the-south-asian.com June / July 2005
MOCKING THE FRONTIER:
THE BABA'S DARGAH AT CHAMALIYAL
Lunch at Ramgarh was simple
fare--thick, hot daal and crispy rotis, washed down with a glass of sweet,
frothy lassi. There had been news of heavy firing the night before between
the Indian Border security Force and the Pakistan Rangers in the Samba
sector, where Chamaliyal lies. Luckily, Chamaliyal had been spared the fury
of the gun-shots, though it was said that some neighbouring villages on both
sides of the Line of Control had been hit.
No vans or buses were plying to
the border villages for fear of coming within the range of the continuing
shelling. My hopes of visiting the Baba's dargah, about which I had heard so
much, seemed dim, when an amiable Sikh drew up to me, leading his
horse-drawn tonga. He offered to take me to the dargah for a surprisingly
nominal fare. I readily agreed, and hopping into the tonga, we set off for
Chamaliyal, some five kilometres away.
As the tonga wobbled along, we
passed by lush green fields. Sikh families were busy harvesting their crops.
Herds of buffaloes lazed around in little muddy pools, soaking in the winter
sun. A family of Muslim cattle-grazing Gujjars moved ahead of us, their
animals sending up large clouds of dust in the air. Meanwhile, the
tonga-driver pointed out the local sights of importance. 'Here', he said,
pointing to a field bursting with bright yellow mustard flowers, 'was where
more than a thousand Muslim villagers were slaughtered overnight in the
violence of 1947'. And then he went on to relate a horrific tale of the
bloody massacres of that eventful year, in which he and his family, along
with several thousand Sikhs and Hindus, had fled across to Jammu from
Sialkot, now in Pakistan, and how an equally large number of Muslims in
Jammu had been pushed across into Pakistan.
An hour later, we passed by the
village of Dagh, the last settlement on the Indian side of the Line of
Actual Control. We crossed a little stream and then headed up a narrow path.
When we came out into a clearing the tonga-driver pointed out to a clump of
eucalyptus trees hardly a stone's -throw distance away. 'That's Pakistan',
he said. A sudden wave of excitement filled me and ran down my spine.
Pakistan! So close, and yet so far!
The tonga trudged down the path
in the direction of the trees, streams of sweat trickling down the horse's
hairy black coat. Gradually, the large bulbous dome of the Baba's dargah
drew into view. We had reached Chamaliyal. At the entrance of the shrine, we
were stopped by a smart uniformed Border Security Force guard. He wanted to
know what I was doing in the area. 'Just a casual visitor', I said to him.
That did not fully satisfy him, but he let me in, nevertheless.
The Baba's dargah is, quite
clearly, an Islamic structure. His grave lies under a large, green
onion-shaped dome, and in the courtyard, in the shade of a large peepul
tree, are the graves of two of his closest disciples, again buried in
Islamic fashion. However, since there are no Muslims any more living in the
area, the shrine has been considerably Hinduised. A large, gaudy welcome
arch installed by the Border Security Force with a brightly-painted Om
symbol greets the visitor at the entrance of the dargah, and inside posters
of various Hindu deities and figures have been stuck on the walls. No one
seems to remember who the Baba actually was. Until 1947 the dargah was
looked after by a Muslim family, which had to flee Chamaliyal when a wave of
mass killings was unleashed on the Muslims of Jammu. Since then, because
there are no more Muslims here, the shrine has been looked after by the
Border Security Force, which has constructed a free community kitchen and a
guest house for the large number of pilgrims who come here from all parts of
The Baba is equally, if not
more, popular on the other side of the Line of Actual Control. Till the late
1980s Pakistani pilgrims were allowed to visit the shrine during the annual
urs or fair, which is held every June. This has, however, now been stopped
by the Indian authorities, unfortunately. Instead, the Border Security Force
makes arrangements for the mud and water from the dargah to be transported
in trucks to the border, from where the Pakistan Rangers distribute it to
the devotees on the other side.
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