Oral traditions held in their pristine purity play an important rote in the preservation of historical evidence and facts. In our country where the indigenous history spans well over 3,900 years, oral traditions occupy a significant niche in the life of the people, their religious beliefs, customs, arts and culture.
Over 190 years ago, the lamp at the Devatagaha Mosque at Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo, was lit with the discovery of the burial place of an Arab saint. This incident dates back to 1802, when an oil monger tripped over the root of a cadju plant, dropping a pot of oil in the process and reducing it to pieces. That was brought to the notice of Mamina Lebbe Mesthriar, a practitioner of the Unani system of medicine, and an influential and wealthy resident of the Maradana locality.
Since then the development of the Dharga Sheriff, the Dewatagaha Mosque, has been occurring. It houses the venerable shrine of His Holiness Seyyidina Sheikh Usman Ibn Abdur Rahman as - Siddiq Voliullah whose name is a byword in every Muslim home today.
Although this saint's resting place was discovered in 1802, it is not certain when he actually came to Sri Lanka to settle down. All that is available through spiritual means is that he came to the island on a direction of the Holy Prophet sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam. He came overland and is supposed to have spent some time in Hind (India), from where he set out to Sailan, in the company of one Ibrahim. Nothing is known about the companion, whether be too settled in Sailan or went back to India.
His father, though a tribal chief, was a person of piety and saintly qualities, descending from the first Caliph of Islam, Hadrat Abu Bakr Siddiq radi Allahu anhu, while his mother descended from Rasool-ullah sal Allahu alaihi Wa sallam.
From 1802 the stream of devotees began to increase and regular Zikr sessions and Rasool Moulid recitals were held by them. In salai times they said prayers in the open, exposed to the sun and rain. This made a son of Mamina Lebbe build a separate prayer hall with ablution pond and toilet facilities. The son, Packeer Thamby, also a Unani Hakeem, dedicated this prayer hall to Hadrat Abu Bakr Siddiq, the founder of the Tariqatus Siddiqiyya. It was named Masjidun Tariqatus Siddiqiyya. This took place in 1840.
A plaque carrying the name of the prayer hall, inscribed in Arabic cufic characters, was found fixed on the inner wall of the old mosque, which was demolished to accommodate the new structure. On completion, the present board of trustees has promised to restore the plaque somewhere in the new mosque.
Perhaps the Masjidun Tariqatus Siddiqiyya must have been the first known mosque of this Sufi order. From time to time improvements were made and more buildings constructed around the shrine by Mamina Lebbe's descendants, most of the work being credited to Naina Marikar, fourth in the line of descendants. In August 1983, the Waqf Board took over the mosque from a family trust, where it lay from its inception.
In 1847 His Holiness Sheikh Ali Jabarooth Moulana from Moghrib came to Sri Lanka and stayed over for some time. The miracle of the Dewatagaha saint was related to him. On a Friday, after Jumma prayers, a party of devotees of this shrine led by Moulana Jabarooth went to the Dharga, which was now under Mamina Lebbe's son, Packeer Thamby Marikar. On reaching the place, the saintly Moulana shrouded himself with the flowing Jubba he was wearing and sought communion with the saint.
After over an hour His Holiness Moulana rose, ablaze with divine light and narrated what transpired between him and the saint. It was he who provided all the information which he received spiritually by the graveside of the saint.
His Holiness Sheikh Seyyed Muhammed Imamal Aroos Mapillai Alim was frequent visitor to this shrine; in fact, he composed the Qaseeda on Sheikh Usman in 1882, which is used to this day.
In the 1890s His Holiness Seyyad Muhammed Gul Rasool Dadil Khurasani Moulana used the Dewatagaha Mosque to re-activate the Tariqatun Naqshbandhia. His Holiness Sheikh Haman Maghdoomy, a sheikh of the Naqshbadhia Order, often visited this place to seek inspiration and solace from the saint of the Siddiqiyya Sufi Sheikh Usman Voliullah.
His Holiness, Ahamed Bafaghih Moulana of Medina was another Naqshbandhia Sheikh who called at Dewatagaha Mosque during his frequent visits to Lanka. In the 1920s a Sufi saint of high calibre hailing from Kabul sought spiritual refuge at the shrine of Sheikh Usman Voliullah. He had claimed to belong to the blood stock of the saint.
In the 1930s His Holiness Paltak Voliullah spent many hours at the graveside of the Dewatagaha saint, when he former called Quthub-us-Sailan. He conversed with the saint at length and exhorted those who called on him to frequently visit Dewatagaha Mosque.
In recent years a sense of mystery pervaded Dewatagaha Mosque when His Holiness Sheikh Muhammed Nazim Adil Al-Haqqani, world spiritual leader of the Tariqatun Naqshbandhia, visited the place. The cordial manner in which Sheikh Nazim conducted himself in the shrine room bewildered the mureeds. The friendliness that was seen between the saint and the sheikh was astonishing. He spent hours in the shrine room reciting and conversing, polite little, smile playing on his lips with gesticulations coming in between denoting a frank exchange of views.
The 175th annual, flag-hoisting ceremony at this mosque took place on February 10. For ten days moulid and qaseeda recitals continued and on Feb. 20 the final thamaam and grand feast will take place.