The story behind Bostami turtles goes back around 1,200 years to its origin – what locals believe are embodiments of genies trapped in animal forms.
It was Hazrat Bayezid Bostami, as they say, who caught the genies and turned them to these turtles and they have been there since, at the “city of twelve saints” – Chittagong.
Now, these massive-sized turtles at the pond of Bayezid Bostami shrine in West Nasirabad are believed to be boon granters for followers who “they take a shine upon”.
Every day, hundreds of followers, irrespective of religion, queue to seek blessings from these turtles – feeding them – hoping to have their wishes granted by “the genie embodiments”.
Shah Alam, Office Secretary of Baizid Bostami Shrine Management committee said, Saint Sultan al- Arefin Baizid Bostami came to Chittagong in the eighth century AD and took shelter in the small hill in West Nasirabad. Locals and shrine followers believe that the shrine was built back then and the turtles were kept in the pond.
He added that there is no written evidence of the event although Tazkeratul Aowlia, a book on the saints, says that Sultanul Arefin Baizid Bostami came to Chittagong in the eighth century. The saint’s (who was born in Bistami area of Iran) original shrine is in Iran. The shrine in Chittagong is established where he took shelter during his stay in Chittagong, said Shah Alam.
According to Farid Ahsan, a Zoology professor of Chittagong University who conducted research on Bostami turtles, Sultan al-Arefin Hazrat Bayazid Bistami is a historical figure. He was born in 777 AD in Bistami area of Iran and died in 874 AD.
He further said, Baizid Bostami once came to Sind to visit his teacher Abu Ali Sindi and then might have visited Chittagong. In Chittagong, the “astana” or “chilla” is associated with the name of the great saint.
Locals say, these turtles have been living in the shrine for hundreds of years living solely out of the food brought to them by their followers and visitors.
However, there has been no count of the number of turtles living in the shrine’s pond since 2004. Back then in the last count, the number came up to be 400.
But now, encroachers and grabbers have established properties around the pond threatening the living and breeding environment of these turtles.
As a result the number of hatchlings is gradually decreasing every year.