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Delhi’s cool retreat

The chilla, or retreat, of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is Delhi’s most serene monument. Here, the city’s iconic 14th century Sufi saint lived, meditated, and died.

entertainment Updated: Jan 14, 2011 00:58 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

The chilla, or retreat, of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is Delhi’s most serene monument. Here, the city’s iconic 14th century Sufi saint lived, meditated, and died. This was his khanqah — a monastery — where he used to perform

chilla-kashi

, the spiritual practice in which a secluded sufi goes without food or sleep for 40 days.



In Hazrat Nizamuddin’s time, the

khanqah

was in wilderness. The Yamuna flowed a stone’s throw away. Down the centuries, the river’s course shifted further east; a railway line came up in its place. Despite the rumble of trains, the

khanqah

feels remote. Surrounded by trees, it is flanked on one side by the stony ramparts of Humayun’s Tomb, and on the other, by the white dome of Gurudwara Damdama Sahib. Dozens of well-kept graves dot the slope behind.



Built on a stone platform, the khanqah has a vaulted veranda leading to a domed chamber, where Hazrat Nizamuddin prayed. In a recent renovation, the grassy yard was laid with marble. Battered walls and rubble masonry were partially painted white. New lamps were installed. The chamber’s grilled door was done in green; it remains locked. Sitting on the veranda’s velvety durree, the detached world of the khanqah grows intimate and hypnotic.



The resident fakir lives in a neighbouring ruin with seven cats. His chamber has an alcove in which believers light candles to wish away personal distresses. Pointing to a cell in the adjacent Humanyun Tomb complex, the fakir tells us that it was Hazrat Nizamuddin’s original hujra, or chamber, where he would withdraw from the world. According to him, the khanqah was raised by a court noble named Ziauddeen Wakeel. When Wakeel offered to build a new chamber, Hazrat Nizamuddin warned that the person commissioning it would not live for long. Wakeel went on with the project, saying that everyone has to die someday. The khanqah took 30 days to finish. On the first evening of its completion, a

mehfil

was organised. As the songs and dance started, Wakeel’s ecstatic soul left his body. His grave lies in the courtyard.



The graveyard in the backyard is as peaceful. In evening, devotional songs waft over from the gurudwara. The effect is calming.


Where:

Near Humayun’s Tomb — drive straight past it towards Gurudwara Damdama Sahib


Nearest Metro Station:

Khan Market