The magician’s spirit
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Sufic treatises distinguish the human soul as disconnected to the human senses and passions. No emotion, desire, or longing encumbers the soul once it has left the human body. The 13th century account of a black magic attack on Khwaja Fariduddin Masud Ganjshakar, however, reveals another side of the human soul’s properties, and the connection between our world and the world of the spirits.
One day Ganjshakar began experiencing a terrible pain that slowly invaded every joint of his body. He lost his appetite and felt a terrible restiveness. As there were no manifest physical symptoms, Ganjshakar asked his son, Badruddin Suleiman, and his disciple, Nizamuddin Auliya, to meditate to discover the cause. That very night Suleiman had a dream in which it was revealed to him that Ganjshakar was under the magic spell cast by the son of the sorcerer Shahabuddin, and the pain was a result of the lethal magic performed. Once this much was revealed, everyone considered some way of revoking or neutralizing the spell. One person who dealt in the occult said that if someone should spend a night at sorcerer Shahabuddin’s grave, and recite certain words, the magic would be counteracted and Ganjshakar set on his way to recovery.
Shahabuddin’s grave lay outside the city in a desolate wilderness. Nizamuddin Auliya volunteered to spend the night at the grave and do the needful. Taking his bamboo staff he set out and arrived at the grave that lay covered in darkness. Nizamuddin Auliya struck the grave with his staff and called out, “O resident of the grave, your son has cast a spell on Ganjshakar. Tell him to desist from this mischief lest he receive retribution as he deserves.” The moment he said these words, a phantom materialized before Nizamuddin Auliya’s eyes and pointed to a corner of the grave. The sorcerer’s grave was fully plastered except for that small patch. Nizamuddin Auliya dug the spot with his staff. As he dug a little deeper, terrifying noises came out of the hole as if made by some living creature. After he had dug to the depth of a yard, Nizamuddin Auliya found a magic doll riddled with needles. He took the magic doll in his possession and returned to his master.
Ganjshakar was taken to a place called Faridwal where he was given a bath and the needles extracted from the magic doll. Even as the needles were withdrawn from the magic doll, Ganjshakar experienced relief in the spots in his body where they had been inserted in the magic doll. When the ruler of Ajodhan (modern day Pakpattan) received news of the event, he had Shahabuddin’s son put in chains and sent him into Ganjshakar’s presence, seeking permission to behead him. But Ganjshakar pardoned him, saying, “The True Healer restored me to health, and the way to say thanks to Him is to pardon the one who had been the cause of suffering.”
At another time, Ganjshakar’s disciple Nizamuddin Auliya was himself the target of a similar spell. His body weakened under the spell, he lost his appetite, and suffered from sleeplessness. In those days a master of the occult came to meet him and suspecting magic, sought his permission to find its cause. He made a round of his abode and smelled the ground soil. Finally, he stopped at one spot and ordered it to be dug up. When people dug it they found buried there a magic doll whose ears, nose, eyes, hands, sides, feet and joints were all pierced with needles. Nizamuddin Auliya was taken to the banks of the Jamuna and his head washed with the river water. Reciting counter-spells, the occult master began removing the needles from the magic doll. Once all the needles were removed, Nizamuddin Auliya showed signs of recovery and was restored to health. The occult master sought permission to produce the one who had performed the black magic but Nizamuddin Auliya refused, saying that the sorcerer’s fate should be left in the hands of God.
In Ganjshakar’s account, the soul or the spirit reveals the burial place of the magic doll upon being warned and recognizing the superior powers of the occultist. But the successful exploitation of the relationship between the spirit of the dead magician and his son by the occultist also reveals his understanding of the emotional nature of the connection between a spirit and the living. In this story from the world of the occult, the spirit displays fear, cognition, and sympathy, and a strong sense of the connection binding it to the living.
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.
Read Musharraf’s previous Lounge columns here.