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In numerous legends from our literature, both sacred and profane, there are instances when great geographic distances are bridged in the flash of an eye. Deus ex machina appear, and offer to transport the character to the desired destination. To travel thus, the character must close the eyes, and the next moment the character is at the given address.

The minor details of such transportation can offer interesting clues that connect them. In the Dastan-e Amir Hamza (The Adventures of Amir Hamza) when the holy Khizr similarly transports Amar Ayyar from the sea to his companions on land, he asks him to climb onto the convex of his feet. In an Urdu newspaper, recently, there was an account of a jinn who had befriended a sailor, and transported him in the blink of an eye from Karachi to Madras to eat a particular halwa the sailor wished to eat. This jinn who later killed the sailor for revealing his identity, also transported the sailor by asking him to climb on to the convex of his feet.

We notice that in these instances the dazzling speed at which one travels shrinks the physical world. But there are other, similar episodes in which the physical world does not shrink, but merges. A bridging link between these phenomena is found in the following karamat (miracle) of Sheikh Farid Ganj Shakar.

An old woman longed to hear some news of her son, who had been away for many years, and pleaded for a report of him before Sheikh Farid. He considered for a while and then told her that she should go back to her house, as her son had now returned. Arriving at her house she found her son had indeed returned and had been waiting for some time. He told her that while travelling in a distant land he met a saintly man who told him to go back home as his mother was looking his way. When he answered he could not return any time soon, being far from home and the return journey full of hardship, the saint asked him to close his eyes, and the next moment upon opening them at his bidding he found himself in his mother’s house. The woman took her son along to offer thanks to Sheikh Farid, and kiss his feet. Once they had paid their respects, Sheikh Farid enjoined the son to never again leave his mother’s side. On their way home the son revealed that the man who had transported him back home was Sheikh Farid himself. All this while Sheikh Farid had never left the woman’s side. The geographies had merged in such a manner that one person could be present in two or more places at the same time, and thus his presence had been multiplied.

Such karamat are attributed in Sufi texts to those who have purified and cleansed the mirror of their heart to the degree that it begins to reflect the entire world, thus allowing a person’s presence to be reflected in all places simultaneously.

The fantastic account of another saint illustrates this better than any theory can explain.

Once Sheikh Abdul Fateh Jaunpuri received invitations from 10 different places for a religious event which was to be held on the same day after the afternoon prayers. He accepted all the invites, whereupon his disciples wondered how he intended to be in all places at the same time.

At the appointed hour on the given date, the palanquins began to arrive from different places to carry Sheikh Abdul Fateh to the respective venues. Each time a palanquin stopped at the door, the Sheikh would emerge from his chamber, climb into it and depart for his destination. At the same time he would be present within his chamber, for everyone to see. In this manner, Sheikh Abdul Fateh emerged 10 times from his chamber and went and attended all 10 events at the same time.

These mystical accounts would remain incomplete without the mention of a parallel and contrary tradition. History has passed on to us the name of the Indian magician Krishan Chandar who could be present in several places at once. Interestingly, he is mentioned by Sheikh Abdul Fateh Jaunpuri himself, who attested that his feat of being present in 10 places simultaneously was a small matter compared to Krishan Chandar’s feat, who could be present in hundreds of places at the same time.

Krishan Chandar was not a Sufi and his source of power lay elsewhere, as explained by Sheikh Abdul Fateh. While the saints acquire karamat through purifying their hearts, Krishan Chandar and others who are masters of the dark arts claim similar powers called istidraj (power of unholy miracle) by subjecting their hearts to an opposite process through sinning copiously and without let.

These traditions suggest a worldview that sees phenomenal world submitting evenly to the powers of light and darkness; and those who immerse themselves in either being rewarded equally for their excellence.

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

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

Also Read | Musharraf’s previous Lounge columns

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Updated: 22 Jul 2014, 08:00 PM IST
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