The Superstitions of Moslems in Jahangir's Era and Jahangir's Demolition of his Son's Tomb

The Superstitions of Moslems in Jahangir's Era and Jahangir's Demolition of his Son's Tomb

Francisco Pelsaert provides a vivid description of the superstitions of Muslims during Jahangir's rule. A notable feature includes the enormous proliferation of pirs and sufis who were able to hoodwink the masses by claiming divine powers for themselves.

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Consummation of a Muslim Marriage in Jahangir's Agra

The music lasts till a quarter of the night has gone, when the Qazi’s clerk and maulana comes, and he makes a prayer, and then joins them in marriage without the bride being present. The ceremony consists merely in the registration in the Qazi’s book, showing that such and such a person has acknowledged taking such and such a woman as his wife.

When this is over, the meal is served, and they go to eat, after which there is music, singing, and dancing as before, lasting the whole night till the morning. Then they pack up the bride's belongings—that is, whatever she brings to the marriage is displayed and carried away. The bridegroom follows with the same pomp as when he arrived in the evening, except the lights and fireworks. Then his bride is sitting in a palanquin. Then follow the lady friends of bride and bridegroom. In this way he takes his bride home. His house is ready. He goes in, and his wife is brought to him, whom he now sees for the first time, and he may congratulate himself if she happens to be pretty, or to suit his taste.

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The marriage must be consummated at once, while the ladies sit and sing at some distance. Otherwise the bridegroom would be deeply disgraced, and the married ladies would send him the spinning-wheel. When the marriage has been consummated, the mother and an old woman enter, and, after their investigation, they begin to scream or sing Mubarak!, as if a great victory has been won. Then the bridegroom goes to his apartments for the day, and the bride to hers; and the friends take their leave and depart, after each has received the gift of a piece of cloth, the men from the bridegroom and the women from the bride.

What I have described is the Moslem custom, but the Moguls, and also Hindus, have different ceremonies.

Superstitions of the Moslems

An account of the religion of Muhammad, taken from the Koran, has been published in our language [Dutch], but it makes no reference to a large number of superstitions which are prevalent in this country. I shall therefore say a little about some which are common here, and which seem not unlike the views of the papists [i.e., Roman Catholics].

When Muhammad compiled his Koran, he picked various opinions from all religions and there were a good many, owing to the disunion and schisms in the church particularly those which were false and pleasing to worldly eyes. Thus, they have among them as many pirs, or prophets, as the papists have saints; they do not make images of them, and that practice is absolutely forbidden by their law; but all the same they put forward their silly mundane fables about them. They say that every earthly king has his regular court of princes and lords, each employed according to his merits in the administration with great care and supervision, and that no one can approach the king unless he has one of them as a friend. They argue from this example that even in heaven a man must have a spokesman or advocate with God, who will put forward his request or his prayer, and obtain an order to grant his petition according to his just deserts.

Thus, these mistaken men clearly agree with the papists, for they do not understand that God is the Knower of all hearts, but obscure the incomprehensible illumination of the beams of His almighty compassion, and bestow it on poor earthworms and false hypocrites. Through the subtlety of the devil these men in their lifetime blind the eyes of the poor; and sometimes the deception is continued after their death by crafty mendicants or disciples, who, by posing as their successors, batten on the innocent poor. These mendicants know how to establish their position by means of sorcery. Or perhaps the popular imagination is led to accept their pretensions by the strange and ridiculous fables they tell of what has already been achieved by their companions.

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For example, there is Pir Ghazi Muinuddin [Moinuddin Chishti], who is buried in a very costly tomb at Ajmer, whither pilgrims journey annually from distant places, and most of those who are childless, travel there barefooted. King Akbar also, who had no children in his youth, made a vow to this saint, and went there from Agra on foot with his wife Miriyam Makani, travelling four kos a day. As a memorial, he erected a minar, or milestone, at every kos of the whole road, with a well beside it for the convenience of travelers, and also mahals or women's houses, 8 kos apart. It so happened that his wife became pregnant, giving birth to the present king, Jahangir or Shah Salim, and consequently the people now believe confidently that the pir was the giver of this child, and are all the more confirmed in their error.

There are immense numbers of such pirs, each with his own skill and power of granting requests. In Makanpur, 70 kos from Agra on the eastern road, is buried Pir Shah Madar [Badiuddin Ahmed Zinda Shah Madar], who is said to possess many gifts and wield many powers. The pilgrimage to his tomb is in February, when immense numbers of Moslems from all quarters gather near Sikandra, beyond Agra, and march there like an army, accompanied by even greater numbers of mendicants than the devotees, who there take various parties under their standards for protection.

There are many such festivals, but to write of them all would be interminable, and I think it will be better to describe only the chief feast days. I should not, however, willingly pass over some of their holy men whom I have seen in their lifetime, particularly Sultan Khusru, the eldest son of King Jahangir. He was murdered in the fort at Burhanpur, in February, 1621, at the instance of his younger brother Sultan Khurram [later, Shah Jahan], because he was thought to be next in succession to the throne. The murder was committed by a slave named Raza, who during the night strangled him with a lungi so as to raise the less suspicion of violence, and suggest a natural death. His body was brought to Agra, and taken thence to Allahabad, to be buried beside his mother.

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In the excitement or mourning which followed his death—although he was held a prisoner by his brother under the King's orders—some Moslem mendicants presumed to make a representation of a grave at a spot where the corpse had rested for a night on the journey, and announced to the common people that their God had in their sleep ordered them to do so, because Khusru was an innocent martyr. Consequently, that everyone should come to make offerings at similar shrines every Thursday, and their prayers would certainly be granted, because Khusru occupied as great a position in heaven as he had held on earth.

This devilish folly made such headway in various towns, such as Burhanpur, Sironj, Agra, and Allahabad, that Moslems in vast numbers went in procession every Thursday with flags, pipes, and drums to his worship. He was accepted as a true pir, or saint. They carried matters so far that they were foolish enough never to take an oath except by 'the head of the Sultan,' which was regarded as more binding than if they had sworn by God Himself.

His father, the King Jahangir prohibited this practice, saying that Khusru was in his lifetime a sinful and a rebellious son, and if he was really murdered by his brother, the guilt attached to the murderer, but did not operate to absolve Khusru, or to justify his being regarded as a saint. On this remark, Kasim Khan, the Governor of Agra, destroyed and obliterated Khusru’s shrine, which had been built at great cost. The attendants and receivers of offerings were driven away, and everything that was found was confiscated for the King Jahangir.

To be continued

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