Jhu­lay Lal, the Pak­istan shrine where Mus­lims, Hin­dus go to pray to­gether

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY ZAHIDA REHMAN JATT

One of my col­leagues asked me some time ago:

“Can you be­lieve that Hin­dus and Mus­lims can pray at the same place si­mul­ta­ne­ously?”

“Well, of course not, at least not in Pak­istan,” I swiftly re­torted.

He smiled and re­sponded mys­te­ri­ously, “There is a place not far from here where they do.”

It was the cu­rios­ity to con­firm this state­ment that led me to the shrine of Jhu­lay Lal. In­ter­est­ingly, con­trary to the pop­u­lar con­cep­tions of the pu­ri­tan­i­cal and nar­row con­fines of re­li­gion, there still ex­ist cer­tain el­e­ments in our so­ci­ety that are a man­i­fes­ta­tion of our cen­turies’ old tra­di­tions of re­li­gious co­ex­is­tence.

The shrine of Saint Jhu­lay Lal is one of these ex­am­ples.

We vis­ited the shrine on a hot April day, though the cool breeze made it some­what bear­able. The town of Udero Lal, where the shrine is si­t­u­ated, lies al­most 40 kilo­me­ters away from the Sang­har dis­trict. It is a small sleepy town with the shrine of a saint at its epi­cen­ter.

We ar­rived to see ven­dors selling ed­i­ble items as peo­ple sipped tea in dhaba-styled ho­tels, with ra­dio waves sail­ing through the air around us, pierc­ing it with Sindhi folk mu­sic. The houses were small and the streets con­gested. But we had no dif­fi­culty reach­ing the shrine, for ev­ery­one we met knew the di­rec­tions like the back of their hands.

The white domes of the shrine could be seen on the hori­zon from a dis­tance. We en­tered the shrine and found it spick-and-span, painted spot­less white with its bat­tle­ments and bas­tions, rem­i­nis­cent of an old fortress. The in­ner sanc­tum, which is com­par­a­tively new, is a beau­ti­ful struc­ture with or­nate doors and ex­quis­ite wood­work. An Urs and fair com­mem­o­rat­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of the saint is held an­nu­ally, where a large num­ber of devo­tees from across Pak­istan and abroad come and pay homage.

There is an ad­join­ing room where a pair of san­dals is kept, re­port­edly be­long­ing to the saint.

Shared Rev­er­ence

Jhu­lay Lal is re­lated to the River In­dus and some­times revered as an in­car­na­tion of the River God Varuna in Sindh. Most Mus­lims call the saint Kh­waja Khizar, who is be­lieved to guide peo­ple trav­el­ing through wa­ter cour­ses and on voy­ages. The muhanas or mal­lah (as the fish­er­men are called in Sindh), held the saint in high es­teem. Jhu­lay Lal is also called Zinda Pir, Sheikh Tahir, Khawaja Khizar, Udero Lal and Amar Lal.

Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal and colo­nial ac­counts, Jhu­lay Lal is said to have lived in the 17th cen­tury. Mirkh Shah, the despotic ruler of Thatta, tried to forcibly con­vert his Hindu sub­jects to Is­lam. On hear­ing this, the Hin­dus went to the bank of the In­dus, fasted and prayed to the River to lib­er­ate them from this or­deal.

As a re­sult, an im­age ap­peared from the depths of the River and told them that a child would be born to an aged cou­ple liv­ing at Na- sarpur, who would help them.

The child was named Udero Lal and also given the ti­tle “Jhu­lay Lal,” as his cra­dle was said to swing on its own. This child grew up into a valiant man and ar­gued with Mirkh Shah, who re­al­ized his mis­take and let the Hin­dus peace­fully live in his do­mains.

We en­tered the com­plex to the welcome of an eter­nal peace, en­velop­ing ev­ery­thing around us. The tiled floor felt won­der­fully cool, so we sat down in si­lence for some time. In­side the shrine, the air was laden with fra­grance as the oil lamps were cast shad­ows over the walls; fill­ing the room with a light yel­low­ish glow.

Jhu­lay Lal is of­ten de­picted as sit­ting on a Palla fish (an in­dige­nous species of the In­dus) or rid­ing on his horse. It is be­lieved that he and his horse dis­ap­peared into a well mys­te­ri­ously; his shrine now erected at the same place.

From that day on, the shrine has been a cen­ter of at­trac­tion for thou­sands of Hin­dus and Mus­lims alike. The shrine, lo­cated in Udero Lal, houses a Hindu tem­ple along­side a Mus­lim-style tomb, and the care­tak­ers in­clude both Hin­dus and Mus­lims. In the evenings, Hin­dus per­form pooja and aaarti while Mus­lims too, of­fer prayers at the tomb.

In the court­yard, peo­ple tied col­or­ful threads and cloths on a tree, as to­kens of prayers which would only be re­moved once the prob­lem was re­solved. Then, they would bring of­fer­ings to the saint, es­pe­cially minia­ture swings and cra­dles. Be­fore we left, we prayed to the saint of The River In­dus too, silently wish­ing that we may re­vert to our old val­ues of peace and har­mony.

This shrine stands as per­haps one of the few re­main­ing strongholds of the eclec­tic el­e­ments of the Sindhi so­ci­ety, which are now be­ing threat­ened by fun­da­men­tal­ism. The her­itage of our mystic tra­di­tions should be pro­moted at state level, so that we may re­vive the love of hu­man­ity and co-ex­is­tence which has al­ways been part of our quin­tes­sen­tial val­ues.

Dawn/Asia News Net­work

1. The court­yard of the Jhu­lay Lal shrine, where Hin­dus and Mus­lims pray, is seen. 2. The jhula in­side the shrine is seen. 3. Lamps are burn­ing in­side the tem­ple.

Dawn/Asia News Net­work

Dawn/Asia News Net­work

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