Sarmad Kashani

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Sarmad Kashani and Prince Dara Shikoh.

Muhammad Sa'id, mostly known as Sarmad Kashani or simply as Sarmad (Persian: سرمد کاشانی‎) (ca 1590 - 1661) was a Persian mystic, poet and saint who travelled to and made the Indian subcontinent his permanent home during the 17th century. Originally a Jew, some claim he renounced his religion to adopt Islam, while others say he even converted once more to Hinduism[1] - Sarmad described himself in his poetry as a Sufi, a Hindu priest, a Buddhist monk, a rabbi, an infidel and a Muslim. Since he was known for ridiculing the major religions of his day as well as writing quatrains affirming his religious identity, modern scholarship remains divided on Sarmad's ambiguous religious affiliation.[2] For these religious views and outrageous statements (shathiyat), Sarmad is often counted among the antinomian Sufis.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Sarmad was born in Armenia around 1590, to a family of Jewish Persian-speaking Armenian merchants.[3]

Travels in the Mughal Empire[edit]

Hearing that precious items and works of art were being purchased in India at high prices, Sarmad gathered together his wares and traveled to the Mughal Empire where he intended to sell them. Having arrived in Thatta, in present day Sindh, Pakistan, he fell in love with a boy named Abhai Chand, whom Sarmad instructed in Hebrew, Persian and Jewish religion. During this time he abandoned his wealth, let his hair grow, stopped clipping his nails and began to wander the city streets and emperor's courts a naked faqir.[4]

Both moved first to Lahore, then Hyderabad, settling finally in Delhi.

Life in Delhi[edit]

The reputation as a poet and mystic he had acquired during the time the two travelled together, caused Mughal crown prince Dara Shikoh to invite Sarmad at his father's court. On this occasion, Sarmad so deeply impressed the royal heir that he vowed to become his disciple.

Sarmad had an excellent command of Persian, essential for his work as a merchant, and composed most of his work in this language.[2] He produced a translation of the Torah in Persian.[5]

Death[edit]

After the War of Succession with his brother Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb (1658-1707) emerged victorious, killed his former adversary and ascended the imperial throne. Being a staunch fanatic of Islam, he had Sarmad arrested and tried for heresy. Sarmad was put to death by beheading in 1661.[6][7] His grave is located near the Jama Masjid in Delhi, India. Aurangzeb ordered his mullahs to ask Sarmad why he repeated only the first half of the Kalima "There is no God but God", and ordered him to recite the second part,"Muhammad is his last prophet". To that he replied that "I am still absorbed with the negative part. Why should I tell a lie?" Thus he sealed his death sentence. Ali Khan-Razi, Aurangzeb's court chronicler, was present at the execution. He relates some of the mystic's verses uttered at the execution stand:

The Mullahs say Ahmed went to heaven, Sarmad says that heaven came down to Ahmed.

"There was an uproar and we opened our eyes from the eternal sleep. Saw that the night of wickedness endured, so we slept again."

Maulana Azad and Sarmad[edit]

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the leading political personalities involved in the Indian independence movement, compared himself to Sarmad, for his freedom of thought and expression.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ For discussion on his religious identity, see: Katz (2000).
  2. ^ a b For some examples of his poetry, see: Poetry Chaikhana Sarmad: Poems and Biography.
  3. ^ See mainly: Katz (2000) 148-151. But also: Sarmad the Armenian and Dara Shikoh; Khaleej Times Online - The Armenian Diaspora: History as horror and survival.
  4. ^ See the account here.
  5. ^ Fishel, Walter. “Jews and Judaism at the Court of the Mugal Emperors in Medieval India,” Islamic Culture, 25:105-31.
  6. ^ For the motivations behind his trial as well as a detailed explanation of proceedings, see: Katz (2000) 151-153.
  7. ^ Cook 2007.
  8. ^ Votary of freedom - Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sarmad by V. N. Datta, Tribune India, October 7, 2007

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cook, D. (2007) Martyrdom in Islam (Cambridge) ISBN 9780521850407.
  • Tr. by Syeda Sayidain Hameed (1991). "The Rubaiyat of Sarmad". Indian Council for Cultural Relations. 
  • Ezekial, I.A. (1966) Sarmad: Jewish Saint of India (Beas) ASIN B0006EXYM6.
  • Gupta, M.G. (2000) Sarmad the Saint: Life and Works (Agra) ISBN 81-85532-32-X.
  • Katz, N. (2000) The Identity of a Mystic: The Case of Sa'id Sarmad, a Jewish-Yogi-Sufi Courtier of the Mughals in: Numen 47: 142-160.
  • Schimmel, A. And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration Of the Prophet In Islamic Piety (Chapel Hill & London).

External resources[edit]