Did Sheikh Chilli and  Malle Dupiyaz Really Exist?

by M J Aslam

Mulla Yousuf Kawoosa was rebuked by Emperor Shah Jehan and he died in the court, then and there

View of historic Pari Mahal in Srinagar Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Most of the people must have heard of the name, Sheikh Chilli. Who was he? Was he a real character that existed in history or just a fictional character? Actually, this name has both sides attached to it.

One Sheikh Chilli is a fictional character around whom a lot of Indian folklore revolves. In fictional stories, Sheikh Chili is a comic character full of goof-ups of life. Some movies too have been made by Bollywood to display the fun and frolic the character produces for the viewers and audience. So, being a fictional character, Sheikh Chilli lacks a real existence in the history of the Indian subcontinent.

The Real Sheikh

The fact is that Sheikh Chilli was a real character in history. He was a Sufi ascetic who was Ustaad (teacher) of Darah Shikoh [d 1659], Emperor Shah Jehan’s eldest son, during the early seventeenth century. He was very wise and intelligent.

He was a Sufi Darvesh, well versed in Persian, whose Mazaar (tomb) is situated in Thanesar Kurukshetra Haryana India. The people held him in great esteem for his wise and sober disposition.

Whether a legend or a real story he had a connection with Kashmir also. He had heard of Kashmiris foolish behaviours. But he wanted to check and verify it personally. So, he set on a visit to Kashmir. It is said that Kashmiris who were known for playing jokes in conversations with each other got wind of Sheikh Chilli’s visit. They gathered somewhere in the city and deliberated as to who would face Sheikh Chilli in the debate as he was coming to test whether Kashmiris were an intelligent and thriving community. It was decided that one Malla Dopiyaz, who was a most uneducated, known trickster and  Chabbaz would be sent to face Sheikh Chilli at Baramullah as Sheikh Chilli was to enter the valley from the historical gateway to the valley lay there.

Malle Dopyaz, Jalsaaz, wore a royal dress, long turban and walked in grand style. A man was kept following him and carrying the tail of his Dastaar [turban] on a big plate. When Sheikh Chilli saw and met him, he asked him, why his Dastaar had such a long tail? Malle Dipiyaz replied: Turah Ba Qadr-i-Alim, which meant he had parrot-like learning. In other words, he had learnt to reply like a parrot quickly, fatafat, fatafat, turant. Or simply, the length of Dastaar was according to the length, depth and vastness, of his knowledge.

Sheikh Chilli was impressed by his attire and disposition, which looked serious and meditative. Sheikh Chilli started again in Persian, what is the meaning of Kabk? How could Malle Dupiyaz know the meaning of this Persian word? So, he countered and asked him, what is the meaning of Mabk? Please note, as usual with Kashmiri characters those days, Mabk was a word coined for the moment which meant nothing. It is not any word in Persian or other dictionaries. But it was deliberately coined to avoid a reply. Sheikh Chilli told him, Kabk “is the name of an animal which eats gravel upon the hillside. There was a long discourse between two that contains several such real Persian and imaginary Persian words from Sheikh Chilli and Malle Dupiyaz, respectively.

However, a single part of the discourse or debate is mentioned here. So, in this way, Sheikh Chilli was terrified and frightened by the “bombastic vocabulary” of Malle Dupiyaz. He thought that Malle Dupiyaz was more knowledgeable and learned than him. He returned home and thereafter never ventured nor desired to come again to the valley.

Kashmiris are very fond of carrying on these conversations in imaginary tongues. No entertainment is complete without them.

Pure Fiction

It is an anecdote and not real. Truly, it is an anecdote as Sheikh Chilli doesn’t seem to have visited Kashmir as it is not recorded anywhere. Even if a Katha, the lesson from it is loud and clear, it seems an interpolation of the historical record which is like this: In 1646 Kashmir faced acute famine which killed thousands of inhabitants. Shah Jahan was the Emperor. The food grains were supplied in abundance to Kashmir but for several years, the ravages of the famine continued.

In 1650, Ali Mardan Khan was re-appointed the Subehdar of Kashmir. He had appointed Pandit Mahadev as collector revenue. There was a shortage of food grains and the people were “instigated” by one Khawja Mam that Pandit Mahadev was responsible for hoarding otherwise there were sufficient food grains in the valley.

The second version is that Pandit had actually hoarded the food grain which angered the public. So they set his house on fire and or looted food-grain stocked in his house. When Emperor was informed about this incident, he called nobles from Kashmir to explain what had happened. Nobody was convincing the Emperor. So “let them return home”, the Emperor said.

However, one Mulla Yousuf Kawoosa who was appointed President of Kashmir and was very wise, was asked by Emperor Shah Jahan from which road he had come to Darbar and also tell which of the two parties: Mahadev or public led by Khawja Mam was responsible? Mulla Yousuf Kawoosa, in response to the first query of the Emperor, said, “Jahan Panah, I have come from Poonj road” and to the second query, he, in order to protect both the parties from punishment, replied, “Jahan Panah, Neither of the two parties is at fault but “.

The Emperor got infuriated by this reply of Mulla Yousuf Kawoosa. He did not like it especially ‘but’. So, Emperor Shah Jahan was furious and said to Mulla Yousuf Kawoosa that “If neither of them is responsible then I, Shah Jahan, find myself at fault by trusting a ‘fool like you’ to tell me the truth. Better for you to retune home from Poonj itself”.

It is recorded that Mulla Yousuf Kawoosa who was greatly honoured in the Court couldn’t bear the Royal rebuke, and then and there he died. This is confirmed in the chronicles. The story here seems interpolation but it is also recorded in books. Mulla Depiyaz is an interpolation of Mulla Yousuf Kawoosa, I think.


Kashmiri used many funny characters in their conversation to make it interesting and attentive. This typical funny disposition of behaviours continues till now in the community.

During Bakshi’s reign (1953-64), the Awami Raj of Sheikh Abdullah assumed very horrendous ramifications when Goondaism became the new order of the day. The city was divided into seven areas according to seven bridges across Jhelum and each area or bridge was allotted for crushing dissent to a civil commander called Goggas. Gogga is a Persian word, which means one who is very loud, highly vocal and rough in talking.

Fateh Kadal was under the supervisory control of then a well-known businessman personality by the name of Cherry Buda. He was handsome and robust with a white beard and spoke good fluent English and resembled Englishmen in disposition. It is said that whenever any European delegation arrived in Kashmir, Cherry Buda was assigned the task to represent Kashmiris giving an impression he too was red or cherry cheeked like them. It created a good impression on the visiting foreign delegates.

(M J Aslam is the author of the 2-volume Law of Contract that was published by Thomson Reuters Publication in 2017. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)


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