In Ajmer, before the saint’s court

By Malik Rashid Faisal

797th Urs is being commemorated in Ajmer at the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. It is a six day affair that invites devotees from all over the world. Malik Rashid Faisal writes about the Urs of the previous year.

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It was a rainy day. The nearby streets and courtyards of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Dargah in the historical city of Ajmer were abuzz with the devotees and lovers of the Saint present there to observe the 796th Urs, the commemoration of the Sufi saint Khwaja Saheb’s passing away. The ceremony is held for six days every year and attended by pilgrims from across the world.

Attached to the main gate of the shrine was a small room packed with devotees, irrespective of their caste, creed, gender or religion. Sitting at the centre stage like a groom was a tall and smart young man clad in kurta pajama, a saffron stole hanging around his neck. He was one of the many Khadims (custodian) present who perform rituals, take Nazrana (a special gift that is offered by devotees during religious occasions to earn blessings) and help devotees in offering Chadars to the tomb. I introduced myself as a reporter and enquired why he was sporting a saffron stole, the colour of Shiv Sainiks. “This is the Chishtiya colour which the Chishti family has been using for centuries,” the khadim retorted.”

Among the devotees was a 55-year-old Spanish woman who, swayed by the teachings of her beloved Wali-ul-Hind Khwaja Moinuddin and inspired by the principles of Sufism, had left Spain to stay in a rented house very close to the Dargah. Earlier during their trip to Rajasthan, she and her friends had stayed for a night in Ajmer. And that night, she claims, changed her life.

She shared her exhilarating experience: “Before visiting Rajasthan, I had read a book on Sufism, and was advised by someone to visit the Dargah. We entered the Dargah at around 10 pm and were asked to sit near the entrance to the shrine that was closed for the night. Immediately, I went into a trance. It was like being glued to the place where I sat. My body was shaking, vibrating, electrified, and I was astonished. Is this me? Is this my body? I was losing track of time. My friend told me afterwards that I didn’t move at all for at least an hour. When I finally managed to get up, I felt completely changed, that I’m not the person I was before.”

The Spaniard stayed in Ajmer for two months before returning to Spain for one last time. “I sold off my belongings and closed the doors behind me to stay, insha’Allah, forever at my Beloved’s abode in India. Strangely during that time in Spain, I got my passport stolen, as if it was a sign to make me see that my old identity was being wiped out and a new chapter in my life was to begin,” she added with a sign of relief.

The history of Sufiism or Tasawwuf is very old. Almost all the Sufi orders, mainly Chishtiya, Saharwardiya, Qadriya and Naqshbandiya, trace their Silsila (order) to Prophet Mohammed through his cousin and son-in-law Hazrat Ali, considered the vice regent of Prophet Mohammed by Shiite sect of Muslims. According to Islamic ideology, no prophet will come after the last prophet Mohammed. Therefore, it is now the duty of all Muslims to convey the message of Islam to every human being. When Muslim invader Mohammed bin Qasim raided North India, along with him came many Sufis from across the world. Various Sufi orders, particularly Chishtiya and Saharwardia, were established in India. Saharwardiya originated in Iraq but succeeded only in India. It was founded by Iranian Sufi Abu Najib Saharwardi (1097-1168). It was the Sufis who played a big role in mass conversions to Islam.

The Chishti Silsila – the order, which was brought to India at the close of the 11th century AD by Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti – derives its name from Chishti, a village near Herat in Persia. Its centre was established in Ajmer. The order played a prominent role in spreading the message of Islam and mysticism (the eternal search of the human soul for direct experience of the Ultimate Reality). It proceeds on the assumption that “the Divine disclosed itself in the human race as a whole” and that it is possible for all human beings, irrespective of their caste, colour or creed, to have direct communion with the Creator.

“Islam is a blessing for the whole humanity. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti spread this message to all and opened his door for all. People in large numbers converted to Islam on his call,” says Junaid Haris, assistant professor in the department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia.

Khwaja Gharib Nawaz was the exponent of the true spirit of Islam. According to him, religion is not merely based on rituals and ecclesiastical formalities, “service of humanity” is its sole raison d’être. Describing the qualities a man should possess to be close to God, Khwaja Gharib Nawaz referred to the following attributes: “River-like generosity, sun-like affection, earth-like hospitality.” The highest form of devotion, he said, was to “to redress the misery of those in distress, to fulfill the needs of the helpless and to feed the hungry”.

Today, Ajmer Dargah has become a centre of beliefs and faiths. The pilgrimage to the tomb of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz is made for various reasons – by the believer who wants to pay homage to the great saint, by the unhappy soul in search of succour, or by those who want to beg forgiveness for their sins. Many believe that a request for a mannat or boon at the Dargah will be granted by the Almighty. Some mantas are made by paying for food to be cooked in the Degs and by offering it to the poor or offering cloth Chadars on the tomb or trying strings.

So has the real teachings of Khwaja been forgotten by his followers? Islamic scholar and professor in the Department of Islamic Studies of Aligarh Muslim University, Prof Yasin Mazhar Siddiqui says: “The teachings of Sufis do not profess visiting tombs to ask for boons or offering Chadars. These traditions are against the spirit of mysticism.”

Yet, it is the belief that “whoever comes here does not go back empty handed”, that has the devotees queuing up at the Dargah to pray to the saint. One such devotee waiting at the courtyard for her turn to offer Nazrana to Khwaja Saheb with flowers and Shirini is an Udaypur Police Line’s lady constable. “My mannat has been fulfilled by Khwaja Saheb every time,” she says. “My son works in the 12th battalion of RAC. He is short tempered. This time I am asking Khwaja Saheb to make him a good human being.”

“People from every religion and sect come here and pay their homage,” claims Anjuman Syed Zadgan, secretary of Syed Mehmoud Hasan Chishti, adding: “Even Akbar the Great had come here from Delhi on foot.”