Sufi Saints and Dargahs: Part 1

NIZAMUDDIN

The first night in Delhi was stressful as the hotel we had chosen was depressing. It didn’t have much and lacked basic sanitation. We took it upon ourselves, during the beginning of the night, searching frantically for another option – we were restless and filled with exhaustion. When we finally found something that fit our preference we took it with desperation. In the beginning, the trip looked bright, but now, not so much. I kept my cool and looked forward to the next day as I finished my butter chicken. I don’t know if I could say the same for the rest of them – my mother, aunt, and brother – surely I was tired and so were the rest of them.

The next day my heart was restless. I came to India looking for a sense of adventure. More so, there is a sense of spirituality – from what I hear – that flows within Hindustan; therefore, it is no wonder our first stop was in the Nizamuddin slums. It was in a busy market place that our taxi driver dropped us off and he left without any hesitation. The streets were dizzying – there was so much congestion. We tried to push through crowds, but it was helpless without any direction. However, with the help of a young lady carrying a baby we were helped to our destination. With a smile she pointed us onwards through a small gate that led us to the Markaz (market place or center) and there after the Dargah (shrine).

Praying at the Khana Jammat Masjid by Zemar Ahadzada

Through the narrow and winding roads of the Markaz we walked past street vendors and shoe-watchers. They asked for our shoes and offered to watch over them for a small token of appreciation. Without hesitation we walked past them. I am sure you can sense our anxiety, but there was no way I was walking barefoot through the street-filled pollution. It was covered in its shadow – the place was depressing.  I entered a world of blue. It is hard to describe, but It was some place new. In hindsight, I felt I entered another time period. At the very end of the markaz, we were left with a tough decision, to part with our shoes or leave sufi saint’s presence. In the end, we walked without shoes on the white tiles of his Dargah.

We followed the devotees – their feet covered in mud – they walked gently on displaced white tiles. I was enveloped by a community that I barely knew and so I stayed quiet and listened. It was a community of different backgrounds and religions. I could hear Qawalli songs resonate as the audience swayed with the saint’s blessings. I walked towards the Jamaat Khana Masjid where I performed my afternoon prayer.  When I finished I headed back to the Dargah.  There were people flowing from each direction. They carried baskets of petals as offerings, they tied strands of yarn on arabesque-laced marble, they rubbed their hands on his Dargah and asked for blessings.

The Devotees by Zemar Ahadzada

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Looking for Blessings by Zemar Ahadzada

The whole situation brought me into a sense of calm-tension. I was troubled by an anxious meditation (process of thought) – I was lost in hesitation. I pondered with careful observation. It was the sufi saint who suggested to his successor, Nasiruddin:

 To learn to be still in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life and to be alive and animated while at rest (1)

Dervishes were lost in deep trances of emotion. Hindus, sikhs, and muslims filled the mausoleum, a sense of plurality established, and an aspect of spirituality resonated. I could sense the sufi saint’s message. Nizamudin Auliya, a member of the Chishti silsila (Chain or order). His exoteric practices asked for pluralism and tolerance. His sense of spirituality shaped India and provided it’s flavor to the modern day. It was after he passed away that many built their tombs to be buried close to him. Within the Dargah, Amir Khusro and Shah Jahan’s daughter lie next to him.

Homoyun's Tomb by Zemar Ahadzada

Homoyun’s Tomb by Zemar Ahadzada

Islamic architecture and culture are scattered throughout the city. The Sundry Nursery lies in the north, while the garden-tomb complex of Homoyun lies east. The tomb of Homoyun is decorated in wonderful gardens and canopies. It was the sufi saint who attracted many followers, including the Mughal rulers, to the city. His love and tolerance for the poor brought many to his Dargah and with it the assimilation of the most dense collection of mediaeval Islamic architecture. The vast wealth of culture now inspires the development of Nizamuddin’s future with the help of Agha Khan Trust of Culture.

The sufi saint’s selflessness and unasked for charity in Ghiyaspur (now Nizamuddin) immediately diverted to opening schools and hospitals for the poor (2). It seems as if his spirit still watches over the city. His message remains prevalent in the slums of Nizamuddin. Once in disrepair, but now being rebuilt anew! It is a wonderful sight – for eyes that are depressed and blue. It is enlightening!  There is no other word, but inspiring! There is improvement in waste management and education. There is still a lot of work, but the culture of the past is slowly perspiring.

Foot notes:

1.) Jaffer, Mehru (2012-10-15). The Book of Nizamuddin Aulia (Kindle Locations 1390-1391). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

2.)  Jaffer, Mehru (2012-10-15). The Book of Nizamuddin Aulia (Kindle Locations 1471-1472). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

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