Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Men, nine yards tall!

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All over Pakistan, from Cape Monze (near Karachi) to the farthest north latitude, there are Muslim burials that are some nine yards long. Every large city has one (if not more) and you come upon them in the boondocks as well. These are the nau gaza pirs – nine yard-tall saints. Most of these gentlemen of the soaring body (forget the mind) are said to be early Muslims who brought the light of Islam to our heathen land.

Adherents who worship these tombs actually believe that those interred within were men of exceptional physical stature because, ‘in those days, giants roamed the earth.’ It is surprising that among the vast coterie of believers of these giant saints, there are many who have seen the world and have never found similar graves anywhere else but still foolishly believe in giants who are saints to boot exclusive to the subcontinent.

If nine yard-long burials were uncanny, there is one twice as long as well. Just outside the village of Gharibwal (famous for its cement factory), this is reputed to hold the mortal remains of Ham, a son of the prophet Noah. But the proponents of giant burials stretch the imagination a bit too far when they produce one that is a full one hundred metres long! Lying outside the village of Bareela (Gujrat district) this ridiculous piece of work which is now under a proper cement concrete roof is purportedly the tomb of Kumbeet, another of Noah’s sons. But while Ham is mentioned in religious books, Kumbeet seems to have been born locally and missed the dispatches from high on. Nevertheless, one wonders why one brother towered a hundred metres into the sky and the other was an eighteen-metre midget.

Sceptics have always questioned the legend of gianthood but have never been able to find a satisfactory answer to these graves. My frivolous explanation has always been that the invention of a big grave was a matter of clothing the progeny of the shrine-keeper. The sire of the first nau gaza saint probably had a large brood and the offerings of the various chadors and assorted pieces of clothing at the grave were not enough for him to keep his clan attired. This smart cookie invented the nau gaza fable and the grave, the offering increased in volume to keep the sepulchre covered and from then on all his twenty odd children wore nice green dresses.

Jokes aside, there is a logical explanation as well. Having converted at the hands of some learned man, our ancestors were much mortified when he passed away from this life and it came time to bury him. Why, such a larger than life personage, so exalted and so much closer to god than ordinary mortals and he too should receive a common burial? This was too much for their sensibilities. The ‘great’ man warranted a greater than normal tomb; as he was more glorified in life so too must he in death. And so the cult of the nau gaza saint was born.

There is yet another, even more logical, explanation. Lost in the arcane pages of a Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, there is an article by an early civil servant in Punjab. Mystified by the nau gaza saint in his jurisdiction, (near Shiekhupura, if I remember) he ordered the grave to be turned up. Lo and behold, there emerged from under the kalima-inscribed sheet and other Islamic totems a recumbent statue of Buddha!

From medieval writers (Xuanzang in the 7th century, Pundit Kalhana in the 12th and, if memory serves, also the 11th century wonder Al Beruni) we learn that when the Huns attacked what is now Pakistan in the early years of the 6th century, monks across the country began interring statues of Buddha in order to preclude their destruction. Now since the sun is scared to the Buddhists, the statue was buried with its face turned to the rising sun. Consequently the tomb was aligned north-south, exactly like a Muslim burial. Since statues of Buddha were generally larger than life, we had hundreds of ‘Muslim saints’ of giant stature buried here at least a hundred years before the advent of Islam.

The Muslims of the subcontinent are tomb worshippers. For thousands of years before we converted to ‘the one and only real faith’, we had worshipped graven images. When the person who converted us passed away from this life, we took to worshipping his tomb, our reverence for him stretching it to nine yards. Over time, other giant graves were also discovered and since critical thinking was always in short supply, we did not bother to discover if therein lay a Buddha or a saint. They all became nau gaza pirs.

The eighteen yard-long so-called grave outside Gharibwal is actually a ruined Hindu temple. Until 1994 (the second and last time I visited it) it had a miniscule following led by a retired deputy superintendent of police from neighbouring Gujrat. With little to kill his time, the man had invented the fable and installed a woman who ‘communed’ with Ham on a regular basis. Barely six kilometres away people scoffed the scam. But now as surely as night follows day, they will tell you that the tomb of Ham has always been there since the beginning of time.

Kumbeet, in northern Gujrat district, on the other hand, is a pure and simple fraud (and a bit of a joke) without even a Buddha recumbent under the elongated sarcophagus and the dozens of turbans that punctuate it. It is a simple money making swindle.

Before signing off, there is one story that needs be related here. In December 1991 while writing my book on Gujranwala, I came upon a freshly prepared nau gaza grave smack by the side of the road to Rasulnagar near Khanki headwork. Only a month earlier I had not seen it there. Quizzing the keeper, I learned that not having anything else to do, and knowing grave business was lucrative he had sired the nau gaza pir.

If the man was fortunate and they did not widen the road and demolish his business, this particular nau gaza will now be an established shrine. Youngsters could not be faulted if they think this one had ‘always been there’. But ask any oldie and he will aver that this grave was there even in the time of his grandfather’s father. Why, even he himself was begotten after his hundred and fifty year-old childless mother had supplicated the giant.

That is how we look upon any old grave.

Related: Tale of another naugaza grave

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 12 October 2013 at 20:23, Blogger Imran Zaka said...

I had heard in my childhood that these 9 yard graves were made to bury pieces of martyrs, not recognizable ,after a battle as a mass grave

At 12 October 2013 at 23:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Imran. All myths. This account seems logical

At 13 October 2013 at 11:54, Anonymous Ali Raza Zaidi said...

Some Ideas about ancient Idles buried and the temple converted to sufi shrine. One common idea that people migrate to other areas, and buried their wealth under nine yard graves, and after some time they come back to take other wealth, this story I also heard at Harrapa as well some nine yard graves at Okara, where Hindu landlord migrate to India. Same Idea is also true for temple destruction by Muslim Invaders, place remains important to locals, and converted to nine yard graves. Recently i visited the nine yard grave inside Shabudien Guari era mosque have capacity of one row of prayer converted into Nine yard grave, and people called the grave of Sahba (More then one) Nabi Pak

At 13 October 2013 at 14:24, Anonymous Kausar Bilal said...

WOW! Unbelievably fascinating discovery. I have heard about the giant heights of early human generations, but didn't know we would have real clues from the recent history of a couple of centuries.

At 13 October 2013 at 14:30, Anonymous Sandeep said...

Have you ever been to Malka Hans? I need some info on Parnami Mandar there. I will the indebted if you can point out where have you written about. Thanks.

At 13 October 2013 at 20:07, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

Interesting. Wonder how people distort things for petty gains.

At 14 October 2013 at 08:53, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Kausar, the only giants that ever roamed the earth were dinosaurs. There were no human giants ever. If there had been, we would have discovered at least one colossal human fossil.

At 14 October 2013 at 08:55, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Sandeep, I went to Malka Hans 20 years ago. But I wrote nothing after the trip. Also don't know about the temple you mention. If time permits, I'll try getting out there coming winter and then we'll see.

At 15 October 2013 at 14:58, Blogger Rafay Bin Ali said...

I believe graves are nothing but a remembrance of the pagan lifestyle. Humans have always found ways to justify their actions. Whether those actions were correct or incorrect would always remain debatable, however, what we see all around us today is that graves are worshipped (more or less). They may not be worshipped in the strictest sense of the word, however, they are regarded as sacred by many. This may be contentious however it is common sense that the grave holds nothing but the remains of a person which would eventually be consumed by nature. The spirit of the person has moved on.

People can continue to build graves, I see no issue with that. However, to revere it beyond what seems to appeal to logic and rationale is what I am against.


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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

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