The Idea of India
Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Shrine Of Data Pir, Junagadh, Gujarat

I don’t remember the names of those Muslims… but the ones who were there… they were handpicked and killed one by one. There was one Katki in Madhopura… whenever a riot took place, he was the first to come out… That day we targeted him and killed him. There were two advantages to that… it boosted the morale of the Hindus… and damaged the morale of the Muslims…

Confessions of Ramesh Dave, VHP activist, speaking about events during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, Tehelka Video Confessions Transcripts

I am in Junagadh, Gujarat and at the shrine of Jamil Shah Data Pir, a site sacred to both the Hindu and Muslim communities of the region. The Pir’s connections and relations to the Hindus are enshrined in a local legends. At least one legend speaks of how the Saint initiated four Hindus as his disciples after they refused to follow the orders of a local Sidh Guru and kill one of the saint’s devotees. The four men were given charge of various localities in the region and became followers of the saint.

The shrine today is under the care and charge of Hindu mujawirs (caretakers) – Bhital Babu – a member of the Patel caste and of a family that has managed this shrine for generations, sits in a corner smoking his cigarettes watching the devotees without much interest.

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As you walk up towards the shrine you comes across a number of other shrines and many overt signs of increased Hindu-ization of the various sites. The path leading up the hill takes you past the dargah of Chithria Pir, then to the shrine of Kashmiri Baba, then the dargah of Koel Vir (Koelavajir) which actually looks more like a temple and is cared for by a Marathi Hindu, then to the shrine of Hathi Patther, then the shrine of Shakkermouli with its well of sacred waters, and lastly past the dargah of Kamal Shah Baba before you arrive at the chilla (meditation cave) of Data Pir himself.

The steps also happen to be a popular make-out spot for young couples, dozens of whom can be seen, sitting amongst the shrubs and trees that line the steps, in deep embrace and stealing furtive kisses.

Interestingly, most every one I meet along the 3500 steps that take you to the top refers to the dargah of the Sufi saint as a mandir – a Hindu temple. And once you get to the actual shrine – located inside a mountainside cave, you are struck by its similarity to so many remote, mountainside Hindu shrines that dot India’s landscape. Here men sit on their knees, hands held in front of them, praying towards the alter, as small lamps provide the light and an ambiance of deep meditation. It hardly resembles a tomb to a Muslim saint.

The sacred waters here are said to cure the ill, and the paralytic, if they manage to climb up the hill, can learn to walk again if they are struck by a sacred stick kept within Data Pir’s cave – where he is said to have disappeared. People mill about the shrine every day, with thousands of all faiths arriving here during the annual urs and during Bij – the second day of each Gujarati month which is considered a sacred day.

I now begin a few weeks to documenting the state and remains of Gujuarat’s shared sacred spaces, representatives of a time of easy sharing and co-existence of faiths and today perhaps the last reminders of a shared social culture of Gujarat as it comes under assault of bigotry, religious obscurantism, political mendacity and, in no small measure, a minority’s reactionary retreat into separate ghettos of living, working and imagining.

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