Ashram of Ascetics
Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro
TFT Issue: 28 Dec 2018
Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro on the mystics who renounced the world, even life itself, in Sindh
Located 5 km southeast of Thano Bula Khan in Jamshoro district is the Guru Mangal Gir
Ashram (popularly known as ‘Gur’ in Thano Bula Khan), belonging to an ascetic who lived
in the second half of the 18th century. The 17th and 18th centuries were the most gloriousperiod for the ascetics who made their Ashrams, Marhis, Mathas, and Akharas in many ofthe towns and villages in Sindh. Sindh was, and still is, home to a large number of spiritual spaces of these renouncers of the world who are now being venerated by both upper- andlower-caste Hindus with the former managing the majority of the temples, Marhis andMathas of Sadhus and Sannyasis.On the renunciatory orders in Hinduism, Ghurye in his book
Indian Sadhus writes thatthere are ten orders of ascetics (popularly known as Dasnamis) namely: Aryana, Asrama,Bharti, Giri, Parvata, Puri, Sarasvati, Sagara, Tirtha and Vana. Moreover, he believes thateach renouncer adds his adopted name to one of these ten orders depending on the centrein which he was initiated or the teacher who initiated him. Tripathi writes in his book
TheSadhus of India: The Sociological Study that there are more than sixty-five sects ofrenouncers.
In Sindh, there are four main groups of ascetics whose shrines dominate the landscapes ofthe towns and villages. They include Nath, Giri (also variously pronounced Gur, Gar and Girin Sindh), Puri and Bharti. Many other terms were also used for renouncers in medievalSindh; some of which indicated the main ascetic orders, sects and others perhaps the sub-orders or sub-sects. Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689-1752) mentions the renouncers withcertain peculiarities in two Surs of his Risalo-Ramkali and Khahori. There are also somereferences in other surs of the Risalo. The titles by which Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai refers toyogi renouncers are: Mahesi, Kanphata, Kancut, Kapar, Babu, Behari, Nanga, Adesi, Mavali,Sabri, Malakuti, Jabaruti, Kapat, Faqir, Khahori, Nuri, Nari, Dothi, Gunga, Bora, Sannyasi,Bhabhutiyya, Khaki, Rawal, Harkes and Gaudariyya.Guru Mangal Gir belongs to the Giri ascetic order which is the second largest after NathYogis in Sindh. The shrines of Girs are located in almost every town in Sindh with majorshrines at Shikarpur, Shahdadpur, Jacobabad, Umarkot, Mithi etc. Guru Mangal Gir was aneminent Shaivite renouncer who lived in Thana Bula Khan and spent most of his time in theMata Marhi. He is believed to have made several pilgrimages to Hinglaj and chose thepresent ashram for giving lectures on Sannyasa to his students. He was also believed tohave had friendly relations with two of the eminent Sufis of his time
Syed Moazzam ShahJilani and Shaikh Bajid (Bayazid). Both Sufi saints were influential in the Thana Bula Khanregion but they never stopped Guru Mangal Gir and his devotees from worshipping in theMata Marhi. Both had very friendly relations with Guru Mangal Gir. His mentor GuruBhavani Gir also enjoyed cordial relations with them. Guru Mangal Gir was initiated intothe Gir/Giri ascetic order by Guru Bhavani Gir. After initiation into the Giri ascetic order,Guru Mangal Gir went off on a pilgrimage to Hindu sacred places which included Dwarka,where he spent a considerable time practicing tapas (austerities), Hinglaj and many other
places. Guru Bhavani Gir, the guru of Mangal Gir, “took a living Samadhi” (i.e. buried himself
alive, which was a common practice amongst the Nanga ascetics) at Marhi of Sudh SawaiBalpuri in Thano Bula Khan. The Marhi which is now called the mandir of Sudh SawaiBalpuri is located 11 km west of Thano Ahmed Khan.
In Sindh, there are four main groups of asceticswhose shrines dominate the landscapes of the towns and villages
Like his mentor, Guru Mangal Gir also “took living Samadhi” (jeevat samadhi) at the Akharo
which was named after him. This Akharo (monastic establishment) became known over a
period of time as an Ashram evolving from simple to complex, from sectarian to syncretic
becoming the most sacred spiritual place for the majority of the Hindus living in ThanaBula Khan. Apart from the Ashram of Guru Mangal Gir, two other sacred spiritual placesassociated with Sannyasis include the Marhi of Ratan Nath at Taung and Sudh SawaiBalpuri Astan.At present, the Ashram has become a complex containing not only the Samadhis of GuruMangal Gir and his disciples but also the temples of Mata, Shiva, Hanuman and Jhulelal. Thecult of Jhulelal also called Darya Pir, Darya Shah, Amarlal, Odero Lal, Khawja Khizr, ShaikhTahir and Zinda Pir has spread from riverine regions to the desert and arid regions of Sindhin recent years. The Ashram of Guru Mangal Gir also includes the sacred spaces associatedwith Raja Veer Vikramjit / Amir Pir and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. There is an alcove in a
temple at the Ashram which is called ‘Lal Sain Ji Khudi’ where there is placed a poster of Lal
Shahbaz Qalandar. Hindus venerate him under both the names
as Lal Sain or Lal Shahbaz
Qalandar and Raja Bharthari. Apart from the ‘Khudi of Lal Sain’, the Ashram of Guru Mangal
Gir contains the thalo (platform) of Raja Veer, another contested figure in Sindh whocarries multiple identities as Raja Veer Vikramajit, Amir Pir, Shaikh Bhirkio and ShaikhAmin. The shared shrine of Amir Pir overlooking Keenjhar Lake near Jhimpir town inThatta district, venerated by both Hindus and Muslims, is now under the control of KhojaIsmailis.
The principle Samadhi at the Ashram belongs to Guru Mangal Gir, which lies under themarble canopy. It is covered with a piece of clothes. The Samadhis of his disciples are allcovered with ochre-coloured cloths showing that those buried were renouncers. There aremore than 25 Samadhis at the ashram; there is a dhuni (fire-altar / campfire) before eachof the Samadhis. The eminent followers of Guru Mangal Gir who are buried at the Ashraminclude his first chela (disciple) Guru Ghyan Gir, Guru Mohan Gir, Guru Fatehya Gir, GuruSoomar Gir, Guru Prem Gir, Guru Amar Gir, Guru Narain Gir, Guru Ram Gir, Guru Amar GirII, Guru Samiya Gir, Guru Ganga Gir, Guru Dhyan Gir II and Guru Sahaj Giralais Bao Ram.During the annual festival of Guru Mangal Gir, the Hindus from all over Sindh come to payhomage to him and his disciples. The narration of the miracles of Mangal Gir continues toattract larger Hindu population not only from Thano Bula Khan but also from other parts ofSindh. These Sadhus of Sindh preached the message of tolerance, peace and love whichtranscends religion and caste. For the older members of Hindu community, who are moreprone to renunciation, the ashram of ascetics is becoming a source of solace and succour.
The author is an anthropologist and has authored four books:
in Stone: The Rock Art of
on the art and architecture of
Religion and Art in
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