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03. Seth Mehr Ali

Seth Mehr Ali was an origin of Mulla Katiar in lower Sind. His father Megji belonged to Buj, Kutchh and migrated towards Ramki Bazar, Badin and then settled in Mulla Katiar. He was an influential merchant during the Kalhora (1737-1782) and Talpur (1782-1843) rules in Sind. It is related that he visited Iran in the period of Imam Abul Hasan Ali (1143-1206/1730-1792) and Imam Khalilullah (1206-1233/1792-1817). Seth Mehr Ali was popular not only in Sind, but also in Punjab, Kutchh and other parts of India. In Sind, he also hosted the Ismailis, who were going to Iran for the didar of the Imam.

The second phase of Seth Mehr Ali’s life was quite different from his early life, which sounds his great leaning towards the doctrine of the Kaysania sect. In spite of the diversity in the oral traditions, there is a common story that Seth Mehr Ali had visited Bombay and then proceeded to Pirana, and came into the contact of the Kaka (headman) of the Imam Shahi sect, named Syed Sharif (d. 1209/1795). This contact would have created his strong proclivity towards the veneration of the shrines. Soon after his return, he visited Multan and became the disciple of Makhdum Safdar Ali alias Jiwan Shah, the custodian of the mausoleum of Pir Shams. This contact prompted him to rebuild the mausoleum of Pir Shams. A sum of Rs. 75,000 was spent in its renovation, which he procured through donation in Sind in 1194/1779. He posed himself as a Syed to win the hearts of the people. This is the reason that he is called Syed Mehr Ali in “Tawarikh-i Zila’e Multan” (Lahore, 1884, p. 85) by Munshi Hukam Chand and “Multan : History and Architecture” (Islamabad, 1983, p. 206) by Dr. Ahmad Nabi Khan.

He intended that the mausoleum should be crowded on the first Friday after 15th Shaban, therefore, he invited the local Shi’ites and the Ismailis of Sadiqabad, Uchh Sharif and Sind, but his objective was foiled. The Shi’ites venerated it and took its possession, but it did not descend below the throats of the Ismailis, who made no response to it.

He did not retreated in his pursuit and operated its next launching on the bank of the Soneri lake near Jhimpir, Sind where he is supposed to have found a cave of Ibn al-Hanafia on the basis of his so called dream. This time he failed to raise funds in Sind, so he visited Karachi and collected Rs. 25,000. He built a dome (quba) on the cave, few houses and musafarkhana of stone and lime. Culling up the fragment of the traditions, it is purported that in accomplishing his mission with maximum impact, he invited the Shi’ites of lower Sind at first. Since the Shi’ites believed in the disappearance of their 12th Imam Mahdi in a cave of Samarra, the story of Ibn al-Hanafia’s cave easily touched to their minds. After mustering gathering of the Shi’ites, he first invited those Ismailis who had close family ties with the Shi’ites. The Ismaili pilgrims were comparatively less; he then invited other Ismailis in Karachi and interior Sind by giving example of that small number of the Ismailis who were visiting. In short, he made the present location of Amir Pir the venue of vows.

Seth Mehr Ali could not attract Ismaili pilgrims as more as he expected. The Shi’ites not only came for veneration, but also used the location as their graveyard. Soon after his death, the Ismailis began to assemble at large number. Railway line from Karachi to Kotri was open for traffic on May 13, 1861. It provided facility to the Ismailis of Karachi to visit Amir Pir by train. They landed at Jhimpir station and then traveled in the wheeled carriages. It caused the Ismaili foothold, making the Shi’ites visit comparatively less. The Ismailis removed the amulets (taveez), wooden horse (duldul) and painted pictures on the walls of the cave, and placed there the photos of the Imams.

It has been also learnt from the old persons of Mirpur Sakaro jamat that once a group of the local Shi’ites failed in the deliberations with the Ismailis on the topic of the disappearance of their 12th Imam Mahdi. Thus, they visited the cave of Amir Pir and invited the Ismailis to join them. When they succeeded to bring the Ismailis in sizeable number, they gradually discontinued to attend. It paved a way to the Ismaili dominance on the cave. On this juncture, the Shi’ites became capable to respond to the Ismailis that they too believed in the disappearance of Ibn al-Hanafia in a cave like their 12th Imam Mahdi. If the story carries truth, we would say that the tradition of Amir Pir was an incidental. Soon afterwards, the low class Hindus consisting of Bhils, Meghwars, Kohis, Gurgalas, Oads etc., also visited the location for fulfillment of their vows. Among other visitors, the followers of the Imam Shahi sect were prominent, who followed the mix rituals of Islam and Hinduism.

So far, the Ismailis visited informally for fulfillment of their vows, sometimes regularly or casually. The concept of the Mela (fair) however was not yet created.

It is a matter to ponder that Seth Mehr Ali did not launch his plan in the shrines of Pir Sadruddin or Pir Hasan Kabiruddin in Uchh Sharif. It may be possible that Uchh Sharif was not so ideal to muster the gatherings of the Shi’ites and the Ismailis.

Seth Mehr Ali passed rest of his life in the village of Shah Kapoor, near Tando Muhammad Khan, where he was a wholesale grain dealer, and a large supplier of eggs to the British soldiers. Seth Mehr Ali either assumed the title of the Mukhi or Varas or his disciples had identified him as such. There is not a single evidence of his services as the Mukhi of any Jamatkhana in lower Sind. He died in Shah Kapoor and was buried in the location of Amir Pir.

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