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Jinns of the city

Tonic for the Soul: Hundreds of jinns are believed to reside in the heart of modern Delhi. And thousands of people seek their help every week. Amitava Sanyal reports.

delhi Updated: Apr 04, 2010 00:13 IST
Amitava Sanyal

On one side is Delhi’s floodlit cricket stadium. Another side is rimmed by the Ring Road and an indoor stadium that’s being readied for the Commonwealth Games. In the middle, among the ruins of Firoz Shah Kotla, is the hub of jinns in the ‘city of jinns’. This is where a large number of them are believed to ‘live’. And it’s the place to which thousands of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs flock every week seeking rough justice and ready remedies.

Who are these jinns? According to Islam, Allah made jinns out of smokeless fire before he made humans out of clay. Unlike ghosts, jinns are shapeless beings who can marry and have children. Unlike humans, they are formless and can ‘live’ for centuries. But like humans and ghosts — and unlike farishtey (angels) — they can be bad or moody. Legend has it that when Iblis, a jinn, refused to bow before Adam, Allah cast him out as Shaitan, not unlike Lucifer who was castigated as Satan. And as among humans, there are Muslim as well as non-Muslim jinns.

In her article ‘Of Children and Jinn’, Naveeda Khan, assistant professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, says that while there’s a large body of academic literature projecting jinns as a figment of cultural memory, mental illness, individual subjectivity or political strategy, to the believer, they are as much a matter of faith as god.

Consider Manohar Lal Thakur, a 50-year-old father of five from Dilshad Garden. He says he didn’t believe in jinns till 14 years ago, when his youngest son, then 4 years old, was saved miraculously from the jaws of death by their intervention. “A bearded old man kept appearing in my dreams, asking me to come to Kotla... And I did, eventually.” That and a series of unexplained, helpful events solidified his belief. Sitting on the lawns on Firoz Shah Kotla, Thakur says, “I tell them, ‘I’ll keep serving you, but don’t make me change my religion.’”

For the thousands like Thakur, there are also a few who put down the jinn-soaked ‘miracles’. Mohammad Taslimuddin, imam of the 14th-century roofless masjid in the middle of the ruins, says, “This is Jami Masjid, not Jinnati Masjid. The good that comes from the ibadat (obligatory worship) of those who come to the masjid rubs off on those who come for the jinns. There’s, after all, only one ‘giver’ for the seekers of all religions.”

But truth be told, of the thousands who stream to the ruins every Thursday afternoon, only hundred-odd offer namaaz; the rest come for the jinns.

Anand Vivek Taneja, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has researched the area for more than two years. He writes in his article, ‘Letters Copied to the Lord of the Jinns’, that the believers started coming in numbers only after the Emergency of 1975-77, when a Sufi names Laddoo Shah made the area his spiritual home.

Taneja quotes Ibn Batuta to hold up a historical mirror to the practice of writing ‘letters’ to the jinns, the most common form of supplication at Kotla: “They (the subjects of Mohammad Tughlaq, who ruled before Firoz Shah) used to write letters (shikwa) containing abuses and scandals... (and) throw them into the council chamber in the night. When [the ruler] tore them open he found abuses... so he resolved to lay Delhi waste.” According to Ibn Batuta, that’s the reason the capital was shifted out to Devagiri, or Daulatabad.

Today, on the walls of Kotla, one can find written and printed pleas on troubles ranging from alcoholism and property disputes to missing persons and ‘incurable’ diseases. Some of these supplicants have been writing for decades.

What have they got in return?

“Everything,” says Sharda Devi, 52, who says she’s been coming to the area for more than two decades. “The jinns have granted everything I’ve asked for. I am what I am because of them.”