends and myths woven around this striking figure from history.

While the grandeur of the mosque built by a king attracts widespread attention, a humble monument to the memory of Sarmad Shaheed resonates with legends and myths woven around this striking figure from history.

Sarmad ki Dargah
Sarmad ki Dargah. Photo credit: Livemint.com

The two halves of the building enclosing the dargahs of Sarmad Shaheed and Hare Bhare Shah are colored in red and green respectively. The red colour stands for the martyrdom of Sarmad Shaheed, hence the epithet ‘shaheed’ meaning ‘martyr’.

As for Hare Bhare Shah aka Sayyed Abul Qasim, the caretaker reverentially mentions that the plan of the Jama Masjid was disclosed by the saint through divine knowledge. According to the legend, Emperor Shah Jahan conceived the idea of the mosque in his dream which was lost upon awakening the following morning.He immediately set a reward to be given to one who could bring the plan of the mosque as Shah Jahan had dreamt it. At last, it was the cook, Fazil Khan who presented an exact likelihood of his dream plan. Fazil Khan, as it turns out, was a disciple of Khwaja Sayyed Abul Qasim Sabzwari with whose help Fazil was able to draw the layout of the mosque. He was then rewarded by the Emperor as promised. He came from Sabzwar, in Iran and made

He immediately set a reward to be given to one who could bring the plan of the mosque as Shah Jahan had dreamt it. At last, it was the cook, Fazil Khan who presented an exact likelihood of his dream plan. Fazil Khan, as it turns out, was a disciple of Khwaja Sayyed Abul Qasim Sabzwari with whose help Fazil was able to draw the layout of the mosque. He was then rewarded by the Emperor as promised. He came from Sabzwar, in Iran and made Delhi his home — the place where he now rests.

Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed was born in Armenia in Iran to a Jewish family. He was a poet well-versed in Arabic and Persian. After converting to Islam, he came to India as a merchant and stayed in the port city of Thatta (modern day Sindh). It is here that he got enamoured by a young Hindu boy Abhay Chand.

In the Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History, Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai have given a whole chapter to Sarmad’s life. A slim booklet published by Kutb Khana Sarmadi, on the life and teachings of the saint is sold outside the dargah according to which their attraction was mutual and it was after this that Sarmad discarded all clothing and started walking naked in public.

A popular anecdote associated with this rebellious persona is that he recited only half the ‘kalma’. The ‘kalma’ is the first among the five tenets of Islam which means ‘There is no God, but Allah’. He would only recite ‘La-Ilaha’ which meant ‘There is no God’. As an explanation, he always replied he could still not see God and when he did, he would recite the whole ‘kalma’. This was considered blasphemous and he was labeled a ‘heretic’ by the clergy and the orthodox section of society.

Sarmad Shaheed Cover of the booklet in English, depicting the peepal tree under which the tombs lie
Cover of the booklet in English, depicting the peepal tree under which the tombs lie. Photo credit: Livemint

Notably, the crown prince of Delhi Dara Shikoh, a highly learned man had great respect for Hazrat Shaheed Sarmad. Their closeness was well-known and is conjectured to be one of the reasons why Aurangzeb sent him to gallows after eliminating Dara Shikoh and capturing the throne.

However, in the booklet itself, this hasn’t been considered a powerful enough motive. The reason attributed to his death is his nakedness. It has been called his ‘fault’.

What sets him apart from the other ‘fakirs’ and definitely saints is that he never wore a stitch of clothing on his body. This was perhaps his most outstanding and the most outrageous trait that earned him the famous title ‘The Naked Fakir’ (title of an article published by Mayank Austen Soofi).

By choosing to remain naked, he not only defied authority, he defied societal norm which more often than not, poses a greater threat for the ruler than outright revolt.  This drew the ire of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor who was a staunch follower of Islamic ideals, and was finally put to sword in the very place where he is now buried.

It is said that even in death, the saint demonstrated a miracle. Legend has it that after decapitation, the saint picked up his disjointed head and danced on the steps of the Jama Masjid before laying to rest.

The nakedness of the ‘naked’ fakir was, thus, was finally clothed in a shroud.

Sarmad Shaheed The naked fakir
Sarmad Shaheed – The naked fakir

 

  • Ayesha Saeed

    Pursuing masters in Linguistics. Loves history, poetry and music. Lives in New Delhi.

  • Show Comments

  • Sohail Hashmi

    The story of his being executed because of his nakedness has no basis, yes nakedness was not common but it wasn’t something that was not tolerated, The Digambar Jain Saints roamed the streets naked as they do now and so did they Naga Sadhus as they continue to do at present as well. Sarmad was not an oddity, neither because of his Nudity nor due to his being openly gay. Gay love was fairly common and was constantly written about for example Meer Taqi Meer wrote

    Meer Ji bhi kitne bhole hain, beemar huey jis ke sabab
    usi attar ke launde se dawa lete hain

    the verses of Jafar Zatalli, a poet who was a contemporary of Aurangzeb and Farrukh Seer is filled with references of the elite of the city and their dalliance with young boys

    Sarmad was executed as was Guru Tegh Bahadur because they had both blessed Dara Shikoh.

    Incidentally his being gay was not even a charge against him. Homosexuality came to be frowned upon and was made a crime by the British, they have gone back and now they even have gay priests whao have been permitted to marry their partners and we continue to stick to one more colonial law.

  • Sohail Hashmi

    Sarmad was not executed due to his nakedness, nudity, though not common, was not rare. Digambar Jain Saints and Naga Babas, roamed the streets naked, then, as they do now. Sarmad was executed because of his support for Dara Shikoh, the same reason because of which Guru Tegh Bahadur was also executed. His being declared a heretic was an excuse that aurangzeb used, his roaming the streets naked and his being gay were not even charges again him.

    same sex love was recognised as something that happened and was not considered unnatural, that happened only after the arrival of and take over of India by tye British.

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