Remember the film Jodhaa Akbar (2008) in which actor Hrithik Roshan as emperor Akbar goes to the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (Ajmer Sharif)? In the last few years, a bevy of Bollywood actors have been visiting the shrine, mostly to pray for the success of their films. There is, however, much more to the shrine and the saint. And all that has been documented by Pakistan-based journalist and author Reema Abbasi in her new book Ajmer Sharif — Awakening of Sufism in South Asia.
“Ajmer Sharif isn’t just a place but a silsila that pans across India and Pakistan,” says Abbasi, who is presently in India. She adds the saint’s ideology attracted her and she kept on visiting the shrine again and again. “It’s a place of catharsis, solace and purity,” she explains.
“My mother once after shopping at Khan Market took a taxi and went straight to Ajmer Sharif from Delhi. In those days, it wasn’t easy to travel by road. She told me about this when she returned home in Pakistan. I guess this is the memory that stayed with me and I too got pulled to the shrine, purely on impulse,” says Abbasi.
The book features in-depth articles on history of the place and documents the saint’s spiritual journey. More than 200 photographs of monuments, rituals and pilgrims at Ajmer Sharif are also part of the book, which makes it a visual treat. “Everything happened so suddenly that we had to take help of a local photographer. My visa was running out and I had to complete the book,” says Abbasi.
According to her, most of these Sufi saints are highly revered in the sub-continent and have a common history, too. “Their fathers died when they were in their childhood and they were raised by their mothers. The book narrates the story of the founder of the Chishti Sufi order, who knew that hunger supersedes doctrines. And of his movement, which began in a mud hut over eight centuries ago,” she sums up.