If you have been to Delhi but not visited the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin, you have missed something! Even if you are not a particularly devout follower of Sufism, this shrine would still give you a spectacle of how faith can indeed move mountains. But let’s begin at the beginning….. So the other day, together with a few of my friends, we ventured into the Nizamuddin area of Delhi. Some of the others in the group had already visited the dargah on prior occasions, and having heard so much about it and having watched it grow popular in travel shows and Bollywood movies, the rest of us consented it was time we earned ourselves some first-hand experience.
There is much to see in the surrounding area, like the Subz Burj (which was originally green, as the name suggests, but ironically has blue tiles on the dome today), the beautiful Isa Khan’s Tomb, and the ever so majestic Humayun’s Tomb, inspiration- they say- for the pristinely symmetric Taj itself. But today we did not venture into any of those other beauties. We headed straight for the Nizamuddin Police Station which is bang next to the entry point towards the dargah.
From the approach itself the popularity of the shrine became evident. All kinds of people thronged the narrow alleyway that leads up to the dargah. Many a vendor sat around selling pretty pastel skull caps (one must cover one’s head in deference to the tomb in the inner sanctum), fragrant garlands, incense sticks, mini sugar nuggets, ‘chaader’ or shrouds to be offered to the tomb, holy books, and various bric-a-bracs. We made steady headway, dodging the masses walking briskly past us in either direction.
About midway down this alley, there is a huge ancient doorway that opens to the left and leads to the ‘Urs Mahal’, a large courtyard where the death anniversary of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is celebrated with qawwali ceremonies by his devout followers. In Sufism, ‘Urs’ is considered as auspicious as a marriage ceremony, since it represents the saint’s union with God. Next to this there is also the ‘Chaunsath Khamba’ which literally translates to ‘Sixty four Pillars’ and is an open pavilion of the same number of marble columns. It houses the tombs of Ataga Khan , the prime minister to the court of Akbar, his son and several other unidentified people, probably of the same family. It was under repair when we were there.
Barely a few steps down the road is another gate to the left which led us to the resting place of the renowned poet, Mirza Ghalib, marked with shrouds, flowers and burning incense. There are many other tombs in this compound as well, again unidentified. On the wall facing the tomb is a plaque with the deeply reflective words from Ghalib’s famous couplets…
“Na tha kuchch to Khuda tha,
kuchch na hota to Khuda hota
duboya mujhko hone ne,
na hota main to kya hota”
(“When nothing was, God was there
Had there been nothing, God would have been
My being has defeated me
Had I not been, what would have been”)
Adjacent to the tomb is a library of Mirza Ghalib’s works, though we did not visit it just then. Moving on along the alleyway towards the main purpose of our visit, we encountered many more vendors with wares both colourful and odorous. And suddenly at a bend around one of these shops, we came upon our destination. We took off our shoes and left them with a shopkeeper who promised to take care of them and went ahead.
Once inside, the place seemed full of people and tombs. The first shrine to the left is that of another famous Sufi poet and musician, Amir Khusrau, a spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin. Amir Khusrau is said to be the pioneer of the qawwali genre of devotional songs. The bigger shrine to the right belongs to Hazrat Nizamuddin himself. There are many more tombs within the complex, one of them belonging to the Mughal princess Jahan Ara, said to be Emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter.
Devotees all around were making offerings to the tombs, sitting in meditation or making chants in the name of the saint. Many were entrapped in various stages of trance. One could almost feel their faith pulsating through the air. Unfortunately, women are not allowed into the inner sanctum where the peer is buried, but we could look in through the trellis surrounding it. Men circumambulated the inner tomb, while women did the same outside. Innumerable prayer-threads tied to the trellised walls bear testimony to the thousands of prayers that are sent heavenwards every day. It is clearly a spectacle of belief and hope that we were met with, and every one of us was glad we made this amazing pilgrimage that day.