Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Invisible Saint

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Legend has it that the nameless saint and his sister the pious Bibi Nani arrived in the Bolan Pass to convert fire-worshippers to the true faith. But the pagan king took exception to their activities and sent out an armed posse to get them. The duo fled down the gorge but despairing of ever evading their pursuers, decided to split. While the sister went down the pass, the brother turned northwest into a wild and desolate gorge.

It is not told how Bibi Nani came to her end at the bottom of the Bolan where her tomb sits under a bridge by the rocky bank of a seasonal stream. But the nameless saint unable to shake of his tormentors ended up where the gorge forms a dead end. And even as the soldiers approached with bared swords, the saint calmly walked into solid rock. No sooner had he disappeared, when there opened a hole in the rock and out poured a large volume of water. Since the saint disappeared into solid rock, he became Pir Ghaib – the Invisible Saint.

The water gushes out to this day to form azure ponds and a delightful little cascade. Here in the otherwise utterly arid canyon grow date palms and other trees where birds sing and nest and which provide welcome shade to believers who resort to the shrine of Pir Ghaib to pray for sons and wealth. Here they come regardless of faith because non-Muslims supplicate to Mahadev or Shiva while Muslims evoke the spirit of their Invisible Saint. Others simply come to soak in the incongruent beauty of this island of verdure in a sea of virtual aridity.

Long before humans created their Mahadev or Pir Ghaib, this site was holy. Barely ten kilometres off the main route through the Bolan Pass that connected the great cities of the Indus Valley and those of distant Mesopotamia, the spring would have been sacred to now-forgotten pagan gods. In those far-off times, caravans of traders, adventurers, craftsmen, clerics and ordinary folk travelling between the Indus Valley cities of Moen jo Daro, Mehrgarh and Harappa and Nineveh and Uruk by the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers would have paused here to refresh themselves for a day or two.

To which god this spring and its delightful ponds were then sacred, we will only learn when one day the Indus Valley script has been deciphered. But as to the identity of the sister of that unknown god or saint, we do have a clue. Scholars tell us that Bibi Nani is the Muslim version of the nearly five thousand year-old moon goddess Nania. Although Nania was worshipped in ancient Babylonia where her name no longer survives, in Pakistan we still have two shrines dedicated to her: the one at the bottom of the Bolan Pass where she becomes the Invisible Saint’s sister and the other on the Balochistan seaboard at Sri Mata Hinglaj.

Note: This story first appeared in Tales Less Told - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2009.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 08:37,


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

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