Tucked away in an urban village in south Delhi is a quiet shrine of 14th century Sufi saint Nasiruddin Mahmud ‘Chirag Dehlavi’. A close disciple and spiritual successor of another famous Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya, he was also known as ‘Roshan Chirag’. Despite rapid commercialisation and densely populated surroundings, the entire complex has managed to retain a sense of calm and is believed to attract people from different faiths. The place is rarely crowded unlike other shrines in the city.
Nasiruddin was born in Ayodhya, a Hindu pilgrimage town in Uttar Pradesh. Raised by his widowed mother, he preferred solitude. He slowly withdrew from society to meditate in the forest and soon started for Delhi at the age of 40.
Historians say that once during his time as a disciple, he was supervising the construction of a baoli (Nizamuddin Baoli) and Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, the founder of the Turkic Tughlaq dynasty in India, who reigned over the sultanate of Delhi from 1320 to 1325, was raising a fort in Tughlaqabad around the same time. Ghiyasuddin decreed that labourers were to work on his fort onnly; however, they worked on the baoli at night. This infuriated Ghiyasuddin, who stopped the oil supply to the area so that lamps could not be lit at night, effectively ending the construction. An upset Nasiruddin informed Hazrat Nizamuddin, who then instructed him to pour water in an earthen lamp (chirag) and use it to light the others, thus leading to his sobriquet. Soon after this incident, the disciple was bestowed with the title Chirag Dehlavi.
In the evenings, a group of elderly men chat over hookah before proceeding to clean the mausoleum premises. Though all the rituals and maintenance are taken care of by the Chirag Dilli Dargah Committee, they like to offer their services as obeisance.
“We are fortunate to have a mausoleum of Sufi saint in our village, who was revered by people of all faiths. It’s our moral responsibility to ensure the premises are clean for prayers. Our ancestors were also impressed with the teachings and sermons of the saint,” said 67-year-old Naseeb Singh.
Despite being close to Hazrat Nizamuddin, the saint never encouraged the use of music (sama), instruments and qawwalis. And his master never forced him to follow the ritual or tradition either. Nasiruddin died in 1356 and his urs is observed on the 17th of Ramzan, the ninth month of Islamic calendar, which is falling next month this year, said Farid Ahmed Nizami, who is writing a book on the life of Hazrat Nizamuddin.
Nasiruddin was buried in the chamber he lived in, which is now surrounded by the graves of his own disciples. A few of them are covered with coloured pieces of cloth. The foliage of a grand khirni tree (Manilkara hexandra) provides shade to a section of the courtyard. In summer, earthen pots filled with water are kept around its trunk. During the hours of prayer, devotees turn to the direction of Mecca.
Since Nasiruddin had always preferred the seclusion of the jungle and was buried where he lived, his mausoleum (khankah) is situated in the midst of wilderness. Over time, the area that houses Chirag Dehlavi’s mausoleum came to be known as Chirag Dilli (the slightly botched and more vernacularly flavoured way of pronouncing Dehlavi) that is now home to the aspiring middle class.
It is said that Hazrat Nizamuddin would always ask Nasiruddin to live amongst people and encourage him to leave solitude behind. He also extolled the virtues of being surrounded by human beings and yet being one with God. Perhaps, it is fitting then, that Chirag Dehlavi’s khankah is now a rare spot of calm amidst an area populated by thousands.