Lahore is a city of saints. Tombs of Data Ali Hajveri, Madho Lal Hussain, Bibi Pak Daman, Shah Jamal, Mauj Darya, Shah Abul Maali, Shah Chiragh and scores of others bless this ancient city.
Many of the Indo-Pak saints trace their ancestral and spiritual roots to Central Asia. Preachers came to the ‘heathen’ Indian Subcontinent in the wake of armed incursion by Mahmud of Ghazni. Unlike the violent and rapacious armed raiders, these Sufis were syncretic forces who inspired peace and harmony amongst their adherents by bringing divergent communities together under the banner of tolerance and inclusiveness. For them, the paths to divine blessings were numerous, not restricted to a single doctrinaire straitjacket of rituals. Being harbingers of peaceful coexistence and inclusiveness, Sufis and the creed of Wahdat-ul-Wajood or Oneness of Being gained a strong foothold in India, especially in Punjab and Sindh.
Buried in Lahore Cantonment, across the canal and the railway line, there lies Hazrat Mian Mir, a true Saint of masses, adored equally by Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. He inspires in his followers not awe, only love.
Mian Mir’s biography has been penned, among others, by his devotee the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh titled Sakinat-ul-Aulia (Spirit of Tranquillity among Saints). Another worthy biography, equally eulogistic, is titled Hazrat Mian Mir and the Sufi Tradition by Gyani Brahman Singh Brahmin.
He was born as Mir Muhammad in 1550 AD in Sindh, in a town – now extinct – known as Sivastan or Sistan (perhaps a corruption of Shiv-stan), lying somewhere between Bhakkar and Thatta. He could communicate in Sindhi as well as in Persian and Punjabi. In fact, Emperor Jahangir, in his Tuzuk, calls him a Sindhi. Mian Mir was only seven years old when his religiously devoted father died. His mother, herself a learned woman, undertook her son’s education under her care. Since his early years, he became interested in religious studies and meditation. His home education in Islamic subjects continued for a few years.
At the age of 25, he travelled to Lahore and, except for brief sojourns, stayed on: settling in Dharampura till his death in 1635. He is known to have travelled to Sirhind for a period of one year and to Amritsar for shorter stays. He died at the ripe old age of 85 in August 1635 and was buried in what was at the time a graveyard outside Lahore. The graveyard still exists despite some encroachments. His mausoleum is a much-visited site by his devotees to seek blessings, peace and harmony.
Dara Shikoh writes that Mian Mir didn’t say any other prayer except the Farz, regular Sunnah and Tahujjad. Similarly, he only observed fasts in the month of Ramadan. He never held a prayer bead in his hand. He accepted human beings as they were, didn’t judge them on their faith and did not proselytise
Dara Shikoh writes that Mian Mir had a wheatish complexion with a broad forehead. He was of medium built and a proportionate body. He wore a small beard. Towards his last days, he would say his prayers while seated. He spoke little.
His dress was very simple, unlike that of other men of God. He never wore expensive or elitist dress. He wore a turban, a loincloth and a shirt; all made of course cloth. He would wash his clothes himself and would urge his followers to wear clean clothes. His abode was simple, with a matting of jute. He didn’t have any interest in worldly comforts. He expressed surprise on the regal living style of other saints, especially of Sheikh Bahauddin Zikria Multani.
Gyani Brahma adds, “His dress was very simple. He would wear a kurta – loose shirt with open sleeves – made from khaddar – homespun coarse cloth – a tehmad – cIoth loosely wrapped around the legs – a turban of similar khaddar cloth to cover his head. When they looked soiled, he would seek for nobody’s service to cleanse them. He would wash them with his own hands in the Ravi, flowing not far from his abode. He would always emphasize on physical cleanliness and purity.” Gyani: p-11)
Mian Mir remained engrossed in meditation or was busy in interaction with his followers. Dara Shikoh writes that Mian Mir didn’t say any other prayer except the Farz, regular Sunnah and Tahujjad. Similarly, he only observed fasts in the month of Ramadan. He never held a prayer bead in his hand. He accepted human beings as they were, didn’t judge them on their faith and did not proselytise.
He was fond of music. He could understand the Indian raags and was pleased to hear them. If a qawwal came to him, he would listen to his singing. When some singing appealed to him, he would become ecstatic and his face would glow.
He shunned the company of the powerful, unless they visited him as ordinary persons, and accepted no worldly gifts though many rich men were his devotees. He lived a frugal life and had few needs. He once told a minister, “Woe to the moment when your thought enters my mind.” Like all Sufis, Mian Mir practiced humility and simplicity.
In 1619, when Mian Mir was about 70 years of age, Emperor Jahangir expressed his sincere desire for an audience. Jahangir had developed respect for the saints and had heard about Mian Mir, whom he mentions in Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri as “very eloquent, virtuous, austere, of auspicious temperament, a lord of ecstasy, had seated himself in the corner of reliance upon God and retirement, and was rich in his poverty and independent of the world.” Expressing his regret that it was not possible for him to travel to Lahore, Jahangir requested the saint to meet him at Kalanaur, on the road connecting Narowal and Gurdaspur, where the Emperor had camped while travelling from Delhi to Kashmir. His father Emperor Akbar had been crowned in this town in 1556 at the age of fourteen, six years after the birth of Mian Mir. Jahangir was greatly impressed by the ‘words of truth, religious knowledge and delightful existence’ of Mian Mir. The Emperor wrote that though he wanted to make a gift to the saint, he found his spirit too high for this. He, therefore only presented him a white antelope prayer mat. Such was the personality and grace of this Saint.
Jahangir, of course, would have known about the friendship between Mian Mir and Guru Arjan Dev, whom he had had tortured to death at the start of his reign, but didn’t let that influence his reverence for Mian Mir.
Today Mian Mir is held in high esteem equally by adherents of all faiths of the Punjab due to his lifelong effort at creating bonds of love, tolerance and understanding between different communities. Nearly four centuries after his death, he draws reverence amongst adherents of all faiths. His life and career hold significance, and needs to be propagated, especially during current time that exposes the divisive nature of religion and is marred by bigotry, fanaticism, violence and hatred. His abode gathers a large number of disciples from all faiths.
Mian Mir’s lifespan covers the critical time period when the Sikh faith transformed from a peaceful syncretic movement to a militaristic entity. Despite his practical sustained efforts to bridge it, the gulf between the Sikhs and the Mughals – and by extension between the Sikhs and the Muslims – continued to widen.
Mian Mir is the most venerated Muslim Sufi saint in Sikhism. He is known to have been very close to the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev Ji, who was thirteen years younger than the Saint. During Guru’s three-year long stay in Lahore from in 1579-82, the two came in close contact. Both were spiritually inclined and believer of ‘Oneness of Being’. In 1588, Guru Arjan Dev decided to build a temple in the centre of the Amritsar – pool of nectar – around which the eponymous town grew. The Gurdwara is called Harmandir Sahib. Guru sahib invited Mian Mir to lay the foundation stone of the temple. Mian Mir’s name is thus preserved as a messenger of peace between the two principal faiths of the Punjab. After the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, his son and the sixth Guru Har Gobind called on Mian Mir in Lahore to seek his blessings. It is said that the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, was introduced to the saint as a child. It is recorded by Gyani Brahman that Maharaja Ranjit Singh spent Rs. 500 for the repair of the mausoleum.
Dara Shikoh mentions two visits by Emperor Shah Jahan to the abode of Mian Mir. The Saint advised the Emperor to take care of the people under his rule. He added that a happy populace would translate into a loyal army and a full exchequer. In the second meeting, the Emperor asked for peace of mind. Mian Mir advised him to perform good deeds and in prayers ask for nothing but the favour of God.
Some other incidents regarding interaction between Jahangir and Mian Mir, often quoted in various books and websites, are without any historical authenticity.
Prince Dara Shikoh lovingly called him “Mianjeo,” held him in the highest esteem and regarded him as his spiritual teacher. He was smitten by him, would visit him often, hold discourse on various subjects and seek his blessings. His book Sakinat-ul-Aulia is the only contemporary biography of the Saint. In reverence of the Mian Mir, he wrote,
Mir Mohammad is the pathfinder; For all the Aulia of the Age,
He is supreme till the silsilah abideth;
Silsilah Qadri in God’s directive, Shall be commanding others;
So long the universe endureth.
Dara’s wife Nadira Begum was also a devotee of the saint. When she died in Balochistan under tragic circumstances, she wished to be buried near the grave of her spiritual guide. Her modest mausoleum stands adjacent to that of Mian Mir.
Hazrat Mian Mir is a saint for all ages. He understood the power of love. Had the Emperors and Subedars of that era acted with tolerance and compassion, the history of Punjab may have been more tranquil and less sanguineous.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org