When Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf stepped into Ajmer Sharif on Saturday, he witnessed a spectacle of rituals which hasn't changed much since the days of Mughal emperor Akbar, who had come here wishing for a son.
A pair of 16th-century drums placed atop the shrine's ramparts, known as "shaaziyane nakkare", was sounded as part of a Mughal-era salutation reserved for heads of states and royalty. "I had the good fortune of kissing the holy shrine. I wish peace for the world and progress for Pakistan and well-being of my family," Ashraf wrote in the visitor's book.
The shrine's management buried protests from a member - over the beheading of Indian soldiers by Pakistan army - to warmly welcome the Pakistani premier, his wife Nusrat Ashraf and their close family. A group of "khadims", as the shrine's caretakers are known, ushered the guests into a world of olden solemnities.
Among them, 53-year-old Sufi priest, Bilal Chisti, stood out as the Pakistani PM's "family representative" at the shrine. The Pakistani premier, a Sufi follower, had hosted Chisti in August last year, when he had led an Indian Sufi delegation to Pakistan's Sufi shrine, Baba Farid. By all accounts, it was a deeply spiritual affair for Ashraf. Chisti, the priest, told HT: "Anyone who comes here becomes a Sufi. I told the PM that Sufis should work for peace." As sought by the Pakistani visitors, a special "ziyarat" (supplication of prayers) was made. Ashraf completed all customary rituals, which includes presenting a 42-metre-long chadar.