Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya: Celebrating the mystic’s life and times
In an unassuming part of Delhi, the aroma of kebabs and tikkas lures. Hawkers with stacks of attar (fragrant oil) vials call-out to passersby. It’s a little over 4pm, but the city’s smog and the charcoal smoke have lent the evening an odd shadow. We make our way through winding alleys, lined with flower and chaadar sellers, the homeless and the fakirs. Soon, the dimly-lit walls give way to a sprawling courtyard, which Delhiites know as Nizamuddin Dargah. On one side there is a 800-year-old mosque (believed to be built by the powerful ruler Alauddin Khilji), and on the other, the shanties of Nizamuddin Basti. Going back in time, we revisit the life, and times of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya on his 803rd birth anniversary, today.
Born in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh to Khwaja Syed Ahmed and Bibi Zulekha — both natives of Bukhara (present day Uzbekistan) — a boy named Muhammad became disciple of Baba Farid Ganjshakar (disciple of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki), and was to grow up to further the Chishti silsila (spiritual lineage) of the Sufi order in India. We know him as Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.
“We celebrate the day with great devotion. The qawwali programme will begin at 8pm, and go on till 5.30am the next morning. The kalaams (compositions) written by poet Amir Khusrau will be sung, along with other Sufi poetry,” informs Syed Afsar Ali Nizami, chief in charge of Dargah Sharif.
“We will organise a langar at night with vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, coffee and tea. At 1am, the mazaar sharif (burial place) will be opened by the family of the saint — to be cleaned and decorated. It will be shielded from outside view, and even those who are inside will not be able to see outside. We wash the darbar with kewda (flower essence) and sprinkle attar fragrances like oudh, shamama and gulab. The third rasam (ritual) is to smear sandalwood paste on the mazaar sharif. Lastly, we offer a chaadar. After the morning namaaz (fajr), devotees can offer flowers and chaadars,” adds Nizami.
Afsar Nizami is the 38th generation of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s family. “He never married and our family has descended from his sister’s family,” says Nizami, adding, “Today, there are three families, comprising 645 members, associated with the dargah. Baba’s father died when he was about five years old. The family shifted to Delhi when he was 16, for his higher education,” says Nizami.
The aura of the saint is such that it attracts people from all faiths, across all age groups and social statures. Nizami says: “He never differentiated. He propagated the message of universal brotherhood and peace. He showed the path of love and respect, irrespective of age, religion and status.”
Auliya was accorded with many titles. Among them, the most famous is Mehboob-e-Ilahi (Beloved of God). Another title is Zari Zar Baksh (giver of gold). “Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya believed that service is more important than ritual. He would put silver and gold coins under people’s plates. His langar was legendary; it’s said that just the onion peels were carried on 70 camels,” says Sadia Dehlvi, author of The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi. She adds: “He nurtured Delhi’s cultural landscape and made it composite. It was a coming together of Indian, Turkish, Persian and Arab cultures.”
During the conversation with Nizami, some helpers enter carrying deghs (cauldrons) of food. Afsar Nizami informs that every Friday, a Dubai-based Hindu family sends langar to be distributed at the dargah. Soon, the Muezzin calls to the faithful for the sunset (Maghrib) namaaz. There’s silence, followed by prayers. After the namaaz, devotees gather around the mazaar (shrine) and pray to the saint.
As dusk descends, the music of the qawwals fills the air. Qawwalis have always been a part of Sufism, but became commonplace with the khanqah (spiritual retreat) of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. “His disciple, poet Amir Khusrau composed several qawwalis using tabla and harmonium. He is called the Tuti-e-Hind (songbird of India),” says Nizami.
Khusrau is also credited with the origins of Khayal school of music and the development of Urdu. “Khusrau is acknowledged as the first poet of Urdu, then called Hindvi. He created songs to provide novelty to the musical assemblies of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. All the Chishtis were very committed to music as it’s the source for reaching spiritual ecstasy,” says Dehlvi.
The love of the guru and his disciple was so deep that Khusrau died six months after Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, and on the same date. “When talking about saints, we never say they are dead. We use the term parda farmana. Even though the saint is not here physically, his presence will always be with us in this world,” says Nizami.
The burial place was chosen by Auliya, and on his birthday, it will be decked like a bride. “It’s said that saints define timelines, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Delhi’s timeline can be classified into pre and post Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya period,” says Dehlvi.
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