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Delhiwale: A Sufi shrine made of daylight

On the magic of sun and shade in a south Delhi landmark
By Mayank Austen Soofi
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2021 04:30 AM IST
This is merely one wondrous spot in the shrine. The daylight is embroidering its patterns in so many other places—in each it weaves something distinct, powerfully poetic

Daylight’s so common—it is everywhere. One ends up taking it for granted. And in Delhi’s dreadful summer, daylight can be downright hostile.

But there’s one place in the city where this ubiquitous element can be experienced as art. Here, the light scatters into an array of designs and moods.

Come anytime in the day to Hazrat Chirag Delhi, the Sufi shrine in the south Delhi village of that name. This is a sprawling courtyard, dotted with domed chambers, scores of graves and a handful of gigantic trees. All of these individually are as calm as self-contained refuges, but what unites them harmoniously is the way they engage with daylight.

This afternoon, the light is streaming in through the lattice screen inside the small chamber of Hazrat Khwaja Kamaluddin Allama, one of the saints buried in the compound. It falls on the facing wall into many little bricks of light. In the middle of the wall stands a golden-yellow column, painted with red flowers and green leaves. This man-made attempt to beauty lends something ethereal to the nature’s daylight patterns, which in comparison, look more intricate, more effortless and much lighter. They actually seem to replace the concrete of the wall with some intangible airy-seeming substance. One wonders at the possibility of the chamber being lifted upwards by this incredible feeling of lightness, and flying forward like the scores of aeroplanes crisscrossing the sky above the dargah’s dome every 5 minutes.

This is merely one wondrous spot in the shrine. The daylight is embroidering its patterns in so many other places—in each it weaves something distinct, powerfully poetic. Like in the dozens of graves littered across the floor, littered with dry leaves and rose petals. The daylight succeeds in pirouetting its way around them and over them, turning the wrinkled ground into a tapestry of shades and shines.

As one walks about purposelessly—the compound mostly remains empty—the impression is of wading through some luminous fourth dimension, linked to this world and yet not of it.

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