A Dervish Experience – History Project Report on Bhakti-Sufi Traditions

“We don’t represent a certain faith, our identity is far greater and broader than the identity of religion”

As I entered a space, a space where whirling dervishes have lived, danced, cried, and loved, I felt intoxicated on energy. An energy I am unable to put in words, albeit, there are mystics who have devoted their entire lives trying to decipher this energy that I still feel hungover with. This space that I talk of is of the Dargah of the great sufi mystic Nizamuddin Auliya, situated in the Hazrat Nizamuddin West area of Delhi. I had the most gracious opportunity of meeting with Sufi Ajmal Nizami, the 40th descendent of Prophet Muhammad.

I waltzed down the narrow lanes that housed heaps of rose petals, itr (perfume), sufi books, chaddars (holy blanket), vendors calling out to customers with the generic “Dargah ke liye yeh lijiye’” “Take this for the dargah” I bought two chaddars, one green embroidered with flower designs and, one yellow, as a gesture of my devotion to Hazrat Nizamuddin who lies peacefully in a shrine where thousands from all backgrounds come to find solace, everyday. Sufi Ajmal Ji received me and my family at the main entrance and welcomed us with a warm smile. We first visited the main shrine, passing by the Qawals whose voices adorned the evening with Khwaja Amir Khusrou’s couplets in praise of Auliya. Three main singers, dressed in green kurtas with white kufis, accompanied the main singer dressed in white, singing while playing an old harmonium.

Women, men, and children bore witness to the gala that celebrated love, adulation and euphoria.

As I stood there and relished the symphonies of the evening, Sufi Ajmal Nizami educated me on a lesser known fact — the word ‘naan’ being recorded for the first time in Khwaja Khusrou’s couplets. Pointing to the left, he showed us the tomb of Princess Jehanara Begum, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan. A princess who lived and died a mendicant (one who relies on donations) by choice, so much so that she even cleaned the platform of the main shrine with the locks of her hair. Pointing even further he showed us the tombs of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s two sufi brothers — Mirza Babur and Mirza Jahangir, of whom Mirza Babur killed a British Officer. The officer died in a fire, popularly believed to have been sparked by Mirza Babur whilst in trance. Diverting from the topic, he apologised for the dire conditions there as he let us in a deep hearted tete-a-tete, enlightening us on the restrictions put u by the government that didn’t allow the authorities to use their own resources for the amelioration of the age-old dargah.

Q. Why do they not allow you to spend even your own money in order to the alleviate the conditions of the dargah ?

To control the muslims, simple. Since the past 70 years we haven’t been able to do anything for the dargah, we are still hiding ourselves. You see this mosque here (pointing to the left), we cannot even get it repaired on our own will. And this doesn’t apply just to us here, unfortunately, it is prevalent throughout the country. We have nothing left, we don’t have our libraries, our belongings. “Sab cheez toh cheen lee” “They have stripped us off our everything” You see that masjid there, we can not even get it repaired, we are low on funds. And even when we try to, we are threatened with official notices from the ASI, Ministry of Tourism, and the Cultural Ministry, who amusingly, don’t do anything themselves nor let us do it. See, recently, the President of Turkey was to visit us, but due to the narrow lanes, he had to cancel it.

Q. Wow, Must be nice to meet such prominent personalities every now and then.

Yes, recently the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited us. It was a lovely experience. In fact, whenever someone important comes to visit India, there are only two prominent places of worship, the first being Jama Masjid and the second Dargah of Nizammudin Auliya. Actually not even the Jama Masjid, this dargah is unrivalled in the country the primary point of muslim worship. Because there you only have the mosque, here, we have culture, we have music. Come let me show you the mosque from inside…

Q.  What is its significance ?

This is one of the oldest and most important mosques in the country — The Jamaad Khana Mosque, built between 1315 and 1325. And is one of the oldest pulpits for sufis here — known as minbar (Arabic  منبر but pronounced mimbar) where every friday the Imam delivers a sermon. And on Eid, we have six namaaz’s here, with the sixth one delivered by the Imam himself. Basically minbar means “woh jagah jo dusri jagahon se uchi hai” or the place higher than the rest. The mosque you stand in is 800 years old and till 1618 it stood without any support. Even today, the dome stands without any support and no iron has been used. The gate too, hasn’t been made of iron.

A. These are the names of the immediate family of Prophet Muhammad written next to his. The son-in-law, Fatima, his daughter, the oldest grandson, Imaam-e-Hussain, who was killed in Karbala (one of the most tragic incidents ever recorded). Karbala is the reason why the Shias hit themselves on Muharram. Khawaja Nizammduin Auliya, himself, has read the namaaz here. What is interesting to note is that Khawaja Nizammudin Auliya never met any King himself, for he felt that dining

and receiving gifts from such nobles was hypocritical on his part as a dervish.

      “Yahaan ki legacy bohot zabardast hai” Abhi Agha Khan walon ne isse restore kiya hai…

Q. How does one become a sufi ?

It’s all chosen by the almighty. There are three possibilities — either you’ve been chosen (gabriel comes and blows on your soul in your mother’s womb and with that blow you become a sufi) or by serving the people, which in itself shows your devotion towards the almighty. Thirdly, you should be in love with Allah.

Q. (Pointing to a man who had been blowing on people and dancing to the qawalli) What is he doing ? What does it mean ?

It is an old custom to bless the people who visit the dargah.

Q. What is your favourite poem by Maulana Rumi ?

It is in persian but I can translate it for you —

     Koi bhi cheez apne aap cheez nahi ban jaati

     aur koi bhi cheez apne aap se talvaar nahi ban jaati hai

     aur maulvi tab tak maulvi nahi banta jab tak woh shamz tabrizi

     ka ghulam nahi banta

Nothing attains itself independent of another

Nothing becomes a sword on its own

And a maulvi does not become a maulvi unless he bows down to Shamz Tabrizi

Q. How do you and your family live with such a prestigious title amidst everyone else ?

We are very down to earth people, and we live like this. We lay a lot of emphasis on education, my sisters are also very educated and our government officers. One of them is a dental surgeon at Tihar Jail. My Mamu is a retired officer from Air India. My ancestors migrated from Medina on the basis of education, and to preserve our familial legacy. We shifted to Uzbekistan when Genghis Khan was in power. They say that there have been as many as 124,000 prophets in the world, including Jesus, Solomon, etc…and my family carries the blood of all.

After a minute of silence, Sufi Ajmal Nizami’s father, a renowned sufi

Pir Khwaja Afzal Nizami said to me,

“Sufi is a 4 lettered word, and so is LOVE. Sufi is Love and Love is Sufi. Allah gave us mohabbat (love) and he made us to experience it. Woh hamein pyaar, mohabbat, aman aur chain ka pegam detein hain. We are not concerned with anyone’s religion (mazhab) and we love all. Sufiyon ke mamlon ko samajhna asaan nahin — It is not easy to understand the way of the sufis.”

Adding to which, Sufi Ajmal Nizami, very beautifully quoted —

“We don’t represent a certain faith, our identity is far greater and broader than the identity of religion”


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