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The Shrine (Dargah Sharif)
The journey to Ajmer Sharif - from Akbar to Zardari
By Anil Sharma | IANS India Private Limited
Ajmer, April 5 2012 (IANS) From Mughal emperor Akbar who came praying for a son to a relentless stream of around 12,000 people who throng every day to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari who will visit it Sunday, the pull of the 12th century Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer remains undiminished.
The marble-domed tomb of the Sufi saint, located 145 km from Jaipur, in the middle of Ajmer's walled city area, attracts a huge mass of people from all over the world who come here with an ardent wish and a prayer on their lips.
The tomb is located at the centre of a courtyard and is surrounded by a marble platform. It is believed that the remains of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, also known as Khwaja Garib Nawaz, lie buried at the shrine.
Khadims, or priests at the dargah, claim to be his descendants and are authorised to carry out prayers at the shrine. The premises have eight more tombs, including those of the saint's family members.
S.F. Hussein Chishti, a khadim, told IANS that people come here with the hope to fulfil their wishes and offer 'chadar'. After their wish is fulfilled, they visit again to express their gratitude.
"It used to be Mughal emperor Akbar's favourite destination for many years," said Chishti.
He said the most spectacular thing about the shrine is that it is visited by not only Muslims but equally by those from other religions, including Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.
The shrine is set to complete 800 years in June.
Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti is said to have been born in 1142 A.D. in Iran. "He left the place to spread the teachings of Sufism. He came to India and settled in Ajmer," added a khadim.
"At that time, society had many social evils; so he spread the teachings of equality and brotherhood. Sufism is a moderate philosophy and Mughal kings were impressed and encouraged the spread of its teachings". He is largely famous for the Sufi philosophy that preaches brotherhood, harmony and prosperity, say the khadims.
Julfikar Chishti, another khadim, said: "The deprived and the poor come barefoot, walking hundreds of kilometres. For the past three to four years, people from Europe and America are also coming here to learn the teachings of Sufism."
Mohamed Aajam, a historian, said: "King Akbar came barefoot from Agra to the Ajmer dargah and wished for a son here.
"There is the Akbari mosque and also Shahani mosque constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan," he said.
There are eight gates for entrance to the shrine, but only three are used. "The Nizam gate was constructed by the Nizams of Hyderabad," said Aajam.
A dargah committee takes care of the security and sanitation of the place. The rituals are in the hands of the Anjuman Committee, made up of priests of the place.
"Our duty is to organise rituals and provide food to the deprived coming here," said Waheed Angara, secretary of the Anjuman Committee. There are regular elections to this committee and only khadims can participate in it.
Zardari will be the fourth Pakistani head of state or government to visit the dargah. His late wife Benazir Bhutto and former presidents Zia-ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf also visited the shrine.
"The shrine has always been a great source of communal harmony and national integrity," Mohammad Ahmed, a resident of the dargah area, told IANS.
Every year, on the death anniversary (urs) of the Sufi saint, held on the first six days of Rajab (seventh month of the Islamic calendar), millions pour into the shrine.
(Anil Sharma can be contacted at email@example.com)
History and construction nearby the shrine
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti attracted kings and peasants alike to his discourses
The name Ajmer immediately conjures up a vision of Khwaja Garib Nawaz and his dargah. It reminds me of the saint Moinuddin Hasan Chishti, who was generous like the sea and hospitable like the earth. Today, his dargah, with its saintly white dome and golden crown, hosts millions of devotees who soak in the generosity of his blessings. It was this affection and love for all of humanity that earned Moinuddin Hasan Chishti the name Khwaja Garib Nawaz, or cherisher of the poor.
Devotees from far and wide
Moinuddin Hasan Chishti was born in Sijistan (modern-day Sistan) in Iran in 1141-42 CE. After receiving Khilafat at the age of 52 from Sheikh Usman Harawani, he went on Hajj to Mecca and Medina. While he was praying in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, the Khwaja is said to have heard the Prophet telling him to go to Hindustan and to the city of Ajmer.
At that time, he had no idea where Ajmer was. However, he proceeded via Baghdad and Herat to Lahore and thence to Delhi and Ajmer. Muizuddin Muhammad bin Sam of Ghor had already defeated Prithviraj Chauhan and established his rule in Delhi. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti started living and preaching in Ajmer. His instructive discourses, full of spiritual insights, soon drew the local populace as well as kings and nobles and peasants and the poor from far and wide.
The shrine has been visited by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, Sher Shah Suri, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Dara Shukoh, Jahanara Begum and Aurangzeb, among many others. Even today, filmstars and heads of states, both the rich and the poor make a pilgrimage to the shrine.
Construction and additions
The original dargah was made of wood, write Carl W. Ernst and Bruce B. Lawrence in Sufi Martyrs of Love. A stone canopy was built over it later. When Mahmud Khilji, the Sultan of Malwa, conquered Ajmer in 1455, no concrete structure had been built over the grave of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
The first concrete evidence we get of construction in the dargah complex is the cupola of the shrine that was embellished in 1532, as indicated in an inscription written in golden letters in the northern wall of the tomb. This is the beautiful dome we see today. In keeping with Indo-Islamic architecture, a lotus adorns the dome and a golden crown offered by Nawab Haider Ali Khan of Rampur sits on top of it.
Most of the additions made to the shrine were done during the reign of Akbar, by the emperor himself. Akbar first visited the shrine in 1562 after he heard wandering minstrels singing the praise of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti as he was returning from a hunt. He decided to proceed to Ajmer immediately. Thus began his annual pilgrimage.
In 1568, Akbar offered a degh, or brass cauldron, for cooking of langar. This was ensconced at the entrance. Another cauldron was offered by Jahangir in 1614. It is placed opposite the first cauldron. Both cauldrons are in use today. Devotees offer sacks of rice and wheat for the gruel that is cooked here. Only vegetarian food is cooked in this dargah.
Akbar gave instructions to build mosques and khanqahs in Ajmer in 1569. The Akbari mosque of red sandstone is probably a result of those orders. An elegant mosque was also built by Shah Jahan in 1637 and is to the west of the shrine, along with the Shah Jahani Darwaza.
A sense of peace
I walked into the dargah through the dargah bazaar and through the well-decorated Nizami Gate, which is yellow with floral designs. This was built in 1911 by British engineers at the behest of the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Naqqar Khana, or drum house, is next to it. It is from here that ensembles would have once played music to greet visitors to the Khwaja’s threshold. A huge silver chandelier hangs here. This was presented by the Golden Temple committee to the dargah.
From here I walked through the courtyards into the Ihaata Noorani, or Quarter of Light, where the main shrine is located. The smell of incense and flowers greeted me.
A railing around the main shrine was offered by Jahanara Begum, the Sufi princess and daughter of Shah Jahan. Jahanara Begum also built a small platform in front of the other door that is known as Begumi Chabutra after her title of Padshah Begum.
There are two doors that go into the main sanctum. Devotees enter it with baskets of flowers, chadors to be offered to the Khwaja. As we wait our turn to enter the dargah, a sense of peace prevails. This is one dargah where women are allowed. A silver and mother of pearl canopy offered by Jahangir can be seen on four silver posts above the cenotaph. The rest of it is covered in flowers and chadors.
The management of the Shrine
2018: succession row
Ajmer dargah dewan Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan’s decision to declare his eldest son, Syed Naseerudin Ali Khan, as his religious successor, or dewan (spiritual head of the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti), has set off a controversy at the shrine.
The khadims (caretakers) have termed the move “illegal” and have refused to accept Naseerudin as the new dewan. They said a living dewan has no right to declare a successor (a successor dewan cannot be appointed as long as the current dewan is still alive, they argue) and that this step had no precedence.
However, the dewan said the post was hereditary and succession a matter of primogeniture, making it a matter solely for the family.
The controversy began on Saturday with the dewan declaring his eldest son his successor at the “Khangah” in the shrine and the khadim community opposing his anointment.
The situation grew so bad that the dewan was not allowed to perform the “Gusal” ceremony in the sanctum sanctorum in the early hours of Sunday. The khadims argued that his son could not be allowed to perform the ritual. However, the main “Kul-ki-rasam” on Sunday went off peacefully.
Explaining the reservations of the khadim community, Syed Wahid Chishti, secretary of the Anjuman (a body of khadims), said, “As long as the dewan is alive, he can’t appoint or declare anyone his successor. It is against tradition. Even Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan became dewan after the demise of his father. The community has objections to the timing of this announcement during the urs (of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti). In a nutshell, the khadim community will not accept him as dewan,” said Chishti. Naseerudin said the khadims’ stand was “uncalled for” and “unauthorised”.