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A Trip to Saidpur: Khawaja Khizar in Islamabad

Posted on March 24, 2008
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Books, History, Travel
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Mast Qalandar

People often describe Islamabad as a city without a soul. Actually, Islamabad’s soul is not to be found in the city itself, but on the fringes of the city. In the little hamlets and hills.

Saidpur, IslamabadSaidpur, Islamabad

Fauzia Minallah, an Islamabad based artist, has recently published a delightful coffee-table book titled ‘Glimpses into Islamabad’s Soul’. She describes many such places in and around Islamabad with long history and heritage, myths and folklore.

One such village is Saidpur, situated just off the Margalla Road, hardly a 5 five minutes drive from the upscale neighborhoods of Islamabad. I knew Saidpur only as a place one ordered garden-manure from. You didn’t have to go there. You just called the guy on his cell phone and he would have a Suzuki-full of manure delivered at your doorstep – literally, sometime.

Or you knew Saidpur as a place where one bought bakras (goats), particularly black bakras, for slaughtering to seek divine help on occasions such as groundbreaking of a house, birth of a baby boy, an upcoming exam or a possible promotion, a serious sickness, or to ward off any evil one suspects might befall him or her. Poor black bakra!

Saidpur, IslamabadSaidpur, IslamabadSaidpur, Islamabad
I drive past the sign pointing to the Saidpur village almost daily but I never bothered to venture into the village. (Perhaps, because I had not faced the need or an occasion to slaughter a black bakra.)

Recently I noticed a lot of development activity in the area. The road to the village was being carpeted with a fresh layer of tarmac; wooded areas were being cleaned of the undergrowth; a rustic fence was erected along the road leading to the village, and haystacks suddenly sprouted along the road to give a rural look to the area.

Actually, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) is developing Saidpur into a tourist attraction, and is spending a lot of money (nearly 400 million rupees) and efforts on resurrecting the old village and giving it a quaint look.

A newly built adobe gate welcomes you to the village. Built somewhat in Pueblo style, the gate seems to have been virtually lifted from Santa Fe, New Mexico and planted in Saidpur, Islamabad. While the CDA’s intentions and efforts to revamp Saidpur are commendable, there is this danger that they might end up reinventing it.

Saidpur is a very old village — 4 or 5 hundred years old — with a history and heritage and, of course, its own myths and folklore.

It is nestled in the Margallah hills overlooking Islamabad. Built along the slope of the hills, and gradually creeping upwards, the village presents a picturesque view, particularly in the soft light of morning or afternoon sun.

Saidpur is named after Said Khan, the son of Sultan Sarang Khan, the Gakhar chief of the Potohar region during Emperor Babur’s time. Emperor Jahangir’s memoir, Tuzke Jahangiri, mentions Jahangir halting at a place “beyond Rawalpindi”, on his way to Kabul. From his description it seems the place was Saidpur.

According to Fauzia Minallah:

“The Persian book ‘Kaigor Namah’ beautifully describes the place [Saidpur] during the visit of the Mughal commander Raja Man Singh in about 1580. It was a garden resort with a number of natural streams supplying water for drinking and irrigation…Raja Man Singh was so enamored by the village that he turned it into a place of religious worship. He constructed raised platforms, walled enclosures and a number of kunds (ponds) called Rama kunda, Sita kunda, Lakshaman kunda and Hanuman kunda named after the characters of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Saidpur was declared a pilgrim center and Rama kunda was preserved right up to 1947.”

The first thing you notice when you enter the village (and that is a big surprise), past a green domed mosque, is a Hindu temple, prominently situated and newly restored and painted. A little removed from the temple, to the left, is a small building with two orange colored domes. A plaque on this building, written in what appears to be Gurmukhi, suggests it might have been a gurdwara or a Sikh shrine. Between the temple and the ‘gurdwara’ is a neat, 2-storey building that was an orphanage (dharamsala) at one time. The temple is mentioned in the Punjab Gazetteer of Rawalpindi district of 1893-94, which suggests it is over a hundred years old. It’s amazing that a temple and gurdwara survived in a village that had no Hindu or Sikh population since 1947.

Saidpur PakistanHindu Temple SaidpurTemple, dharamshala, gurdawara, Saidpur, Pakistan

The secret of survival of the temple and the attached buildings, I found, was that soon after the Partition they were converted into a government school, and thus saved from being vandalized. Only recently the school was shifted and the temple and the ‘gurdwara’ renovated in their original form (a little overdone, though), and the orphanage was converted into a ‘gallery’ where old photographs of Islamabad, when it was just being built, are displayed.

Saidpur is also known for making unglazed pottery. According to Fauzia Minallah, “The distinct cultural identity of Saidpur has always been its pottery and it has always been known as the potters’ village.” She also mentions two old potters of the village, Niaz Muhammad and Rahim Dad, who still run their workshops in the village.

During my visit to the village I literally stumbled on Rahim Dad while he was sitting in the sun chatting with friends. He eagerly took me to his workshop and gave me a demonstration of how he turned a lump of wet clay into an interesting piece of pottery in a few minutes (we will have a separate post on that soon). Rahim Dad (he pronounced his name as Rakhim Dad) is a white haired man with a sun burnt and weathered face. He said he was 70 years old and a potter for several generations.

Other than being an old potter, Rahim Dad is also a repository of information about the village. What was the population of the village, I asked him. Two thousand registered voters, was his precise answer. (Who said our rural folks are politically ignorant?) Among other things, he told me about the shrine of Zinda Pir or the Living Saint, which was located just a couple of hundred feet above the temple on the hill slope under a pair of old banyan trees. Who was Zinda Pir, I asked. Khawaja Khizar, replied Rahim Dad categorically.

I was aware of the tradition of Khizar but never knew that he had spent time in the hills of Islamabad. According to some Muslim traditions, Khizar or Khidar, having drunk from Aab-i-Hayat or “the fountain of life” attained immortality and roams the earth incognito, usually along riverbanks, lakes and mountain streams. Some also believe him to be a prophet. He is believed to help people who have lost their way. In Urdu poetry, Khizar is often used as a metaphor for a person who guides lost people. Iqbal frequently mentions Khizar in his poetry and wrote two poems, Khizar-e-Rah and Jawab-e-Khizar highlighting some of the Muslim beliefs about Khizar. Ghalib also mentions Khizar, but iconoclast that he was, he addresses Khizar in a rather mischievous manner in one of his well known couplets:

Woh zinda hum haiN, keh haiN rooshanaas-i-khalq, aye Khizr
Na tum keh chor banay umr-e-javedaaN kay liye

Khizar, we are alive, for we are known to everyone
Not you, who slunk away unseen to steal eternal life

[Translation by Ralph Russel]

I requested Rahim Dad to show me Khizar’s shrine. He readily agreed and guided me up the hill. In spite of his years and the inadequate shoes he was wearing he walked up the stony slope with the ease of a mountain goat while I clumsily slipped, stumbled and lagged behind.

Zinda Pir, SaidpurZinda Pir, SaidpurZinda Pir, SaidpurZinda Pir, Saidpur

Zinda Pir’s bethak or the “sitting place of the living saint”, as the place is called, is the spot where the saint is supposed to have sat and worshipped. The place is situated at the base of a rock and is enclosed by a low brick wall with decorative holes in it. Two large banyan trees cover the whole place like a huge umbrella. Several layers of satin chadors (cloth sheets), inscribed with holy verses, are spread on top of each other at the spot where the saint is believed to have sat, each chador placed by a devotee in return for a prayer fulfilled by the saint.

I entered the enclosure first and Rakhim Dad followed me. I noticed that he took off his shoes before stepping in. He glanced at my shoes but didn’t say anything. It was too late for me to take off my shoes, for I was already in. I stayed there for sometime taking in the surroundings while Rahim Dad raised his hands and whispered a prayer.

Outside the enclosure, there is a grave of a woman who is believed to have spent all her life sitting and praying at the shrine. She is known simply as Mai Ji.

Every Thursday evening, folks visit the shrine, light candles or ‘diyas’, place them in the holes in the walls, say a prayer and go away presumably with a lighter heart. They also light candles at the Mai Ji’s grave.

Looking down at the village from the hillside shrine, in the soft light of the setting sun, it is truly an uplifting sight.

Tailpiece: When I came home from my trip to Saidpur and the shrine I felt a shooting pain in my left leg and also noticed a severe rash on the upper part of the leg. I thought it must be the result of the exertion of climbing up the hill. But when the pain didn’t go away for a couple of days I was assailed with an awful thought. Could this possibly be a punishment for my walking into the shrine with my shoes on? (We are all superstitious to some extent. Aren’t we?) When I mentioned this to a friend he had no doubt in his mind that it was a punishment for the irreverence I had shown to to the Zinda Pir. The only way to atone for my ‘sin’, he said, was to go back to the shrine and ask for forgiveness. Or, still better, slaughter a black bakra!

When I checked with the doctor, he said it was Shingles (Herpes Zoster) – a nasty, painful and disabling viral disease that may last for several weeks.

Photos are by the author himself and his complete collection can be seen here.

51 Comments on “A Trip to Saidpur: Khawaja Khizar in Islamabad”

  1. Asma says:
    March 25th, 2008 12:39 am

    Awesome MQ, truly enlightening … I didn’t knew this many details :)

    I’ve read excerpts from Fozia Minallah’s book (rather detailed research) on Islamabad and adjoining areas and their historic value. A must read for Margalla enthusiasts, I must say.

    ~Thnx!

  2. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    March 25th, 2008 4:26 am

    @Mast Qalander,,

    yes, it is indeed enlightening, thundering to observe
    indication of Hazrat Khawaja Khizr in “Islamabad”.
    Apart from massage parlours where you can receive
    massage in chinese “tongue”

    Qalanderi bhi to hoti hay ik ada Khizri
    Ati hi nazar ko hay, magar nehein ati
    RK

  3. March 25th, 2008 5:43 am

    very nice article….

  4. Owais Mughal says:
    March 25th, 2008 9:01 am

    MQ saheb. this is indeed a very informative read. I enjoyed it very much.

  5. mansoor says:
    March 25th, 2008 9:16 am

    beautiful! i must go see this place soon! i also cross that place so much, yet never bothered to go up and look.. one of these days….

    and get well soon mast qalandar, in know someone else with the herpes zoster, and its a really painful experience.

  6. Usman says:
    March 25th, 2008 3:07 pm

    Very fascinating story.

    But I think I once heard similar thing about Khizer being in NWFP soemwhere!

  7. Darwaish says:
    March 25th, 2008 4:25 pm

    MQ: As always, a truly wonderful article. I have added this to my must-visit places the next time I am in Islamabad :)

  8. MK says:
    March 25th, 2008 4:28 pm

    Beautiful description. Bravo!

  9. Umar says:
    March 25th, 2008 5:52 pm

    The numerous doodhwalas plying their trade in the capital are invariably denizens of Saidpur too…

  10. readinglord says:
    March 25th, 2008 6:44 pm

    Isamabad has no soul indeed. In fact it does not exist as a political entity as well as I realized while polling my vote in the recent general elections. After getting my slip for the vote for NA, I asked for the second slip for the vote for Provincial Assembly but they told me that the Islamabadies, though proud citizens of the Capital City, have unlike all the nation only one vote. Why this discrimination?

  11. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    March 25th, 2008 7:06 pm

    @Umar,

    you must have noticed top-right photo
    ” Baithak Sakhi Zindah Pir ”
    If this is the situation of “cleanliness” of a Zindah Pir,
    what will happen after his “departure”.
    Strange culture ?

  12. Adnan Ahmad says:
    March 26th, 2008 10:02 am

    Qalandar, Good photography. Get well soon and next time do take your shoes off.

  13. MQ says:
    March 27th, 2008 1:07 pm

    Usman:

    Your comment:

  14. AHsn says:
    March 30th, 2008 3:13 am

    If one slaughters a single goat for a baby-boy, how much of a goat should be slaughtered for a baby-girl? Half!!

    I sacrified one for my daughter and two for my son.

  15. AHsn says:
    March 30th, 2008 9:58 am

    “What is intriguing, however, is that Khizar restricts his movements generally to the Muslim world and mostly within Pakistan. I wonder why?”

    The good Khwaja is a guide to lost travellers. He puts them back to the right path. The right path? He knows it.

  16. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    March 30th, 2008 5:06 pm

    @ one goat for a daughter and two for the son

    perfect arithmetic

    BTW, why is everybody seems rushing to slaughter
    something ??

  17. zia m says:
    March 30th, 2008 10:10 pm

    This khizr guy has been around a long time.Gilgamesh the Sumerian king BC 2600 travelled with him.Then Moses has spent time with him(according to islamic tradition).
    Even Alexander asked him to find water of life for him.There is a museum some where in Jordan dedicated in his name.
    I was not aware of his travel to Pakistan.
    Thanks for the information

  18. AHsn says:
    March 31st, 2008 9:15 am

    “BTW, why is everybody seems rushing to slaughter
    something ??”

    It is simply “sunnat-e-AibrAhymy”.

    For “one goat for a daughter and two for the son”, please see IV : 11 (Chapter IV : paragraph 11) of the Holy Book. There you will find the perfect equation: 1 male = 2 females.

  19. MQ says:
    March 31st, 2008 10:30 am

    AHsn:

    Am just curious. Are you the same person who used to sign his name as Ahsan or ahsan, and were based in France?

  20. AHsn says:
    March 31st, 2008 11:28 am

    Yes, MQ, I am the same Ahsan. Always curious??

  21. Tariq Mehmood Malik says:
    April 2nd, 2008 6:06 am

    my name is Tariq Malik, me saidpur ka rehaeshi hoon, or mohalla darra maliks me rehta hoon, me ne sab kuch read kia bhot maza aaya. kabhi chakkar laga tow hamen zaroor yaad kijaay ga, mazeed updates se aap ko aagah kiya jaaay ga.

  22. Imran says:
    April 16th, 2008 1:24 am

    its quite good to see my own village in snaps, and i got lots of info abt it as well which i use to got from my grandmom…..

  23. Imran says:
    April 16th, 2008 2:45 am

    I do appreciate the efforts of Mr Kamran Lashari, he is the real hero as lots of developements have been done and still the work is in progress which shows a positive sign.

  24. asif khan says:
    August 7th, 2008 1:42 pm

    i am the resident of saidpur(now sattled in uk) i love my village far back since i was in class 3 of primary school saidpur,the time was about 1982, i was 10years old and use not miss a single day in school.it was a lovely time then,i hardly miss a single day when i dont see foriegn tourist visiting saidpur.but from 1985 onward beauty of my village was neglected until last year.thanks to the cda and every 1 els involved. ******

  25. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    August 7th, 2008 3:26 pm

    @Khawaja Khizr in Islamabad
    Punjab House in Islamabad
    Bilawal/Zardari Mehal in Islamabad

    Dear commenters,

    Mil gaya ! Mil gaya ! Khawaja Khizr Mil gaya !

    Khizr Bhi, bedast-o-pa, Ilyas bhi bedast-o-pa
    Meray tofan yam ba-yum, darya ba darya, jo ba jo

  26. asif khan says:
    August 21st, 2008 5:51 pm

    i cant wait to see my village how it looks after uplift.

  27. August 25th, 2008 12:48 am

    asif khan sounds like the 2 reporters paid by lashari to promote the work in saidpur. More than the Chairman of CDA Lashari is a make artist and has spent huge amounts on just the make up of saidpur. He had done that in Lahore and is doing in Islamabad too.If asif khan is the resident of saidpur than he must have noticed sewage still draining in the once pristine stream of saidpur. While the stream is still stinking, there is still poverty in the village and because of this ‘make up’ people like Lashari have become very rich in the CORRUPTION DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY.

  28. asif khan says:
    August 29th, 2008 8:48 am

    its nice to see tarik’s remarks about state of nala (the once pristige stream, i use to have a swim b4, 1988,right under the place where there is bridge now,mostly it use to be sparkling clean water there ). Dont 4get no body did nothing to make saidpur better since 1970 till this project of cda or who ever is behind it. Things cant get changed or made perfect “over night”!!!
    look at the work is done so far!did any body did anything to make saidpur better in last 35 years?? No!!!
    But most of the people did built many houses on “open land” to “rent them out” for money!

    Is saidpur better now or was last 28 years???
    I did asked one of my friend about “cda plans to collect the rubbish from saidpur” and was told that they have put some big bins to be use to collect the qubish.until “we” the resident of saidpur stop piling the rubish in the”nala” its never going 2 b change.
    Well last time i visited saidpur was in december 2005 with my wife and 2children,my son was only 5years old,upon entering the village his first words were” dady every thing is broken!”
    I am sure now saidpur must b better then 2005.

  29. asif khan says:
    August 30th, 2008 6:55 am

    further to tarik’s way of criticism, the way he said “i might have been paid by cda like 2other reporters”
    U better read my very first coments in which i mentioned that i m satteled in england now. If cda if i had been paid by cda then budget should be in very bad state after bribing me!! Because my salary here is 2000

  30. awahid says:
    September 14th, 2008 1:25 am

    very nice photos
    Lovely

  31. vio says:
    December 28th, 2008 8:19 pm

    hiya,

    do you have the name + contact of the orphanage in dharamsala? i am looking for volunteer work there…

    thank you
    vio xox

  32. March 18th, 2009 6:35 am

    What an awesome write-up. I’ve read Fozia Minallah’s accounts from time to time published in Dawn and teh way she has explored Islamabad’s history … I feel absolutely thrilled about my city’s ancient treasures.

    Thanks for sharing MQ =)

  33. Salman Mahmood says:
    March 24th, 2009 2:36 am

    May I point out that the ‘Khizar’ in Iqbal’s poetry is certainly not the so called zinda pir buried at Saidpur. The Khizar that Iqbal refers to is a contemporary of the Prophet Moses (alaih Salaam). Please correct your facts here.

  34. Salman Mahmood says:
    March 24th, 2009 2:46 am

    If this account is to be believed Musa (alaih salaam) was wandering around with a Kashmiri Khawaja!! Please give me a break. Allama Iqbal has not referred to Khawaja Khizar. Please read Qassasul Ambia or at least the Quran.

  35. Imran says:
    April 4th, 2009 4:23 am

    lets make this forum even better by putting some extra info which might be helpful for the readers…. well Asif i have read ur comments and like them all, the development process is still in progress but its a bit slow now and we don’t have any idea about future plans of CDA(which should have to be clear as far as people of saidpur are concerned)

  36. Anis ur Rehman says:
    April 7th, 2009 12:23 pm

    bohat fit jaga hay… simply beautiful… Subhan Allah

  37. asif khan says:
    April 15th, 2009 3:55 pm

    its nice to see that there are some extra remarks added to this site, its a long long time since i visited this site.
    100% agreed with salman mahmood remarks about khidr, he was the saint whome moses was sent to by allah after moses has said that he is the person or most knowledge at that time, but allah ask him to go out on a journy to find khidr so allah can teach moses that its up to allah to give knowledge to whome he wishes to. khidr has got nothing to do who ever is burried im my village.
    also thanks to imran for letting me know the work progress info about saidpur,

  38. Amal says:
    June 27th, 2009 12:33 pm

    Hi I am an architecture student in Lahore. I am working on my thesis, a site very similar to saidpur in Karachi. It is the opinion of many urban planners that said siadpur has failed and interventions like these should not be continued as they don

  39. Sundus says:
    July 13th, 2009 7:22 am

    Love Saidpur…never been there but seen it in pictures and on tv ads…simply beautiful..!!!

  40. Nina says:
    August 22nd, 2009 8:56 pm

    I just wanted to say what a wonderful article. I also wanted to let you know that Khwaja Pir/Khwaja Khizr is also worshiped in Punjab, India by many.

    My mon’s side of the family has been worshiping Khwaja Pir for many generations – she tells me her ancestors have always worshiped him .

    I am really pleased to ready about him.

  41. October 31st, 2009 10:57 am

    Salam Guys,

    Just uploaded movie at youtube that I made during Saidpur village tour. Please check it out and comment,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k493f7NNRo8

    this is my first ever video over youtube… will be uploading more soon… dont forget to comment…

    Thanks

  42. Salman Mahmood says:
    December 23rd, 2009 6:52 am

    really sorry to read what Nina has written – that her family worships that Khawaja pir. When someone worships any one other than Allah then he or she commits the biggest sin. Allah has said in the Quran that He can forgive every offence except shirk.

    I will advise Nina, for fear of Allah, to stop boasting about her family’s worship of Pirs and request her family, for their own benefit, to worship only Allah before it is too late.

    May Allah guide muslims to quit worshipping all idols inclulding the pir of falaan place and so on whether alive or dead.

  43. Zeeshan says:
    January 19th, 2010 11:30 pm

    it is a good attempt to make us aware about a historic place in our hometown.

    I will visit the place and post you my own experience as well.

    Regards,

    Zeeshan

  44. m.khan says:
    March 2nd, 2010 2:23 am

    helo everybody,
    plz have a look on the problems of saidpur village. go n interview the (old)people specially the people living on the backside of that musium, what CDA has done with that nalla which was a passage at one time but now street of garbige. n do interview that chicken man(nasir mehmood). This artifical beauty is based on the problems that saidpur village people are facing. inspite of making the small streets of that village freee of polution they have made it a helll for the people. CDA(central development authority of creating problems for people).

  45. Imran says:
    April 26th, 2010 6:36 am

    Well there are some people who faces problem coz of CDA like the one mentioned by m khan about Nasir… there are some other people who faces the same problem, CDA destroy their houses and as an alternate they got nothing…. point is that there are some people those have political background and they got more then one houses as an alternate… this is not fair..

  46. Imran says:
    April 26th, 2010 6:42 am

    Even there are three to four people always sitting on the main road to take the barrier up and down…. i don’t know whom should i ask about them…. is there any accountability for them and what they are doing on expense of CDA.
    I live in this beautiful village and i want peace in it….

  47. kiran says:
    July 19th, 2010 8:48 am

    its is enchanting ,the information which i have received from that source ,motivated me to visit there within seconds.soon i will share my live views .

  48. kiran says:
    July 19th, 2010 8:50 am

    its is enchanting ,the information which i have received from that source ,motivated me to visit there within seconds.soon i will share my live views .

    thanks for submission of comments

  49. Imran says:
    July 22nd, 2010 4:29 am

    Waiting for your views

  50. September 19th, 2011 5:27 pm

    aoa.
    I visited said pur thirty five years ago.The most beautiful things which i seen there were green mountains, fruits plants, a small stream having fresh cold neat and clean water. i passed there 7 days every morning i go to this stream several time i jump in it and enjoy which i can,t explain, there was a tree of mango with old mosque.there were plants of guava, lokath, angoor,anar and cold shadow the the trees.
    There was a man who made a rail by mud (so long) .Any body which comes to said pur he likes to see that mud rail. i love said pur du to its beauty, peace and calm.I did not see such a beautiful village in my life.

  51. shivani shekhar says:
    October 10th, 2011 5:04 pm

    hello,pakistan.This is shivani shekhar searching saidpur in pakistan ,actually my grandfatherand and his sister belongs to saidpur only,before 1947 one fight had occured between hindu and muslim so after that only they shifted india . Ineed a small help here i don’t know why this curiosity suddenly come up in me but i really want to search their home may be their home r not still there but by god grace this may b there hence i only want that if any people of saidpur read this pleassssssssse give me some information about this my nanu name is shri laxmi narayan lal,ryt now he is86and not welland he really want to go saidpur to search out some his belove so please help me pn behalf of him i’m here.You can contact me through my email.THANK U.

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