Delhiwale: The world of a woman Sufi

In a city with some famous Sufi shrines that bar entry of women in their innermost chamber lies a women-friendly dargah.
Hindustan Times | By Mayank Austen Soofi
UPDATED ON JUL 10, 2018 12:33 PM IST

Women are allowed to enter here.

The entry to the shrines of many sufi saints in Delhi are barred for women. So it is liberating to be in a dargah dedicated to a woman.

Bibi Fatima Sam’s tomb in central Delhi’s Kaka Nagar is one of the city’s most serene (and possibly cleanest) sufi shrines. It used to consist of a roof built over her grave. The modern building—a big hall — with its smooth marble flooring is credited to a businessman in Daryaganj.

Inside, the earthen water pots, the arched niches, the carpets, the chaadars and the glass chandelier combine to create a calm ambience. Red roses are arranged on the saint’s tomb as sacred offerings.

The neighbourhood, full of government-owned apartments, is exceptionally serene, the quietness punctuated with occasional sounds of passing cars. It is said that many years ago Kaka Nagar was a sprawling qabristan. Most of the graves have been obliterated, with this sufi shrine now the only surviving souvenir of that foregone world.

The shrine usually remains empty save for its caretaker. It’s always utterly quiet here, and the air is suffused with such serene vibes of solitude that you feel as if you are on a weekend break from the world. While sitting inside the hall, it is impossible to believe that Khan Market is just a 10-minute walk away.

The details of Bibi Fatima’s life remain foggy. Where was she born? Did she have a family? Why she renounced the worldly comforts? There are no answers.

All that we know is that she lived in 13th-century Delhi and was believed to be the adopted sister of Baba Farid, a Sufi saint whose shrine is in modern-day Pakistan, according to the book, Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure. It’s author, Camille Adams Helminski, quotes Bibi Fatima Sam as saying, “The saints will cast away both worldly and religious blessings to give a piece of bread or a drink of water to someone in need…this state is something one cannot obtain by one hundred thousand fasts and prayers.”

The great sufi saint Hazrat Nizmauddin Auliya is believed to have often visited Bibi Fatima’s tomb to pray and meditate. His famous dargah lies within a mile of Kaka Nagar and sadly women aren’t traditionally allowed to enter his tomb-chamber.

Bibi Fatima Sam’s shrine has three other unknown graves. It remains open 24/7. Whether you are into sufism or not, this dargah is a kind of place where you ought to spend an entire day by yourself. Come without the phone or book so that there is nothing to distract you except for the patterns the changing daylight makes on the floor. By day’s end, the weary soul feels charged up to take on the world afresh.

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