Dada Hayat


Home ] Up ]



If the Sangh Parivar raises disputes over places of worship and shrines of saints to heighten the ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’ feeling among Hindus, the Tablighi Jamaat has been equally active in recent years in fuelling isolationist sentiments among Muslims

In early December last year,the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and activists of the BJP organised a series of rath yatras that criss–crossed the entire length and breadth of Karnataka, culminating in a rally outside the ancient Sufi shrine of Dada Mir Hayat Qalandar, high up in the Baba Budhangiri hills of Chikmagalur district. Their demand: that the shrine be converted into a Hindu temple and that the present Muslim custodian (sajjada nashin) of the shrine, Pir Sayyed Muhammed Shah Qadri be replaced by a Hindu (read Brahmin) priest.

The organisers of the rally were able to mobilise some 10,000 people, and in the fiery speeches that were delivered, it was declared that if the shrine were not handed over to them by the end of 1999, they would send suicide squads to ‘liberate’ it. For the first time in the history of the shrine, a picture supposedly of the Hindu god Dattatreya, a three–headed man, was forcibly taken inside the dargah to be worshipped.

After the rally, a group of some fifteen or so Bajrang Dal activists have been regularly visiting the shrine every Sunday and insisting on performing Hindu pooja there. The sinister purpose behind this seems to be to keep the issue simmering till the assembly elections that are due to be held in December 1999, and to rake up the controversy afresh then so as to gather political mileage for the BJP.

The tragedy of the shrine is that it has, for centuries, been a unique institution where Muslims, Hindus, Dalits and others all come to pray together. The very origins of the shrine point out to a history of remarkable harmony between people of different faith traditions in the area. It is said that Dada Hayat, whose real name was Shaikh Abdul Aziz Makki, was actually a companion of the Prophet Muhammed himself and had come to the Baba Budhan hills, then known as Chandradrona Parbat, in the seventh century to spread Islam. He is regarded as the first of the masters of the Qalandar order of the wandering mendicants known as faqirs.

According to popular legends, when Dada Hayat arrived at Chandradona Parbat accompanied by his faqir disciples, he took up residence in a cave on the mountain, which was used by a Brahmin and a Lingayat Jangam to administer justice. On the night when he arrived, a group of pallekars (landlords) drew up to the cave, dragging along with them a captive bound up in chains whom they intended to kill for having intruded into their territory. However, it is said, as soon as Dada Hayat saw them approaching the cave, the chains tied around the captive miraculously fell off and the pallekars, shocked beyond belief, fled from the scene.

Probably, what might actually have happened was that Dada Hayat succeeded in freeing the captive by some means or the other. Whatever be the case, the captive is said to have been so grateful to Dada Hayat and so deeply impressed by his personality that he embraced Islam and joined his community of faqirs. This story points out to the peaceful spread of Islam in the region and the socially emancipatory role that it actually played.

The pallekars, finding Dada Hayat a threat to their power, regrouped their forces, and, under the leadership of Kancherayya, the pallekar of Kalhatti, they marched on the cave. It is said that the pallekars had, once again, to beat a hasty retreat for the faqirs proved to be too strong a match for them. Kancherayya then pleaded for peace and went to meet Dada Hayat in the cave. It is said that as soon as he looked upon Dada Hayat he believed he saw Dattatreya, the last incarnation of Vishnu, in his form. He fell at his form and begged him for his pardon, and promised that henceforth he would not trouble the faqirs. Dada Hayat held him in a tight embrace and prayed for him. After this Kancherayya and his deputy, Biru Dev, became faithful disciples of Dada Hayat and would visit him daily to serve him.

The Brahmin and Lingayat Jangam, who used to hold court in the cave in which Dada Hayat had taken up residence, also visited Dada Hayat, and when they saw him, it struck them, too, that Dattatreya had appeared in his form and they, too, became his disciples.

The fame of Dada Hayat now spread far and wide and many people began flocking to his cave. Some of them were so impressed by his character that they embraced Islam, while many others still retained their old religious traditions but incorporated Dada Hayat into their pantheon of deities as a form of Dattatreya. The popularity of the dargah further increased in the seventeenth century, when the then sajjada nashin, Sayyed Jamaluddin Maghribi brought coffee seeds with him from Yemen and tried to popularise coffee cultivation in the area. The sixth sajjada nashin after him, and a member of his family, Baba Budhan Shah Qadri was actually instrumental in spreading coffee–growing not just in the Chikmagalur area but also in Coorg and the Nilgiris. He dispatched groups of his disciples to these areas to spread Islam and Sufism while, at the same time, popularising the cultivation of coffee. Today, the mainstay of the local economy of Chikmagalur and Coorg is the coffee industry, a living legacy of Baba Budhan.

Since many centuries ago, a three–day urs or festival has been celebrated at the shrine of Dada Hayat every spring, three days after the festival of Holi. This year, too, the urs was held (3–6 March, 1999), amid fears of Hindutva attacks, because of which a heavy police presence was arranged for the first time in the history of the dargah. It is estimated that some 1,500 policemen were at duty at the dargah, while the number of pilgrims was some 10,000, including Muslims, Hindus, Dalits and others. The over-all turn–out was less than previous years, owing to the apprehension that the urs might be disturbed by the Bajrang Dal activists who had vehemently protested against the celebrations.

The urs of Dada Hayat represents a fine blend of Islamic and local influences. People from all communities pray inside the shrine where the seat (takht) of Dada Hayat is located. After they emerge from the cave they break one or more coconuts, a practice that owes its origins to a Hindu raja of the Wodeyar dynasty of Mysore who offered a large number of coconuts at the dargah in gratitude for a wish that he believed had been granted by Dada Hayat.

Some pilgrims, both Hindus and Muslims, walk down to Palang Talab, a lake some three kilometres away, where they offer coconuts at the seat of the chieftain who, after having repented for opposing Dada Hayat, became his trusted follower. Interestingly, a Dalit priest officiates at the latter shrine.

A striking feature of the urs is the large participation of wandering faqirs belonging to the Qalandariyya and Rifai Sufi orders. The former wear saffron clothes, while the latter dress in green.

Many of their practices are very similar to those of the sadhus. Thus, like the sadhus, they keep long, matted hair, wear heavy jewellery, observe strict austerities and some, though not all, smoke ganja. They stress that barring belief in the prophethood of Muhammad, there is no difference between them and mystics of other faith traditions. Their understanding of Islam is indeed very liberal and tolerant, and they believe, in accordance with the Quranic injunction that God has sent messengers to all peoples, that it is possible that great religious leaders and mystics of other communities may, too, have been divinely–guided. The faqirs play a key role in the ritual festivities at the dargah. Some of them whip themselves with flails, while others pierce their heads, tongues and throats with spears. This practice is known as zarb or sultani. On the conclusion of the urs, they gather to sing qawwalis to the accompaniment of tambourines and rhythmic clapping. One can discern a strong strain of social protest against poverty, the oppression of the poor and the meaninglessness of ritualistic religion divorced from true spirituality in the songs that they sing.

The urs brings together people of diverse faith traditions, who worship and stay together here in harmony. A Dalit from Pune who has been attending the urs of Dada Hayat for the last twenty years says that what attracts him most here is the feeling of real brotherhood, being able to eat and stay with pilgrims from other castes and religions in the khanqah, the Sufi hospice run by the sajjada nashin. While most of the non–Muslims who attend the urs appear to be from the oppressed ‘low’ castes, there is a significant presence of Marathas, Lingayats, Gowdas, Jains and Reddys.

Interestingly, the present sajjada nashin of the dargah has a close Brahmin disciple, Subramaniam Shastri, a retired bank clerk who has taken sanyas and has been living with him at the khanqah for the last four years. Shastri was, in fact, instructed by his own guru, one Sridharswamy of Wardahally, to take up residence at the khanqah and serve the pilgrims, irrespective of religion, there.

The guru had himself visited the dargah several years ago during the urs and found it the ideal place to send his disciple for further spiritual training. While at the dargah, he was distributing money to get provision for the next day but relied entirely on God to feed them, he, too, had reposed all his faith in God’s help. On hearing this, Shastri says, the guru was so impressed that he directed Shastri to take up residence in the dargah and carry on with his spiritual quest.

Shastri insists that the Hindutva campaign to capture the shrine is motivated simply by political motives and that the leaders behind this project have nothing to do with religion itself. He stresses that the dispute that is now being sought to be brewed over Dada Hayat and Dattatreya is itself meaningless, for, as he puts it, “Although they might be two different people, their soul is one and the same”. He argues that true religion has to do with the heart and not with external names and labels, and at that level all human beings are repositories of God. And this view is powerfully echoed in a qawwali that Dada Hayat’s faqirs sing with passionate pain in their voices:

Allah ko dhoondo Allah ke pyaron main.

Allah samaya hai in ishq ke maro main

(Search for God among God’s loved ones

For God is to be found among those smitten by love).

The controversy over the dargah; a chronology of events: a) No dispute till the mid–1960s. Historically, the custodianship of the sajjada nashins belonging to the Shah Qadri family accepted by Muslim and Hindu rulers of Mysore, including Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan and the Wodeyar dynasty.

b) Mid–1960s. The newly–constituted Karnataka Waqf Board notifies the dargah as coming under its jurisdiction. Matter contested by the Muzrai department (commissioner of religious endowments), which, till the formation of the Waqf Board, looked after all major religious institutions, Hindu, Muslim and others, in Karnataka. c) 1975. Karnataka government directs that the dargah be returned to the Waqf Board.

d) 1980. Chikmagalur District Court strikes down the above order, restoring the dargah to the control of the Muzrai Department, preserving the position of the sajjada nashin as sole administrator and custodian and laying down that there be no change in the established rituals being historically performed at the dargah. e) 1991. Karnataka high court upholds the above order. Later, the Supreme Court also dismisses the plea of the Waqf Board and confirms custodianship of the sajjada nashin.

f) 1992. Emboldened by the destruction of the Babri mosque, VHP/Bajrang Dal activists launch a demand for the capture of the dargah, to convert it into a temple. A one–day Hindu pooja on the newly–fabricated festival of ‘Dattatreya Jayanti’ now begins to be organised, for the first time in December by Hindutva activists, in clear violation of the court’s orders that there should be no change in the rituals performed historically at the dargah.

g) 1996. The one–day Jayanti is converted by Hindutva activists into a three–day event, probably to parallel the three–day urs of Dada Hayat.

h) November 1998. RSS/BJP/VHP/Bajrang Dal organise five rath yatras all over Karnataka, whipping up anti–Muslim hatred in the name of ‘liberating’ the dargah.

i) December, 1998. Three–day Hindutva rally (1–3 December) held at the dargah. Saffron flags forcibly hoisted, picture of Dattatreya taken for the first time ever into the dargah and worshipped. Attempt made to install Ganesh idol inside the dargah.

j) December 2, 1998. Ten leftist, progressive and Dalit organisations organise a large rally in Shimoga against the Hindutva attempt to capture the dargah.

k) Hindutva activists attack the Bala Yesu Church and two Christian schools (Mary Immaculate School and Sacred Heart School) in Shimoga. No arrests made.

l) January 31, 1999. Large rally, the first of its kind, organised by the leftist Pragati Paravidyarthi Kendra (Progressive Student’s Organisation) in Chikmagalur opposing Hindutva attempts to capture the dargah and the administration’s tacit collusion with this agenda.

m) February 23, 1999. Attack on Shimoga office of leftist paper Krantideepa by Hindutva activists for the paper’s condemnation of Hindutva attack on Christian institutions and the attempt to capture the dargah. Editor Manjunath (OBC) badly injured. Reporter Shivamurthi (Dalit) stripped and paraded in public.

n) February 26, 1999. Successful Shimoga bandh organised by leftist, progressive and Dalit groups against Hindutva vandalism.

o) March 3, 1999. Bandh in Bhadravati against Hindutva terror organised by progressive groups.

p) March 3–6, 1999. Urs ceremony at the dargah passes off peacefully, amid heavy police presence.


(The writer is an academic currently doing research at Henry Martin Institute of Islamic Studies, Hyderabad.)


Murder of Ghandi
Babri Masjid
Bombay Riots
Year 2000
Ahmedabad Riot
Bhagalpur Riot
Dada Hayat
Hidden Agenda
Anti Cristian

HINDU ,Dalit, Muslims, INDIA , 

Fascism, Nazism, GenocidesHuman rights

Indian fascism :Intro,Myths, Organizations, Cultural Fascism,Babri Masjid, Bombay Riots , Role of Govt. 

Images  Posters  Cartoon  Audio & Video   News & Events  What'sNew E-Zine About US

Discuss The Topic Further On Our Public Bulletin Board 

To subscribe our newsletter and to get future update notifications, Join our mailing list! Enter your email address below, then click the button

1 Add this page to Favorites * Share it with a Friend : Make it your Homepage!

Your suggestions  will keep us abreast of what do u like to see in these pages.

FAIR USE NOTICE: Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publishers. This Web contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making these available in our efforts to advance understanding of human rights, democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a `fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use these copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond `fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
Last updated: February 23, 2000 .