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01. Heroes of Surat

There are several instances in Ismaili History, which are not recorded. These are the happenings during which momins have given much sacrifices. One of these instances is the courage shown by the "Gupties of Surat" in declaring themselves openly as Ismailis, the follower of His Highness the Agakhan, against storms of objections and hinderences from their original cast:

It was about 400 years ago, an Ismaili of Khambat (Cambay) in India, namely Jiwa, Khoja converted some families of "Hindu Kanbi" cast into Ismailism The situation was such that these families were well known in their community and had several matrimonial and business relations with other families, and thus they were not able to profess Ismaili faith openly. Hence they served Imame Zaman secretly. In Gujarati, secret means "Gupt" and consequently these people were known as "Guptis".

These families were of Mr. Motirambhai from whose generation comes Chief Vazier Kassamaili Zaveri of Bombay forefathers of Khansaheb Nathabhai Patel, Mr. Dayaram Nathu and that of Al-Waiz Rahimbhai Jaffer of Bombay.

These families adhered to the tenants of Ismailia Faith. During the next century they migrated to Surat, a famous town of Gujarat in India.

At Surat these families found outlet for propagation of their faith and they had an opportunity of meeting famous Ismaili Saint Sayyiyad Abdul Nabi.

Saiyyad Abdul Nabi was preaching Ismailism in Gujarat during the Imamat of Hazarat Mowlana Shah Nizar (a.s.) (993 A. H. to 1038 A.H.) His Mausoleum is at "Kankara Khadi" near Surat and Muslim of the area celebrate his birthday as "Urs"

The Contact of Saiyyad Abdul Nabi was much more beneficial to "Guptis" In those days even Hindus revered the Muslim saints and would not mind someone hearing their sermons.

The Gupti Jamat used to have "Satsang" i.e religious discussion with Sayyaid Abdul Nabi and invited their friends to such discussions During such Satsangs many other families joined with Guptis and Chief among them were those of "Laiwala" "Naginawala" and "Jamiatram" families.

As their faith became stronger their number grew. Every family tried that their generation also should follow this "Satpanth" true path. A girl marrying in another family would at least try to convert her husband. A boy will explain the beauty of the religion to this wife. The parents will give guidance to their children and thus the Ismailia Religion continued amongst the "Guptis"

Years passed by, but the faith remained firm. These "Guptis" even contacted the Imam of the time, at Persia.

In those days it was most difficult to travel from India to Iran (Persia). The Travellers had to take advantage of Caravans for safety. Travel was on horse, camel or even on foot. They had to pass the hazards of the desert of Sindh, Cold wind of Baluchistan, dangers of highway robbers and so on. Over and above these difficulties they were faced with two main enemies. In Persia the Majority were Ithanasharies, who were deadly against our Imam and in India Guptis were afraid of their own caste.

A person who decide to go to Iran to obtain Holy Didar Of Imam was known as "Rahi " and unless and until his return from Iran he was considered as good as dead. Even all the religious ceremonies which are observed after death of person were performed in "Rahis" presence. The Rahi would dress as a pilgrim going for "Kashi" or other religious places of Hindus and keep gold coins in a hollow stick to avoid detection by robbers. Whole Gupti Jamat would accompany him up to the boarder of the town and then would say farewell. The relatives and friends would cry as if Rahi was leaving them for ever. They all would pray that the "Rahi" may have the glamours opportunity to obtain Holy Didar of the Imam and may return with Holy Blessings for the Jamat.

During these days Sayyid Hussan Pir, Saiyyad Dadu Pir, Saiyyad Gulamali Shah (Known as Gulmali Shah) and Saiyyad Muhhamed Shah etc. were regularly travelling from kathiawad Sindh, Gujarat and Punjab to Iran. The Rahi would try to contact them and would join them as Muslim pilgrim. After a year or so if lucky "Rahi" would reach safely at Imam's "Durgah" (presence) and will fulfil his life time ambition of obtaining Holy Didar of the Imam. After receiving Holy Blessings from the Imam, he would return with Holy Message for the Jamat. These messages were known as "Dharsai Rukka" (Specimen of such Rukka is given on page No.398 of Nurmmubin 3rd Edition 1951 The Rahi would be bestowed with a title of "Daras" or "Dargahi" i.e. one who has reached the house of Imam.

When news used to reach in the town of the safe arrival of the Rahi, once again whole jamat would go to the boarder of the town to welcome the most lucky person amongst them.

The whole Jamat would gather at one place secretly, and would hear the news of Imam and when they see the Holy Message of their Imam, their joy had no bounds. No pen can describe their emotion. Their eyes would fill with tears of happiness, as if they are beholding their Imam in their presence. A glimpse of their emotion can be gathered from the ginaan such as "Shanhna Khat Aviya"and a Shahebe firman lakhi mokalya".

Amongst the "Guptis" many such Rahis took this arduous journeys and two of these Rahis were Mr. Shivlal Prabhu and Mr. Vaja Mulji. One of such messages (Rukkas) granted by Hazarat Imam Khalilullah II (a.s) (1194 to 1235 a.h.) has been preserved by Chief Vazier Kassamali Zaveri and he presented the same at High court of Bombay during Haji Bibi Case in the year 1908, proving that Ismaili Religion was an age old religion. Khoja were converted to Ismailism and even "Guptis" posses such 'Rukkas" Justice Russel, the presiding judge was astonished to see such an old document lying with Gupti Ismailis. He has mentioned this fact in his judgement.

When Hazarat Imam Hassanali Shah migrated to India from Iran in the year 1842 A.D. the Guptis also got the benefit of Holy Didar. They would come to Bombay or will wait at Surat Railway Station when Imam was travelling towards Ahemdabad. On such occasion Jamat was informed previously, they would gather and have "Satsang" At midnight they would skip out of town and then wait at Railway Station, Imam during these meetings would wear black Banglori" cap, This system continued even in times Hazarat Imam Ali Shah Datar and Hazarat Imam Sultan Muhamed Shah. It is reported that Hazarat Imam Alishah Datar (a.s) visited Gupti Jamat for five times.

During all these 350 years the Guptis kept up their original caste system of life and ceremonies. Their names, their dresses and their relations were with Hindus, Even they used to burn their deads, Outwardly there was nothing to show that they were Ismailis. Even Missionaries visited them secretly in Hindu attires.

They had a Jamatkhana at a secret place. First for about 75 years they used to meet at Mr. Jedasbhai Prabhu's house then for another 45 years their meeting place was at the house of Chief Vazier Kassamalibhai's forefathers. Thereafter a Jamatkhana was built with particular emphasis that one door was in Muslim locality and another was in Hindu locality. From Hindu locality it was just like a temple. Secret words were used to admit the member of the Jamat in proper Jamatkhana, which was on the first floor. The Jamatkhana was known as "Dada nu Ghar" ( the house of Grand father). The Khoja Ismailis of Surat had no apparent connection with these Guptis and had a separate Jamatkhana. In the year 1893 there was a great fire in whole of Surat (just like fire of London).

So furious was the fire that whole Jamat feared that Jamatkhana will be engulfed in it and will reveal true secret (if two doors) But miraculously the fire was controlled before it could reach Jamatkhana and the Jamatkhana was saved whole Gupti Jamat glorified and thanked Lord for this mercy.

Guptis were very faithful momins. They obey the firmans of Imam without arguments In 1914 Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah (a.s) asked two Guptis families living in Paris to return to India and they just obeyed and hence were saved from the disaster of world war II started just after four months.

The Guptis, though serving Imam secretly, their services were not less than those given by other Ismailis. The honour of publishing first booklet of Holy Firman Mubarak of Hazarat Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah's first visit to Zanzibar goes to Mr. Vithaldeas Nagindas Sutaria, Gupti Ismailia. For the sake of secrecy he gave his name as V. N. Sutaria as the publisher.

Mr. Dahya Prabhu was the member of the Huzur Staff of Hazarat Imam Alishah Datar (a.s) They had also established a Jamatkhana at Paris in the year 1931 Guptis living in Bombay built "Dhupelia Building and established their Jamatkhana at third floor. The Recreation club Jamatkhana at third floor. The Recreation club Institute (the present day "Ismailia Association for India) was established in this building in the year 1915. The building was also used as Jamatkhana for Khojas and Guptis when "Kandimohalla (Karimabad) Jamatkhana was being re-built.


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