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Delhiwale: Praying on the riverside

The Majnu Ka Tilla gurdwara on the banks of Yamuna is an oasis of peace and serenity

delhi Updated: Jul 17, 2017 11:02 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Majnu Ka Tilla gurdwara stands on the banks of the Yamuna. The white building is modern but the place is steeped in history and legend.
Majnu Ka Tilla gurdwara stands on the banks of the Yamuna. The white building is modern but the place is steeped in history and legend. (Mayank Austen Soofi / HT photo)

Momos. Cafes. Dalai Lama’s posters.

These are the typical images we, Delhi wallas, instinctively conjure up in our mind’s movie theatre when thinking of Majnu Ka Tilla. This riverside neighbourhood in the north of the city, however, is not only a decades-old Tibetan refugee camp. The other principal landmark here — which actually gave its name to the area, came up long before the Tibet conflict of 1950.

Majnu Ka Tilla gurdwara stands on the banks of the Yamuna. The white building is modern but the place is steeped in history and legend. Like most Sikh places of worship, the prayer hall is an oasis of peace. The only sound is of the hum of ceiling fans and air conditioners — but even those sound melodious. The devotional music of kirtans adds to the serenity.

Sometimes granthi Paramjit Singh, a priest, practices on the harmonium. One evening, he tells us how, centuries ago, at this very place, a Sufi mystic from Persia started to live on what was then a tila (hillock). Nobody knew the holy man’s name but he came to be known as Majnu, “man in love”, because of his devotion to God.

At some point, Mr Singh says, Majnu was visited by Guru Nanak. The founder of Sikhism and his followers spent 10 days on the hillock. While leaving, Guru Nanak declared that though people still unborn would make pilgrimages to the tila in years to come because of his brief visit, the place itself would be named after Majnu.

Nanak’s words have come true. Sikh pilgrims instinctively bow down before the holy book of Guru Granth Sahib on entering the grudwara, just the way pilgrims to a Sufi shrine bow down before the tomb of its saint. Talking of which, nobody knows where Majnu’s tomb is. It remains as enigmatic as his original name.