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The silence of the tombs

Find peace and solitude just minutes away from central Delhi at this quiet sufi shrine.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2009 19:08 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

Outside, it's the usual Sadar Bazar chaos and heat. Enter the green coloured gate and you step into calmness, and cool. Amidst hundreds of tombs clustered tightly together on a rolling landscape lie a mosque, a madrassa and the sufi shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Baqi Billah.

Founder of the Naqshbandia silsila in the Indian sub-continent, Hazrat Billah was born in 16th century Kabul. After wandering through cities like Samarkand, Balkh, Lahore and Multan, he settled in Delhi to spread the deen. Here he died; here he was buried; making this burial ground a favourite visiting spot for Delhi's Muslims.

Dargah destinations
However, if tombs scare you, walk straight to the dargah. Its hushed ambience is in sync with the pulse of the Naqshbandia silsila, which is known for its silent remembrance of Allah.

The Khwaja himself was a silent sort of man. He shunned publicity and was very selective about initiating disciples. That is why the celebratory chaos of Nizamuddin Dargah is absent here. No picnicking crowds flock to this shrine as they do to Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki?s in Mehrauli. Here, there are no qawwals, no khadims, no beggars; only trees, tombs, dry leaves, the occasional pilgrim and crows perched on headstones.

Connaught Place is just ten minutes away by autorickshaw but, hanging in this suspended quietness, you would refuse to believe it.

If you are not the I-love-solitude type, climb the stairs to the madrassa. In its large hall, you might find a hundred children reciting Quranic verses; each boy rocking to his own rhythm. Thanks to images beamed by BBC and CNN, a few of us unconsciously tag such sights with the would-be Talibani fighters of Afghanistan. That?s rubbish. Step inside; the children will smile.

An enlightening chat
Once back in the courtyard, try chatting with Salamatullah. He could be identified with his long white beard, a frail physique and sunken cheeks. His children are all married, his wife dead and he himself lives alone in this dargah-mosque-graveyard complex. Known as Peer Saheb, he could be curt in the beginning. But if you continue to show unfailing courtesy, he would open up and tell you all that you need to know about Hazrat Billah.

"He lived in a mosque in Ferozeshah Kotla but he used to sweep in the kabristan behind (what is now) Maulana Azad Medical College," Peer Saheb told me. According to him, Hazrat Billah visited this graveyard one day and somehow got his clothes muddied, which prompted him to declare that this place would be his final destination.

Legendary stories
According to legend, Khwaja Billah had willed his funeral prayers to be led by a man who had never sinned, never missed a prayer, never skipped a night vigil. When he died at 40, a veiled person appeared from nowhere and declared that the Khwaja had asked him to lead the prayers. It was later discovered that the veiled person was the Khwaja himself.

Having always stressed on the concept of fanaa, the annihilation of the self, the Khwaja had wanted no dome to be built on his grave. So, in his Dargah, you sit under an open sky. They say that even if it is the sunniest day in peak summer, the barefooted pilgrims feel no heat.

Go, check out the claim. Note: Sadly, women are not allowed to enter the grave chamber, though the rest of the area is freely accessible.

Where: Qutab Road, Singara Chowk (near Sadar Bazar Area); Nearest Metro Station: Ramakrishna Ashram Timings: 4.30 am to 10 pm