Hijli Sharif: A Place of Miracles Striving to Preserve its Glorious Historical Past
The Dargah of Masnad-e-Aala or Hijli Sharif mazar is widely known in this part of Bengal for fulfilling the wishes of the needy. But few are aware of the history associated with this place that spans from 15th – 18th century.
An extensive area situated on the eastern bank of Rasulpur river in the Contai subdivision of East Midnapore district of West Bengal, Hijli has a rich 300-year-old history. Surrounded with woodland and an abandoned shore, today this rural place is called Nijkasba but popularly adorned for Hijli Sharif Dargah or shrine where spiritual miracles are known to happen.
Blog highlights –
- Visiting the Shrine
- Inside the Shrine
- Walking through the Dargah
- The Historical Significance of Hijli
- Things to do in and around Hijli Sharif
- How to reach
- Where to stay and best time to visit
Visiting Hijli Sharif Dargah
It was around 10 AM on a Saturday when I reached the gates of Hijli Sharif Dargah, driving from Kolkata. I had started my journey early morning and took one short break in between. Hearing about this place from my parents just two days back, I made a quick plan during the weekend. This is my first visit to Hijli and I hardly know anything about the place.
Once reached, I find that there is no parking space inside the complex and the cars have to be left on the vast open ground, a little distance from the entrance gate. As I got off the car, a number of local people greeted and asked if I am there to visit the shrine or to hang out on the beach. These locals are quite friendly, respectful and willing to help depending on the reason of your visit. For example, if you want to visit the shrine, they will help you with information, assistance and whatever you need while on the other hand, they will help you arrange food, cooking equipment, etc. if you want to have a picnic around or on the beach.
After I told them about the purpose of my visit, two persons offered assistance and gave a brief introduction to the place, especially highlighting the miracles and the cultural, social, and religious harmony between the Hindu-Muslim communities here. These local people have shops that sell various offerings to the visitors for paying tribute to the ‘Pir’ (saint) Taj Khan Masnad-e-Aala outside the premises of the Hijli Dargah.
We reach the gate of the complex in five minutes. The domes of the holy building are visible from here. I come to know that Masnad-e-Aala, popularly known here as ‘Babasaheb’, is offered two kinds of sweets as ‘Prasad’ (a devotional food offering). One is a dry, crispy sugar-coated flour blocks and the other one is a flavoursome mixture of flour and milk known as ‘Shirni’. You can get the dry sweets instantly from the shops. However, if you wish to offer ‘Shirni’, you can inform the shopkeepers and they will help you arrange it. Besides the Prasad, you can offer a ‘Chadar’, flowers, incense sticks, and a bottle of rose water (compulsory in this shrine) to the saint. I bought the offerings from one of the shopkeepers and went ahead to enter the shrine.
Inside the Hijli Sharif Shrine
On entering the premises, the entrance to the shrine is on the left. It leads to the section where you can wash your hands and feet under tap water and then move ahead to the prayer room and the shrine. There is a huge ancient tree trunk inside where a large board is installed informing about the name of the shrine, the year of foundation and the celebration of the saint’s death anniversary. The architecture of the mosque is simple and familiar.
Moving straight ahead, three to four ‘Khadims’ or members of the ‘Pir Baba Sevayat Committee’ who are in charge of maintenance, attendance, and service of the shrine sit together on a raised platform. Visitors or devotees who wish to offer Prasad and other devotional offerings to the saint need to tell them first and they act accordingly. On the right side or facing exactly opposite to the mosque lies the holy tomb of Babasaheb Masnad-e-Aala on a beautiful raised tier under the open sky. No one except the Khadims are allowed to enter the tier and place the ‘Chadar’ on the tomb.
Visitors light and place the incense sticks inside the building near the tomb and spray rose water through the fences while a Khadim places the offered ‘Chadar’ on the tomb outside. They can watch the entire process, pray and wish, standing at the fences or sitting around. Before moving out, you can collect a part of the Prasad from the Khadims sitting inside. It’s very peaceful and you can sit there and pray for as long as you wish. Photography inside the mosque and shrine is prohibited.
People from all faiths, caste, and creed visit this shrine and let the saint know their wishes. It is believed that Masnad-e-Aala listens to everyone and nobody with a clean heart and clear conscience returns empty-handed from his Dargah.
Walking Outside the Shrine
As you move out, you can see an iron pole (about 3.5 feet in height) resting on the ground against a tree trunk. This belonged to Sikandar Khan, the loving brother of Masnad-e-Aala. According to popular belief, if anyone can lift this pole from the ground in the first chance, his/her wish will be fulfilled.
Moving forward, you can see a small pool beside the shrine. It is said that this pool was used by Masnad-e-Aala and the Pir had once added holy Zamzam water from Mecca into this pool water. Believers show a lot of faith to the miraculous effect of the water of this pool and they even take them back home in bottles.
The Historical Significance of Hijli
After the ancient Tamralipta port became extinct as the sea shifted afar due to heavy silt deposition and the loss of navigability, the shores of Hijli came into existence. The advantageous geographical location attracted merchants to settle here that helped it prosper in many ways. However, according to a historical document of 1628 AD, the river region of Hijli flourished the most and created history during the reign of the royal dysnasty of Masnad-e-Aala.
An ancient manuscript written in Persian by author Munshi Sheikh Hazrat Bismillah informs the lineage of this dynasty. This manuscript is presently preserved and maintained by the Khadims of Hijli mosque.
The dynasty reigned Hijli for about forty years since the beginning of the 17th century. Rehmat Bhunya (also known as Ikhtiyar Khan), the youngest son of Mansoor Bhunya who was a powerful and affluent landowner is considered to be the founder of the kingdom. Taj Khan Masnad-e-Aala was the first grandson of Rehmat Bhunya.
The kingdom of Hijli was taking a prosperous shape during the rule of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in Delhi. Before embracing sainthood and becoming a disciple of the spiritual master Hazrat Makhdum Sheikh Ul-Mashaekh-Shah Abul Haquddin Chishti, Taj Khan Masnad-e-Aala had elected his son Bahadur Khan as the next ruler of Hijli. Bahadur Khan shared a friendly relationship with the then Mughal governor of Bengal, Prince Shah Shuja, the son of Emperor Shah Jahan. It was the result of this friendship that Hijli (despite being geographically located in Odisha) was included in the state of Bengal (the present West Bengal, India) by Shah Shuja.
The kingdom, however, doomed after the fall of Bahadur Khan during a war with the Mughal army sent by Aurangzeb. This war was the outcome of a rumour that Shah Shuja had taken refuge in Bahadur Khan’s kingdom of Hijli to escape the subjugation of Aurangzeb (the other son of Shah Jahan and Shah Shuja’s brother) who had ascended the throne in Delhi after Shah Jahan.
Nothing of the palace, forts or the magnificent instances of art could stand the test of time. Most of them including some parts of the land have gone under the sea. However, pieces of medieval sculptures and various articles are often discovered in this region from underground which testifies the presence of a rich past.
Today, only the Hijli Sharif Dargah stands erect, combating the forces of nature and surviving through centuries. Despite being located near the sea, not a single brick is damaged by the salinity of the region which is believed to be no less than a miracle itself.
Things to Do in and Around Hijli Sharif
- Enjoy on the Beach
There is a beach near the shrine stretching as long as you can see. Surrounded with a thick growth of Indian Tamarisk trees, you can spend hours walking along the virgin beach or sitting under their shade. Count the waves or the moving ships and boats and you won’t even remember to look at your watch. You can also take horse rides, play outdoor games, and even relish some local junk foods. However, you can’t walk up to the sea water except during the high tide hours because of the silt deposition.
- Arrange Picnics
The place is very popular among locals for picnics and community lunches. If you visit with a big or small group, it will be some real fun as you get to enjoy without the presence of disturbing crowds like the other beach areas such as Digha and Udaipur. Given the vast area, you can choose a spot for yourself easily, be it on the beach or on the vast open ground. You also don’t need to carry prepared food because you can get all the essentials here for hiring.
- Drive to Other Beaches Nearby
This part of West Bengal has several beaches. After visiting the shrine or after spending some time on the Hijli beach, you can head towards Junput, Boguran, Mandarmani, Tajpur, Digha, Shankarpur, Udaipur, Talsari or Bichitrapur to have a good time at the sea.
How to Reach
Where to Stay
Unfortunately, this place is not tourist-friendly yet. There are no accommodations around except one guest house which is in poor maintenance. You can, however, stay in hotels or homestays in Boguran, Digha, New Digha, Mandarmani, Shankarpur, Tajpur or any location as per your trip plan.
If you don’t wish to stay, you can drive back to Kolkata on the same day. But make sure to start on time so that you reach the highway before sunset as electricity can be an issue in these interior regions.
Best Time to Visit
Hijli Sharif can be visited any time throughout the year.
For people in West Bengal who lives in and around the metropolis of Kolkata, weekend trips or getaways are mostly limited to the beach areas of Digha, Mandarmani, Tajpur, Shankarpur, Udaipur and so on. The latest additions of amusement parks and other entertaining spots in these locations have definitely helped up the game of local tourism. But there isn’t any notable effort to highlight and revive such places of historical significance in this region and develop them into tourist-friendly destinations to attract the masses. This needs to be changed. It’s important to make people aware of the glorious past to keep history alive for the next generations.