The jinn of Lahore

Violent communal dynamics of the human society are also mirrored in the jinn communities


Illustration by Shyamal Banerjee/Mint
Illustration by Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

The three earliest tribes of jinn came to settle in Lahore from Arabia. The predominantly Muslim community made its homes in the Lahore mausoleums and Islamic monuments. It grew and prospered, and the Lahore jinn were once even to be found living in great numbers in the old date palm groves by the Ravi river. Currently, there are Muslim jinn colonies in the Mughal-era Shalimar Gardens, Lahore Fort, Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine, Pir Makki mosque, and Prince Kamran Baradari. Some 200 families inhabit the Miani Sahib graveyard, living in the pits, and the burrows under old trees. The Christian jinn inhabit the Gora Cemetery, and the Hindu jinn the local temples. All this is documented in some detail in Nagi B.A.’s book, Jinnat, Sex Aur Insaan (The Jinn, Sex And Humans), published in Lahore in 2002.

Nagi’s family had had a connection of over a century and a half with the jinn and their lore before he set down his findings. His ancestor, Nihal Shah, was associated with a noble family from Bengal in the capacity of a clairvoyant, sorcerer and healer. Nagi himself had first-hand exposure to the world of magic, first as an English-Persian translator in Iran during the Reza Shah era, a time when sorcery was all the rage, and later in the Gulf region, where Indian magicians and necromancers were popular. There is also a captivating account of him triumphing over a black magician from London, Mr Jackson, on his own turf. At the time of writing the book, over a decade ago, Nagi claimed to have a thriving practice in Lahore, and a large following.

According to Nagi, over the centuries, Muslim jinn settled abroad visited the Lahore jinn communities to marry into them. The visitors developed a taste for Lahori cuisine, and insisted on being treated to Lahori dishes. The Lahori jinn are completely assimilated in the local culture, and speak Punjabi, in addition to Hebrew.

The more fascinating insights are to be found in Nagi’s account of the communal relations between the Muslim and Christian jinn communities of Lahore.

There is one episode where the author met an Iran-born amil, or sorcerer, who took him to the Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine to meet a 1,500-year-old jinn named Abdullah bin Hayee, who once guarded the shrines of saints buried in Iran. While there, Nagi was allowed the privilege of seeing the jinn, when a party of jinn visiting from Baghdad arrived there amid the cries of birds and barking of dogs. After the adulation of saints had been sung in Punjabi, Arabic and Persian, and the jinn were together conferring upon some matter, someone shrieked loudly from within the group.

Jinn Abdullah ordered one of the Lahori jinn to control the mischievous jinn lest he pollute the assembly. The sound of a slap was heard, with someone bleating that he wouldn’t disturb the assembly again, upon which he got a reprieve.

But before long the jinn again interrupted the assembly with his screaming. This time, Jinn Abdullah had had enough; he got up in rage and became invisible. Resounding slaps were heard, accompanied by the jinn’s cries of pain, as Jinn Abdullah belaboured the recalcitrant jinn. He then gave the troublemaker into the power of the Lahori jinn, to be imprisoned in the invisible Kala Kuan, or dark well, by the Ravi river, where he would be tortured by the resident executioner jinn. It turned out that the troublemaker was a Christian jinn, held in the power of a Hindu sorcerer. As was his wont, he had come to interrupt the religious assembly, but did not know that Jinn Abdullah had made arrangements for him.

The jinn delegation from Baghdad suggested to Jinn Abdullah that if infidel jinn were bothering the assembly, they could order their community members, who visited Lahore to study at the local seminaries, to be guards. But Jinn Abdullah declined the offer, saying saints buried in Lahore had forbidden him to invite foreigners to guard their resting places, because it would act as a provocation to the infidel jinn, who, too, could then invite their supporters from foreign lands and turn Lahore into a battleground, forever ruining their peaceful sleep.

While the violent communal dynamics of the human society are also mirrored in the jinn communities, the account provides the important historic wisdom that even in difficult times, it is better to reach a hard compromise than allow outsiders a foothold in your communities, or an excuse to invade you.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at www.mafarooqi.com and on Twitter at @microMAF.

This monthly column explores the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.

Also read | Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s previous Lounge columns .

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