Murshid ji billi: Sindh is now home to ‘shrine’ of Pir Gaji Shah’s cat

Murshid ji billi: Sindh is now home to ‘shrine’ of Pir Gaji Shah’s cat

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KARACHI: Nearly 70 kilometres off Dadu, dozens flocked to a newly built shrine dedicated to “Murshid ji billi” – a cat belonging to Pir Gaji Shah.

Research scholars say Pir Shah, a spiritual leader, was a military commander of the Kalhoro dynasty in 1690s in Sindh. However, he has a following from across Pakistan especially Balochistan and Punjab who attend a three-day Urs, celebrate every year in his remembrance.

“Gaji Shah laid down his life while defending local people from invaders,” said Manzoor Hussain Khoso, a caretaker of the Gaji Shah shrine. “After his death in the hills of Dadu district, his body was transported to this place by his camel.”

Shah’s camel is also considered sacred by his devotees.

The cat, however, has its own tale. According to traditions read out to The Express Tribune by Khoso, it was a beloved cat of the spiritual leader. Even her death had a story: walking beside the spiritual leader, the cat stopped short upon her master’s hard voice. And died on the spot.

Shah’s devotees pay tribute to his cat and camel during the observe Urs. “We love and respect everything which was close to the spiritual leader,” he said. “But due to lack of awareness and literacy, some people bow down to the cat’s grave despite being told not to.”

Shah was also famous as the “King of Djinns” – to this day, many visit his shrine for exorcism process. “People who are possessed come here for treatment,” explained Khoso. “They gyrate their heads at the tune of “Surando” [a local musicial instrument] in the courtyard of this shrine until they are unconscious.”

“While unconscious they are helped with the blessings of the spiritual leader,” claimed Khoso.

Research scholar Aziz Kingrani paints a more practical picture of the traditions, however. “Gaji was not a saint,” he told The Express Tribune. “Ghazi Khoso alias Gaji Shah, was appointed by the then Kalhora ruler, Mian Nasir Mohammad Kalhoro to defend Sindh’s border area with Balochistan.”

“Ghazi was killed in 1691 during a fight between the Brohi tribe of Khuzdar area of Balochistan and the Kalhora army,” he explained. “He was laid to rest here and people started revering him.”

Kingrani  said that Gaji was given the title of Shah by the Kalhora dynasty, adding that the famous ruler of the dynasty Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhora was also given the title of Shah.

On the exorcism ritual that takes place at the shrine, Kingrani maintained that people suffering from various diseases including hysteria visited the shrine believing it to be the impact of ‘Djinns’ and having faith that with the blessings of Shah,  they will be helped.

On the other hand, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) legislator Ghulam Shah Gilani insisted he belonged to Uchh Sharif of Multan and was handed over to the local tribe Khosa by his father.

“The Kalhora rulers hired him to fight notorious dacoits and invaders after looking at his powerful built and influence,” said Gilani. “He laid down his life while defending this area.”

“He had shown his influence through the divine power instilled in him,” the PPP lawmaker claimed. “That is why locals started considering him a spiritual leader.”

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