The cult of Mai Nawab Sahib – The Friday Times


During my research in Pothohar which spans over two decades, covering history, heritage and culture, I have visited many Sufi shrines. Interestingly, I also came across female figure shrines in Pothohar, and later developed my interest in female mysticism in the Pothohar region of Punjab. Over time, I began to document all of the Sufi female shrines in this region. So far, I have documented over thirty female shrines in Pothohar. Apart from Pothohar, I have also documented some Sufi female shrines in Azad Kashmir. In Pothohar, a majority of female shrines are located in the Rawalpindi district. Some of these shrines are associated with established Sufi orders. However, the majority of Sufi female shrines belong to the Qadiri order of Sufism. One of these popular Sufi female shrines belongs to Mai Nawab Sahib from the village of Pir Garata. This village is located 2 km from Shah Bagh in Kallar Syedan ​​tehsil in the Rawalpindi district.

I first visited Mai Nawab Sahib Shrine in 2006 and started reading about her role in spreading the teachings of her mentor Syed Mir Kalan. Later, I revisited the shrine in 2017, 2019, and 2021 to collect more information about Mai Nawab Sahib, her deputies, disciples, and their shrines and bethaks (shrines) in Pothohar.

Door of the tomb of Mai Nawab Sahib

Mai Nawab Sahib’s real name was Bibi Jhandi. She was the daughter of Syed Nasarullah who was also known to be a pious person. Her husband Syed Ladhey Shah was a disciple of Hazrat Syed Mir Kalan Badshah. Mai Nawab Sahib had two sons Syed Haj Shah and Syed Taj Shah who died in their infancy. Bibi Jhandi was initiated into Qadiriyya Naushahiyya silsila by Syed Mir Kalan and therefore was called Nawab Sahib by her mentor. Mir Kalan was a prominent deputy of Hazrat Khawaja Hafiz Qaimuddin Barqandaz (d.1765), who was a deputy of Hazrat Pir Muhammad Sachiar Naushahi. Hazrat Pir Muhammad Suchiar (died 1707) was born in the village of Narali in Gujar Khan. Later, his father emigrated to Gujrat. The Shrine of Hazrat Pir Muhammad Suchiar is located at Noshahra Miana in Jalapur Jattan in the district of Gujrat. He was a deputy of Hazrat Haji Muhammad Naushah Ganj Bakhsh Naushah Qadiri (d. 1654), the founder of the Naushahia branch of Qadiri Silsila. Hazrat Haji Muhammad Naushah Ganj Bakhsh Shrine is located at Ranmal Sharif in Phalia tehsil in Mandi Bahauddin District.

Hazrat Syed Mir Kalan Badshah, after receiving the initiation robe from his mentor Khawaja Hafiz Qaimuddin Barkandaz, who was also the founder of the Barkandazi branch of Naushahiyya, and on his instructions, spread the Naushahiyya silsila in the Pothohar region and established his khanqah in Rukhia Sharif where his grave is today. Rokhia Sharif is located in Gujar Khan tehsil. He was the first and the first saint Naushahi Barkandazi of Gujar Khan tehsil to disseminate the teachings of his mentor.

Tomb of Mai Nawab Sahib

Hazrat Syed Mir Kalan Badshah Naushahi Barkandazi had four other male khalifas (MPs) who are buried in various villages of Gujar Khan tehsil but Mai Nawab Sahib was the only female MP who also initiated by Hazrat Syed Mir Kalan Badshah in Qadiriyya Naushahiyya silsila. According to Sharif al Tawarekh Vol 3 by Syed Sharif Ahmad Sharaft Naushahi (1971), there were seven prominent Khalifas of Mai Nawab Sahib. The names of the khalifas include Raza Quli, Syed Gulab Shah, Sheikh Munawar, Mian Moizullah, Mian Khuda Bakhsh, Pir Ghulam Rasool, and Ram Singh Kuka of Peshwar. I believe that Ram Singh Kuka was not his Khalifa: rather he and his wife Jind Kaur were his disciples. Ram Sing Kuka was also a strong follower of Balak Singh who was the founder of the Kukapanth or Kuka sect in Hazro in Attock. He was originally from Ludhiana. The account and history of the Kuka sect can be read in the Geographical directory of the Rawalpindi district and the same was reproduced in the Gazetteer of the Attock District (1930).

Pir Raza Quli was the first Khalifa of Mai Nawab Sahib. The tomb of Pir Raza Quli is also located near the tomb of Mai Nawab Sahib in Pir Garata. Mai Nawab Sahib’s deputies and disciples spread his teachings to various villages and towns in Pothohar. According to Gujar Khan ke Suhrawardi Mashaikh by Hasan Nawaz Shah (2013), the deputy khalifa of Pir Raza Quli Mian Muhammad Ji Naushahi The shrine of Mian Sharaf Ali Naushahi (d.1914) is located at Jarmot Kalan in Gujar Khan. According to Ruh Da Rishta by Hanif Hanfi (1999) Mian Muhammad Ji Naushahi preached Qadiri Naushahia in Pindigheb tehsil of Attock district. His chief deputy Mian Sharaf Ali Naushahi (d.1914) was a prominent Nauhahi saint in Jarmot Kalan in Gujar Khan, where his shrine is today. Mian Muhammad Ji Naushahi’s son, Fazal Illahi Naushahi (deceased 1930) was also a learned and famous Naushahi saint from the village of Duman in Gujar Khan where his shrine is currently located. Mian Muhammad Ji has traveled extensively to every nook and cranny of Pothohar.

Another khalifa of Pir Raza Quli was Syed Dastar Shah (d.1944) whose shrine is located in the village of South in the region of Chauntra in the district of Rawalpindi. He was a distinguished scholar and poet.

Tombs of Pir Raza Quli and his wife near the tomb of Mai Nawab Sahib

Another prominent Mai Nawab Sahib MP was Mian Khuda Bakhsh who also played a very active role in disseminating the Naushahiyya teachings in Pothohar. His main disciple Tajuddin became one of the main Naushahi saints from Thoha Khasa to Kahuta teshil. Mian Tajuddin Naushahi Shrine is located in Thoha Khalsa.

Mai Nawab Sahib’s deputies and disciples preached Naushahiyya silsila in their respective regions and many people responded to their teachings. Mai Nawab Sahib herself visited many disciples. To commemorate his visits, the faithful later marked the places and built structures on the spaces where Mai Nawab Sahib used to sit to preach. These spaces, locally called bethaks, have now become sanctuaries. The faithful regularly frequent these shrines or sacred spaces which are associated with Mai Nawab Sahib and his assistants and disciples. They believe that the spiritual power of Mai Nawab Sahib or his assistants and disciples rests in these sacred spaces or bethaks. There are over two dozen Mai Nawab Sahib bethaks in Pothohar. Likewise, the shrines of his mentor Hazrat Syed Mir Kalan Naushahi Barqandazi are also found in Pothohar. The majority of these bethaks or shrines are located inside the homes of the devotees.

Mai Nawab Sahib Shrine Complex

Besides the bethaks of Hazrat Syed Mir Kalan Badshah and his deputy Mai Nawab Sahib, there are at least seven bethaks of Mian Muhammad Ji, a deputy of Pir Raza Quli, the chief khalifa of Mai Nawab Sahib. All of these shrines are located in the homes of the faithful.

The cult of Mai Nawab Sahiba is widespread not only in Rawalpindi but also in the districts of Jhelum and Attock. Many of its deputies and their khalifas spread Naushahiyya silsila to various villages and towns in Pothohar. The shrines of some of his assistants and disciples are now popular in Pothohar. Mai Nawab Sahib shrine is frequented by both men and women. The faithful crowd into his sanctuary at the time of mela and special occasions.

The writer is an anthropologist. He tweets as @Kalhorozulfiqar. All the author’s photos

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