Search This Website


Friday, January 07, 2011

Killed by Indians, revered by Indians: Britisher turns 'smoking saint' [Communal Harmony Project-16]

The 'mazaar' of Captain F Wale in Lucknow.
For long I have heard about the mazaar [Sufi's grave] where the visitors seeking the saint's favours offered 'cigarettes'.

A couple of years back I decided to see the place which is located in a corner of Lucknow. Contrary to what I had heard in BBC and other reports, it was not a traditional Sufi grave.

Rather, it turned out that the solitary grave amidst lush green fields on the banks of the river Gomti, was the final resting place of a Britisher. Of course, scores of burnt out cigarettes were lying around. Lovelorn youth mostly turned to this grave, for favours.

Awadh army soldiers had killed Captain Wale in a battle near Gomti river

It was Captain F Wale, a Christian, who was buried here almost 152 years ago. He was leading a British army unit that had a severe battle with the joint Hindu-Muslim forces defending Awadh in the aftermath of 1857 revolution [termed mutiny].

Over the years, the grave came to be known as mazaar. In India, where the ordinary man on the street remains devout and respectful towards all religions and their symbols, it was considered a mazar and the reputation somehow grew.

The fact that the words written in English were not legible enough and English not so widely understandable in the past, gave the impression that it was the 'cigaratte wale baba's mazaar'. Even otherwise who bothers if the person inside a mazar was a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian--as such beliefs still cut across religious discrimination. A friend and blogger had also written a post on the mazaar a few years ago.

Mazar with background of ruins that show signs of battle.
Legends, exaggerations and reality: Baba takes puffs!

Often things are exaggerated also and as I heard that the Baba takes puffs, it had puzzled me more. Anyway it was a revelation.

Coming back to how the saint smokes cigarettes, the visitors [or believers] light the cigarettes that are fit in holes on the grave. As this part of Lucknow is close to the banks of Gomti, due to the intense breeze the cigarette burns completely in seconds.

That's how the legend grew. Mostly it is a particular brand of cigarette that is offered. My theory is that though the engraved letters aren't clearly visible, someone read the word 'Captain' and that's how the popular cigarette brand 'Capstan' got associated with this grave.

Due to its location, the visitors who come to see the nearby historical ruins, also sometimes visit the grave, out of curiosity. Thus Captain Wale who had raised the first irregular Sikh cavalry in British Indian army and was killed by Indians, turned a sort of saint whose grave is more visited on Thursdays.


Archana said...

Venerating the dead has always been a tradition in India and as time goes by, the actual life history fades from the popular memory, replaced by a belief of super-human powers of the venerated, including magical incidents in the life "history" of the person being venerated. People feel close to the spirit who they believe grants their wishes by interceding on their behalf to God. This mazar is a perfect case of such a divine figure in the making and of anthropological interest.

After a hundred years or so, the person may be installed as a proper saint and perhaps even a minor divinity.

If people feel at peace following such a practice, it's alright, as long as they don't harm others because of religious fanaticism.

And who knows that God does not exist in every grain of this Universe!

callezee said...

This is really sensible

indscribe said...

Yes Archana ji, in our country people are largely respectful towards dead and to anything that is believed to be close to divinity.

And I also feel that when people get a feeling of peace, there is surely nothing wrong about that.

Lokesh said...

My comments have nothing to do with the article..I'm just nostalgic after reading ...
Thank you for reminding me of my Lucknow..Unfortunately, I hardly get to visit it as I've been in the US for the past 10 years, but every time I go there to visit my parents, I'm reminded of my childhood...Alas, I also feel sad that it is so difficult to walk in the same Jhande wala park that I used to go to so regularly..

Simply Ridiculous said...


meerasrajan said...

Absolutely the best that I have read tonight! You are right- in India a mazaar somehow takes on the spiritual tint just as a stone does. I think that piety is something that defines being an Indian. Religion is just by the way. Do write more. I love it!