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A few of kilometres outside the village of Gharibwal
(famous for the cement factory) at the foot of the eastern escarpments of the Salt Range
district, there lies, in a lovely grove of tall trees, a cement plastered grave. It is a saint’s tomb, or so they say. In normal circumstances that would have been fine, but this oddity is over 18 metres long. Some people, notable among whom is a local school master, assert that this is the tomb of Ham Alai Salaam, the son of the prophet Noah. And because in those days there were giants on earth, thus the eighteen-metre long grave.
Ask any illiterate bumpkin in the village near the grave and they will swear that every supplication here bears fruit. Surprisingly however, even in neighbouring Gharibwal it is difficult to get directions, for no one seems to know of this marvellous site. Consequently it is no surprise that as little as a dozen kilometres away, the tomb of Ham completely fades out of human knowledge. However, it is clear that someone is taking a lot of interest in this supposed prophet’s tomb, for it has a brand new brick wall surrounding it. Two years ago, when I first visited it, there was only a rough stone wall.
The first time what had struck me was the pair of neatly cut oblong pieces of red sandstone blocking the doorway. From the notches in both pieces it was easy to tell that they once formed the lintel in some ancient doorway and that the notches held the timber on which the doors swung. Both these are now the threshold in the new doorway. By the west wall flows a tiny stone-lined rill that once filled a tank now in ruins. To the east of the tomb is a large, not very high mound overgrown with bhekar bushes. Some time in the past this thickly overgrown mound had been used as a graveyard where the graves are covered with dressed sandstone slabs similar to the ones used in the wall around the large tomb. The tall banyan trees, the sandstone lintels, the waterway, the ruinous tanks, and the blocks of dressed stone all scream that this is an old Hindu temple.
One informant, who claimed to have ‘discovered’ this tomb, said that he had read of it in a book entitled Tareekh e Habooti written four thousand years ago and translated into Urdu in the 18th century by a native of Sialkot. There was no copy of the translation at hand, though. Another ‘discoverer,’ whom I could not meet, is a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police from Gujrat who claims, so they say, to have been informed of this hallowed grave in a dream – presumably by Ham himself. It is this DSP who is also responsible for the building of the brick wall for he visits Ham regularly to do his worship.
However, barely a dozen kilometres away the tomb is largely unknown. Those few who do know of it scoff it as a hoax. In a tea shop at a nearby village a young man told me that the tomb actually covers a large basement where rich Hindus took refuge during battles with Muslims. That was very close to my temple theory. Surely, that is a fragment of some historical truth lingering in a few local minds. But to be a keeper of a shrine is to wield power – absolute power over unrefined, superstitious minds. Consequently men like the school master and the DSP play out these little charades. In the foreseeable future one or both of them will become the keepers at this shrine, amicably sharing between themselves the proceeds from the weekly mela.
Nine yard tall saints (Naugaza Pirs) are frequently met with in the subcontinent. But besides Ham, the only other eighteen-metre grave is that of Kumbeet, another reputed son of Noah, buried in village Burila north of Gujrat. My friend Saleem Ranjha postulates that in the early days of Islam, pious men upon their death were allocated large graves by their recently converted followers as a sign of their ‘stature’ in piety and godliness. With the passage of time the metaphorical giant was transformed into an actual one by the naive piety of lowly devotees.
For my part, I believe these elongated graves are the ‘business houses’ of keepers with large families: the cheap satin that is regularly brought by devotees to drape over the six foot grave would certainly be insufficient to clothe the dozen or so children of a keeper. But the bolts needed to drape an eighteen or even a nine yard grave would suffice. And there would be some little left over to sell to other less fortunate folk as well.
An old document I read years ago, (if memory serves, it was authored by the first Deputy Commissioner of Shiekhupura district) told of the digging up of such a Naugaza Pir’s grave. Lo and behold! It contained a recumbent statue of Buddha. The DC theorised that in the event of an iconoclastic attack the devotees in a temple would bury the image of their Lord rather than see it desecrated. Over the years stories would grow around the grave, changing form with the change of the predominant religion. In this context it must not be forgotten that Muslims were not the first idol-wrecking conquerors. In the middle of the 6th century AD the Huns, first under Toraman and later under his son, Mehr Gul (Mihirakula), sacked countless Buddhist sanctuaries in this part of the subcontinent. That was when the first burial of religious icons is likely to have taken place. In view of the turmoil that followed this upheaval and that of the Muslim conquest, the scenario of buried statues fits well. Who knows if the keepers of the buried statues themselves didn’t tell the Muslim invaders that the burial were actually sacred to their religion.
The old woman who attended the grave said all she had ever asked of Ham had been granted. I asked if she wanted wealth. She said she did, so I suggested we pray for wealth together and see if our common wish is granted at this ruined Hindu temple. She was dumbfounded. Her Islam, which is sadly the Islam of a large percentage of subcontinental Muslims, requires something more than an invisible Allah to pray to. This Islam requires an icon duly transmogrified to fit an Islamic identity; something that can be seen, felt and prostrated before. The purported grave of the holy man serves this purpose nicely. And here I was calling her lesser god a Hindu temple. This and not tomb worship was sacrilege of the worst kind so far as she was concerned. She regarded me with horror and fled; perhaps for fear of the thunderbolt that would soon strike me.
Today few know of the tomb of Ham. When the retired DSP takes complete control he will perhaps launch a crusade to eradicate all heresy about the basement where the Hindus resorted in the event of attack. Already a derelict has been planted at the tomb who claims that during the last re-construction of the grave she got a glimpse of the sleeping giant inside: his flesh was as fresh as it would be on the day it died. When the time is ripe, with just one well advertised visit by an Oxford ‘educated’ Prime Minister, and photos of the PM draping the grave with green satin, the keepers will be in business.
Stay tuned for more on nine yard tall men.
Labels: jhelum: City of the Vitasta, Prisoner on a Bus: Travels Through Pakistan, Punjab
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,
At September 22, 2013 at 2:26 PM,
نوگذا پیر علامت تهی حملہ آور سےاپنی تہذیبی شناخت بچانے کی
At September 24, 2013 at 3:42 PM,
Memoona Saqlain Rizvi said...
There is another Nugazza in Harappa Ruins. Hope u have already touched it? I've been to the ruins but the place has a spooky air abt. it n by the time we reached that part, we have had enough of it n we got out. Secondly it was located on the present outskirts of the ruins n there was some village as well. The grave was pretty crowded.
At October 4, 2013 at 9:37 PM,
Salman Rashid said...
I have not seen the one at Harappa. they are all the same. FRAUDS.
At January 7, 2015 at 4:58 AM,
Samantha Asif said...
Do you have a photo of the tomb?
At January 7, 2015 at 12:29 PM,
Salman Rashid said...
Samantha, I don't have a photo. There was nothing to photograph. Just a foundation thickly overgrown. In March will be heading that way again and plan to get some images of the whole place.
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