O’ come, all ye faithful

Basav Biradar | Updated on November 07, 2020

High on a hill: In November, Hindus and Muslims gather at Domanal’s dargah to observe the urs (death anniversary) of Sufi saint Dawal Malik   -  IMAGES: BASAV BIRADAR

A dargah in a North Karnataka village retains the secular traditions and principles that once defined India

Domanal is a village about 25 km north-east of Bijapur city in North Karnataka. To reach Domanal, one has to get off the national highway going towards Solapur and take the 2 km mud road to the village. The population of the village as per the 2011 census is 3,355.

It is my father’s ancestral village; my grandfather was born here and then adopted by his childless aunt from Jevoor, a village 60 km from Vijaypura (earlier known as Bijapur).

During November every year (after the first full moon night post Diwali), this nondescript village transforms into a destination for the many devotees of the Sufi saint Dawal Malik. His urs (death anniversary) is celebrated in a dargah atop a hill here. It is quite an event in this part of the world, and especially big for my family. As the landlord community, who are also known as Patels or Patils, our relatives have been the custodians of the urs celebrations for generations now. But I had never paid attention to this practice — until now.

Like most youngsters in hinterland India, about 20 years ago, I escaped to the big city at the first opportunity. Free from the diktats of traditions and family relations, the anonymous life in the city opened up a whole new world of ideas and possibilities. But the political discourse in recent years, of how Hindu traditions are supreme and exclusive of others, reminded me of my family’s devoted following of the 19th-century Muslim saint Dawal Malik. I decided to make the journey back home in November last year and understand this tradition.

My father seemed unusually excited when I told him about my plan to attend the urs — because, at long last, the elusive son showed an interest in family rituals.

On the day of the urs, we hired an SUV, packed the entire family in it, and drove off to the dargah. The otherwise empty and dusty approach road to the village was unbelievably busy and delayed us by half an hour. The motorable road to the top of the hill was closed, so we had to park at the foothills in a makeshift lot supervised by local boys.

After a kilometre-long walk through a sea of people and the cacophony of stalls selling food items such as mirchi bhajjis, masala dosa, boondi laddoos, sugar toffees, plastic toys and framed photographs of Hindu gods, we reached the foothill. During the climb, finding space on the stairs was more difficult than the actual task of conquering a hundred-odd steep steps. I was a bit surprised to find hoardings of local BJP leaders along the way. Probably this was a reminder that Sufi saints like Dawal Malik retain their cult status and are revered by Hindus and Muslims alike despite the polarised political atmosphere.


A flight of 100-odd steps leads to the shrine


On the top of the hill, amidst the sounds of shehnais and drums, there were many offering deed namaskaras —101 prostrations on the way to the shrine (saint’s grave) as thanksgiving for prayers answered. Cries of ‘Dawal Maliki dost raha ho din’ could be heard everywhere. A newly added hoarding explained the significance of the dargah to the village and to the Patil family and warned people against littering.

The shrine itself is a small square structure topped by a dome and tiny minarets on four corners. The dome and the minarets donned a fresh coat of green paint while the rest of the structure sizzled in white. A board inscribed with the names of donors hung on a wall of the office — a single-room unit behind the shrine. Names of donors were also etched on the stone pavement on the premises. Not surprisingly, the donors hailed from different religions and castes.

As we reached the shrine through the efficiently managed queue, my mother handed over offerings of coconuts, incense and galip (a chadar made with flowers) to the young priest. My father apprised him of our family connection with the dargah and urged him to pray for us. The priest acknowledged his request with a smile, blessing us with a broom made of peacock feathers. A huge vessel in front of the shrine was filled to the brim with maadli (a dry sweet made with jaggery, broken wheat and cardamom). My father told me that this was the favourite food of the saint and people make it at home and bring it as an offering.

To the saint, with love: Offerings of maadli, a dry sweet made with jaggery, broken wheat and cardamom


The urs celebrations, called locally as jaatri, last five days. On the first day, the dargah gets a new lime wash, and on the second day a procession of nagaris (drums) marches from the village to the dargah with offerings of food. On the third day, sandalwood paste is applied to the grave of Dawal Malik as a mark of devotion and respect. On the same day, maadli is sent as an offering to the dargah from the house of the landlords. According to my 85-year-old uncle, who has been the village panchayat chairman, the general public is not allowed to send in offerings on the third day. The fourth day of the urs is when thousands come visiting with food, coconuts, incense, fruits and even sacrificial goats. Many families in the region, including mine, follow the ritual of offering a goat to the dargah during the urs. This is also the day when galip offerings are made.

On the fourth night, entertainment programmes such as plays and folk dances are held at the shrine premises. The main event on the fifth and final day is a wrestling competition (with a cash prize for winners), for which a pit is dug in the premises of the dargah. A couple of young men from the organising committee informed us that the number of people attending the cultural shows and the wrestling matches has increased over the years. This came as a surprise to me. I didn’t think such programmes would attract crowds in the age of phone-led entertainment.

Right in front of the shrine is a lime-washed tower known locally as malkambh. People light lamps that rest on its many arms. This ritual is observed on all five days of the urs as well as every new moon night (amavasya).


Sitting underneath the large tamarind tree next to the shrine, munching on coconut, I watched Hindus and Muslims stand in the same queue, awaiting their turn to offer gifts and devotion to the same saint. Later, over lunch at my uncle’s house in the farm, I asked him about the history of this practice. He thinks the dargah must have come into being after the saint’s death in the late 19th century. He says his ancestors (Lingayats, a Hindu sect that worships Shiva) set aside 21 acres of agricultural land in the name of the dargah to help pay for the urs celebrations every year.

There is also the story of Dhyamanagouda, one of our ancestors: He was arrested by the police in some case and is said to have been released by the blessings of Dawal Malik Baba. Thus, while he was alive, he would climb up the dargah every year handcuffed with flowers. I also learned that our family lends tiny horses made of silver to the dargah during the festivities. Apparently, these horses signify the savaari (the ride) of the revered saint.

The Sufi culture spread in North Karnataka region during the rule of the Bahmanis and the Adilshahis from the 14th century to the 17th century. In his seminal work Sufis of Bijapur, scholar Richard Eaton wrote extensively about the role of Sufis in the establishment of the Adilshahi kingdom and in creating a new syncretic counterculture. Dawal Malik was probably one such proponent of Sufism. Today, hundreds of Sufi dargahs dot the arid landscape of the region

Although no one could tell me when Dawal Malik actually came to the village and from where, he certainly has left a legacy that epitomises the secular principles that India once held dear.

Basav Biradar is a writer, researcher and documentary film-maker based in Bengaluru

Published on November 06, 2020

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