By Syed Ali Mujtaba, Muslim Mirror
Bibi Syeda Ali Fathima a.k.a. Fathimasa Bibi is perhaps one of the few women Sufi saints of Islam whose mortal remains lies buried at the Athangarai Pallivasal dargah in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, India.
Fathimasa bibi is also called Athangarai Nachiyar Amma, meaning scared goddess who stays on the river side as her tomb is on the bank of the river Nambiyar.
It was sometimes in 16th century; Syeda Ali Fathima and her husband Sheik Mohamed Aulia sailed to southeast Asia on a boat from a place called Bajjal in Arabia to spread the message Islam.
The legend has it during their travel the boat got caught in a storm in the bay of Bengal. The ship found its way to the east coast of India and hit the land in the current Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.
The place where the boat landed was a dense jungle and the couple disembarked there and made their house in the jungle.
They started praying and meditating in that wilderness and in complete isolation from any other human beings.
Their presence was discovered by the people wondering in that jungle who after interacting with them found that they were saintly couple with spiritual powers.
Soon the message regarding their healing power reached the ordinary people who started visiting their abode in large numbers to get rid of their pain and agony.
The couple undertook the spiritual work with great zeal and earned the goodwill of all sections of the society irrespective of the religious beliefs
It was Hazrath Sheik Mohamed Aulia who first passed away and was buried on the bank of a river Nambiyar. This did not stopped Fathimasa Bibi from her spiritual activities. She continued to stay in the jungle even after the death of her husband and carried out the spiritual activity, earning name and fame far and wide.
After a few years Fathimasa bibi too passed away and her body was buried next to her husband’s grave. Legend has it that Fathimasa Bibi had directed her devotees not to construct a roof over their grave and it should be left in natural way.
Later when people were constructing her tomb, legend has it that a big boulder was about to fall on them and this made someone cry; `Athangarai Nachiyar Amma’ i.e. scared goddess who stays on the river side, for help. At once the boulder that was moving stopped and that saved the lives of many people.
The Athangarai Pallivasal dargah is frequented by all section of the society throughout the year. Here people from all the southern states throng, irrespective of their faith to seek the blessings of these Sufi saints.
Such is the esteem and veneration in which this couple is held that more non-Muslim visits this Dargah than the Muslims.
All pray at the tombs to get relieved from their misery and pain seeking blessings from the revered saints.
The offerings made by devotees in fulfilment of their vows are used for feed the hungry and poor who come in large numbers every day to the tomb.
The Urs at Athangarai Pallivasal dargah is held on June 19 and 20 every year. It is a big celebration time. The highlight of the festivities is the procession taken out from the nearby Pulimankulam village to the Dargah. The devotees carry pots on their head containing sandal paste that they apply on the graves of the sufi saints.
Last but not the least, the abode of the Sufi saints couple Syeda Ali Fathima and her husband Hazrat Sheik Mohamed Aulia is a symbol of communal harmony in India.
The syncretic tradition of peaceful coexistence that is being systematically being sacrificed at the altar of high politics in India refuses to die down in the local custom and tradition that is sanguinely present at the Indian grassroots.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org