Idea Of India Project Update: May 14th 2010 Gujarat’s Faded Testaments – The Sant Devidas Temple, Parab, Gujarat

We hacked, we burnt, did a lot of that. We believe in setting them [Muslims] on fire because these bastards say they don’t want to be cremated, they’re afraid of it, they say this and that will happen to them.

Babu Bajrangi, VHP and Bajrang Dal leader, speaks about events in Naroda, Gujarat in 2002, Tehelka Video Confessions Transcripts

If you are not paying attention, or are merely distracted by the splendor and dominating size of the 600 hundred year old Sant Devidas mandir, you would miss a small structure sitting alongside it that is the dargah of the Sufi saint Sailani Pir. In this large temple complex, some 30 odd kilometers from Junagadh, in the city of Parab, lies this rare example of a single complex structure accommodating both Hindu and Muslim elements. There are two smaller shrines to two other Muslim saints, Dana Pir and Karmani Pir, at the same complex.

On this blistering hot May day hundreds of people are moving through the temple and completing their rituals by praying at the shrine of the Muslim saint. The story goes that Sailani Pir was a disciple of Devidas Bapu – a deity in the form of a living saint from the village of Mungyasar in the Amreli district. Sailani Pir and Devidas roamed the countryside together. Later Sailani Pir – a Hapsi i.e. of black, African origin, initiated his own ashram near the town of Rajkot, returning to Parab only after completing nearly twelve years of meditation.

Today the shrine to Sailani Pir is undergoing repairs and renovations. If there ever were domes and minarets around it – as we would expect in a tomb to a Muslim saint, they are gone. The new structure resembles and in fact mirrors the architecture of the Devidas mandir that dominates the compound. The workmen carefully apply plaster and paint to typical conical temple elements that now surround the tomb. The cool interior of the shrine however holds the grave, covered in typical green cloth and strewn with flowers. There was no mujawir (caretaker) to be seen, and most of the pilgrims – on this day at least most were Hindus, some from as far away as Ahmedabad on a pilgrimage tour towards Dwarka, quietly circumnavigate the tomb, bowing and kissing the grave as they exit the chamber.

J.J. Roy Burman, who has done extensive search on Gujarat’s shared sacred spaces, believes that few if any Muslims visit this complex anymore. On this day I too did not see any, though I did not actually inquire. I suppose it did not matter whether they came or not because the sites, one Hindu the other Muslim, remain side by side and welcome all.

The Sant Devidas mandir is that rare instance of a shared sacred space where both Hindus and Muslims can congregate, and seek spiritual salvation and solace. The shrine is being preserved and repaired and though may look increasingly like a Hindu mandir it remains the site and tomb of a Sufi Muslim mystic who found common ground with a Hindu deity and worked alongside him to spread the message of humanity and love.

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