Across the border

These banyan trees are proof of Pakistan’s roots in inter-religious peace and harmony

At several sufi shrines like that of the Shah Bahlol Daryai in Punjab, banyan trees have special significance, just as they do in Hinduism and Buddhism.

The shrine stands atop an ancient mound. The structure has been recently constructed – perhaps built upon an older shrine – crowned by a white dome. The dome is intricately decorated on the inside, with glass patterns and floral designs.

The grave of the patron saint, Shah Bahlol Daryai, is right in the middle. There is a huge tiara above the plaque bearing his name, while turbans of the kind worn by grooms are scattered across the shrine. In Sufi symbolism, the saint is often imagined as the groom, sought by his lover and bride, the devotee.

There are several graves around this shrine located near the Chenab river in Pakistan’s Punjab province, near the city of Pindi Bhattiyan. An ancient civilisation once thrived here. After it disappeared, all it left behind was a mound. For residents of the area, the ancient mound possibly symbolised death and they decided to build a graveyard on its remains – there was no contradiction in burying the dead on the top of the mound of dead.

As the mound gave way to the graveyard, its secrets seem to have disappeared with it. No one can say for certain how old this mound is. Perhaps it was as old as time, merging with the antiquity of the Indus valley civilisation. Perhaps it was part of a larger network of towns or cities that contained the key to understanding the ancient civilisation.

The shrine of Shah Bahlol Daryai
The shrine of Shah Bahlol Daryai

Standing for eternity

While death loomed on this ancient mound, right next to it, on an empty plain, stood symbols of eternity – three banyan trees, each one older and grander than the other. It’s hard to think of a better metaphor for permanence and immortality. With its thick trunk sinking deep into the soil, its magnificient height, and its boughs hanging from its branches that sink into the earth, in time forming new additional trunks, the tree only seems to grow older and stronger with time. Does it come as a surprise, then, that Lord Krishna recited the Bhagavad Gita under the banyan tree? Among the several magical properties ascribed to are the beliefs that the tree can bestow a couple with a child, cure leprosy and remove bad omens.

According to the Atharva Veda, the banyan tree is the abode of spirits. Other ancient myths suggest that the good-natured Yakhsa spirits reside here. If the tree or even its branch is cut off, it is believed that the spirits find the house of the one who destroyed their home. There are several other myths about why the banyan should never be cut and hence several of these ancient trees are scattered across rural Punjab in Pakistan even today.

One of the most popular figures associated with the banyan tree (or by various accounts, its close cousin, the peepal) is the reluctant prince who fled his kingdom and abandoned wealth and power to search for truth. It is under the shade of a banyan tree that he found this truth – where Siddhārtha Gautama became the Buddha or the enlightened one. In the process, he lent the tree its new name – Bodh, the tree of enlightenment, a name by which it is popularly referred to in Punjab. Deep in his meditation, when the demon Devaputra Mara came to distract him, it is the guardian spirit of the tree that descended for his protection.

Last symbols

Just as death and immortality come together in this area, so too do different religions and traditions. Shah Bahlol Daryai, to whom this shrine is dedicated, was the spiritual master of one of the most unique Sufi poets of Punjab, Shah Hussain. It is said that once, while he was leading a special prayer during one of the holy nights of Ramzan, Shah Hussain abandoned his position at the head of the congregation, entered the walled city of Lahore, cut off his beard and bought a set of ghungroos. Then, with a pitcher of wine in his hand, he danced in the streets of the city.

In his defiance of religious puritanical movements, Shah Hussain is the ultimate symbol of the Sufi Malmati tradition of Punjab, adherents of which do not follow any conventional religious doctrine and custom, instead believing in forging a personal relationship with the divinity, usually by flaunting conventions. The Malmati tradition borrowed heavily from the Bhakti movement and the ascetic tradition developed around Shaivism. It is, in its essence, the ultimate expression of syncretistic religious tradition of South Asia.

During his lifetime, Shah Bahlol found solace in the company of the dead atop of the mound. Several of his devotees, and companions, including Muslims, jogis, bhaktis and even Buddhist bhikshu, would have come here to pay homage to him or visit him. The ancient banyan trees must have stood witness to those times. Banyan trees are worshipped and revered in various Sufi shrines all over the country. The boughs of these banyan trees tie together the diverse religious traditions of this ancient land. They are the last standing witness to a world that is slowly fading away.

Haroon Khalid is the author of three books: Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva and A White Trail

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900


If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Flipkart and not by the Scroll editorial team.