Sarmad Kashani or simply as Sarmad (ca 1590–1661) was a Persian speaking Armenian mystic and poet who travelled to and made the Indian subcontinent his permanent home during the 17th century. Originally Jewish, he may have renounced his religion to adopt Islam. Sarmad, in his poetry, states that he is neither Jewish, nor Muslim, nor Hindu.
Sarmad was born in Armenia around 1590, to a family of Jewish Persian-speaking Armenian merchants. Sarmad had an excellent command of Persian, essential for his work as a merchant, and composed most of his works in this language. He produced a translation of the Torah in Persian. He studied under Mulla Sadra and Mir Findiriski before migrating to the Mughal Empire as a merchant.
Travels in the Mughal Empire
Hearing that precious items and works of art were being purchased in India at high prices, Sarmad gathered together his wares and traveled to the Mughal Empire where he intended to sell them. In Thatta, in present day Sindh, Pakistan, one of his close disciples was a Hindu called Abhay Chand. Although there is debate on the nature of their relationship very little is known about the life of Abhay Chand and no historical records to confirm the details of their encounter, except Sarmad's own poetry. Some scholars have argued that, while Sarmad employed Abhay Chand to translate the Torah as well as Old Testament and New Testament, it is possible that Abhay Chand converted to Islam or Judaism. It is important to note that, in later years, Sarmad grew critical of all religions and took a more spiritual position.
At some stage, he abandoned his wealth, let his hair grow, stopped clipping his nails and began to wander the city streets. Although it is widely speculated that Sarmad and Abhay Chand moved to Lahore, then to Hyderabad, settling finally in Delhi, however there are no credible sources to confirm the events.
Life in Delhi
The reputation as a poet and mystic he had acquired during the time the two travelled together, caused the Mughal crown prince Dara Shikoh to invite Sarmad at his father's court. On this occasion, Sarmad so deeply impressed the royal heir that he vowed to become his disciple.
After the War of Succession with his brother Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb (1658-1707) emerged victorious, killed his former adversary and ascended the imperial throne. He had Sarmad arrested and tried for heresy. Sarmad was put to death by beheading in 1661. His grave is located near the Jama Masjid in Delhi, India.
Sarmad was accused and convicted of atheism and unorthodox religious practice.
Aurangzeb ordered his Ulema to ask Sarmad why he repeated only "There is no God", and ordered him to recite the second part,"but Allah". To that he replied that "I am still absorbed with the negative part. Why should I tell a lie?" Thus he sealed his death sentence. Ali Khan-Razi, Aurangzeb's court chronicler, was present at the execution. He relates some of the mystic's verses uttered at the execution stand: "The Mullahs say Ahmed went to heaven, Sarmad says that heaven came down to Ahmed." ... "There was an uproar and we opened our eyes from the eternal sleep. Saw that the night of wickedness endured, so we slept again."
Abul Kalam Azad on Sarmad
- Prigarina, Natalia. "SARMAD: LIFE AND DEATH OF A SUFI" (PDF). Institute of Oriental Studies, Russia. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- For some examples of his poetry, see: Poetry Chaikhana Sarmad: Poems and Biography.
- See mainly: Katz (2000) 148-151. But also: Sarmad the Armenian and Dara Shikoh; Khaleej Times Online - The Armenian Diaspora: History as horror and survival.
- Fishel, Walter. "Jews and Judaism at the Court of the Mugal Emperors in Medieval India," Islamic Culture, 25:105-31.
- Puri, Rakshat; Akhtar, Kuldip (1993). "Sarmad, The Naked Faqir". India International Centre Quarterly. 20: 65–78 – via JSTOR.
- Sikand, Yoginder (2003). Sacred Spaces: Exploring Traditions of Shared Faith in India. Penguin Books India. ISBN 9780143029311.
- V. N. Datta (27 November 2012), Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sarman, ISBN 9788129126627,
Walderman Hansen doubts whether sensual passions played any part in their love [sic]; puri doubts about their homosexual relationship
- Goshen-Gottstein, Alon (1 August 2017). The Jewish Encounter with Hinduism: History, Spirituality, Identity. Springer. ISBN 9781137455291.
- Ridgeon, Lloyd V. J. (2008). Sufism: Hermeneutics and doctrines. Routledge. ISBN 9780415426244.
- See the account here Archived 2009-04-18 at the Wayback Machine.
- Bernier, Francois (1996). Travels in the Mogul Empire, AD 1656-1668. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120611696.
- For the motivations behind his trial as well as a detailed explanation of proceedings, see: Katz (2000) 151-153.
- Cook 2007.
- "Votary of freedom: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sarmad". Tribune India. 7 October 2007.
- Najmuddin, Shahzad Z. (2005). Armenia: a Resumé: with Notes on Seth's Armenians in India. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4120-4039-6.
- Votary of freedom - Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sarmad by V. N. Datta, Tribune India, 7 October 2007
- Cook, D. (2007) Martyrdom in Islam (Cambridge) ISBN 9780521850407.
- Tr. by Syeda Sayidain Hameed (1991). "The Rubaiyat of Sarmad" (PDF). Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
- Ezekial, I.A. (1966) Sarmad: Jewish Saint of India (Beas) ASIN B0006EXYM6.
- Gupta, M.G. (2000) Sarmad the Saint: Life and Works (Agra) ISBN 81-85532-32-X.
- Katz, N. (2000) The Identity of a Mystic: The Case of Sa'id Sarmad, a Jewish-Yogi-Sufi Courtier of the Mughals in: Numen 47: 142-160.
- Schimmel, A. And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration Of the Prophet In Islamic Piety (Chapel Hill & London).
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