A symbol of religious harmony

Abode of peace

A symbol of religious harmony
Shri Jagadguru Fakireshwar Math, established during the Adil Shahi rule about four centuries ago, is situated in Shirahatti village of Gadag district. The math is a heritage structure that depicts the harmony between Hindus and Muslims. Apart from Adil Shahi rulers, Mughal emperor Akbar had honoured the math’s very first pontiff, Sri Fakirswamy.

This Hindu math has several ‘Muslim-first’ traditions which the authorities have been following strictly since its inception. When the presiding Swamy dies, his funeral rites are first performed according to Islamic traditions and then performed as per Hindu scriptures. Similarly, Muslims play a significant role in installing a new pontiff or performing other important rituals. When a new Swamy has to be consecrated, a descendant of the famous sufi saint, Khwaja Ameenuddin, is invited to witness the installation programme. The math has also employed Muslim musicians who play musical instruments and beat drums in the nagarkhana (musical gallery), which is situated in the vicinity of the math.

The beginnings
The story of the math is closely linked to Vijayapura, which was the Adil Shahi capital. History records that Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1556 – 1627) was a poet and a musician. Because of his liberal policies and contributions to art and culture, he earned the name ‘Jagadguru Badshah’. A large number of Sufi saints came and settled in the kingdom during his reign. One of them was Khwaja Ameenuddin, who was highly revered by both Hindus and Muslims. He  was also responsible for starting this unique math.

Legend goes that Shivayya and Gowramma, a pious Shaivite couple from Vijayapura, were childless for a long time. Due to this, Gowramma faced ostracisation. It was at this point in time that a friend suggested that she seek the blessings of Khwaja Ameenuddin. When she went to meet him, he revealed that four sons would be born to her and he asked her to give the first child to his custody. The Sufi’s prophecy came true, and Gowramma offered her first son, Channaveerswamy, to him. The Sufi affectionately renamed him as Fakirswamy.

He found the young boy very intelligent and obedient. Unlike other boys of his age, Fakirswamy took interest in religious discourses and ceremonies, and was always seen with his guru, learning the basics of a harmonious society. As a result, he imbibed the qualities of this preceptor. After his guru’s death, Fakirswamy undertook his spiritual journey and propagated Sufi and Bhakti thoughts. As a young man, he led the life of a mendicant. Spreading the message of universal brotherhood, he travelled to far-off places.

Legend has it that one day, he reached Delhi and visited the court of Mughal emperor Akbar. It is said that Fakirswamy, who had miraculous powers, told Akbar that his elephant was dead, and he would bring it to life with his powers. The emperor checked with the mahout and later found that his elephant was really dead. Subsequently, the saint brought the dead elephant to life. Akbar was very happy and asked if the saint wanted anything. He asked for the king’s seal. Akbar happily gifted him his seal and a ranbille (a kind of jewellery) to him. This seal (in Arabic) is tied to the neck of the pontiff and is used on important occasions even now. Similarly, the ranbille is tied on the pontiff’s left leg.

From Delhi, Fakirswamy came to Shirahatti and settled here. It is said that he lived and meditated in a hut near the present Lakshmi Gudi. With his good words and deeds, he attracted both Muslims and Hindus in large numbers. Syed Ankush Khan, a pious governor under Ibrahim Adil Shah II, prescribed green and saffron attire for those anointed as Fakirswamy (every pontiff here is called as Fakirswamy). In order to bring Hindus and Muslims closer, he also thought that the Fakirswamy should represent some aspects of both communities. Accordingly, like a Muslim fakir, every Fakirswamy grows beard and dons a green turban. 

Architectural influence
The present pontiff, Sri Jagadguru Fakirswamy Siddaram, is the 13th in the lineage. He has built a distinctive white structure on the gadduge or samadhi of the first Fakirswamy. Marble steps in a narrow passage lead to the wide, square-shaped samadhi. It has a gopura and minarets, making it only of its kind in the region. The Fakireshwar Samsthana Math runs several educational institutions in and around Shirahatti. 

In the vicinity of the math are situated nagarkhana and Lakshmi Gudi. The temple has a navaranga (hall), arches and a well. The nagarkhana represents Adil Shahi architecture. It has beautifully carved minarets perforated stone panels and ornate geometrical designs. Musicians play various musical instruments and beat the drum when puja is performed at the samadhi. A huge drum donated by a Nawab of Savanur can be seen here. There is a big chariot beside this monument as well. It is pulled by the devotees during the annual car festival, which is set to take place on May 10, 2017.

Other places of interest here include Avalingawwa Gudi and Mahboob Subhani Dargah. Avalingawwa Gudi was built during the later Chalukyan rule. It has carved pillars and chiselled figures of Hindu deities, elephants, serpents along with flowery and geometrical designs. Exterior walls also have vertical bands of Hindu deities. A few strands of hair of great saint Mahboob Subhani are kept in a golden box in Mahboob Subhani Dargah. Every Thursday, a large number of devotees visit this shrine.

Buses and taxis are available from Hubballi and Gadag to Shirahatti.
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