ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Repairing the Sufi Cave or Making It Hindu?

A recent Supreme Court order that the repair work at the Baba Budan Dargah be taken up even before resolving the dispute over religious observances and practices ends up privileging majoritarian religious norms. It also calls into question the proffered liberal secular ethic of religious neutrality.

In a wild and beautiful location set midway up the Baba Budan hills, in Chikmagalur district of Karnataka, and in the village called Dattatripit,1 stands the khanqah (hospice) of Dada H ayath Meer Qalandar, popularly known as Baba Budan Dargah.2 There is an underground cave located 300 steps below to the left of the entrance of the khanqah. On either side of the stairway, between the entrance of the khanqah and the cave, there are many mazars (tombs) of the sajjadah nashins3 and their families, and of Sufi saints and dervishes who came and stayed here. About 200 feet before the e ntrance to the cave stands an iron arch with “Sri Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Swamy Dargah” painted on it.4 On the western side of the cave is a mosque and appurtenances. Devotees believe that dargahs are portals through which they can invoke the deceased saint’s blessing and intercession. Although the khanqah is referred to as a dargah (for it is around a dargah that a khanqah gets established), the place is not a mortuary shrine but a hermitage, a place of saintly visitation and mystical meditation.

The cave houses an altar or seat which is believed to be the chillah of Dada-Hayath Meer Qalandar,5 while many see it as the peetha (i e, seat of religious reverence) of Swamy Dattatreya. Further, others believe that Dada Hayath Meer Qalandar and Swamy Dattatreya are two forms of the same divinity. Dattatreya, of the Hindu Puranas, is the three-headed reincarnation of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara and is accompanied by four dogs. Dada, as the legend has it, was a close associate of Prophet Mohammed, who travelled to India to preach Islam. Syed Shah Jamaluddin Maghribi, popularly called Baba Budan, a native of Baghdad, who came to Chikmagalur in the 16th century via Yemen, continued this spiritual lineage.6 It is his successors who are now the sajjadah nashins of the shrine. For centuries, both Muslims and non-Muslims have venerated the saints at this shrine. It is considered by many as a symbol of communal harmony and syncretism.

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