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The Saint who was not there

(Coordinates: 33° 49' 19" North, 72° 41' 8" East)

(Shaikh Muhammad Ali)

3D Google Map of the Hassan Abdal Shrine: Elevation 2,247 feet

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrowmindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime……Mark Twain
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In the last nine years of stay in Islamabad, whenever I would drive to Peshawar, Mardan or Mansehra and while passing Taxila or Wah Cantt and leaving them both behind on the Grand Trunk Road, I would wonder as to when I would visit the shrine of Baba Wali Kandhari famously known as Hassan Abdal in this part of the world. The famous shrine is located at a hill top in the city of Hassan Abdal and can be seen from miles in a row. On the 5th of February, 2011; we finally decided to take the pilgrimage to the Saint on the mountain top. The 5th being the first Saturday of the month and thus a holiday at work was an ideal day to travel. We left the house a little late i.e. around 10:00 a.m. or so and reached the venue in an hour and a half or less, the total distance being 48.82 kms. We parked our car close to the famous Punja Sahib Gurdwara but decided to pay our homage to the saint first by visiting his shrine. While we locked our car in the parking lot and started ascending the hill, we realized that the climb may be a little steep for little Ayesha and her mother and thus much to our chagrin, Adil and myself decided to visit the shrine while leaving Mohsin with her sister and mother almost half way up the hill. Although Ayesha did manage to climb all the way up to Loh-e-Dandi last year but this time around the climb looked a little arduous and risky and thus I had no choice but to leave them behind.

(A panoramic view from the top)

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Adil and I hopped, skipped and jumped our way up to the top while it took us over an hour or so to finally climb all the way. The route to the top and the views from above were picturesque and we took a few pictures.

(I am taking a break before reaching the shrine) After reaching the above spot, it took us maybe another ten minutes to reach the shrine. The climb was quite taxing since the path had broken due to landslides and rain in the last few years and has not been maintained since then but this does not stop or deter the devotees to arrive in hundreds if not thousands on a daily basis.

Shrine of Baba Wali Qandahari (
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We stayed at the shrine for almost 20 minutes or so and decided to return since Sabeen, Mohsin and Ayesha had been left behind and we were guilty of coming up here all by ourselves. While I was observing the shrine, I noticed something strange. The grave of the Saint was squarish and looked a little small for an adult. Although, this was none of my business to question what I had observed but I did descend with this thought still pestering me.

(Adil enjoying Papad at the mountain top)

A little bit of history:
“Hasan Abdal (Pashto: ‫ ,اب دال ح سن‬Urdu: ‫ )اب دال ح سن‬is an historic town in Northern Punjab, Pakistan. It is located where the Grand Trunk Road meets the Karakoram Highway near the North-West Frontier Province, northwest of Wah. It is 40 km northwest of Rawalpindi. It has a population of about over 50,000. It is famous for Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib, one of the most sacred places of Sikhism. Thousands of Sikhs visit the Gurdwara on the eve of Besakhi every year. The other historical place is a tomb erroneously called Lala Rukh Tomb. There is a grave inside a square walled Garden and a fresh water fish pond near the tomb. On the nearby hill there is a meditation chamber attributed to a saint Baba Hasan Abdal also known as Baba Wali Kandhari with local folklores. The city is named after this saint”1.


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Historical mention:
“The famous Chinese traveler Hiouen Thsang who visited the place in the 7th century A.D. mentions the sacred spring of Elapatra about 70 li to the northwest of Taxila which is identical to the one at the current site of Gurdwara Panja Sahib2” “The town is mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari in the context that Shams al-Din built himself a vault there in which lies Hakim Abu’l Fath buried. Akbar’s visit to the town on his way back from Kashmir is also mentioned”3. “William Finch who travelled through India between 1608 and 1611 describes Hasan Abdal to be a "pleasant town with a small river and many fair tanks in which are many fishes with golden rings in their noses ...; the water so clear that you may see a penny in the bottom". The Mughal emperor Jehangir mentions in his Tuzk-e-Jahangiri this town by the name of Baba Hasan Abdal where he stayed for three days. He also praises the city in these words: "The celebrated place at this station is a spring which flows from the foot of a little hill, exceedingly clear, sweet and nice...". Hasan Abdal was visited by various Mughal kings on their way to Kashmir”4. On the way back I found my other three jewels where we had left them and while narrating the story of our climb we came back to the parking lot and then headed for the Panja Sahib Gurdwara.

(At the door of the Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib)
2 3 4 Ibid. Ibid.

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When we reached the door of the famous Gurdwara, we were flabbergasted to learn from the guards and the Rangers that if you were a Sikh then only you could be allowed inside this holy building. This precaution has lately been taken by the government due to the increased incidences of bombing of shrines and holy places in the country. This was the most painful news and we tried our best to convince the guardians of the gate that we have come from far off and cannot leave without having a peek inside the building. After we almost gave up with our convincing and cajoling, one of the guards allowed Ayesha and Mohsin to enter but once they saw the honesty and innocence in our eyes they succumbed and slipped us through. Our hearts knew no bounds, we thanked God and the guard and we just rushed inside and were taken around by a local tailor who was just returning for a chore. Of course photography was a no-no inside the premises but we did enjoy the grandeur of the place thoroughly.


Tradition of Punja Sahib:
“In 1521 the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, arrived in Hasan Abdal, a Gurdwara was built on the spot that he stayed containing a sacred rock that is
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believed to contain the hand print of Guru Nanak. Punja or Panja (Punjabi: ‫:)پنجہ‬ hand or paw. There are different traditions about the origin of the Hand print”5. Sikh Tradition “The founder of the Sikh faith Guru Nanak, "when proceeding about the country, being wearied one day, asked the Faqir on the hill to give him a cup of water and some food. The Faqir was surly, and an altercation ensued between them, when the Faqir told him that if Nanak was a man of any miracles he would supply his wants without any assistance, and would even move the hills. Nanak put out his hand and stamped his fingers on the rock, where the mark still remains; and in commemoration of the Baba, the late Sirdar Hari Singh built a small temple, which he named Panja Sahib, from the five fingers..."6 Muslim Tradition "The Mussulman story is that one Hasan, a Gujar, had many buffaloes; that a Faqir named Abdal came and asked him for a draught of milk. Hasan said, I would gladly give you some, but my buffaloes are at present dry. Abdal laid his hand on one of them and said, "Now milk it." He did so, and soon gave him a copious draught. Abdal expressed his gratitude to Hasan, and asked what he could do for him. Hasan replied that they were much straitened for want of water, on which Abdal struck the neighboring hills in two places, from which the two streams of Hasan Abdal have come forth. On the departure of the Faqir, Hasan said the spot should hereafter be called after them jointly"7. Another Tradition "Another story about the impression of the five fingers is that the Akalis of the fraternity of Sobah Singh Nehang, who held a jaghir near Hasan Abdal, being desirous of promoting their own interests, one of them engraved the five fingers on a piece of stone. It was soon given out by these artful fanatics to be the stamp of Nanak's fingers, from whence the springs issue. At present, all the Hindu and Sikh pilgrims make many offerings at the spot, which are taken by the Akalis. In a small tank which has been built round the spring are kept a number of fish which are fed daily by the visitors”8.

5 6 7 8 ibid Ibid ibid

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After visiting the shrine and going around inside the premises, we decided to leave the place around lunch time. We stopped by for a snack on the GT Road and reached home after Asar prayers. On the way back, the same thought was pinching me regarding the size of the grave and I sat down on the Internet to help resolve the mystery. Much to my surprise, I chanced upon the following information on the Internet: “Baba Wali Kandhari was a Sufi saint or pir who is believed to have been born in about 1476 in Kandahar in Afghanistan. In about 1498 he moved to Hasan Abdal near present-day Rawalpindi in Pakistan. This town is about fifty kilometres from Rawalpindi to the west side of the mountains. A very hilly area, in some places natural fountains or springs flow from the ground”9. “On a nearby hill, at an altitude of 714 meters, Wali Kandhari settled and built a small house near a natural fountain. The water here was very clear and so the town people used to come to fetch drinking water from this fountain. There was no other source of fresh drinking water nearby. The water from the fountain then progressed down the hill to the small town. Kandhari would preach to the simple people who came there. Soon he had enlarged his house into a small community building or dera”10.

The meeting with Guru Nanak

(Wali throws a rock at the Guru)
9 10 ibid

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“But as time progressed, he became arrogant and began to discriminate against those who had not accepted Islam. He used this dera to assist people who followed his faith and to punish the "non-believers". After travelling through Arabia and many other countries, in 1521 A.D during the summer season, Guru Nanak reached this town and set-up camp near the base of the foothill where the Wali had commandeered the only spring”11. “When he saw people gathering around Guru Nanak instead of coming to his place, he became very angry. So, he stopped the spring water from flowing down to the town. The people became frustrated. How could they and their cattle live without water! A group of them went to Baba Wali Qandhari. They begged him to let the water flow down as before”12. “But Baba Wali Qandhari said angrily, "Go to your Guru, the one you visit every day now and ask him for water." The people went to the Guru and told him the whole story. The Guru said, "Don't lose your heart. Trust in God. He will not let you die of thirst". The Guru then said to Bhai Mardana, "Go and appeal to Bawa Wali Qandhari and request him to let the water flow down to the town." Bhai Mardana went to Wali several times as instructed by the Guru but he could not win the heart of the pir”13. “Each time Mardana return and narrated the story to the Guru. The Guru said, "Don't lose your heart. God is great and merciful. He can make springs flow from wherever He likes. Let us all pray to Him." They all prayed. Then Guru Nanak Dev lifted a stone. At once, a stream of cool, clean water began to flow from the place where the Guru lifted the stone”14. Present-day situation “Now there is a meditation chamber related to this 15th century Muslim saint, Baba Wali Qandhari, also known as Baba Hasan Abdal at the top of the hill leading from the Gurdwara Panja Sahib. Many devotees make the trip from the Gurdwara to the hill top shrine to also pay homage to this Sufi saint. The saint stayed in Hasan Abdal from 1498 but died in about 1529 and is buried in village Baba Wali near Qandhar (Afghanistan). The devotees and visitors climb over the steps leading to the hill, to make an offering and also to get a panoramic view of Hasan Abdal”15.

11 12

ibid ibid 13 ibid 14 ibid 15 ibid

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Shrine in Kandahar “The shrine of Baba Wali, its terraces shaded by pomegranate groves beside the Arghandab River, is also very popular for picnics and afternoon outings. Sitting on the banks of the Arghandab River is the Baba Wali Shrine, also known as Baba Sahib by Kandaharis. Gul Agha Sherzai, the twice-former Governor of Kandahar, fierce warlord and former Mujahideen commander constructed the shrine at a cost of millions of dollars to honour one of his revered tribesmen”16. “It provides a great view to the verdant Arghandab Valley, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the dusty province. The multi-level shrine, marble and mirror-clad, set into a hillside is a popular picnic place for the Kandaharis, with kebabs, handmade ice cream and local fruit juices available from cart vendors”17.

Actual Shrine of the saint in Kandahar, Afghanistan

Shaikh Muhammed Ali ‘The Wandering Dervish’
E-mail: Cell: +00-92-321-5072996 th July 2011, 04:59 p.m. (PST) 25
16 17

ibid ibid

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