Saturday, 13 July 2013

A Visit to the Dargah’ of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer

 Recently I went on a trip to Rajasthan and also visited the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. Arguably, his dargah is the most respected, most revered and probably the most crowded dargah in the whole of the Indian sub-continent. Although, I am not much of a Dargah person myself, but I have relatives in extended family who are Dargah ‘fanatics’ (or ‘ dargah obsessed’ if any such term exists!). They kept suggesting me more such places to visit but I just stuck to one.

  India has the second highest number of Muslims in the world, after Indonesia. Islam’s spread in India was through the Sufi saints, as Sufism helped bridge the gap between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority by espousing a tolerant, flexible and peaceful religion based on love and compassion. Sufis made the maximum conversions from the lower castes of the Hindus. In dargahs, even today, people from all faiths come to pay their respects and get their prayers answered.
Dargah is an Islamic Sufi shrine built over the grave of a revered religious figure, often a Sufi saint or dervish. Muslims may visit a local shrine as a form of pilgrimage known as ziyarat. The dargah's physical space usually includes a mosque, meeting rooms, Islamic religious schools (madrassas), residences for a religious teacher or caretaker, and other buildings for community purposes like cooking or eating spaces. The term dargah is a Persian word which can mean a "portal" or  a "threshold". Some Sufi faithfuls believe that dargahs are places where  the deceased saint's intercessions and blessings can be invoked. Some others hold a less supernatural view of dargahs, and simply visit it as a means of paying their respects to deceased pious individuals (religious buzurg') or to pray at these sites for perceived benefits.

I visited Ajmer Dargah to pay my respects to the buzurg, to whom everybody goes to get their materialistic desires fulfilled. I remember reading a remark by an Islamic scholar that people (especially lower caste/class Muslims) visited these sites as they believed for their day-to-day mundane worldly desires they should not bother the All- Mighty Allah. In terms of numbers there were equal number of non- Muslims in Ajmer. His shrine has also become famous for Bollywood personalities visiting it praying for commercial success for their movies. And, since he is also referred to as 'Garib Nawaz', or to translate it crudely 'friend of the poor', you find a lot of people doing/ taking charity. But, too many people asking/ pestering you for donations can be a dampener. They have a huge cooking pot (degh) where people throw money which is later utilized for cooking food and distributing it to the poor and needy.  

The shrine had lots of women who could move around freely, could hold hands of their partners and even do weird stuff like moving their head/hair as if in a trance holding the grills of the inner shrine. Qawwalis are held too in evenings on special days.

  While, mosques serve as formal places of worship where Muslims come together for their communal prayers or namaz as well as centers for information/ education and dispute settlements, Dargahs are more vibrant and populous places where a lot more is going on all the time. Dargahs are spaces where people from different nationalities, different cultures, religions can come for their own spiritual experience.  

 I have not been to many Dargahs but there have been a couple which I found memorable. Many many years ago I had the pleasure to visit to Baba Haji Ali's dargah in Bombay situated in the sea where the way opens depending on the timing of the tides. It had a certain energy which was inexplicably very peaceful, as its location is also very beautiful. In Delhi, opposite Old Fort, there is Dargah of Mataka Peer. On fulfillment of their wishes, people give out charity in Matkas or pots. Since, it is situated at a height and they have lots of matkas on the Dargah compound, trees etc. which make it look like a south Indian movie set. But, these Dargahs all have mosques where namaz takes place throughout the day at their usual timings, apart from having musical evenings of Qawwalis on Fridays and special occasions like festivals or Urs. Music and spirituality all come together at Dargahs. 

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