Feb 8, 2008
The silhouetted image of a gigantic mountain on the edge of eastern horizon, which could be viewed right from Badlapur to Thane as one commutes by the Central local trains, had been one of the places that I wanted to visit since long.
Though within sight, for one reason or the other, my desire to visit the mountain remained unfulfilled till all of a sudden I suggested my wife that we must visit the mountain known as Haji Malang Gad, which had been the abode of a thirteenth century Sufi saint named Haji Abdur Rehman Shah Malang, popularly known as ‘Haji Malang Baba’ whose shrine (dargah) halfway up the mountain had been attracting pilgrims belonging to different castes, religions and regions.
The Panoramic View of Haji Malang Gad from the Base
According to legend, Haji Abdur Rehman Shah was a thirteenth century mystic who came to this country from Yemen in the Middle East and settled down on this mountain to preach simplicity, harmony and brotherhood among people belonging to different communities and castes.
Tradition mentions that on reaching the village at the foot of the mountain, Haji Malang Baba felt very thirsty and asked for water from a house belonging to a Brahman. The Brahman, realizing that the Baba and his followers are tired, arranged for a place to rest and offered them milk instead of water. This holy act of the Brahman was duly appreciated by Baba and he blessed him. According to another legend, the local ruler, King Nall, is said to have offered his daughter to the Baba as a disciple. The mazaars of the Baba and Ma Fatima lie side by side in the shrine.
The Narrow and Steep Path Leading to the Dargah of Haji Bhaktawar Baba
Haji Malang Baba’s dargah, in true syncretic tradition (where Hindus and Muslims pray together), was one of the few shrines where a Hindu ‘vahivatdar’ (traditional priest from the Hindu Karandekar family) and a Muslim ‘mutavalli’ (claiming to be distant kin of the Baba), have both been officiating at religious rituals. The way to the dargah is lined by temples dedicated to Shiva and Ganesh.
Having gathered certain amount of information, on 5th February 2008, though the weather was quite cool and chilly, my wife and I took a train to Kalyan and boarded the State Transport bus at 8.30 AM to visit the Haji Malang Gad. We reached the base of the mountain known as Haji Malang Wadi, a distance of about 15 kilometers from Kalyan within 30 minutes at a cost of Rs.10/- per head. There are also ‘share-rickshaws’ that ferry pilgrims to and fro from Kalyan. After paying Rs.2/- per head entrance fee we began trekking upwards towards the mountain.
The Mazaar of Haji Bhaktawar Shah Baba-First Salami
The journey from the base of the mountain till the shrine of Haji Malang Baba takes around two hours depending on the stamina and endurance of the pilgrim. The first half of the journey is quite difficult with steep climbing steps and sharp turnings.
Right from the base till the shrine of the Baba, there are
shops selling decorated walking sticks (which are taken back home by the pilgrims as souvenir), floral and cloth ‘chaddhars’ as offerings at the shrine, ‘prasad’ and other souvenirs such as the pictures of the shrine etc. At regular intervals there are small ‘dhabhas’ where the pilgrims can have bottled water, cold drinks, sugar cane juice, snacks, tea and coffee. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals are also available for a price.
The various provisions required to these shops and ‘dhabhas’ have to be carried on head by humans as animals cannot be harnessed for transport due to the narrow and steep steps.
After negotiating the steep climb around halfway through, the pilgrims reach the dargah of Haji Bhaktawar Shah Baba, one of the companions of Haji Malang Baba. The offering at this dargah is known as the ‘First Salami’.
After trekking a little higher, the pilgrims find the remaining journey easier as one walks through inclined slop with stretches of narrow muddy road and steps at intervals.
The Dargah of Haji Sultan Shah Baba – Second Salami
The pilgrims are usually confronted by intimidating groups of monkeys who demand their share of offerings in the form of pulses like ‘chana’ or other eatables.
A few minutes before the main shrine, the pilgrims are expected to visit the dargah of Haji Sultan Shah Baba, another companion of Haji Malang Baba. The offerings at this dargah are known as “Second Salami”.
On the way to the shrine of Haji Malang Baba, there are a number of shopkeepers who persuade the pilgrims to wash their face, hands and feet at the water taps provided by the side of their shops. They also offer them place for taking rest and to keep their footwear. This service is offered free of charge expecting that the pilgrims would purchase offerings to the Baba from their shops.
The shrine of Haji Malang Baba is a beautiful domed structure. It has two ‘mazaars’ (tombs), one that of the Baba and the other of his disciple Ma Fatima. Pilgrims offer prayers and spread the floral as well as cloth ‘chaddhars’ on the ‘mazaars’ as offerings in gratitude to the Baba.
The Shrine of Haji Malang Baba
From the Dargah, a further trek of 45 minutes to on hour, takes the pilgrims to the tombs of ‘Panch Peer’, the disciples of Baba who came with him. Along this stretch, one can also visit the place known as ‘Ghodya ki taap’. It is believed that after a mighty jump the horses of Haji Malang Baba and his companions landed on the hill and from the foot-prints of the horses water began to flow which is still being used for drinking.
After the pilgrimage to the shrine of Haji Malang Baba, those with adventurous spirit and stamina can venture to climb the mountain further to the top that will take them to the citadel (Balekilla). Reaching the pinnacle of the Malang Gad is a real challenge for the professional trekkers. However, for amateur trekkers reaching the pinnacle by a very narrow path should also be a thrilling experience. From the top of the mountain one can see Chanderi, Matheran range to the south, Kalyan city, Mahuli to the north and Mumbai to the west.
When I tried to gather some more information at the shrine, the attendant took me to meet Advocate Vijay Ketkar, son of Madhav Gopal Ketkar, the present hereditary trustee on the Board of Trustees of the Haji Malang Shrine. The trust comprises of members belonging to both Hindu and Muslim community.
The Top of the Haji Malang Gad with the Shrine in the Foreground
Vijay Ketkar, a practicing lawyer at the Kalyan Court has taken few days leave to supervise the preparations for the annual ‘Urs’ of Haji Malang Baba. The Trust is putting up temporary shelters and attempts are being made to provide various amenities to the thousands of pilgrims who will be visiting the shrine during this period.
The Urs festivities will begin from 17th February 2008 when the palanquin symbolizing the spirit of Haji Malang Baba will be brought from Ketkar’s ancestral home at the foot of the mountain in traditional Hindu style.
After the rituals including the hoisting of the shrine flag, spread over several hours, Ketkar and the other trustees of the shrine will be greeted by scores of pilgrims. Many of the local Muslims respectfully touch Ketkar’s feet and seek his blessings.
The grand Urs of Haji Malang Baba will be held from the full-moon mid-night (Magh Purnima) of 21st February 2008 and continue up to 24th February 2008. During this period thousands of pilgrims belonging to different religions and regions pay visit to the shrine. Free food will be provided for all those who will be paying a visit to the shrine during the period of ten days. Cultural programmes such as qawwalis will be organized from 10 PM onwards on these days. Before leaving, Hindu and Muslim pilgrims usually visit the nearby Maruti temple and a mosque respectively.
Adv. Vijay Ketkar, son of Present Hereditary Trustee Madhav Ketkar
The Ketkar family’s association with the Haji Malang dargah goes back to 1780, when the British laid siege to a nearby fort, then in the possession of the Peshwa rulers. The Marathas resisted for six long months, forcing the British to withdraw. Mr Vijay Ketkar proudly says that his ancestor Kashinath Pant Ketkar, who was the killedar of the fort, issued a proclamation ascribing the victory of the Marathas over the British to Haji Malang Baba.
Following the success of the Marathas against the British in defending the fort, the Peshwa issued a ‘sanad’ of that area to Kashinath Pant Ketkar, and his descendants became the protectors and gradually hereditary trustees of the shrine of Haji Malang Baba. Since then, local Hindus and Muslims have worshipped here together and Haji Malang shrine became the symbol of communal harmony.
Shops Selling Coloured Walking sticks and Offerings
However, this façade of communal harmony is punctured by groups of fundamentalist Hindus and Muslims locked in a fierce contest for control over the shrine. Since the year 1982, late Anand Dighe, the leader of Shiv Sena in Thane, launched a campaign called ‘Malang Mukti Andolan’. He led Shiv Sainiks to demonstrate on Urs every year. Shiv Sena was contending that Haji Malang was the Samadhi of Macchindernath Panth and it must be restored to Hindus.
According to Mr. Vijay Ketkar every year during the Urs, Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dal activists from Thane and Kalyan storm the place in groups, shout slogans and create inconvenience to the pilgrims and create a sense of insecurity.
The state government has to make elaborate security arrangement for the smooth conduct of the Urs. Mr Vijay Ketkar maintains that in spite of the provocative activities of the fanatical groups, the pilgrims to the shrine belonging to different faiths manifest exemplary communal harmony preached by Haji Malang Baba.
Throughout the year people from near and far undertake pilgrimage to the shrine of Haji Malang Baba. On weekdays on an average four to five hundred devotees visit the shrine. On Thursdays and Sundays the number goes up to a thousand and more. During the Urs month of February the number of pilgrims increases considerably reaching to many thousands during the Urs festivities.
After collecting sufficient information and thanking Vijay Ketkar we started our return journey which was much easier as we had to descend the mountain which we did within one hour. Taking a bus back to Kalyan we reached home with the contentment that we could fulfill a long cherished desire of visiting Haji Malang Gad and it was worth the time and energy that we spent though we did not venture to conquer the pinnacle of the mountain.
Dr Eugene D`Souza - Archives:
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- Mumbai: Afghan Church - War Memorial with a Difference
- Mumbai: Lohagad Fort - Destination for Trekkers
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- Raigad Fort - Where History and Nature Meet
- Western Ghats - God's Gift of Nature
- Mumbai: Lohagad Fort - Destination for Trekkers
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Know more about Dr Eugene D`Souza :
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