Data Ganj Baksh: Lahore’s oldest guide

Perhaps the greatest of the experiences at Data Darbar is to find oneself connected to a stream of humanity, shoulder to shoulder, with a shared sense of spirituality that cuts across ethnicity, sect, ritual and even religion at times. Despite the mayhem, the serenity of the place is soothing

Raza Rumi
Last week, accompanying a visitor from the Mecca of Sufis, Delhi, I reconnected with the Data Darbar or the royal pavilion of the great saint of Lahore, Ali bin Usman Al Hajveri. This shrine is the oldest and perhaps the most vibrant cultural marker of the past one millennium in Lahore. The title of Ganj Bakhsh was bestowed by the saint of the saints Khwaja Moin ud din Chishti of Ajmere, whose ascendancy in the Chishtia Sufi order is recognised by all and sundry. Pilgrimage to Ajmere by itself is a matter of spiritual attainment for the majority of Muslims in the subcontinent. It is not difficult to imagine then what the stature of Lahore’s Data Darbar is in this esoteric yet real and lived Islam in South Asia. While Khwaja Moin ud din Chishti honoured the Lahori saint with the title “bestower of treasure,” ordinary folk on Lahore’s streets were more direct by naming the saint as Data, the one who facilitates the fulfilment of aspirations.

Living nearly 11 centuries ago, Syed Ali bin Usman Al Hajveri was not a Lahori but a resident of Lahore’s cultural step-cousin, Ghazni, until he arrived in India and wandered in northern India before settling in Lahore for the last 34 years of his life. This was the time when mystics from Central Asia, in their constant urge to discover new vistas of spiritual exploration, started to travel and settle in different parts of the Indian subcontinent. It remains a mystery as to why Data Ganj Bakhsh would have chosen Lahore as the final stop in his life long journey. Perhaps the secular interpretation could be that Lahore was an inevitable stop over for all the Central Asian and Turkic caravans and armies and provided the right kind of environment for a foreign mystic to amalgamate into. A little before Ganj Bakhsh’s arrival, Lahore had been resurrected from the earlier ravages of time by the Ghaznavid ruler Mahmood and his son Masood. […]