No, not Nizamuddin dargah again! What’s new to be written about the capital’s most famous Sufi shrine? It is unfailingly listed even in the briefest Delhi guidebooks. Many of us have attended its legendary Thursday evening qawwalis.
Those who haven’t been there yet must have sighted the shrine in a popular Bollywood chartbuster (Kun faya kun in Rockstar, if you please). And, there is always Google to find out all you want to know about Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the city’s 14th century saint.
But even the internet does not know one extraordinary secret about the shrine that we are now about to tell you.
One of the most important rituals in the shrine is Dua-e-Roshni, the evening service when the lamps are lit with a special prayer. The pilgrims gather in the shrine’s marble courtyard and stand around a khadim, one of the shrine’s traditional caretakers.
After the symbolic beating of a drum, the khadim, speaking in a booming melodious voice, implores Hazrat Nizamuddin and other Sufi saints to grant the wishes of all the devotees. (The prayer is a little over the top for our modern times — the khadim also prays for all the unmarried people of marriageable age to be hitched soon.)
Irrespective of your views on Sufism, it is an experience to watch this centuries-old tradition. We, however, did not mean Dua-e-Roshni as our great secret. We are talking of an elderly man who has been cleaning the lamps for this evening ritual every day for more than 40 years (the lighting of the lamps, on other hand, is the exclusive privilege of the dargah khadims).
This man, who has become an integral part of the Islamic shrine, is a Hindu.
Hari Babu comes daily to this central Delhi shrine from faraway Nangloi village in the west side of the capital. At 76, he has to change two buses to reach Nizamuddin Basti, the village that circles the dargah. We catch him one evening as he is cleaning the green and yellow metal lamps of yesterday’s residual wax.
Always attired in a crushed kurta pyjama, Hari Babu looks too frail for this daily outing. How does he manage to commute day after day from so far?
“I have to be here every evening, no matter if it is hot or cold or raining,” he says. A retired machine operator in Delhi Development Authority, Hari Babu lives with his wife, Savitri Devi, and four children, and their families. “Occasionally, I distribute free meals in the dargah for which my wife and daughters-in-law cook the food at home with love and shraddha (faith).”
Hari Babu remembers that day in the sixties when he first stepped into the shrine as a young man at the insistence of a neighbour. His faith in Nizamuddin resonates the experience of millions of people across the world who found a similar calling in other saints of various other faiths.
“My life changed after coming to Mehboob-e-Ilahi (an affectionate term used for Nizamuddin). I got a job. I got a wife. I got children. I got all the things in life that could have made me happy. So this is my way to offer gratitude to Hazrat Nizamuddin.”
Finally, we asked him the delicate question. How does he reconcile his Hindu identity with the shrine’s Islamic character?
“Nahin (no), nahin, nahin,” says Hari Babu. “Yes, the world has Hindus and Muslims and Christians, but first I am a human being and that is my connection to Mehboob-e-Ilahi.”