Akhund Abdul Ghaffur was born in 1794 A.D at Jabrai village in Swat. The name of his father was Abdul Wahid and he belonged to Safi tribe of Mohmands. However, there also exist a contrary opinion regarding his origin. He was known for his piety since his early age. He remained busy in acquiring religious education at various places. He went to Gujar Garhi (Mardan), Nowshehra and Chamkani (Peshawar) for pursuing religious studies. He was inclined towards Sufism and remained a disciple of various Shaykhs.
He also stayed in Beka, Namal (Nowshera), Salim Khan (Sawabi) and Qasmi (Mardan). In 1835, he returned to Swat and stayed at Maloch, Rangeela, Odigram, Marghazar, Spal Bandai respectively and finally settled at Saidu. He remained in Saidu till his last breath. (For detailed study, consult Asghar Ali’s M.Phil (unpublished) thesis, titled “Sufism and Politics in District Swat: Role of Saidu Baba and Sandakai Baba”, A.I.O.U, 2019).
Saidu Baba instead of trying to acquire worldly power and kingship, busied himself in reformation of the people. The influence and reputation soon spread in all directions. The English writers and historians have extensively covered him in their writings. Rev. J. Cave Browne wrote that “the Swat valley is inhabited by a warlike and fanatic race of Muhammadans ruled by a ‘Maulvie of Moulvies’, a patriarch or pope of the Muhammadans of this part of Asia, called the Akhood of Swat.”
In August 1858, Major Raverty sent a native of Kandahar (Afghanistan) to Swat. The Kandahari (whose name wasn’t disclosed by Raverty in his Report, nor the name of the Khan who accompanied the Kandahari) was a Pushto speaker and provided valuable information to Major Raverty after his return from Swat. Interestingly, Kandahari also met Saidu Baba in his brief visit to Swat and closely observed his daily activities. Major Raverty wrote:
“The food of Akhund (Saidu Baba) is a single cake or bannock of bread, made from the ‘shamukah’ (panicum frumentaccum), the most bitter and unpleasant grain it is possible to conceive, which he eats in the morning before dawn. He fasts during the day; and in the evening he eats sparingly of boiled vegetables sprinkled with salts. The only luxury he indulges in is tea, made in the English fashion, with milk added, as you yourself take it. About two or three hundred poor persons receive food at his guest-chamber daily; and the animals of those who come from a distance receive a measure of corn and some grass… The Akhund has a little garden attached to his dwelling, in which there are a few fruit trees, consisting of pomegranate, peach, fig, Thangu, walnut and a vine. As the fruits come into season they are gathered, and a small quantity is places in the guest-chamber or reception-room, daily. To those who express a wish to taste the fruit, he given a little with his own hands.”
Raverty further wrote about the residence of Saidu Baba:
“His residence lies in the most healthy and salubrious situation; and close by there is a running stream of cool and clear water. At the head of this stream a small pond has been formed, consisting of few fishes. There are also several plane and other shady trees about; and it is, altogether, a very pretty place.”
After his death in 1877, his shrine became a place of consolation and spiritual richness for his followers and ‘murids’. The traditional wooden frame was fixed on his shrine after his death and remained intact till mid of 1950s. Akhund of Swat shrine attracted pilgrims from all parts of the Muhammadan world.
Swat was in a state of warfare and internal strife after his demise. The turbulent affairs in Swat prevailed till 1917, when Miangul Abdul Wadud, the grandson of Akhund of Swat assumed the role of ‘Badshah of Swat.’ After consolidating his position, Miangul Abdul Wadud decided to reconstruct the Saidu Baba mosque on modern building practices. Perusal of official record/correspondence available at Tribal Affairs Research Cell, Peshawar (though only five letters have been preserved in File No.20/Swat) reveals the fact that the construction work on the mosque was initiated in early 1930s. It is pertinent to dispel the notion here, that the services of Indian masons/experts were hired at the very outset and when the construction work on the mosque was initiated. The matter of fact is that the local masons and workers started the initial phase of construction of the Saidu Baba Mosque and White Place. The local masons were able to erect the magnificent and impressive structures. Further, Bacha Sahib didn’t made direct correspondence with the British Indian officials for the import of marble tiles from the territory under their control. The Ruler of Swat followed the prevailing procedure by routing the letters through the office of Political Agent, Malakand and at times through Deputy Director, (Frontier Department/ Development) at Peshawar.
After the completion of initial structures of these historic buildings in 1935-36, it was decided to import marble tiles from Jaipur, British India. The first letter for importing marble tiles from the territory of British India was dispatched by Bacha Sahib on 14th September 1935 to Deputy Director, Frontier Department, N.W.F.P. (Correspondence with British officials was made by Mr. Attaullah on behalf of Bacha Sahib. In response to this letter, the Deputy Director, responded on 14th September 1935. He informed Bacha Sahib in these words:
“I was pleased to note that His Highness has approved of the marble tiles sample sent by me. The price of white spotless, thick marble tiles in factory size will be 14 annas per square foot , F.O.R, Peshawar. Price of white (tinged with black) tiles in Factory size will be 11 Annas per square foot, F.O.R Peshawar. (The term F.O.R stands for Freight on Road. The term Freight is used for the goods that are transported in bulk from one place to the other place such as from one city to other city or from one country to other country. The cost incurred in transporting goods is called freight cost). Price of Pink (Peer Sabak) tiles in factory size will be Rs.1/8/ – per square foot F.O.R. Peshawar. The above rates are for unpolished tiles.”
The deputy Director further wrote:
“I understand, white marble is required for the flooring. Spotless white will produce too much glare. For the Government House Verandaas, His Excellency also thought like that and has given orders to use white (tinged with black) marble tiles. The use of this marble will also break the monotony that would otherwise result if spotless white marble were used throughout. I thrust we will be favoured with the whole order of White marble if required in blocks for pillars etc, will be charged @ Rs. 2/8/- per C.Ft. F.O.R, Peshawar.”
In response to this letter, Secretary of Bacha Sahib responded on 23rd September 1935:
“Would you kindly supply at your earliest by Rail to Dargai and sent the R/R by post to me, the following. Marble white tinged with black for a platform… Six Slabs of Pink Marble… White marble spotless for a platform and a few extra slabs for doors etc, according to the actual necessity. The goods may be sent Insured at Railway ride Bill may be sent for payment when the lot is ready. It is also hoped that you would be able to sent up your ‘mistri’ for fixing these up and for polishing and finishing the floors. The Pink slabs are urgent and may be supplied early, next white tinged with black and last at all white spotless.”
In this connection, another letter was addressed by the Deputy Director, Frontier Development, N.W.F.P to Ruler of Swat on 5th December 1935. The letter mentioned:
“I understand that you are not yet ready for laying the Marble and therefore you will not mind if I sent you the Marble in January in order to meet the other pressing orders. I thank you of this and December supply therefore I shall be dispatching to other clients. 15 masons from Government House work will be free on 10th instant and 6 masons by 21st instant. They laying work in the Government House work has been done very well by these workmen and have not wasted much of the stones. The wastage being under 10 percent, the usual allowance made due for fitting in the slabs in the corners etc. Their wages vary between 40/- to 50/- p.m and their ‘mistri’ gets Rs.60 p.m plus travelling expenses from Amritsar and House rent. For your place they may charge about 12 percent more. Kindly let me know your wishes in the matter early.”
After all this correspondence, marble tiles reached Saidu Sharif at various intervals from Jaipur, India. The ‘mistris’ from Amritsar did the marble fixing and cladding job in the verandas and lawn of White Palace and Saidu Baba Mosque. interestingly, the marbles for these structures are the same as used in Taj Mahal, India.
During this phase of work, it was decided by the administration of Miangul Abdul Wadud that engraved tiles will also be imported for fixation in the prayer hall of Saidu Baba mosque. In this connection, a letter (written on 6th April 1936) by the Ruler of Swat was forwarded to Development Officer, Peshawar. This letter also enclosed a hand drawn sketch of the proposed engraved marble slab. The letter stated:
“I enclose a sketch for a marble slab, engraved in lead. Would you kindly let me know if you could supply this and at what rate. 169 slabs would be required. The marble has been collected. Would you kindly arrange for the labour to come and start work, making the tiles and fixing them.” (The author visited Saidu Baba Mosque and was compared that particular hand drawn sketch with the tiles inside prayer hall. A total of 264 marble slabs were fixed in eight rows on the floor).
The last letter addressed during this correspondence is of very interesting nature. This letter sheds light on the wages and working days (per week) of the Indian ‘mistris’ and the desire of Bacha Sahib that the ‘mistris’ will be asked to work on contract basis rather than daily wages. Bacha Sahib on 15th May 1936 informed the Development Officer at Peshawar:
“The labour has arrived a few days back. They demand that boarding arrangement for them is to be made and also that they would have one holiday in a week. I am afraid I do not agree to this. They have been accommodated as you had said, they are on daily wages, only those days would be counted on which they work. The speed at which they are doing work, a square foot of marble ready would cost about Rs.3/- if not more. That’s why I had requested you for the contract basis. I would be grateful, if you would kindly arrange with some labour on contract basis. This seems to be a hopeless failure.”
All this correspondence reveals the fact that the marble tiles glued with the help of adhesive at White Place and Saidu Baba Mosque were imported from Jaipur, India. Maingul Adnan Aurangzeb, the grandson of Miangul Jahanzeb (Wali Sahib) informed that the Indian experts and artisans came for the decorative and fine work on the benches at White Palace and Minbar of Saidu Baba Mosque. He further added that the construction and fine work of White Palace was completed in 1941 while Saidu Baba mosque was completed in 1943. The construction work at the White Palace took ten years to complete while the mosque was completed in about twelve years. The domes of the old mosque were preserved and are presently stored there.
These two beautiful structures are a unique piece of artwork. One wonders, how in that time, the artisan managed to craft such amazing architecture with such little access to technology and resources. From the ventilation system to lighting, everything was mindfully crafted. In spite of the negative effects of time and the neglect, both the buildings still manages to retain most of the splendor. Large crowds and tourists visit it throughout the year.
The Saidu Baba Mosque and White Palace is a testament of the aesthetic sense of the then Ruler of Swat. The interiors are charming and are steeped in history and brilliance. The visitors are wowed by marble and the interior décor of the mosque besides its spiritual value.
Interestingly, the wooden shrine Saidu Baba Mosque was housed in the marble courtyard of the renovated mosque and was left in its original wooden shape. The graves in the mosque were also kept in raw shape as well. It was during the 1950s, when Wali Sahib decided to reconstruct the wooden shrine on modern building practices as well. Renowned Columnist on the history of Swat, Fazal Raziq Shahab told the author that the shrine was constructed through State Contractor Aman Ullah Khan of Mingora. The wooden frame was removed and on the directions of the Wali Sahib, it was taken in pieces to Kanju village and was installed at the shrine of Akhund Karim Dad famously known as Shaheed Baba.
As regards to the other graves in the courtyard of Saidu Baba Mosque, the visitors and tourists find it hard to identify them. Besides, the shrine of Saidu Baba, there are ten other graves in the mosque premises.
It will not be out of place to mention that the grave on the Qibla side of Saidu Baba shrine is that of Miangul Abdul Khaliq also known as Kashar (Junior) Miangul. Miangul Abdul Khaliq was the father of Miangul Abdul Wadud (Bacha Sahib) and Miagul Shirin. He died in 1892. The grave on the other side of shrine of Saidu Baba is that Miangul Abdul Hanan also known as Mashar (Senior) Miangul. He passed away in 1887. On three graves the names has been engraved that includes the graves of Miangul Shirin (younger brother of Bacha Sahib), Said Badshah and Amir Badshah (cousins of Bacha Sahib). The other four nameless graves are of the ‘murids’ of Saidu Baba.
Interestingly, the perennial spring near the mosque still flows and is used by the people for ablution and drinking purposes. Sadly, the colorful fishes are no more there.