The Pakistani President's forthcoming visit and a new book underscore the spiritual significance of the Sufi saint's dargah and its power to grant boons to believers.
The enlightened does not repose his trust in anybody except God. The enlightened showers like the sun his rays of light on the entire world. His light lights the whole world bright ...
The girders are going up one by one around the central dome. Their pointed edges rise above the horizon touching the darkening skies. The tarnished gold inlay still manages to catch the light from the setting sun; sending up sparks. To the beating of drums and chants from the Koran, the khadim brings candles and places them in the four corners of the tomb. As the lights come on the night sky is illuminated and the piercing voices of the qawaals envelops the darkness. The melody rents the air, bringing the faithful into the central courtyard of the dargah of Khawaja Muin-ud-din Chisti.
"Work has just commenced on the gold inlay work," says Jhala, an Ajmer resident. "It will be ready for the urs in October. But the dargah and Ajmer will soon start getting spruced up for an important visitor from across the border." Like Zia-ul-Haq before him, one of the items on the agenda of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf when he visits India on the July 14 will be a visit to the dargah at Ajmer Shareef. Should he pray for peace, it would surely be granted, for the dargah is renowned for granting the boon of those who seek.
And seekers there are aplenty. They come putting aside race and religion, shedding their egos and differences. They come seeking tranquillity in the midst of strife and success in the face of failure to seek sanctuary and a glimpse of the divinity that is enshrined in this most holy of shrines. Century after century, from Akbar to Advani, Zia-ul-Haq to Govinda, believers have flocked to the shrine of the man who is known as the Garib Nawaz.
Being at the centre of a historic process is not new for the dargah or the city, which is located in an oasis. In fact it epitomises history. Home to many dynasties that have left indelible marks on the city, Ajmer is an amalgam of various cultures and a scintillating blend of Hinduism and Islam.
Orphaned when he was 14 and after a life spent travelling all over the Middle East in service of God, Khawaja Sahib received the mandate to go to Hindustan when he was 52. He is also said to have seen Prophet Muhammad in his dream, who pointed out the city, the fort and the general location of Ajmer. When he arrived in the city in 1192, Raja Prithviraj Chauhan's servants refused him permission to settle down in what is now known as the Awliya Masjid, because it was home to Chauhan's camels. Recalcitrant animals notwithstanding, Khawaja Sahib settled down and lived in the city until his death in 1236.
Chisti is buried in a marble chamber built by Humayun, the Mazar Sharif is made of precious stones topped by a gem of immense value. The sepulcher itself remains covered with a gold chaddar. The two silver railings that surround the Mazar are also offerings made by the Mughal emperors. On the main gate is an inscription in gold which was presented by the Nizam of Hyderabad, a small side door an offering by Swai Jai Singh II of Jaipur.
Akbar who make an annual pilgrimage to the shrine added the mosque in the courtyard. In the corner of the inner courtyard is a magnificent building in white marble with delicate trelliswork that was built by Shahjehan. Another equally elegant building was an offering by Jahangir.
The dargah and all the surrounding buildings have the detail, artistry and elegance for which Mughal architecture is so renowned. The combination of history and faith is potent and stuns most visitors. "The best period to visit the dargah is during the urs," says Jhala. The six-day urs commemorates the death anniversary of the prophet and begins with the hoisting a flag at the Buland Darwaza, or the main entrance.
The narrow lanes and alleys that surround the dargah are filled with shops and decorated with lights and festoons; the courtyard within is filled with the sound of qawwals and poets who come to participate in the mushairas. For now, the incense and the ittar fill the air and the senses as the qawwals sing on. An hour passes by rather quickly and a clock chimes five times. The courtyard and the devotees start leaving, for this is the karka or closing ceremony. The qawwals sing a special karka song and the khadims sweep the place clean and shut the doors, only to open them at 4 a.m. for morning prayers, re-enforcing the miracle of faith over and over again as it has been doing for over a millennium.
Miracles and Mysticism
Solace amidst cacophony, peace amidst chaos and an answer to her prayers—Laxmi Dhaul found this and more at the tomb of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti, Sufism’s greatest saints, at Ajmer in Rajasthan. "When one visits an important holy place in India, the mass of people, the heat, the dust, the traffic and congestion overwhelm one. Invariably the beggars get after you and, in the confusion and rush, one misses out on the spiritual significance of the place," said Dhaul, a Hindu, at the recent release of her debut book The Sufi Saint of Ajmer. "Often what started out as a pilgrimage becomes an uncomfortable experience if done without some knowledge and background."
"It is my journey into discovering the great saint, who was also known as Garib Nawaz, for his piety and compassion for the poor, whose teachings remain relevant almost 800 years after his death," says the author. In her first prayer at the shrine, Dhaul asked for admission for her children into Mayo College, Ajmer, one of the elite boarding schools in the country. "My prayer was heard and I began returning frequently to the dargah. And so began my journey of discovery."
Dhaul didn't know anything about Sufism and she had no understanding of Urdu, the language of the great saint. "All I knew was Mumbai Hindi, which really wasn't much," she laughs. But that didn't deter her from discovering the magnificent monuments built by Mughal emperors in the shrine complex. And stumbling upon the tale (and the tomb) of the water-carrier who saved emperor Humayun's life and was granted the wish of ruling India for a day. She also admired the great degs or cauldrons that can cook up to 750 kg of sweet rice at a time-jumping into them and stealing with bare hands is a custom.
"The magnetic pull of the saint's presence drew me to the dargah again and again and I wanted to know more of the life of the saint, his teachings and the historical significance of the impressive buildings in the dargah complex. Today that pull has culminated in the writing of this book," says Dhaul. The book begins with an explanation of why the number 786 is considered holy in Islam and goes on to talk about the life and times of the Sufi saint. It then talks about the beautiful desert town of Ajmer and its history. Of the brave Rajputs and fascinating Maratha kings and especially the magnificent Mughal emperors who were its patrons. Several traditions in the dargah are very similar to a Mughal durbar and the words used have a definite Mughal flavour, this is undoubtedly due to the patronage of Mughal emperors including Akbar and Shah Jehan.
The ceremonies and rituals of the shrine and Sufism-its meaning, mysticism and miracles find a place in the book. "When one visits the dargah, one doesn't immediately grasp the principles of Sufism or the teachings and life of Garib Nawaz. One sees a dynamic living faith that draws thousands of people," says Dhaul. She writes in detail about the urs held on the death anniversary of the saint. Says Dhaul:"I have been fortunate to attend an urs, and was lucky to be taken along with the mass of devotees right up inside the sanctum sanctorum. My only effort was not to resist the surge and flow of humanity. I have been witness to the miracle of faith."
Another ethereal experience was listening to the legendary qawali singers praise god. According to Dhaul, one of the nicest time to visit the dargah is in the evening, when the decorative lights are switched on and the qawali singers bring life to the place. The book she says is dedicated to those who visit the dargah for the first time. It is an effort to share the magical experience of the dargah.