An Ethereal Refuge–Qubba Fakhriyya

Professor Zoyab Alihussain Kadi

Time was, not so long ago, when maps and atlases were the only means to locate unfamiliar places. But even the best ones couldn’t figure out how to find enough space to fit in names of remote places and landmarks. Villages, streams and hillocks were condemned to remain anonymous and undiscovered. Looking for tiny little towns like Galiyakot was tantamount to searching for a needle in a haystack. Chances were they would not even be marked. And with a change of name, say to Taherabad, the search could become even more exasperating.

Talking of Galiyakot itself, there was a vagueness about its location that gave it an ethereal air. Its approach through tribal territory and the numerous miracles associated with its Mazaar Sharif, the Qubba Mubaraka of Syedi Fakhruddin al-Shaheed QR, has further heightened its reputation as a place of refuge and solace. Then came a choice of Google Maps on smart devices. Not only was the drudgery taken out of the searching, but now one can go several steps further and even add new information of their own. Galiyakot’s Cartesian coordinates can now be pinned down accurately within seconds. The marvels of technology have certainly lifted the shrouds of mystery from old practices, but it is doubtful whether they have the power to suppress the immortality of legends.

This tiny little hamlet on the banks of the Mahi River in Rajasthan is at the crossroads of three states. The nearest railhead is at Dahod, two and a half hours away by road. But most zaireens prefer the better connected longer route from Ahmedabad.

By constant usage, the town’s identity has changed from Galiyakot to Taherabad. The approach to the Qubba precinct through a ramshackle town, through rustic conditions and past unkempt fields is in some ways allegorical – a path leading through the vagaries and vicissitudes of life to someplace in complete contrast – serene, reposeful and heavenly. This is the resting place of Syedi Fakhrudin al-Shaheed QR, the revered first martyr of the Mustaali Tayyibi faith on Hindustani soil. What truly boggles the mind is–here was an esteemed stalwart, over 900 years ago, travelling with, maybe a score of defenceless followers, promoting a message of peace, brotherhood and equality, through a region that even in the 21st century, with all its conveniences, is associated with hazard and considered unsafe at nights.

Once inside the precinct of the Mazaar Sharif, it becomes a different world altogether. It’s as if a backdrop scene in a stage play has suddenly changed to one of idyllic contrast. If one were led blindfolded, it would be pleasant guesswork to say where one was. There are giveaway signs and structures, especially the unusual fatigue green colour of the neighbouring masjid and the verdant lawn, that offer helpful prompts. And there is also that distinctive feature (miniature minarets, in this case) at the four corners above the squinch that offer a clue.

What, from a distance, appears to be a qubba much like any other, throws up a botanist’s delight on closer inspection, with a wide variety of flora embossed on its facade panels and gleaming shutters. This could be a pointer towards the fertility of the region or equally to the prevailing artistic tastes, or towards the pliability of the stone itself. Local craftsmen could, and still do magic with the stone. A calculated guess would suggest some Fatimi and Mughal influence, which in turn was a hybrid of Persian, Ottoman and Rajput styles.

Whereas it is true that all artists, sculptors included, work within constraints and frameworks imposed by their circumstances, there is little evidence to suggest that the nomenclature of their style was self-determined. Muslim artists in particular favoured symmetry and infinite geometric patterns that spun out endlessly into space but kept away from depicting animate objects. They abided by the concept of aniconism – the belief that the creation of all living beings is Allah’s work and should therefore be left out of artwork. Islamic aniconism finds its roots in the prohibition of idolatry. This categorisation and even stereotyping is a creation of 19th/20th century Western thought that has always been very strong about compartmentalisation. And though this has lent greater clarity in our understanding of art, the disservice it has done is that it has funnelled all art forms into predetermined sets.

Photo credits with gratitude: Sighat al-Mazaaraat

Disclaimer–Viewpoints in blog posts do not necessarily reflect those of RadiantArts.

The author, Professor Zoyab Bhai Kadi is a senior architect and planner by profession. Apart from being a mentor to Triple O Studio, he has a keen interest and knowledge in architectural conservation. He has over 35 years of experience in the field and worked with Louis Kahn on the IIM-A project. He has vast experience in the educational field and has been a member of inspection teams of the Council of Architecture, AICTE and the Board of Studies, Andhra University. He completed his Bachelor’s in Architecture from the School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University and his post-graduation in Town and Country Planning from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. He has been at the forefront to document the heritage houses of the Dawoodi Bohra Community in Sidhpur and has published three titles and several journal articles on Sidhpur.