Tombe du soufi Sarmad dans les jardins
de la Grande Mosquée de Dehli
Photo UGAB Magazine N°10 3°T 2001
Sarmad, a mystic poet
beheaded in 1661
 Armenians and merchants have been synanomous words in India, for it was trade and commerce that attracted the Armenians to this tropical country from their homes in the delectable and snow-clad mountains of Armenia, from the days of remote antiquity.
Apart from eminent merchants, clever diplomats, great soldiers, able governors and administrators, casters of huge pieces of ordnance and manufacturers of firelocks, which, according to Marshman, "were superior to the Tower-proof muskets of the Company", the Armenians have given to India a poet of great merit whose fame spread over Mohammedan India as a saint and a scholar, in the middle of the 17th century, and to this day, his memory is revered and kept green by all lovers of the noble, the beautiful and the sublime, not only in this country, but in the countries where the charms of the beautiful language of the immortal Ferdosi. Nizami, Saadi, Hafez, Jami and Khayyam, have captured and captivated the imagination of millions.
But who was this remarkable poet whom even the mighty Emperor Aurungzebe, the last of the Great Moguls, dreaded and ultimately beheaded, as can be seen later on.
Let us first tap the European sources for reliable information about this remarkable Armenian.
In the Oriental Biographical Dictionary
by Thomas William Beale, revised and enlarged in 1894 by that eminent
Persian scholar and historian. Henry George Keene,(*1)  M.R.A.S.,
we find the following authoritative account of Sarmad :— "Sarmad, the
poetical name of an Armenian merchant who came to India in the reign of
the Emperor Shah Jehan. In one of his journeys towards Thatta, he fell
so passionately in love with a Hindu girl(*2) that he became distracted
and would go about the streets naked. He was well versed in the Persian
language and was a good poet. In the beginning of the reign of Alamgir
[Aurungzebe] he was put to death on account of his disobeying the orders
of that Emperor, who had commanded him not to so about naked, This even
took place about the year 1661 (1072 A.H.). Some say that the real cause
of his execution was a Rubcu [quatrain] which he had composed, the translation
of which is: "The Mullas say that Mohammad entered the heavens, but Sarmad
says that the heavens entered Mohammad " His tomb is close to the Juma
Musjid at Delhi. Following in the footsteps of his compatriots, Sarmad
came out to India as a merchant from Persia by sea He set up in business
in the town of Thathah in Sindh, on the shores of the Indus, where his
business thrived exceedingly and he spent his days in comfort and peace.
During his sojourn in that city he contracted a close friendship with
a Hindu lad, Abhai Chand by name. This was the turning point in his life,
for unlike his calculating and serious minded countrymen, he neglected
his business, lost the equilibrium of his mind altogether and relinquishing
his life of comfort and peace, he lived thenceforth the austere life of
a naked Hindu fakir- (ascetic) and in this nude state he would go and
sit at the door of his beloved Abhai Chand. The following translation
of a distich shows the true sentiment of the distracted Sarmad : "I know
not if in this spherical old monastery [the world} My God is Abhai Chand
or some one else."
The eldest son of the Emperor, the unfortunate prince Dara Shikoh, whose devotion to Brahmanical dogmas and theosophical beliefs is well known, was one of Sarmad's constant visitors and staunch admirers. It was Dara Shikoh who brought the miraculous powers of the saint, (Sarmad) to the notice of his august father, the Emperor Shah Jehan. The prudent Emperor deputed Inayat Khan, one of the Umara (grandees), of his Court to ascertain the real facts. The grandee visited the naked saint and his report was most favorable if not reassuring. Prince Dara Shikoh was one of the many disciples of Sarmad and the tutor had predicted that Dara Shikoh would be the next Emperor after Shah Jehan. Which prediction was not however fulfilled through the treachery of Aurengzebe who ascended the throne of the mighty Moguls by first imprisoning his father and then murdered his two brothers, Dara Shikoh and Murad Baksh.
Aurangzebe hated Sarmad for having
been a partisan of Dara Shikoh on whom he had promised to confer the throne
When Aurungzebe had usurped the throne, he taunted Sarmad about the succession
of his favorite disciple, Dara Shikoh to the throne, which he had promised
him. Sarmad calmly replied : “God has given him the eternal sovereignty
and my promise is not falsified." Needless to add that the Emperor was
greatly displeased and incensed with this sarcastic reply of the naked
(*3) saint and from that moment he decided to put an end to that poor
man's life. The favorable moment was  not long in coming, as Sarmad,
who was a Sufi,(*4) had expressed sentiments of a heretical nature in
the following distich, ridiculing the nocturnal journey of Mohammed to
The supreme moment had at last arrived
for Aurungzebe to wreak his vengeance on the harmless naked saint and
scholar and he immediately ordered his execution.
Aqil Khan Razi, the court chronicler
of Aurungzebe, writes that when the executioner was about to inflict the
fatal blow, Sarmad uttered :
Sarmad died cheerfully and with complete
resignation like every Armenian that has suffered martyrdom, for his religion,
at the hands of the Mohammedans during the past 1300 years. Prince Dara
Shikoh, the disciple of Sarmad, and the rightful heir to the throne of
the Moguls, was beheaded by the order of his younger brother, that consummate
hypocrite and fanatic Aurungzebe, in the year 1069 A.H. (1659 A.D.) and
two years later, Sarmad shared the fate of his royal pupil, “and from
that day", says a native historian, "the house of Timour declined both
in glory and power".
It is recorded that on the day of
the execution, the Emperor said to the ecclesiastics (fudala) that a man
was not liable to be executed merely for his nudity but that he should
be required to pronounce the Islamic creed. Addressing the saint, they
said "How is it that inspite of your great learning, you only utter the
first half of the Kalima(*5) or creed and not the remaining part"? Sarmad
replied that "I am still absorbed in the negative part, why shall I tell
a lie"? So, according to this version, Sarmad's execution, at the suggestion
of the Emperor was made according to the Islamic Law. So far as can be
seen, the execution, in the opinion of the fanatic Aurungzebe, was necessary
from a religious point of view.
The following letter which Prince
Dara Shikoh addressed to Sarmad shows the high regard the royal pupil
had for his saintly master:
Sarmad's name stands prominent in
the republic of letters. Daghistani calls him eminent in learning and
Arabic scholarship. His impromptus are very popular in Delhi. His poems
consist mostly of quatrains. In a quatrian(*6) Sarmad says that he follows
Hafez in qazal and Omar Khayyam in rubaiyat.
As we have said, Sarmad was a Sufi
poet and there are verses which he composed that might be construed by
a bigot as being against Islamic religion and on account of such opinion,
he brought on his head the wrath of the Emperor Aurungzebe who was a stem
puritan all his life and a bigoted champion of orthodoxy. His fanaticism,
intolerance and his inordinate zeal for the Mohammedan religion were the
main causes of the downfall of the glorious Mogul Empire in India.
According to Dr. Rieu, more than 400
of the quatrains of Sarmad are preserved in MS. in the British Museum.
There is in the well-known Oriental Library of Rampur State a MS. copy
of the Diwan of Sarmad, containing the portrait of the poet, with his
disciple Abhai Chand.
Another European, Niccolao Manucci,
in his “Storia do Mogor” (as translated by William Irvine, 1901) writes
We have seen in the beginning of this Chapter, on the authority of that well-informed author of the "Oriental Biographical Dictionary", that Sarmad was an Armenian who like his countrymen, had come to India for the purposes of trade. which in those days was the sole occupation of the Armenians in India. And in the prefaces to the Lahore and the Delhi editions of Sarmad’s quatrains (rubayat) by learned biographers he is called an Armenian by nationality and a Christian by religion yet there are some Mohammedan historians and biographers who say Sarmad was a Jew(*7) from Kashan in Persia and a convert to Islam.
There lived in Calcutta an eminent
Persian scholar and a journalist, the late Syed Agah Jalaluddin-al-Hossaini,
known as Muyyid-al-Islam, who was, by a strange coincidence, .a native
of Kashan, the supposed birthplace of the poet, Sarmad. In order to satisfy
ourselves about the vexed question of the poet s nationality we thought
of seeking his advice in the matter some eight years ago as he was a great
authority on Persian poets, their lives and their works. 
Sher Khan Lodi, who was a celebrated poet in the reign of the Emperor Aurungzebe and had ample opportunities of seeing Sarmad, states, in his Life of poets, called Maratal Khial, that Hakhim Sarmad was an Armenian from Faranghisthan (Europe) and was originally engaged in trade when he came out to India.
There are some interesting anecdotes, founded on traditions, about the supernatural powers of Sarmad, prevalent amongst the people of Delhi to this day, for the truth of which we cannot vouch. It is said that the Emperor Aurungzebe who was a puritan, had strictly forbidden the use of bhang as a narcotic because of its deleterious effects. One of the many spies of the King reported to him that Sarmad, in defiance of the royal fiat, was addicted to the vice of smoking bhang and that he kept the drug in an earthen pot near him always wherever he sat. This was good news for Aurungzebe who was always trying to find fault with the poet whom he hated with a deadly hatred. He paid a sudden visit to Sarmad and found the poet lecturing to his disciples. He at once noticed the earthen pot and asked Sarmad what it contained. The poet suspecting that the Emperor had been apprised of the contents of the earthen pot, replied nonchalantly that it contained some milk and on the Emperor pressing him to show him the milk, Sarmad most unconcernedly uncovered the pot and lo and behold there was milk in it. His disciples who knew what the earthen pot contained originally were simply amazed and spread the news of the miracle performed by their master in converting the harmful bhang into harmless milk.
There is another anecdote equally
interesting. One day Sarmad was watching a mollah praying earnestly and
with great devotion in the Juma Musjid at Delhi. The poet told his followers
that the mollah's god was under his (Sarmad's) feet. A spy immediately
carried the news to Aurungzebe who was praying in the mosque at the same
time, it being a Friday. The irate Emperor came up to Sarmad and ordered
him immediately to give a satisfactory explanation for his blasphemy.
Sarmad who could never be intimidated by Aurungzebe, told him to send
for the mollah and ask him to confess what he was praying for. The nervous
ecclesiastic, who was trembling in his shoes in the presence of the stern
monarch, nolens volens confessed that he was praying to God to grant him
some money to enable him to get his daughter married.
Whilst these lines were passing through
the press, we were informed by the gallery assistant of the Delhi Fort
Museum that there is an inscription on Sarmad's tombstone.
The people in Delhi greatly venerate the grave of Sarmad and daily burn lights and incenses and sprinkle fresh roses and flowers on it. The Muslims who come to Delhi from far and near never miss a visit to the grave of this saint. Besides, the musicians sing religious songs at the grave of Sarmad nearly every evening and particularly on Thursdays. A class of  illiterate Muslims also celebrate the festival of Basant near its grave."
Peace to his soul, rest to his ashes and may the revered memory of the great poet be cherished and kept green, for ages to be, in the land where he suffered martyrdom for his open defiance of Islamic rituals and customs.
 We cannot conclude this chapter without recording our grateful thanks to Hakim Habibur Rahman, the well-known Yunani physician of Dacca and a good Persian scholar, for having brought to our notice, some eight years ago, that the renowned poet SARMAD was an ARMENIAN. ....
(*1)  Keene is the author of several learned works on Indian history notably of the Mogul period. His Turks in India and The Mogul Empire are master-pieces. He has compiled interesting Guide Books to Delhi and Agra, replete with historical and topographical information. He was Judge at Agra in 1879.
(*2)  According to Mohammedan historians and biographers it was a Hindu lad of the Bunnia caste, Abhai Chand by name.
(*3)  In a quatrain (rubai) addressed to his relentless persecutor the Emperor Aurungzebe, Sarmad gives the reason of his nudity: “He who save you the sovereignty of the world. Gave me all the causes of anxiety. He covered with a garment those who had any fault (deformity) To the faultless he gave the robe of nudity."
(*4)  For a history of the origin and the growth of Sufism in Persia, see the note at the end of this Chapter.
(*5)  The first part of the Kalima, which is in Arabic, can be translated thus : "There is no God but God" (La Ala Allalah) and the second part, "And Mohaaunad is his prophet" (Mohammad rasool Allah). It was quite natural that Sarmad refused to utter the second part of the Kalima, not being a Mohammedan.
(*6)  Sarmad pays a well-deserved compliment to Hafez and Khayyam, two of the greatest poets of Persia, in the following quatrain :— "I have no business with the fancy and thought of others, In composing a ghazal I adopt the manner of Hafez, But in rubai, I am a disciple of Khayyam, But do no quaff much of his wine."
(*7)  There are no records of Jews coming to India from Persia for the purposes of trade in the 16th, 17th or 18th centuries. The Sassoons, the Jacobs and other merchant princes of Bombay came From Baghdad in Mesopotomia, so did the Ezras, the Gubbays and the Manassehs of Calcutta in the early part of the l9th century.