Who is Saadi?
Gulistan and Bostan are two books of wisdom compiled and composed by the Persian poet Shaikh Saadi (1210-1292 A.D.). Both books have been translated into many languages and are considered to be classic. Saadi himself wrote that he had travelled to many countries and wrote down his experiences on the way. He loved Shiraz more than any other city and, after having travelled to many other places, he settled down there.
Shaikh Saadi has mentioned in his book Bostan two interesting stories about idolatry; one of them is on an idol-worshipper who converted to Islam after he did not get his wish from his favorite deity that was worshiped by him years and years.
An Idolater Broke the Idol
The idol-worshipper turned his back upon the world and devoted himself to the service of an idol. After some years he was overtaken by misfortune and wept at the feet of the idol, saying: “I am afflicted—help me, O idol! I am weary—have pity upon me.”
He continued his expression of grief, but he did not derive any benefit. How can an idol accomplish the desires of a man when of itself it cannot drive away a fly?
The idolater frowned and said: “O you, whose feet are bound to error! With foolishness I have worshipped you for years. Help me to fulfill my wishes, or I will ask them of God instead of asking you.”
The Idolater Embraced Islam
When the idolater became disappointed, still his face was besmeared with the dust of the idol’s feet, the Almighty fulfilled his aspiration.
A pious man was astonished when he heard this. Then a voice from heaven spoke into his ear, saying: “This old man prayed before the idol, but his prayer was not heard, If at the-shrine of God he were likewise rejected, what difference would there be between a powerful and a powerless?”.(1)
This story reveals the inability of the deity or idol. Also it reveals God’s mercy towards His slaves all the time.
Somnath and Saadi
Moreover, in Bostan Shaikh Saadi wrote about his journey to India having visited the Somnath temple in Gujarat, etc.. It is noteworthy that the grandeur of Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi’s period, his vast conquests and his attacks on Somnath are well-known in historical accounts in India. However, a lot of historical facts related to the Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni have been distorted by some historians. At one time his kingdom was so vast and he had become so powerful that even the caliph of Baghdad tried to keep him as a friend. Stories about the name and fame of Somnath roused Saadi’s interest to visit the temple and to meet the Hindu priests there.
Miraculous Idol of Somnath
Shaikh Saadi has described Somnath’s idol in his literary style and said that when he traveled to India he saw an idol made of ivory in the temple of Somnath similar to Manat idol in Arabia before the advent of Islam. This was an extraordinary beautiful piece of work.
Hindus from far off Indian cities and villages used to come to pray there. Poets from all over India used to come there to pay homage to the idol. Shaikh Saadi was shocked to notice that living human beings were worshipping idols. He told one priest who was his roommate and was friendly to him, that he was shocked to see the people worshipping a lifeless idol who cannot walk, can’t talk and, if someone dropped him, he won’t be able to stand up. His eyes are made of rubies. You could not expect anything from that lifeless piece.
Here Shaikh Saadi has expressed his opinions about the idol in an open and critical style, unmindful of what results and consequences can follow his bold and scathing criticism of religious faith of a staunch Hindu. After that, Shaikh Saadi describes his Hindu friend’s anger upon his comment on the deity.
The Brahmin’s Anger
Sheikh Saadi depicts the situation saying that his roommate Brahman got furious on hearing the negative comments and informed other worshippers about his remarks. They all almost wanted to kill him. A wise man is wise in the sight of the wise people, but is considered an idiot by the fools. He realized the insecure position he had put himself in through unwise and loose talk and he thought of immediately salvaging the situation by being humble and told him: “O master! I find the shape and appearance of this idol a bit strange and I am not aware of the real situation. I am a traveler (tourist) and would soon move on. A traveler hardly knows the real situation (facts). I would be one of the first worshippers of him if I knew of his powers.”
On hearing the soft and positive talk from Saadi, the priest looked delighted and said: ‘O good man, you are right. Only those people reach the destinations who seek a guide. I myself have seen idols who were lifeless and unaware to their surroundings except this idol. He stretches his hands to the Almighty God and prays. If you want to see it, stay the night here and the secret will be open to you in the morning.’
The Idol Raised the Hands
Shaikh saadi describes the reality of the miracle saying:
“I accepted the invitation of the Brahmin priest and agreed to spend the night with him. I was extremely nervous and tense and it was a never-ending night and in an unclean surrounding. They were stinking like rotten corpses, because they did not take bath or ablution for their worship. Unclean, unwashed Brahmans came from all sides and rushed toward the temple. There was no soul left in the city and there was no place in the temple. I was still tired and sleepy when the idol raised his hands up. There was a big commotion and within a few minutes the temple was empty.”
Did Shaikh Saadi Convert to Hinduism?
At that time the Brahmin priests became sure that Shaikh Saadi has no option except converting to Hinduism, therefore they surrounded him to celebrate his conversion to Hinduism. In addition, Shaikh Saadi came near the idol and kissed it. The priest looked at him believing that he had no problem anymore now. All the priests ran towards him, held his hands with respect. He walked towards the idol and apologized for his action. He picked up a small idol and respectfully kissed it. Seeing that, all were now pleased. He was also pleased and content.
Did the Idol Raise its Hand Really?
In fact, Shaikh Saadi was not satisfied with the miracle with his heart and mind; therefore, he intended to find out the reality. He says in this regard:
“One night, I locked the door of the temple and went to look around. I found a golden curtain there. Behind the curtain, I saw a priest holding the end of a rope. Whenever the priest pulled the rope, the idol made a sound and raised its hands. The priest was extremely shaken to see me and fled.”(2)
After that, Shaikh Saadi ran to his life and disappeared from there but he found out the reality of the false miracle associated with the idol. However, due to the performance of the idol, Hindus from far off places in India came to worship it and offered costly presents, viz. golden ornaments, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, etc. The High Priest was reported to have hidden all these costly gifts inside the idol.
After this adventure, Shaikh Saadi roamed around in India, then from there he went to Yemen and Hijaz. According to him, the inconvenience and hardships he faced during this trip cannot be described in words.
Both stories reveal the invalidity of idolatry, the first story shows the inability of the idol and the second expose the deception Hindu monks for the people.
This interesting story was written by Sheikh Saadi eight centuries ago in Persian poems. The poems were included in the well-known Persian literary book of Sheikh Saadi; Bostan in its eighth chapter under the title “A story about the tour to India and deviation of the idol worshippers”. The story reveals many important things especially regarding the religious status at Somanath and its surroundings. We are going to summarize those observations in the following points.
1- How were Hindu public deceived by Hindu priests and Brahmins centuries after centuries and no one dared to find out the reality behind the moving hand of the idol? However, Shaikh Saadi discovered that there was a rope inside of the idol fastened to the hand and the other side of the rope was in a room and a Hindu Brahmin used to move it secretly. Though, millions of people thought it a miracle.
2-Hindus were immersed in the worship of idols since many centuries and idol-worship has been their habit, tradition, identity, faith rather, an inseparable part of their daily life. Even now, the religious condition is the same in India nothing has been changed.
3- People used to gather for the worship of the idol in Somanath from across India, men, women, children and the elderly. Even, the temple was full of the people so much that there was no place at all.
4- Sheikh Saadi noted that the stench of the people was as bad as the smell of a decaying dead body under the sun. This phenomenon was because of overcrowding and also because they do not take bath or ablution before worship.
5- The Hindu devotees used to present gems, gold, silver and other precious objects to the idol and the Hindu monks were rich and wealthy but their wealth was based on the exploitation of the people religiously and spiritually.
6- This is the case with many of the tenets of Hinduism that are based on deception and lies. Dayanand Saraswati (1824 –1883) the Hindu religious leader and founder of Arya Samaj, has mentioned that people were deceived that the idol in Somanath was hanging in the air without any support in a miraculous way. However, the truth was that the wall of the temple contained from all sides magnets in a balanced manner that attracted the idol from all side and as a result the idol appeared hanging in the middle without any support.(3)
7- It is known that the Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030 A.D.) demolished the idol and the wall around it to reveal for the people that there was no miracle at all rather it was mere lie and deception. In fact, revealing the truth to the people was the most important reason to destroy the idol. Demolishing was not based on any kind of religious animosity or dogmatic feeling.
(1) Shaikh Saadi, Bostan, Feroz printing works, 1934, p. 469, chapter 10.
(3) Dyanand Sarswati, Sithyarth Prkash, an authentic Urdu translation by Pundit Rimaldas, Arya Patr 1899, pp. 428-429.