HARKING BACK: The mysterious tombs of ‘lion’ and ‘drinker’

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Mar 01, 2015

If you move along Bhogiwal Road and turn on Ghoray Shah Road, to the right is a dilapidated tomb, which is known as that of Rasul Shahyum. Who was Rasul Shahyum? Nearby within eyesight is the tomb of Shah Shahabuddin Nehra, the man who, allegedly, morphed into a lion and threatened Emperor Akbar. Imagine!

Both these characters seem poles apart. Shahyum was allegedly a ‘moderate drinker’ and a holy man who performed miracles. On the other hand Nehra, son of Hazrat Mauj Darya Bukhari, was a pious man with views orthodox as orthodox can be. The word Nehra, in Hindi, means a lion, and it was one of the miracles of Shahabuddin performed in the Lahore Fort before Emperor Akbar that earned him this name. Two holy men, so very different from one another, yet in death near one another, not that it was their choice. Shahyum was buried far away from the city so that his followers did not influence the simple folk of Lahore.

First let us dwell on Shahabuddin Nehra. His father Hazrat Mauj Darya Bukhari was a leading seer of his times, and it was to him that Emperor Akbar turned when he repeatedly failed to conquer the huge fort of Chattisgarh from the fierce Rajputs. In those days it was normal for rulers to seek the assistance of ‘holy men’ when they faced problems. One assumes it was a last resort measure, and it was to Hazrat Mauj Darya Bukhari that Akbar turned. He was summoned and the holy man refused royal horses and said he would be there before the horses, which is what exactly happened. How is not for me to dwell on.

The holy man told the emperor to forget past failures and attack the fort before the sun rises the next day, and to keep attacking no matter what the cost. Exactly at noon he would win. Exactly as predicted, down to the last detail, Akbar was able to conquer the fort, and it was this event that helped him to consolidate his empire. Back in Lahore Fort the emperor summoned the holy man, and a few courtiers, jealous of the new standing of Mauj Darya, shut the gates to his son Shahabuddin. In a rage Shahabuddin roared and as several accounts tell us, he morphed into an angry lion. One push at the gates and it yielded with the guards fleeing.

The lion ran to where the emperor was, and as legend has it, he held forth his huge paw. The emperor hid behind Mauj Darya Bukhari and the lion withdrew and lay down. Mauj Darya scolded him for losing his temper and said that ‘court intrigues are part of life’. The emperor understood what Mauj Darya meant and soon, so legend tell us, the lion returned to human form. The emperor named him ‘Nehra’, a name that remains with him till today.

Out of reverence for Mauj Darya Bukhari, the emperor built the tomb of his ‘peer’ even before he died. It is located at the western corner of Turner Road and east of Old Anarkali. The tomb of Syed Shahabuddin Nehra was built in the Mughal gardens just near Mughalpura. After the death of his father, Shahabuddin Nehra excelled in his understanding of the Quran and the Hadith. His ‘miracles’ were well-known and he avoided the Mughal court and its intrigues, but his advice was sought in moments of crisis. One account tells of him walking in a Lahore bazaar and people, out of fear, running away.

Now let us move to an even more interesting character who lies buried just 200 yards from Shahabuddin Nehra, and he is Syed Rasul Shahyum. The building belongs to the same era as Shah Jehan, and the architecture is the same, as are the materials. This naturally means that it is approximately 350 to 400 years old. The last known interest that was taken in this mysterious tomb was during the Sikh period, as a lot of followers gathered here for an Urs on the occasion of Basant. This Shahyum sect of Islam believed that only those things ‘clearly forbidden’ in the Quran are forbidden, the other things that people think are ‘banned’ are all circumstantial, and should be treated as such. Drinking alcohol was one such issue. Even today Al-Azhar scholars agree with the Rasul Shahyum interpretation.

Though this sounds a very logical way of understanding Islam, the orthodox have always opposed such a way of interpreting the Quran. They strictly followed all the Five Tenets of Islam, but when it came to ‘not strictly banned’ issues touched by the Quran, they preached moderation, not a ban. A few followers during the Sikh era, especially in the period before Maharajah Ranjit Singh reigned (1799-1839), went over the top, which brought this sect a bad name.

But who exactly is buried in this tomb? This is the mystery that remains unsolved. I visited the place and met an old man who walked over after seeing me. He claimed to be a Shahyum follower. I asked if there were others besides him, he smiled and said: “The majority of Muslims in the world are Shahyum followers, because ultimately we all become moderate”. I thought it better to end the conversation.

But who lies buried here? I asked. It is a ‘buzurg’ who came from Bokhara and had great powers. He was known only as Shah Sahib and he lived to be 150 years of age. Now this sounded like a tall order, and it was clear that he had merely heard this legend.

To write a sensible piece about the tomb of Rasul Shahyum, I have researched as well as I could. Most scholars contacted did not have a clue. Nothing about him is known by a leading Indian scholar who was in Lahore for the Lahore Literary Festival. However, a mention is made of Rasul Shahyum in ‘Tehkikat-e-Chisthi’ who claims he was an Uzbek saint with great occult powers who came to Lahore in the reign of Babar. From this lead I moved forward.

The Uzbek connection could be correct. There is definite mention of a Rasul Shahyum, a Turkic Yasavi scholar who was a Syed and a Sufi and follower of Ibn Abdul Hamid. The Turk scholar Touraj Atabaki mentions him “as leaving to preach in India, living in Lahor”. Could he be the Shahyum we are seeking? But mind you this is an unscientific shot in the dark. The mystery of Rasul Shahyum remains, as does the mysterious powers of Shahabuddin Nehra. That they rest in peace near one another, that is for sure and a good thing.



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