ʿABD-AL-RAḤMĀN ČEŠTĪ, 17th century Mughal saint and biographer. He belonged to the Ṣāberī branch of the Češtī order (selsela), which had been founded at Kalyar (Saharanpur district, U.P., India) by ʿAlāʾ-al-dīn ʿAlī b. Aḥmad Ṣāber (d. 690/1291), a disciple of the illustrious Farīd-al-dīn Ganǰ-e Šakar of Pakpattan (d. 663/1265). One of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān’s ancestors had been Aḥmad ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq of Rudawli (d. 837-38/1434) under whose leadership, continued by his able disciple, ʿAbd-al-Qoddūs Gangōhī (d. 943-44/1537), the Ṣāberī Češtīya had risen to great prominence. Nearly all the famous members of the Ṣāberī Češtīya traced their spiritual lineage through ʿAbd-al-Qoddūs to Aḥmad ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq, but ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān represents a major branch linked to a contemporary of ʿAbd-al-Qoddūs, Shaikh Budh. On the death of his brother, Shaikh Ḥamīd, in 1032/1623, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān succeeded him as the head of this minor branch of the Ṣāberī Češtīya.
Merʾāt al-asrār is the major literary testament of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān. He states that he undertook the work after spending 40 days in meditative seclusion. The initial inspiration, he alleges, came to him in 1029/1620 while studying the account of Abū Yazīd Besṭāmī in Farīd-al-dīn ʿAṭṭār’s Taḏkerat al-awlīāʾ, but it was not till 1044-45/1635 that he actually began to compile his famed taḏkera, which he completed in 1064/1654. It contains biographies of almost all the well-known saints from the early centuries of Islam till the period of Ḥosām-al-dīn Mānekpūrī (d. 881-82/1477). The lives are arranged under 23 ṭabaqāt describing successive generations of Sufi saints, each of which begins with an account of the qoṭb, i.e., the Češtī shaikh, of that generation. Though never lithographed, Merʾāt al-asrār exists in numerous manuscript copies in British as well as Indian libraries.
ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān wrote two other notable taḏkeras: Merʾāt-e Madārī and Merʾāt-e Masʿūdī. In the former, he set forth a detailed biographical eulogy of Shaikh Badīʿ-al-dīn, better known as Šāh Madār (d. 839-40/1436), a saint of legendary longevity. After spending 35 years in Syria and 40 years at Mecca, Medina, and Naǰaf, he allegedly came to India where he spent the next (and last) 50 years of his life at Makanpur (Kanpur district). It was during a visit to the tomb of Šāh Madār at Makanpur that ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān was inspired to write his taḏkera of the saint. He admits to using two earlier literary sources: Īmān-e Maḥmūdī by Qāżī Maḥmūd Kantūrī, a spiritual successor of Šāh Madār, and Laṭāʾef-e Ašrafī, taḏkera of the renowned Sayyed Ašraf Jahāngīr Semnānī, who allegedly knew Šāh Madār. In addition to the manuscript copies of Merʾāt-e Madārī available in Indian and British libraries, see also Ṯawāqeb al-anwār le-maṭāleʿ qoṭb al-Madār, an Urdu translation by M. ʿAbd-al-Rašīd Ẓohūr-al-eslām published at Farrukhabad in 1328/1910.
Merʾāt-e Masʿūdī, the other taḏkera of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, reflects his interest in the stories concerning Sālār Masʿūd Ḡāzī, popularly known as Ḡāzī Mīān, who was believed to have been a nephew of Sultan Maḥmūd of Ḡazna. He was allegedly martyred in 424/1033 at Bahraich, where he was subsequently buried in a magnificent tomb that continues to attract large numbers of pilgrims to the present day. Merʾāt-e Masʿūdī is based on a contemporary biography of Ḡāzī Mīān written by Mollā M. Ḡaznavī, a subject of Sultan Maḥmūd. It, together with an abridgment entitled Qeṣṣa-ye Sālār Masʿūd Ḡāzī, exists in several manuscripts housed in South Asian and European libraries. A summary English translation, prepared by B. W. Chapman, has been partially extracted in Elliot, History of India II, pp. 513-49. An abridged Urdu translation, Ḵolāṣa-ye tavārīḵ-e Masʿūdī, was also published at Lucknow in 1871.
Other works by ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān include Awrād-e češtīya; Nafāʾes-e Raḥmānī; Merʾāt al-maḵlūqāt, the translation of a Sanskrit treatise on Hindu cosmogony; and Merʾāt al-ḥaqāʾeq, an abridged rendition of the Bhagavad Gītā (Storey, I, p. 1005).
According to Moḥammad Baqā, author of Merʾāt al-ʿālam (Marshall, Mughal in India, no. 1146) and a personal friend of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Češtī, the latter died in 1049/1683 at Dhaniti, a village in the vicinity of Lucknow.
Storey, I, pp. 1005-07.
On Merʾāt-e Madārī, note especially Cat. Bankipore VIII, p. 677.
Amīr Ḥasan Madārī Fanṣūrī, Taḏkerat al-mottaqīn, Kanpur, 1898; and M. M. Haq, “Shāh Badiʿ al-dīn Madār and his Ṭariqah in Bengal,” JASP 12, 1967, pp. 95-103.
On Merʾāt-e Masʿūdī, in addition to the Elliot excerpt quoted above, see ʿEnāyat Ḥosayn Belgrāmī, Ḡāzīnāma-ye Masʿūdī (Urdu), Kanpur, 1876.
Originally Published: December 15, 1982
Last Updated: July 14, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, p. 146
Hameed ud-Din, “'Abd-Al-Rahman Cesti,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, p. 146; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abd-al-rahman-cesti-17th-century-mughal-saint-and-biographer (accessed on 16 January 2014).