Kombai S Anwar
Published in The Hindu, June 15, 2017
Many battles were fought in and around Madras, on land and at sea, during colonial times. Though not many reminders exist of those battles, at Pallavaram, Chennai, we do find one commemorating a fallen soldier, in this case a martyr or a shaheed. Of course Pallavaram was not the scene of battle and the actual encounter that made a martyr out of Syed Shah Badrudin took place some distance away at Santhome, in the mid 17th century, a few years after the founding of Madras. Badrudin, who belonged to the Bijapur Sultanate, had volunteered to be part of the Golconda forces fighting to finish off the Portuguese at Santhome.
The Portuguese, who had built a fort at Santhome by the mid-16th century, often had trouble with the native rulers because of their arrogant attitude. They managed to provoke even a friendly Vijayanagar emperor, and hastily made peace, when the angry Rayar himself came marching to Santhome with the idea of punishing them.
However, when the Bijapur and Golconda Sultans gained the upper hand in the Deccan in the mid 17th century, the Portuguese found themselves on the wrong side. That was also the time the Portuguese power was being challenged by other European colonialists such as the Dutch, the English and the French.
So, when Santhome came under attack by the Golconda forces in 1646 under the command of Mir Jumla, the English at Fort St. George, despite outwardly professing friendship with the Portuguese, loaned a canon to Mir Jumla to aid in his bombardment of the Portuguese fortress town. It was in this siege of Santhome that Badrudin took part as a horseman of the Golconda cavalry.
As the fighting raged on, and even as some of the Portuguese, sensing defeat, were trying to flee Santhome by sea, Syed Shah Badrudin grew impatient. He alighted from his horse, scaled the walls of the Santhome Fort, raced to the flag staff, brought down the Portuguese flag, and triumphantly replaced it with the flag of Golconda. As he wound his way down to join his fellow soldiers to celebrate the victory, tragedy struck in the form of a Portuguese sailor in hiding.
Extraordinary will power
And this is where, true to Indian tradition, things get bizarre. The Portuguese sailor, who struck from behind, it was said, managed to severe Badrudin’s head, but legend has it that Badrudin not only picked up his fallen head, but also managed to get on his horse, and, followed by his mother, brother, friends and his favourite dog, made his way to Pallavaram. There he finally collapsed, becoming not just a shaheed, but because of the extraordinary display of will power, almost a miracle. He came to be regarded as a saint. As was said to be his wish, he was buried where his head finally fell. His family and servants who followed him are believed to have made their home around the spot.
While the severing of the head could be an exaggeration typical of the imaginative Indian mind, perhaps the injury was so severe that it was only a miracle that enabled Badrudin to travel till Pallavaram with his head still on his shoulders.
That sort of a miracle —attributed to the power of mystics — and the martyrdom elevated Badrudin, also known as Budu Shaheed, into a Sufi upon his death. Soon, at the place where Badrudin was buried came up a Dargha, frequented by fakirs as well as Nawabs.
Today, there are three beautiful Bijapur-style enclosures that are open to the sky at the Hazrath Syed Badrudin Shaheed Dargha, on the Dargha Road at Pallavaram. In the big main enclosure, by the side of Badrudin, his mother and brother are buried.
In another enclosure to the front lie the mortal remains of Badrudin’s horse and his pet dog.
The Hazrath Syed Badrudin Shaheed Dargha, the only reminder of the 1646 battle for Santhome, is still frequented by faqirs.