Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya

The dargah of the famous Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, is quite near here, in an old village of the same name that predates the modern city. (Delhi, apparently, has 275 such villages. The city has grown up around, and in some cases, on top, of these.) So, I ventured forth on the sidewalk past the busy evening traffic on Mathura Road. About 10 minutes later, a lane veered off to the left, carrying scores of women in burkhas and hijabs and men in kameezes and skull caps, with stalls selling roses and garlands, chaddars (brocaded silks to be draped on the dargah of the pir) and other offerings for the faithful, on either side. Beggars lined the way, with hardly a break, hands outstretched, awaiting the tossed coin or note. The smell of delicious meats being roasted wafted out from a dozen or more kabab stalls and restaurants.

A few hundred feet from the main road, one passes the tomb of Mirza Ghalib, the famous mid-nineteenth century poet and composer of ghazals. Some kind of a program was underway near the tomb, with a vast dari (carpet) spread out, and a few dozen people seated listening to various speakers. After this, the lane narrows even more, and seems to become enclosed. It’s an illusion created by the tall buildings looming overhead, and the awnings of the various stalls. Several men proffered cards as I walked by, asking if I wanted a certain number of poor to be fed. “The going rate is Rs. 5 per head.” At one point, a chorus of voices entreated me to leave my shoes in their care. I walked on ahead, and surreptitiously slid the footwear into the black jhola (cloth bag) slung across my shoulder (which also partially obscured my camera, and at least for a few minutes, helped cloak the obvious NRI tourist. It’s an uphill battle fighting that sixth sense that prevents me from completely blending in.).


The lane narrowed even more, and twisted and turned. I spy a tiny opening to the right, and leaving the crowd that veers to the left, following the signs to the dargah, I find myself in a small marble tomb, with four walls, open to the sky. It turns out that these are the tombs of Mirza Jawan (one of the grandsons of Aurangzeb) and his family. Everyone and their grandmother wanted to be buried near the holy man’s shrine, so the area surrounding the dargah is literally, littered with tombs (including that of the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah). An opening leads to the enclosure in front of the dargah itself. It’s a kind of shortcut, I guess.


To the left, a large crowd is patiently waiting to enter the smaller dargah of Amir Khusro, a famous disciple of the saint. To the right, a larger crowd is gathered in the courtyard in front of the main shrine, surrounding several qawwali singers, seated at their harmoniums, who gather here every Thursday evening. I stand and listen to the gentle music rising into the evening air, the rhythmic clapping having a strangely pacifying effect, in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the pilgrims moving to and from the dargah.


Large yellow notices warned that photograph was not permitted without permission. However, I noticed several people blatantly ignoring the warning, and clicked away. (A short video of the qawwalis will be uploaded to YouTube once the broadband starts working here again!)

There was a short line waiting to enter (“No ladies allowed inside dargah!”). I tied a handkerchief over my head, touched the doorpost and brought my hands to my lips in a sign of respect, ducked, and entered the tomb itself. The grave was covered under multiple layers of chaddars and offerings, with numerous strings of mannat tied to the intricate marble grillwork. The small space inside was full, as men slowly shuffled past, egged along by an attendant (“Agay badho hazrat!”, “Sir, move ahead!”), making a clockwise circuit around the grave. Some stood in corners in silent prayer, or reading from prayer books or the Qu’ran. Some prostrated themselves at the foot of the grave. The piety and devotion of the faithful at any site of pilgrimage, whatever the religion, have always moved me deeply. There is something powerful, and humbling, as we all acknowledge our limitedness, our finiteness, and seek the divine. Somewhat unexpectedly, I found myself moved to prayer as well, and asked the saint’s intercessions for the soul of my father. A Christian man, praying at the tomb of a Muslim saint, for his Hindu father.

I exited the dargah, and stood and listened to the qawalliwallas for several minutes more. A flock of pigeons swept over the dome of the dargah and flew into the gathering dusk.

I come running to the end of Your street,
Tears are washing and washing my cheek.
Union with You -- what else can I seek?
My soul I surrender as Your name I repeat.

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