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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cover Stories - Of Pir Adil, The Place That Started It All

One of the reasons I consider my one month flood relief duty in Dera Ghazi Khan the most exciting and probably most memorable one month of my life is that along with working my socks off in the relief efforts for most of the month, I also managed to squeeze in five or six days of hardcore exploration and travel. Most of this exploration was carried out in a four day whirlwind tour that had me covering 1500 kilomketres and visiting five or six cities in what has since come to be known as the "Great Road Trip". There were however one or two detours that I made before that, on what can be called 'company time'.

 On my way to DG Khan from Multan at the start of my duty, I looked up places of interest in and around DG Khan (a thoroughly fruitless and dispiriting exercise) One name kept popping up repeatedly, the village of Pir Adil. It was a village  to the north of DG Khan, around 12 km from our base camp. The village housed a Sufi shrine, there wasn't much more I could find out about the place however. It was obviously the shrine of a Sufi saint, but it wasn't obvious what distinguished it from the innumerable others that dotted the landscape. The shrine was of one Pir Adil Shah Bukhari , a 9th century Chishti saint. That, and a vague idea of it's location gleaned from Google Maps was all the information I had about this place.

Our daily ambulance trips to and from Medical camps were more or less a rambling caravan that pitched it's tents wherever we felt we were needed. We had no restrictions of distance or time and there was an almost limitless supply of fuel. This meant we travelled far and wide, covering a radius of almost ninety kilometers, spending eight or nine hours in the field everyday. Usually the trips were pretty straightforward; base camp to medical camp and then back again with no detours along the way. After a week or so, this spartan routine started becoming tedious. I was eager to get some exploring under my belt but wasn't able to get any time off. In addition, my routes usually took me away from the one or two places that were worth seeing, including the Pir Adil shrine.

Around the seventh day of our Medical camps however, we were told to pitch camp at the Dera Ghazi Khan Cement factory, around 14km North-west of the main city. Looking up the place on Google Maps (an app that more than earned it's Official Seal Of Awesomeness  over the course of my South Punjab adventure), I found that the route led me pretty close to the village of Pir Adil. I figured this was as good a chance as any to visit the place. After finishing up the day's camp at the Cement factory, I sent one of the ambulances ahead of me so it could take the remaining supplies and the less footloose of the support staff back to the basecamp while I set out in the other to find the village of Pir Adil.

It turned out to be a pretty straightforward path in the end. As the map shows, heading north from the Pakistan Chowk on the Indus Highway for a distance of 8 miles brings you to the Cement Factory chowk. A further 2 miles bring one to a crossroads with a direction pointer showing the way towards Pir Adil due East. A straight metalled track leads to the village a mile down the road.

View Pir Adil Shrine in a larger map

About half a mile before the shrine, as the magnificent white-and-blue tiled dome of the shrine emerged on the horizon,I finally understood what distinguished the place from the countless other shrines all over DG Khan. Driving into the village, all of us in the ambulance let out a collective gasp as we rounded a turn and the shrine came into view. I hadn't yet been to the magnificent shrines in Multan and Ucch Sharif yet, so this was my first exposure to the "Multani" style of architecture, and I was floored by what I saw. At the edge of a large graveyard, surrounded by four low walls, with an impromptu trinket market outside it, stood the tomb of Pir Adil Shah Bukhari. It was a magnificent building, at first sight very similar to the pictures I had seen of the Shah Rukn-e-Alam tomb in Multan.

A quadrangular building ,with a hexagonal second storey topped by a beautiful dome, it dominates the landscape of the surrounding village. The eastern edges are rounded off by cylindrical bastions topped by a small minaret each with a lotus pattern on top. The westerly bastions are more intricately designed, with hollow mehraab-like depressions along their lengths and a slightly larger lotus atop the minarets. The exterior walls are decorated by beautiful yet simple blue-glazed tiles in geometric patterns that vary on each wall. On some there is a crisscrossing brick lattice adorned with blue tiles in the centre of the lattice-work. On others there are groups of geometric patterns ascending the walls in ordered groups. The southern entrance - the one facing the graveyard - has a vertical row of three depressed arches on either side. The eastern entrance is larger and opens into the courtyard of the shrine. Topped by an overhanging ledge, with rows of mehraabs around it, it's a beautiful structure. Three horizontal filigrees circle the four walls on the first floor, with three more on the hexagonal drum that forms the second floor. The edges of the hexagon are topped with slender white minarets that encircle the large white central dome. It was a rather compact but extremely beautiful building and I spent a lot of time admiring it's various details from the outside before entering the shrine itself.

Entering the shrine from the direction of the graveyard, I was immediately struck by something that I'd later realize was characteristic of most of the shrines I'd visit - an overwhelming sense of calm. It was semi-dark and very cool, with a breeze blowing through the open doors. One or two gentlemen were sitting inside the shrine, praying, one of whom I struck up an entertaining conversation with. Sunk into one of the walls was a mehraab decorated in intricate glazed tile that probably served as a prayer spot. Above the mehraab were two quatrains painted on the walls. One was a chronogram that revealed that the interior of the shrine had been repaired in 1343 A.H. the other was a Persian couplet that was faded and thus couldn't be read properly. Between the two inscriptions was a simple floral pattern.

The final resting place of the Pir was right below the dome, which was simply in ornamented from the interior. There were one or two relics, including an inscription on a stone tablet written in Arabic. There was another inscription on a piece of ivory that was well nigh illegible, however the date 1053 A.H was clearly visible at the bottom left.A stone slab with the imprint of a foot was kept in a glass case. The custodians claimed that it was a footprint of the Prophet (S.A.W) that Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari, also known as Hazrat Jahanian Jahangasht (R.A) had brought with him from Makkah. the inscription above the print also claimed as such. The Pir's lady wife was buried right next to the main shrine in a smaller chamber which I found at the corner of the courtyard. It was a small domed building, the corner of which was jutting into the courtyard through the walls.Older photographs (rarer than hen's teeth) reveal that it was a small, simple square white structure topped with a dome

I stayed at the shrine for around an hour or so but the ambulance driver and the rest of the staff were getting testy about delaying their lunch, so I had to reluctantly leave. We all bought a few sweetmeats from the stalls outside the shrine as well as distributed some of the remaining medicines and then departed towards the base camp. I was genuinely moved by what was my first visit to a shrine since childhood, and I'm sure the experience of visiting Pir Adil was catalytic in my resurgent interest in and affection for Sufi Shrines. After that brief visit to Pir Adil, I've travelled all over Punjab, paying my respects at many other shrines and tombs, and everywhere I've felt the same ambience, the same feeling of spiritual serenity that I experienced for the first time at that tiny, hidden away tomb outside Dera Ghazi Khan- the tomb of Pir Adil.

P.S The account of my first exploratory trip should I think be soundtracked by what is the da-facto National anthem of the Seraiki belt. In my favorite version of this immortal folk melody; the late, great Pathanay Khan sings the Rohi.


  1. Very nicely explained. Totally loved it. I've been yearning to visit South Punjab (minus Multan) thoroughly for a while now and all I can do is to wait for the Summer vacations now. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pir adil is my forefather . i had all the pedigree of my family .

  3. Thanks for putting this blog appreciate it man . I was searching if i had any info on internet of my forefathers .