2008-05-25 04:18:03 UTC
Pir Gorachand lived in a region adjacent to Nadia, the district
important not only for its connection to Chaitanya but also for the
sufferings of the people during the transition of 1757-1771, dubious
orientalism for the creation of a Hindu (Indian) history for
Bangladesh, and for the historical study of various Faqir groups such
as Bauls and Kartavajas.
In fact the northern part of Barasat was included in the greater
district of Nadia.
It is believed that the actual tomb of Pir Gorachand is situated at
Haroa which is roughly about 40 km east-southeast of the town of
Barasat, and 30 km west-southwest of Basirhat. Barasat and Basirhat
are in the old district of Chabbish Pargana.
Pir Gorachand of Raaigram, Burdwan, was the same person. Disciples
sometime build structures in the name of a Pir in more than one place.
Over the time, people forgetting history, structures lose their
original functionality, and can compete with the main center.
It appears that the cult of Pir Gorachand extended to Birbhoom and
Mednipur also. There were many Gazis (warriors) in Southwest Bengal.
It is natural that some of their stories would be mixed-up,
particularly when people lived in hostile conditions imposed after the
defeat of the patrons of the old education and archival system.
Thus Pir Gorachand was the most influential of early Muslim saints in
the southern part of West Bengal. The influences of Shah Madar and
Shah Badar who came later, and possibly of Manik Pir, can be explained
as being results of continuous diffusion in that part from Bihar and
other parts of Bangladesh.
Since this part also contained important ports for overseas trade, it
had influence of Hazrat Khizr (A) such as also found in Sri Lanka. It
was a continuation of the pre-Islamic Bani Sem tradition brought by
Following are few references on Gorachand Raji:
1. "Balandar Pir Hazrat Gorachand Raji" by Abdul Gafur Siddiqi.
2. "Gorachand Punthi" by Ebadullah brother of Dr. Shahidullah
3. "Balanda-Chandraketu Itikatha," 1390, by M. A. Jabbar.
4. "Balanday Pracheen Sabhyatar Prabaaha o Goraigazee," 1391 (1984),
by M. A. Jabbar.
5. Article in Banglapedia by Dr. Ali Newaz.
Gorachand Raji's real name is Shah Sayyid Abbas Ali Makki. Titumir was
a descendent of a brother of Pir Gorachand. Shahidullah's ancestors
were hereditary caretakers of the tomb of the Pir.
About 1872 W. W. Hunter wrote that "Harua' is the burial-place of Gora
Chand, "the legendary saint of the 24 Parganas" (Appendix, Sarkar
Satgaon, 24 Parganas and Sundarbans).
Pir Gorachand Raji is also called Goraaigaazi and Goraai. Thus the
origin of the name Goraa is not clear to me from the published
Pir Gorachand was a disciple of Hazrat Shah Jalal (Rh) who settled in
Sylhet. His brother Sayyid Sahadat Ali, an ancestor of Titumir, was a
disciple of Shah Hasan Raji.
Sayyid Hasan Raji is possibly (check) Shah Muhammad Hasan of Hasnabad.
Hasnabad is situated near the border of Bangladesh and is about 50km
west of Haroa. Muhammad Hasan was a companion of Hazrat Shah Jalal.
The article by Dr. Ali Newaz in Banglapedia gives the year 693AH for
the birth, and 773AH for the death of Pir Gorachand. 773AH began in
July 1371CE (Julian). Approximate years given by Abdul Gafur Siddiqi
are c.1275CE for the birth and c.1355CE for the death.
In the "Balanda-Chandraketu Itikatha," (1983/84) by Indian author M.
A. Jabbar, who was a founder of a museum, and who made several
important archeological and paleontological discoveries, a slip is
added after page 10 to state that birth could be in 1345/46 and death
could be in 1425/26.
The reason of one mistake is obvious. Instead of taking Hazrat Shah
Jalal's death in 1346 the author took the year of the battle of Hazrat
Shah Jalal with Gourgovinda of Sylhet to be 1384. Author possibly did
it under the influence of some motivated quarter.
Professor Sukumar Sen considered Pir Gorachand as an example of a case
where Hindu Thakur became a Muslim Pir but did not change his name.
Professor Mohammad Abu Talib considered Sukumar Sen to be "sakaler
agranee" to mix the stories of Pir Gorachand with that of Gouranga
that is Chaitanya (p17, "Itihas Katha Koy," 1998, refering to "Islami
Sahitya," Bardhaman Sahitya Sabha, 1950).
Any listing of the Muslim saints of Bangladesh is incomplete if Pir
Gorachand Raji is not included in it, and if he is not included in it
with the very name Gorachand. I searched the name in vain in Dr.
Enamul Haq's "A History of Sufi-ism in Bengal (1975)," a book based on
a thesis he admittedly wrote under the influence of Professor S. K.
The lack of interest in talking about Pir Gorachand in modern works on
the story of the old Sufi saints in Bangladesh arouses suspicion that
a gang was trying to obliterate the memory of this Pir Gorachand in
order to make Chaitanya story without any trouble.
It is believed that Gorachand Raji was one of the twenty-two Auliyas
who came to West Bengal with Hazrat Shah Jalal, the famous Saint of
The list of these Auliyas included among others Shah Muhammad Shafi of
Pandua-Hugli, historically well-known Zafar Khan of Tribeni (Hughli),
Molla Abdul Ahad, and now almost mythical Shah Ahmadullah.
Shah Ahmadullah, also known as Ekdil Shah, is buried in Anowarpur
(Barasat). Molla Abdul Ahad, also known as Shah Anam, is buried in
Raaigram. Shah Muhammad Shafi is believed to be a disciple of Bu-Ali
Qalandar whose name occurs in the Baul Bibarani, a description of the
Bauls by the Bauls.
It is sad that negligence and idle stories would cover the real
history of a person hereditary caretakers of the tomb of whom were
ancestors of Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, and among whose brother's
descendants was Titumir.
The nisba Raji usually has something to do with Rayy. Now a small town
just south of Tehran, Rayy was the main town of the region before it
was destroyed by the Mongols. Tehran was a small town then.
Both Raaykola in Barasat, and Raaigram in Burdwan are associated with
Pir Gorachand Raji's story.
One therefore wonders whether the nisba in Pir Gorachand's name could
originate from Rarh, or from a local Raay. In the west and middle part
of South Bengal "rui" occurs frequently in toponymy. Raai is also a
form of Radha, and in the past was a common female name among the
Krishna-Baishnabs in this region.
Raaykola is also called Baish Auliyar mokam. Baish means twenty-two.
Raaykola is the place where the twenty-two Auliyas stayed before
dispersing. And since the most famous of them went to Sylhet and
settled there with many of his disciples, it is likely that this
migration would pull some local people to Sylhet.
Unfortunately the controversy regarding the identification of Hazrat
Shah Jalal with Hazrat Jalaluddin Tabrezi is not yet settled. Thus our
investigation of a potential Gop connection to Hazrat Shah Jalal's
dargah in Sylhet antedating Chaitanya's Sylhet connection is
As we shall see later that such a connection is conceivably possible
by virtue of the Gop connection of Pir Gorachnad Raji. Gops were
milkmen and cow tending people.
In the past surroundings of Haroa were included in Balanda Pargana.
The area from the north of Palashi to the Bay of Bangladesh, and from
the Bhagirathi to the Kabadak in the east, was in Satgaon Sarkar. This
Kabadak, also called Karatoya, is a river of Chabbish Pargana not to
be confused with the rivers in present Bangladesh.
Names of many rivers in the old district of Chabbish Pargana sound
modern. They reflect the drastic changes after 1757.
One example is the stories associated with the naming of the
Vidyadhari River on which Haroa lies. Thus it is believed that the
river got the name from a Brahman settled by Pratap (page 38,
"Paraayattya Parganaa Kathaa" by Monoranjan Roy, 1990). The story also
says that the Brahmans left after the fall of Pratap.
Pratap's history has been greatly inflated during the colonial period.
In 1801 "Raja Pratapaditya Charitra" of Ram Ram Basu was published
from the Serampur Missionary Press. This book is termed the "first
prose book ever written in Bengali language" and it was done at the
request of Padree Carey to meet the need of a text book in the Fort
Near Haroa Vidyadhari is called Haroagaang. It is admitted that in
East Bengal people used to call a river "gaang" and not "nadi" as they
Since the name Madar Gaang survived close to the border of Satkhira
and only about sixty miles east of Haroa one suspects that for common
people it is Haroagaang, though some people want to make it now Haroa
[Another example in Chabbish Pargana is Kulti Gaang. Origin of the
inspiration of Vidyadhari from some other words of sound BDR or BTR is
also not impossible. Ex. Baadaar (Baadaaban), Betaakhal and so on.]
Christian missionaries frequenting Pipli and Satgaon must have
witnessed the Pir Gorachand cult of Balanda. In fact it is most likely
that they found the cult of Gorachand their main obstacle in this
In this respect we need to mention a poet having the strange name
Kabichandra Mishra who composed a paanchaalee called Goureemangal, and
is considered to be present at the end of 15th century, 1497-98CE to
believe in the precise Saka year supplied by the poet in a
According to one version the poet was asked by the "Hindus" of the
village of Balanda to compose Goureemangal. One suspects that it was
one of the efforts to counter the Gorachand cult of Balanda before the
success of the Chaitanya cult. The poet wrote the paanchaalee due to a
request of certain Parameshwar Das.
A version of Goureemangal has also been discovered in Chittagong (See
"Baangaalee o Baanglaa Saahitya" by Ahmed Sharif, 1978).
It is interesting that versions are associated with Satgaon and
Chittagong, two ports of Bangladesh with strong Portuguese and
colonial agents' connection.
After Arakan invaded Chittagong taking advantage of the Mughal
invasion of Bangladesh from the west, Portuguese slowly established in
In 1598-99 Jesuit missionary Francisco Fernandez, who was sent from
Goa, directly went from Hughli to Chittagong instead of going to
Chandican (Jessore), though it is claimed that he had procured an
invitation from the king of Chandican (Pratap).
Fernandez found Chittagong almost entirely in the hands of Portuguese.
It remained so from 1599 and to the November of 1602 when the
Arakanese king Salim Shah (Meng Rajdaggi) attacked the Portuguese at
Dianga (Nov 8). Fernandez died captive (Nov 14).
One of his eyes was destroyed by the Arakanese.
In 1621 Augustinians, who already established themselves around
Hughli, arrived Chittagong. Between 1621 and 1624 Portuguese brought
42,000 slaves to Chittagong of which 28,000 slaves were baptized by
the Augustinians (J.J.A. Campos, History of the Portuguese in Bengal,
In the first part of this article we mentioned Lochan's
Chaitanyamangal which is considered to be one of the oldest
biographies of Chaitanya, and Lochan's guru Narahari who was an early
pada-maker who wrote before a biography came out.
Lochan says about his guru, "gurur arthe bikaailaa firingi sadan".
This peculiar sentence indicates that they had considerable
interaction with Firingis namely European Christians.
Yet one cannot find much signs of European interactions in their
description. This suggests that they carefully avoided signs that may
betray European influence. When we see Lochan talking about a
miraculous cure of a leper we understand what he meant. He was selling
his guru's "interpretation" of Firingi "sadhana."
We find in the Manikpirer Gaan sung for the health of cows in Chabbish
Pargana: "besaalete dugdha rekhe …" Possibly the Portuguese supplied
the vessels for milk.
Local Muslim tradition agrees that the tomb or the (main) majar of Pir
Gorachand Raji was originally under non-Muslim possession. These non-
Muslims were Gops, Gowalas and Ghoshes. Muslim history of this region
is now obscure.
According to Ebadullah (see M. A. Jabbar's "Balanday Pracheen
Sabhyatar Prabaaha o Goraigazee," page 9) Shah Jahan granted six
family of Faqirs land for the maintenance of the tomb of Gorachand. In
total a land grant of 1500 bighas (about 500 acres) was given to Lal
Mian, an ancestor of Shahidullah.
Since the main tomb is in Muslim possession possibly at least from the
time of Sultan Hussain Shah according to the Muslim tradition, and
Gops or non-Muslim Gowalas (milkmen, Goala) underwent radical
transformations with the organization of Hinduism, now it is difficult
to draw a clear picture of the involvement of Hindu Gops in the story
of Pir Gorachand.
The article by Ali Newaz in Banglapedia says that Hindu milkmen washed
the tomb of Pir Gorachand every year on the 12th of Fagun (the first
month of spring) with milk. This is a clear Gowala, Gop and Ghosh
connection of Pir Gorachand.
Folkloric stories and "palas" (ballads) still show many signs of a
strong connection. "Chabbish Parganar Loukik Debdebi: Palagan-O-
Loksanskriti Jignasha," (1999) by Debabrata Naskar has a short
discussion on these palas.
One story says that the Gops of Baarogoppur aided the fatally wounded
Pir Gorachand to dig his grave. There is also a tradition that Pir
Gorachand Raji died in the house of a Kalu Ghosh.
It is clear that at one stage Pir Gorachand was more popular with the
Gops, Gowalas and Ghoshes, all cow ("go") tending people.
One suspects that Chaitanya cult spread in Bengal at the expense of
Pir cults among the Gops, Gowalas and Ghoshes of South and Middle West
Bengal during the early days of the colonial period.
The spread of Islam and Panchpiriya cult among the Ahirs, Gaddis and
Ghosis in North India become relevant here. It is not an easy task to
analyze the stories of these people diving through the recurrent riots
in North India. In fact our study of this matter is incomplete.
Why did the number of Panchpiriyas become unimportant in Bengal in the
Risley says that Kaandus (Kaanu) of Dhaka were Panch Piriya and
observe Ramadan and took tabiz (amulets) from Khondakars but their
guru was the mahant of the Nanak shahi akhra.
According to Risley Kandus of Dhaka came from Damdaha in Purnea. In
1872 they were considered essentially Tirhutia tribes. At that time
there were 1611 Kaandus in Dhaka. They became 330 in 1881.
[Kaandus should not be confused with Kandho Chandals who are so called
because they bore palanquins on their shoulder.]
According to Hastings' "Encl of Religion and Ethics," W. Crooke listed
28 castes of the sort (Panchpiriyas?) in his "Tribes and Castes of
Bengal," (1896). I could not verify in the huge production of W.
Crooke on Indian tribes whether this unclear statement has any
relevance to the Panchpiriyas in Bengal.
Because of a continuously thriving popular Pir tradition in Bengal
proper, the nature of the Panchpiriya tariqa in Bengal was certainly
different from that of Hindustani and Bihari tribes as presented by
For example in Bengal the memory of several later Gazis superceded the
role of Gazi Miyan Salar Masud killed in 1034CE and venerated by
Hindustani and Bihari Panchpiriya tribes. In fact Saiyyid Salar Masud,
a nephew of Sultan Mahmud Ghaznawi, is not known in present
The most celebrated Gazi in Bangladesh was that of Gazi-Kalu-
In north central India many Ahir Gops became Muslim and they were
known as Ghosi.
One of the two principal Indian disciples of Hazrat Jalaluddin Tabrizi
was Ali the curd seller who worked in Badaun. Similarly it is said
that the Gop Kalu Ghosh of Pandua was the first Bengali to embrace
In fact it appears that there was a special contact of Gops with
Muslim Sufi saints in the west of Bangladesh.
It is possible that Maulana Daud composed his Hindi Masnavi Chandaain
on Lurak's love for Chandaa from the story of Lorik found among the
Ahirs. Sheikh Taqi al-Din Waiz Rabbani used to quote from this Masnavi
in his Friday khutba.
In fact it appears that this special contact of Gops with Muslim Sufi
saints was continuous from the first contact of Islam with the remnant
legacy of non-Hindu Jesus-Krishna themes in Samanid Afghanistan and
As explained eslewhere this legacy was found among Sabians, Shamans,
and "Bar Tomans" in Afghanistan, and was mixed with the memory of
Sattagydians and Dadicae mentioned by Herodotus. Dadicae was possibly
Derbikes of Ctesias.
One suspects that the memory of Sattagydians and Dadicae is reflected
in Thatta and Dadu of Sindh and Dwarka of Lata (Gujarat).
As regards the Panchpiriya tribes in Bengal we also need to remember
the immigration of tribes from Bihar, Jharkhand and Hindustan to
Bengal soon after 1757.
This immigration is intimately connected with the depopulation near
Bhagalpur due to troop movements during the Bihar wars, and the
destruction of more than one-third of Bangladeshi people in about
1769-70 and 1786-87.
Similarly we have a vague admission of "reprizals against the Moors"
of Southwest Bengal during the transition of 1757. The admission
occurred in reference to the discussion on Mir Jafar's granting a
share of a zamindari in Jessore to Mirza Salahuddin alias Saleh.
However nature of these reprisals is not documented.
[Bengal Public Consultations, 3 April 1758; cited in Abdul Majed
Khan's "Transition in Bengal-a study of Muhammad Reza Khan
(1757-1775), CUP, 1969. Mirza Saleh was the brother-in-law of famous
M. A. Jabbar mentioned (page 31, "Balanda-Chandraketu Itikatha") that
in 1775 (1282BE 30Jaishtha) Gazir Hat and KhasBalanda (Balanda town)
were burned down due to a conflict with the naib (manager) of the raja
of Nadia. This raja was one of the Four Chandras of Nadia.
One can compare the map of Balanda in M.A. Jabbar's book with the
Nadia Parikrama (procession) of Chaitanya:
Atopur (Nadia) and Atghara (Balanda), Gadigachha (Nadia) and Gajirhat
(Balanda), Majida (Nadia) and Majherhati (Balanda). We suspect that
there was a roaming practice of the Faqirs and Gops attached to Pir
Gorachand's cult that inspired the parikrama of the Chaitanya-story.
I am not sure whether or not Gazigachha (page 41 Santendralal) is a
typo for Gadigachha.
In Nadia Chaitanya went to punish a Qazi. The house of one Qazi was
burned down with the Qazi and his family inside.
In the pala of Pir Gorachand certain Piyar Shah, who was a local
administrator and a Faqir, committed suicide with his family because
Ram Hajra, the local agent of the Sultan, complained against him to
Piyar Shah is also called, possibly wrongly, Pir Shah. He prominently
features in Pir Gorachand stories. In Balanda the village of Piyara
was named after him. In folk-literature Piyar Shah was a jaigirdar of
Shahapur (Basirhat) during the reign of Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah.
Strangely enough one of the two Bengali theologians involved in the
case of Budhan was called Sheikh Piyara.
Historians mention two officers of the sultanate period as having land-
grants in this region. They were Purandar Khan (Gopinath Basu) and
Ramchandra Khan. Both are described as Hindu officers.
A Ramchandra Khan features in Chaitanya story as the "village headman"
at Chhatravogh about 15 miles northeast of Kulpi. It could be that
Ramchandra Khan is Ram Hajra of the Pir Gorachand Pala.
Local Muslim tradition talks of two officers namely Piyar Shah
mentioned above, and Dim Shah of the sultanate period. Dim Shah was
the jaigirdar of Sohaai-Svetpur in Barasat.
Svetpur could be a legacy of the Svet people who were traders and were
possibly Svetdipis. It is natural that they also had Ahirs or Gowalas
attached to them through their mercantile connection with Gujarat and
In view of Shabat (or Shabait) mentioned by Athanasius Nikitin it is
possible that for native Bangals the sound of v in Svet came out clear
as b. Compare Bengali (from Farsi) safed=white=Tatsama sh(b)et.
In the Gazir Gaan found in Dhaka we find the mention of a Subuddhi
Gowala whose daughter refused to give yogurt to the Gazi when others
were wondering what to offer the Faqir:
"Nanda Ghoser maay bale Kalu Ghosher jhi
Takhan Subuddhi Gowalar maaiyaar kubuddhi jaagilo.
Chhikaar upar dai thuiyaa mithyaa kathaa kailo."
[From "Brihattar Dhaka Zela" by Kamal Choudhury added to Dhakar
Itihas, page 1041.]
It could be that this Subuddhi Gowala was the name of a single person
just as other two characters namely Nanda Ghosh and Kalu Ghosh were
individuals not necessarily representatives of the two tribes of
Ghoshes attached respectively to Nanda, Krishna's foster-father, and
In short Pir Gorachand Raji was the Pir of Gops, Gowalas and Ghoshes,
that is, of the milkmen and cow tending people of Southwest Bengal.
One suspects that after the encounter with the Christian missionaries
from Europe when a Kalu Ghosh turned into a Krishnachandra Goswami
(Cow-Lord), the memory of Pir Gorachand among Gops and Gowalas was
covered with the help of Budhan now resurrected and sanskritized as
And as the Chaitanya story began to take the shape, Subuddhi was made
an important character only because the folk-story eulogizing the
Faqirs considered a daughter of one Subuddhi as a non-believer in the
miraculous powers of Faqirs.
Of course Ahirs attached to the trading Svets were more likely to be
hinducized and were more like to be influenced by the anti-Islamic
agenda of the Euro-Christian missionaries.
(To be continued)