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View of the Panjan Shah village at dawn.

(Photo: Shueyb Gandapur)

Sufi Saint Buried in Soil of Delhi, 1,000 Km Away? A Tale From Pak

Dera Ismail Khan district of Pakistan houses the tomb of a Sufi saint supposedly buried in soil brought from Delhi.

Published
Opinion
6 min read

Dera Ismail Khan district of Pakistan houses the tomb of a Sufi saint, supposedly buried in soil brought from Delhi, hundreds of years ago.

The tomb is striking as it stands on a mud mound visible from a distance. But equally interesting are the various anecdotes associated with the saint and how his wish to be buried in the soil of Delhi, a city located about a thousand kilometres away, was fulfilled.

For millennia, explorers, nomads, traders, and invaders have travelled eastward from the historical regions of Khorasan and central Asia into the vast plains of India, through the mountain ranges straddling the frontier territories.

Since the mountain ranges presented formidable barriers to travel, mountain passes played a key role in facilitating such migrations.

Gomal Pass in the Sulaiman mountain range was one such busy route between what is now Afghanistan and India. Among the mountain passes, along this frontier, it occupied a prominent place as the busiest route for trade caravans and seasonal nomads. 

Years of political shifts led to gradual dwindling of traffic along this route, which eventually dried up completely and thus resulted in the erasure of a way of life that was a part and parcel of such migrations.

This route has also been used by invaders who had their eyes on the throne of Delhi. Some stayed and made India their home, others looted it and returned to where they had come from, with the wealth plundered from its cities.

It is said that one such adventurer made a stopover in the plains below the Sulaiman mountains en route India. Someone told him about a saint living in a nearby village. The adventurer decided to pay him a visit, to seek his blessings.

The saint received him in his hut and asked him about the purpose of his mission. The adventurer told the saint that he was on his way to conquer Delhi and asked for prayers for his success.

The saint obliged him but on one condition: he would neither harm the elderly, women, children and non-combatants, nor would he damage any crops or property.

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The adventurer assured the saint that he would follow the latter's advice and got up to take his leave. Before stepping out, he turned around and asked the saint if there was anything he could offer the saint as a gift upon returning victorious from his mission.

The saint remained quiet for a while, as if contemplating the adventurer’s offer. Then he got up and surveyed the large army encampments in the sprawling fields of his village. There were thousands of battle-ready soldiers, cleaning and sharpening their weapons and feeding their horses and camels after a long day on the road.

At long last, the saint broke his silence and said that he wanted the soil of Delhi to be loaded on the backs of all those animals and brought back to his village.

The adventurer was perplexed at this strange request of the saint. The saint noticed the confused expression on the adventurer's face and smiled. He explained the reason for his wish thus: So many awliya (revered sufi saints) had made Delhi their home and chose it as their final resting place that the city's soil had acquired a sacred status for him. The saint's request now made sense to the adventurer and he promised to fulfil it.

A couple of years had passed since the aforementioned events when one fine day, the people of the village saw a storm of dust raised by a horde approaching from the east. It soon transpired that the invader had returned victorious from Delhi to offer his gratitude to the saint and fulfill the promise he had made. His horses and camels were loaded with sacks full of the soil from Delhi.

When the sacks were emptied, a large mound was formed. A few years later, the saint passed away. As per his wishes, his body was buried on top of that mound, in the soil of the city of saints that he held in high reverence.

Locals say that the mud his tomb is built of is the same that was brought all those centuries ago. Pir Panjan Shah is the name of the saint, everybody knows that, but who was the invader? 

There are several versions of his identity, each attributing different antiquity to the tomb and its inhabitant. Some say it was Mahmud of Ghazni, some say it was the Mughal emperor, Babur, yet others say it was Nader Shah of Iran.

I visited the tomb with my host, Tahir Khan Miankhel, and friend, Ehteysham Hassan. There was a low mud wall all around with round holes in it at equal intervals, as if they had been left open for Pir Panjan Shah to survey the surroundings.

The entire structure seemed to have been covered by fresh layers of clay, applied from time to time for its maintenance. I wondered how many layers of history we were surrounded by!

We stood there, absorbing the serenity all around us. The saint had lent his name to the village as well, which had a small graveyard and several mud houses. Each grave in the graveyard was covered by rounded stones; their sharp edges softened by millennia of exposure to winds and water. 

“Look at the colour of this mud. It's so different from that of the surrounding structures. It must have been brought from elsewhere," said Tahir. We tried to evaluate and compare the colour and texture of the soil with our amateur eyes.

Later, I learned that at a short distance from the grave of Pir Panjan Shah was located the grave of his bosom buddy, Mian Bali Sohnra.

Devotees that go to pray at the former's grave also make it a point to visit the grave of the latter, for it is believed that only when one has visited both the graves, one's prayers are answered.

This tale of intimate friendship, reinforced through the prerequisite pairing of friends past their death, added to the charm of the lasting mystery of the saint's tomb made of Delhi's soil.

At dinner, eating sobat – a traditional delicacy of Dera Ismail Khan district that is eaten from the same large platter by the entire gathering that sits around it – more theories about the estimated age of the tomb and the identity of the invader we were told.

Someone said Pir Panjan Shah could not have been visited by Mahmud of Ghazni, because the latter lived a thousand years ago. The tomb could not possibly be that old. Another friend said the saint couldn’t have prayed for Nader Shah for he was responsible for large scale massacres wherever he went.

Why would the saint accept a gift from someone who disregarded his instruction of not harming the weak. Maybe it was Babur then, who has mentioned passing through this region in his autobiography as well.

No one could speak with certainty about the veracity of the legend of Pir Panjan Shah but everyone present there wanted it to be true.

(Shueyb Gandapur is a chartered accountant by profession and an avid traveler and photographer by passion. He has traveled to 85 countries on his Pakistani passport. He shares picture stories from his travels on his instagram handle @ShueybGandapur)

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