Sunday, April 19, 2015

On seeing a fakir near Charminar, Hyderabad

I clicked this photo of a man asking for alms near Charminar. Yet, his clothes were not those of a beggar. They were neat and clean, and his demeanour was calm. He seemed unperturbed by all the chaos around him.

I felt that he was not just someone trying to make money from begging. He was probably a fakir in the original sense of the word.

The term fakir has its roots in the Arabic word faqr which means poverty. A fakir is one who is required to renounce all worldly riches and ties; and is required to live by seeking alms. A true fakir rejects the trappings of the world in exchange for spiritual riches.
In India, fakirs usually follow the Sufi spiritual path. They trace their roots to one of the many Sufi orders (tariqah) that were established in India beginning in the 10th century under the Delhi Sultanate. The Sufi tariqahs spread into the Deccan along with the Tughlaq dynasty. Sufi teachings of simplicity, spirituality, love and care for humanity were attractive values that made the common people revere Sufi fakirs. They were often credited with miraculous powers. 

While many fakirs are wandering mendicants, others have specific khanqah or establishments which are centres of Sufi gathering and discourse. At the khanqah, the master (sheikh) and his disciples would read scriptures together, engage in debate and discussion, and offer blessings and assistance to all who came for help. Khanqah's also had free kitchens, where food was provided to all who asked. Through service to the poor, combined with personal austerity, Sufi fakirs established strong credentials and were responsible for the spread of Islam in India.

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