Sufi shrines in the wraps of Delhi

Delhi, wrapped in many historical shrines across the town unfolds an epic saga about them. The monuments and mausoleums still stand the test of time offering their testimony through different eras

Dargah of Bibi Zulaikha Sahiba in Delhi (social media)
Dargah of Bibi Zulaikha Sahiba in Delhi (social media)
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Syed Wajid

The city of Delhi wrapped in many historical shrines across the town unfolds an epic saga about them. The monuments and mausoleums still stand the test of time offering their testimony through different eras. Not just the gates, the emperors took as their routes to Delhi but the roads, streets and alleys all are there for their historical, religious and spiritual significance.

Walking down memory lane, Dargah of Bibi Zulaikha Sahiba popularly known as Mai Saheb, mother of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, located inside the Adhchini village, a cluster with residential houses dwells packed cheek-by-jowl, off Aurobindo Marg near IIT, Delhi. It is one revered shrine with devotees, mostly women coming here; Wednesday the crowd is a little thicker. Its pointed and arched gateway, perhaps the only structure in the complex that has remained almost in its pristine form whereas the rest of the complex has undergone repeated renovations.

Unlike the dargah Nizamuddin Auliya, here are no peerzadas, khadims and no shops selling pictures. The dargah itself was originally the house of two sisters, Noor Bibi and Hoor Bibi, with whom Bibi Zulaikha Sahiba had lived. As a mark of their devotion to Mai Saheb, the two sisters lay buried near her tomb.

Inside, as women and men touch the hem of the chaadar of Mai Saheb’s tomb to pray and convey their wishes, troubles and grievances, it’s an atmosphere of calm and submission. They are talking to the Mother, without the medium of a cleric as many at other shrines in India and across offer such a connect to reach the saint through the practice of peer-murshad. Outside in the open area overlooking an arched colonnade, rows of candles add sparkle to the spirit of devotion and the qawwals get ready for an evening of soulful music.

Bibi Fatima’s dargah at Kaka Nagar, Delhi
Bibi Fatima’s dargah at Kaka Nagar, Delhi

However, the scene different at Bibi Fatima’s dargah at Kaka Nagar in the midst of government residential-quarters does not have many devotees. The near-anonymity perhaps denotes the fact that Delhi boasts of only a couple of dargahs dedicated to women Sufis. A contemporary of Nizamuddin Auliya, Bibi Fatima is supposed to have been praised by the saint himself for the spiritual heights she had attained during her lifetime.

A few metres away, next to the Oberoi Hotel stands another medieval structure that claims to be the tomb of another woman Sufi, Fatma Bibi. Hand-painted flowers and creepers trying to make up for the lapis lazuli work, are associated with Mughal structures. The dargah is open from daybreak till night. The local owners of the adjacent paan-shop and tyre-shop claim that they maintain the dargah on their own. They are not aware of the historical facts associated with the shrine. That has, however, not diminished their devotion to the faith.

Hazrat Nizamuddin Aaulia: This appears to be a touristy destination fitting the itinerary of backpackers coming to visit the capital city. Dargah also known as Mehboob- e -Ilahi remains abuzz with constant footfall of pilgrims all week but Thursday is believed to be the day most auspicious. The qawwali recital after sunset is quite eventful with singers of the sufi classical genre offering the holy singing in the holy precinct. They first go to the shrine of hazrat Amir Khusrau as the protocol so demands before going to the main mausoleum of the sufi saint. At various other places in the surroundings only are cemented graves related to the family of the saint. Those who visit the shrine patiently wait for the musical sonata to begin that keeps the whole court go full house.

Qawwali, a raga based composition; with the accompaniment of harmonium and tabla followed by the ecstatic impact of vigorous clap which tends to produce in the listener, a high.

Some famous and prominent qawwals like Chand Nizami, Ghulam and Sultan Hussain Niyazi, Meraj and Hamsar from the Delhi Gharana recite the holy singing at the dargah in the evening that goes till late night. Thursday qawwali, for some time, has been put on hold due to the sheer volume of the crowd; way beyond being accommodated at the main courtyard.

The verses beautifully penned by Amir Khusrau, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, Niyaz-be-Niyaz, Kabir, Baba Bulleshah et al add a dash of lustre to the divine beauty of the soiree. Most of them are sung in Persian, Awadhi, Braj, Khariboli and Punjabi. The sufi rendition has some popular sufi tracks like man kunto maula fa aaza ali ul maula, Allah hu, Chhaap tilak, tanam farsuda ja para, mast qalandar etecetra. These renditions electrify the atmosphere, enthrall the devotees and the spiritual ecstasy send many into a trance; even the hysterical commotion of the possessed cannot distract the hardcore devotees submerged in this musical treat. “It is a divine feel that connects one to the supreme power, which you can only feel. It cures many; this assuages the torments of many hungry hearts and souls. Sufi qawwali recitation is absolutely different, this is bhakti .” Altamash Nizami, a descendent of the sufi lineage. Besides, sanctified food is distributed everyday at the shrine by one whose wish is answered by the Auliya.

The dargah has two ways- east and west- leading to the shrine, one opposite to Nizamuddin Railway station and the other opens to the west towards the Hotel Oberoi, each has an unending line of florists on either side of the labyrinth . The cassette and CDwallahs are busy selling traditional and religious tapes and CDs. The legendary Karim's with other eateries inviting for a toothsome bite of shwarma, succulent and melt-in-your mouth mutton steaks tempts your most jaded palate.

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