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Thursday, January 17, 2008
A VISIT TO THE TOMB OF SARMAD-- A GAY, NAKED (AND BEHEADED) SUFI POET AND MYSTIC
When I arrived in India for the first time, in 1969, I immediately gave up my dependence on drugs. I've been-- excuse the expression-- "clean" ever since. The trip to India, through India and back to Europe from India took a little over 2 years. I saw a lot and I missed a lot. I've been back to India 3 times since, most recently just over a week ago. My trip was actually to Thailand and Myanmar and I was just stopping in New Delhi for about 10 days before and after. I had no business, no appointments, no agenda, no pressure. So I went out of my way to really spend some quality time at the best sites in Delhi, sites I had seen in the past but never really immersed myself in.
I spent a whole day at Lal Qila (the Red Fort), for example, a place I probably gave an hour to previously. And I'd go spend another day there without a second thought. I also spent some time at Old Delhi's other stunning-- equally stunning-- tourist attraction: Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque. The Moghul Emporer Shah Jahan started it in 1650 and the red sandstone and marble house of worship-- not far from his palace-- look six years to complete. It's truly awe-inspiring and I guess that was the point. We sure don't build 'em like that any more!
I had heard about a Sufi poet and saint, Hazrat Sarmad being buried in a tomb at the Jama Masjid. He was actually a Jewish Armenian from Persia who converted to Islam-- perhaps to Christianity for a spell before that-- and became a peerless Sufi mystic of great renown in his day (1590-1661). Somewhere along the way he fell head over heels in love (ishq) with a young Hindu boy, Abhai Chand-- so head over heels, in fact, that he renounced all worldly possessions-- including his clothes-- and became a naked fakir. This (nudity) wasn't that weird in India but the Moghuls weren't into it and Sarmad was pals with Dara Shikoh, the heir to Shah Jahan's throne. That didn't work out and when Aurangzeb staged a coup and took over the joint it was hard times for Dara Shikoh's friends. He had Sarmad beheaded for blasphemy (although historians have always sensed some politics in the mix).
I decided to go visit and pay my respects. I didn't have my camera so the picture above is of me in front of an entirely different tomb, Humayun's, which is in New Delhi, not even Old Delhi, although it's just as old. I stopped there on my way to another tomb the Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga, which is very much a lively scene in an living medieval community and in front of which-- and the reason I went-- qawwali singers do their thing in the evenings. I love that music and the video below in front of the darga should give you an idea of what it's like. Anyway, back to Samad; I never did get to take any photos and it was very difficult to find, since everyone claims to know where everything is, even if they don't. And even when I found it... well, how do you know he's really in there anyway? And if he is, is his head?
UPDATE: NY TIMES DOES DELHI IN 36 HOURS
Don't try it... but there are some useful tips... about art galleries and sitar shopping. They agree with me that Swagath, though not in the center of town, is worth the trip for a delicious south Indian (especially otherwise unavailable Mangalorean) seafood meal.