Sufi Orders of Tamil Nadu

by Khaja Khan (1903)

The chief seat in [Madras] Presidency where the several bands of faqîrs are organised is Penukondah, a Qasba town in the Anantapur District. Each year on the first day of Jamâdi-ul-Âkhar, the faqîrs of all orders Banava, Rafâ‘î, Madârî, Malang, and Shâh Jalâl congregate at this place and select their office-bearers to go on a two-year pilgrimage to the tombs of the saints in the Presidency. The Banava Order was founded by Ghulâm ‘Alî Shâh of Delhi, and is traced to to the Saint ‘Abdul Qâdir Jîlânî. The Rafâ‘î Order was founded by Saiyid Ahmad Kabîr Rafâ‘î (ob. 756 A.H.) and is traced to Khwâja Junayd of Baghdâd. The Madârî Order was founded by Shâh Badruddin Qutub-ul-Madâr. He seems to have come from Syria and to have travelled over a large part of North India and made thousands of converts to Islam, (ob. 840 A.H.). His shrine is in Makanpur in Oudh. His order is traced to Tayfûr of Syria-said to have been a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Jalâlî Order was founded by Saiyid Jalâl Bokhârî (ob. 699 A.H.). They wear a sash and bear a horn of deer, and the seal of Nubuwat on their shoulders. The selection of the chief of each of these orders was so long in the hands of the faqîrs themselves. Now it appears that the Sajjâda of Penukondah has this selection taken into his own hands. The latter is said to be descended from a brother of the local saint Bâbâ Fakhruddîn and has got nine villages attached to the tomb. Out of the proceeds of two of these, he has to celebrate the annual festival. The Sirguru is the ruler of each Order, and has dominion over all faqîrs of his Order in whatever part of the Presidency. The Sirguru of Banavas must be a bachelor, and must have some knowledge of Tasawwuf; but as often as not, he is a mere ignoramus. He has the power of drumming out or excommunicating a faqîr from his Order, for breach of discipline.

Next in rank to Sirguru is the Bhandari. He is the Prime Minister of the Order, collects and spends money in behalf of the band. He is the money-bag man and distributes the money-share of each faqîr to him. Then comes the Upkari. He looks after the cooking and the meals; the Kotwâl has to look after discipline and to accompany the Sirguru in his itinerations. The Naqîb has also to accompany and chant verses all along. Out of a collection of Rs. 100 (say), the Sirguru takes Rs. 5 and two shares; the Bhandari has no commission, but is entitled to 1½ shares, the Upkari, Kotwâl, and Naqîb each take 1¾ shares; and one share is allotted to each faqîr in rank and file. These bands go on their two-year round in the Southern Presidency starting from Penukonda. The Sirguru holds four chouks or darbârs, viz., at Penukonda, Matarwangal, Trichinopoly, and Nagore.

At Penukonda there is a tomb of Bâbâ Fakhruddîn. He is said to have been a king of Sîstân, a province of Persia, and a disciples of Nathar Auliyâ (Mazharuddîn), the saint of Trichinopoly. He is the saint of cotton-carders (Panjaris).

On the 11th Jamâdî-ul-Âkhar, the sandal ceremony is performed at Penukonda; on the 12th, the ‘urs; and on the 13th the ‘asas (staves) are taken round. From Penukonda, visiting small tombs en route and collecting their fixed mamools, the faqîrs go to Matarwangal, 22 miles from Kolar. Here is the tomb of Haydar Safdar, another disciple of Nathar Auliyâ of Trichinopoly. Some of the Orders fall off from this place, the Banava faqîrs, however, proceed further. At times some of the faqîrs of the remaining Orders select their own chiefs for the remaining journey. At Trichinopoly there are the tombs of Nathar Auliyâ and his two disciples Shumspurran and Shumsgoyan; Nathar Auliyâ is also said to have been a king who became a saint. From Trichinopoly they go to Nagore, where there is the tomb of Qâdir Walî. The last stage of the journey is the tomb of Buddû Shahîd, near Pallavaram. The faqîrs have their mamools in each place, e.g., at Dindigul (at the tomb of Saidânî Bî), the mamool is one dinner and Rs. 10. At the mosque of Tirumangalam, they get Rs. 5; at the Sivaganga mosque Rs. 30; at Tinnevelly, 5 days' meals and Rs. 150 and so on. A curious ceremony in connection with the four chouks mentioned above is that they make the Malang Sirguru sit four-square, and tie raw thread round his toes, so that he is not to go even for the calls of nature for five days at Penukonda and Matarwangal; and three days at Trichinopoly and Nagore; and then the faqîrs tread on fire in his presence. The practice of the visit from Penukonda to Trichinopoly appears to have arisen out of the custom of Bâbâ Fakhruddîn paying an annual visit to Nathar Auliyâ his Pîr, during his life-time.

The salâm amongst these bands is not the ordinary Mussalman salâm. Amongst Banavas, it is "Love of God." Answer "Love to all." Amongst Malang and Madârîs, it is "Haqq-Allâh Muhammad Madâr." Answer "Dum Peer Shâh Madâr." Amongst the Rafâ‘îs "Love of God." Answer-"Love of Muhammad, the Prophet." When an order is on the move, the Naqîb leads the band and calls out "Hush bar Dum," "Nazar bar Qadam" (i.e., wakefulness on breath and eye on foot). These two are the terms of the Naqshbandîyyah Order. "Wakefulness on the breath" is akin to the Hindu Pranayama. Each breath that goes up is said to voice forth, "Lâ ilâha" and the one that goes in "Illallâh," "No god, except God," i.e., in breathing out they negative all existences, and in breathing in, they acknowledge the only existence of God. "Eye on the foot," appears to be a fitting watchword in marching, and has for its objective the concentration of attention. Esoterically it is intended to put each man on his guard regarding the observance of the footsteps of the particular prophet, he may have chosen for his model.

[Note: Khaja Khan was a Madrasi author on Sufi topics. This article was taken from his essay "Sufi Orders in the Deccan", originally published in The Philosophy of Islam (1903), and reprinted in Studies in Tasawwuf (1923). At the time he wrote, the Madras Presidency (present-day Tamil Nadu) included areas that are now in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.] 


Map of South India showing the places along the itinerary named in the article. 
Nagore—a Tamil Muslim Sufi site
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