Dariyar Panch Pir, Badr, Badr!
Anyone who has read stories about the boatmen of Bengal will remember the invocation they call out to the five Pirs to protect them against stormy weather as well as Portuguese and Arakan pirates from Burma who roamed the waterways of the delta. The Pirs were the Muslim saints Pir Badr, Gazi Mian, Jalaluddin Tabrizi, Sheikh Farid and Khwaja Khizr. They came from all over Asia but spent some time in greater Bengal. Nearly all had some sort of association with water.
Pir Badr’s maqam or resting place can still be seen in Akyab in Chittagong. It was built in his honour in 1736 by local merchants Manik Saudagar and Chand Saudagar when he turned their cargo of turmeric to gold after visiting Manik in a dream.
The fifty-seven panels of this scroll which is now in the British Museum may depict a Pir. Gazi was renowned for his power over tigers; in one painted panel a male Muslim figure is seen receiving the homage of tigers and in another he is riding a tiger. Gazi was also known for being able to control the natural world, abilities that were very important to the newly converted Muslim population of southern Bengal as they moved into the dense jungles of the Ganges delta. The scroll was painted in the Murshidabad area in about 1800 AD. It was probably used to tell the story of the Pirs.
The Pirs were worshipped by setting lamps afloat on water, a custom which may have been derived from Hinduism. It is said that the lamps floated in the Pirs’ name calmed rough seas and made floods subside, an important consideration in Bengal with its innumerable rivers and water bodies. Today in Akyab, Deotala, Chota Dargah – each Pir’s chillakhana or resting place still attracts people of all faiths in the true Sufi tradition.
There is a different form of the prayer as well:
Darya ke panch paise ka qurbani
Arey Badr, Badr.
We sacrifice five coins to the sea, Badr badr.