Ajmer Sharif Dargah (Gharib Nawaz)
Early morning, I checked out from my hotel in Jaipur and proceeded towards Ajmer which is roughly 3 hours drive. I was eager to visit the much talked about Ajmer Sharif Dargah. The shrine is the mausoleum of the famous saint Hazrat Sheikh Khwaja Syed Moinuddin Hasan Chisti, also famously called Gharib Nawaz (Benefactor of the poor). He was born in 12th Century AD in Sanjar (now part of Iran). Due to the weak government, his family was forced to shift to different region in Iran which was a hub of intellectual and economic activities and also home to great Sufis. His father brought a grapes orchard along with a windmill. After his parents passed away at a very young age, Chisti was heart broken. One day while watering his gardens, a mystic named Ibrahim Qandoozi appeared. Hazrat Moinuddin Chisti welcomed him and offered him grapes from his orchards and also provided him shelter. Seeing his generosity, Ibrahim Qandoozi was pleased and wanted to repay him back. He took a piece of oil cake and upon chewing a portion, gave the rest to Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. As soon as he ate the cake, he underwent through a strange transformation. In the next subsequent days, he sold his farm and windmill and decided to devote his whole life in search of truth and thus began his spiritual journey. He traveled to many places of Iran ,Iraq, Samarkand, Lahore and finally came to Delhi, India. From Delhi also he moved further and then came to Ajmer where he felt at home. The Saint’s journey is compared to a tree where his foundation and birth was in Iran and due to his travel, his preaching were spread across like branches in Asia but only the people of India were blessed enough to have the fruits of his immense knowledge. Ajmer was considered as the heart of Rajasthan and was ruled by Prithivi Raj Chauhan. The news of the famous saint slowly spread across the city and people began to flock to him in increasing numbers. He accepted all kinds of people rich or poor, people shunned from society irrespective of any caste or creed or religion.
On my way towards the shrine, I stopped over Ana Sagar Lake built by Arnoraja, grandfather of Prithvi Raj Chauhan. Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti stayed at the banks of this lake when he reached Ajmer. Its a beautiful lake surrounded by hills.
Its not possible to drive at the entrance of the dargah as the area is very crowded. So we parked our vehicle few kilometers away from the place where we also purchased caps and scarves to cover our heads. I was advised to leave the bags, cameras and shoes in the vehicle as it was not allowed inside the dargah. I left the vehicle, covered my head with the white scarf which I had brought from the shop nearby and walked barefoot towards the shrine. The closer I approached the place, the streets started getting narrower and it finally opened up to the bustling crowded bazaar.
The street was lined on both sides with lots of shops with people screaming at top of their voices to buy baskets of roses and chadars as an offering. The air was filled with a strong smell of roses and perfume oils. Amidst the cacophony of voices and fragrances overpowering my senses, I could already sense my walk turning into a trance!
I reached the first entrance gate of the dargah-Nizam Gate. This was erected by Mir Osman Ali Khan, Nizam of Hyderabad in 1911. As you walk past the gate, you see an entrance to a green and white mosque at the right which is called Akbari Masjid built by Akbar.
The second gate you come across is the Shahjahani Gate built by Shah Jahan. It has two large drums fixed above it which are used to sound the beginning of the Urs festival. The third and highest gate is the Bulund Darwaza erected by Mahmood Khilji. Before the commencement of Urs, a flag is hoisted on top of this gate marking the commencement of the festival. Urs is an annual festival held at Ajmer. It was said that the saint during this period closed himself in a room. His followers could hear mystic sounds coming from the room. On the sixth day, the door opened and the saint was found dead. Urs festival is celebrated over six days to commemorate the death anniversary of the saint. In Sufism death is seen as a reunion with god and therefore an event to be celebrated – and not mourned. Many qawwali singers and Sufis visit this place during the festival. A magnificent Mahfilkhana (darbar hall) is built which is used for the 6 day festival programs.
I came across two huge Degs (Iron Cauldrons) in front of the courtyard.The larger Deg was presented by Akbar. It is said that Akbar desired for a heir and he walked barefoot from Agra to Ajmer. When Jahangir was born, he presented the Deg as an offering. During Urs period, the food is prepared in these Degs. 4800 kg of rice can be cooked in the larger Deg. The smaller Deg was presented by Jahangir which can cook up to 2400 kg of rice. Today people throw money, offerings in form of rice or food or even they tie wish threads on the Degs. I was informed about the langar in the dargah where food is served to the needy and poor. The food prepared in the dargah is strictly vegetarian in order to cater to all kinds of people visiting the shrine. They have donation counters where one can contribute to the langar.
There is a holy water pool in front of the courtyard. Before entering the main shrine, I washed my feet and hands. For the convenience of the worshippers, the roof of the tank was built by the British Government during Queen Mary’s visit.
I proceeded towards the main shrine. In the true spirit and tradition of Gharib Nawaz everyone including women are allowed entry into the sanctum. Photographs were not allowed inside the main room. The minute you step inside the sanctum, you are awestruck by the glitter of precious stones laid on the white marble tomb. The tomb is covered with emerald green, red velvet and silk ghilafs (chadar). I could see golden and silver embroideries on the chadar. Over the tomb, there is a silver canopy presented by Jahangir’s mother. The tomb is surrounded by silver railings. The costly chadars on the tomb are decked with lots of fresh roses. It was the most beautiful crypt I have ever seen in my life! I stood in a corner while the crowd was pushed each other to get near the crypt. The cleric attending to the shrine took offerings from the people and blessed them with feather fans. The room was filled with the fresh aroma of roses and sandalwood, along with the prayers and chanting of the devotees. I soaked in the atmosphere for a moment before I got pushed out of the shrine by the steady stream of people coming in. There was a silver door presented by Jahanara (daughter of Shah Jahan). It is believed that she was a great follower of the saint. She used to walk barefoot and it is said that her long tresses used to sweep the floor as she walked about in the shrine.
On the western side of the shrine, they have Jannati Darwaza. The doors of this gate are covered by silver and is only opened four times during the year. People tie knots of wish threads on the gates. It is said that once your wish is fulfilled, you need to visit the dargah and untie one of the threads as its very difficult to identify the one you tied! It is also said that people who perform a circumambulation starting with the Jannati Darwaza, the holy tomb and the main courtyard six times will be granted a place in heaven. By this, the Jannati Darwaza is crossed seven times and the follower being assured a place in seventh heaven !
Opposite to the Jannati Darwaza is the Shah Jahani Mosque. All 99 sacred names of Allah with 33 Quranic verses were beautifully inscribed in the mosque.
Around me, people appeared engrossed in their own thoughts and affected by the atmosphere of the shrine. Other followers were seen rushing to reach the main shrine carrying long chadars and chanting loud.
The atmosphere keeps you charged even during normal days. I wonder how eclectic, intoxicating and divine it would be during the Urs period when the air is filled with Sufi music and dance. It is said that your visit to the dargah happens only when Gharib Nawaz chooses you to visit him. I walked out of the dargah back to the bustling bazaars, engrossed in my thoughts and imbibing the energy around me.
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