The Saga of Jamali-Kamali
Homosexuality in medieval times was never veiled writes Juanita Kakoty
The wonders and legends of Jamali and Kamali just don’t end. Such is their charming saga. “The poetry found in the Guru Granth Sahib, ascribed to Baba Farid – a disciple of Qutubudin Bakhtiyar Kaki – is actually Jamali’s,” reveals noted conservationist, filmmaker and scholar on Delhi’s monuments, Sohail Hashmi. And then, with a twinkle in his eye adds, “Scholars are still debating it though.” And when one thinks that this is great myth, there is more as speculations about their relationship get international with Karen Chase’s ‘Jamali-Kamali: A tale of passion in Mughal India’ (2011) by Mapin Publishing.
Chase’s book is a reconstruction of the homosexual love between Jamali and Kamali, inspired by the oral tradition around them. But, the Archaeological Survey of India description at the very entrance of the mosque mentions them as brothers. Jamali, it says, was the name of Sufi saint and poet Shaikh Fazlullah, also known as Jalal Khan, who lived between Sikander Lodi and Humayun’s reigns, that is, through the late Sultanate to early Mughal period. But interestingly, there is no record of Kamali’s name anywhere in history. “This is a classic case of how myths get created,” says Hashmi. “Two tombs were found lying side by side and popular imagination comes up with conjectures like Jamali-Kamali!”
Homosexuality in medieval times was never veiled. Dargah Quli Khan, a Hyderabadi noble, in his ‘Muraqqa-i-Dehli’, captures accounts of gay gatherings in public spaces as an integral part of Delhi’s cultural life in the 1740s. Some Sufi saints were also believed to profess homosexual love for their disciples. For instance, there is this famous story about Saint Chirag Delhi’s couplet for his disciple Bandanawaaz Gesudaraaz. Once, seeing Gesudaraaz toying with his hair, Chirag Delhi recited extempore, “If you really want to understand the essence of true love, try to get entangled in the tassels of Gesuderaaz.” Hence, considering that homosexuality was quite accepted in the medieval times, it would not be surprising if Kamali was indeed the lover of Jamali.
But some would beg to differ. Khalid Alavi, an expert on Urdu literature at Zakir Hussain College, University of Delhi opines, “There was love between Sufi saints and disciples, but it should not be understood as ‘homosexual’ because it was on a plane that transcended the physical. There was pining and longing for each other, but all on a different plane.” In a similar vein, Nadeem Shah, who teaches Medieval History at New Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia University, states, “This is not to suggest that homosexuality is negative and should not be spoken of in the context of Sufism; but the truth is, we do not have documented evidence on this. To portray the intense and passionate love between ‘pir’ and ‘murid’ (Sufi master and disciple) in explicit physical or homo-erotic terms is to impose a coloured-vision on cultural experiences without historical substantiation.” And above all, the crucial question – “Who after all was Kamali? Where do we have written records about him?”
Today, there is nothing to bear testimony to the kind of relationship that Jamali shared with Kamali, a character fictitious or real. But what has stood through times is the mosque and the mausoleum to speak of Jamali and his influence, and of the remarkable evolution of architecture in this land. The construction of the mosque began around 1528-29 and was completed during Humayun’s reign. “Jamali’s mausoleum was built by his disciples and followers in his lifetime,” says Sohail Hashmi, as he narrates architectural characteristics of the place. “The mausoleum ceiling is decorated with stucco work. Patterns were stenciled into thick layers of plaster before it dried, and then painted red and indigo. The most remarkable aspect about it is stucco inlaid with blue and yellow glaze tiles. Such combination of stucco work and glaze tiles is not to be seen anywhere else in Delhi. ”
“In Delhi, ‘jharokha’ or the Rajasthani balcony appears for the first time at the Jamali-Kamali mosque. Like the buildings constructed through the times of Humayun and Akbar, the Star of David appears at the Jamali Kamali mosque too. This could be because of Humayun’s preoccupation with astronomy; or could be due to the fact that David (or ‘Daud’) is venerated equally by Jews, Christians and Moslems. Another striking aspect is that lotus buds appear along with the Star of David. This is just one instance to prove that there is nothing like Islamic architecture or Hindu architecture. What is possible is architecture as it evolves at a place, and the dialogue that happens in architecture across cultures.”
The Mehrauli Archaeological Park in Delhi, the product of a massive excavation and restoration project by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural heritage (INTACH), is just that. It preserves the dialogue that took place across cultures and generations and documents them through numerous ruins and monuments from India’s first Moslem capital to the last. And to say the least, the Jamali-Kamali complex is no less a wonder because it is a part of this heritage.
Juanita Kakoty is a freelance writer and journalist based in New Delhi. She writes regularly on art, culture, travel and people for Deccan Herald. Her stories have also been published in India Todayand The Assam Tribune. She holds an M.Phil degree in Sociology from JNU and taught the subject at Gauhati University and Jamia Milia Islamia University before doing projects with the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex and a European Union consortium on ICTs for Development. At present, she is taking a break from academics and concentrating on feature stories and photo-documentation.