By Anna Suvrova
After Mu‘izzuddin Ghori’s death in 1206 Qutbuddin Aibek proclaimed himself as the Sultan of all the Ghorids’ possessions in India and made Delhi the capital of his state. The dynasty of Ghulams founded by him was then in power for a whole century. It was this event, witnessed by the saint, which marked the birth of the Delhi Sultanate.
Khwaja Mu‘inuddin did not stay long in Lahore and Delhi: he followed the traditions of his predecessors belonging to the Silsila, who had chosen as their abode not the big cities of the contemporary Muslim world but an out-of-the-way place called Chisht. Probably one of the reasons why Khwaja’s choice fell upon Ajmer was the proximity of Pushkar, an important centre of pilgrimage for Hindus, situated at a distance of only eleven kilometres from this town, giving the ardent missionary the opportunity to convert to Islam the most persistent of infidel ‘heathens’.
Situated on the bank of the artificial lake Annasagar and surrounded by the Arawali hills, Ajmer derived its name from the rock Ajay mer (‘Forbidding Hill’), where Rajput rulers of the clan of Chauhans had erected Taragarh (‘Starry Fort’). In earlier times there had been a Jain monastery at the foot of the hill, but this was destroyed by Mu‘izzuddin Ghori’s troops and only a pillared hall survived.
Out of this hall of pillars, placed one over the other in twos and, in the arch of the portal, even in threes, and using elements of the original temple décor, the first Indian Jami‘ Masjid (congregational mosque) was built. It was completed in such a record period of time that this was reflected not only in its name, Arhai din ka jhonpra (‘the two-and-a-half day hut’), but also in the legends about the involvement of supernatural powers in its construction.
Actually the work at the mosque lasted considerably longer: its erection began during the lifetime of Mu‘izzuddin Ghori and was completed during the reign of his successor. However, as this one was assembled out of ready-made blocks and parts, like its contemporary Quwwat al-Islam mosque in Delhi, the time taken for its construction was much less than usual.
Since at the beginning the Khwaja had taken up residence in Taragarh fort he could probably watch daily how the mosque below the hill was growing. It symbolized the expanding presence of Islam in the land of recalcitrant and insurgent Rajputs. The Khwaja’s subsequent life in Ajmer can be looked at as if in two planes: in a quasi-historical plane, reflected in the ‘Siyar al-Auliya’ of Amir Khurd, in the ‘The Virtues of the Gnostics’ (Siyar al-‘arifn) of Jamali Kanboh and ‘The Flowerbed of the Pious’ (Gulz r-i abrar) of Muhammad Ghauthi Shattari and in a fantastic-legendary plane which has been recorded in the hagiographic collection of ‘Ali Asghar Chishti ‘The Matchless Jewels’ (Jawahir-i farıdı, 1623).
If we adhere to those versions which are, even if only outwardly, close to historical facts, then the Khwaja was respectfully met in Ajmer, which had become a part of Qutbuddin Aibek’s empire, by Syed Husain Mashhadi, the military vicegerent (Darogha) there.
(As a matter of fact that is exactly why the Khwaja took up quarters in the fort: it was also the vicegerent’s residence.) Indeed, it was with the help of this vicegerent, who had become his staunch devotee that he built the Khanqahs, where together with his disciple Hamiduddin Suwali Nagori (who died in 1276), he used to convert Hindus to Islam and train murids.
In the year 1209 the Khwaja, till then strictly observing celibacy, took two wives, one of whom was the Darogha’s niece and the other the daughter of a Rajput chieftain, who had been taken prisoner during military operations and had fallen to the saint’s lot as a war trophy. From these marriages three sons were born, and also a daughter, Hafiza (also called Bibi Hafiz Jamal7), with a marked inclination for mysticism. The years spent in wanderings were left behind and now the Khwaja lived in Ajmer almost without a break, even as it befits the Muqıman Sufis.
His means of subsistence was a village in the suburbs of Ajmer, which was owned by him by the right of ihya. This was the name in Muslim agrarian law for abandoned wasteland in almost inaccessible and infertile regions, the ownership right of which was given to anyone who undertook to cultivate it. Hence the name of the form of land-ownership, which comes from the Arabic word ihya, means the act of restoration to life or resurrection.
The local muqţa‘, 8 entertaining an attitude of animosity towards the saint, insisted that he should produce the Sultan’s Farman (decree) for ownership of this village, and in the beginning of 1220s the Khwaja, at his family’s request, had to go to Delhi for the second time.
In the capital he stayed in Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki’s house, where, as we may recall, people were fed only with stale bread. The host and the guest had got acquainted with each other much earlier, in Baghdad, where Qutbuddin had become the Khwaja’s disciple and then he had set off to India in his footsteps. Wishing to render a service to his Murshid, Qutbuddin solicited for an audience with Sultan Iltutmish.
Since Chishtis, generally speaking, did not humour the high and mighty of this world by their visits, and Qutbuddin in particular persistently avoided Iltutmish’s favours, his arrival in the palace as a suppliant made a strong impression on the Sultan. The sought-for Farman was immediately issued and the high-handed muqţa‘was punished for the trouble given to the saint.
The respect shown by the Sultan to Mu‘inuddin in his absence had its effect even on the attitude of the ‘Ulema of the capital towards him; in any case Shaikh ul-Islam Najmuddin Sughra, who had treated the Khwaja quite negligently during his first sojourn in Delhi, this time gave him an enthusiastic welcome.
However, the Khwaja did not yield to Shaikh ul-Islam’s kindness since he used to maltreat his Khalıfa Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and threatened to take the latter along with him to Ajmer. The inhabitants of the city with Iltutmish at their head came out to see off the saint and his disciple, picking up dust from under their feet as an invaluable relic.
Touched by such a manifestation of mass veneration the Khwaja relented and allowed Qutbuddin to remain in Delhi. As we see, in this biography there is nothing supernatural, and this is how it differs strikingly from Mu‘inuddin Chishti’s legendary life, the sources of which were the motifs of Indo-Muslim fantastic folk-lore. Contrary to historical facts, the tradition of Chishtis, including Nizamuddin Auliya, asserted that when the Khwaja arrived in Ajmer, Pithaura Ra’i was still the ruler there and he supposedly fiercely resisted the saint’s presence in the town.
Going by Jawahir-i farıdı, Prithviraj’s biased attitude towards the saint was conditioned by his mother’s prediction. She had had a prophetic dream foreboding her son’s death following his meeting with the Khwaja. The saint’s ‘verbal portrait’, recreated from the clairvoyant mother’s words, was distributed among all the guardsmen of Ajmer and the appearance of each and every stranger entering the town was compared with it.
When the Khwaja with his retinue reached the main gate of Ajmer and his companions made for Annasagar Lake in order to perform ablution before prayers, the Raja’s armed soldiers blocked their way. Then the Khwaja asked the guardsmen to let him fill just one pitcher and as soon as the pitcher touched the surface of the lake all the springs of water in an otherwise drought-afflicted Ajmer dried up. In order to deal the final blow to the flabbergasted Rajputs, the Khwaja brought down on their heads a series of Karamat, among which there was, for example, a temple idol who came to life and recited the Kalima - the Muslim affirmation of faith - to the astounded Brahmans. Pithaura Ra’i directed his Prime Minister Jaipal, additionally holding the post of court magician, to restrain the stranger. In the best traditions of Indo-Muslim fairy tales Jaipal sent an army of fire-spitting dragons against the Khwaja, but the Khwaja drew a magic circle around himself and under its cover annihilated the evil spirits.
The Raja had to acknowledge defeat and to beg the saint for indulgence. The saint at last let mercy season justice and restored the supply of water to the inhabitants of Ajmer, after which many Rajputs, including ashamed Jaipal, adopted Islam on their own accord. Pithaura Ra’i himself refused to renounce his faith and then the Khwaja uttered the sacramental phrase: ‘We have taken Pithaura alive and have handed him over to the army of Islam’ (Rizvi 1986: 114). The saint’s prophecy soon came true: according to the hagiography of the Chishtis, Mu‘izzuddin Ghori’s troops invaded India and Prithviraj was defeated in battle, blinded and then killed as a punishment for disrespect to the saint and for obstinacy in infidelity.
It is interesting that the version that maintains that the Khwaja lived in Ajmer during the rule of Prithviraj and was persecuted by hostile Brahmans has found its way even into modern research literature: From Lahore Khwaja Mu‘inu’d-Din Chishti went to Delhi and then to Ajmer, which was ruled by Ra’i Prithvi Raj. One cannot think without admiration of this man, almost alone, living among people, who considered the least contact with a Muslim as defilement.
Sometimes he was refused water to drink. In the torrid climate of Rajputana this was the hardest punishment one can imagine. The high-caste priests demanded of the Raja of Ajmer that he should banish the Khwaja, whose influence had begun to make itself felt among the lower classes of the place.
The Raja sent the order of expulsion through Ram Deo, head of the priests of Ajmer. Legend relates that in approaching the Khwaja, Ram Deo was so much impressed by his personality that he became, from that moment, a faithful disciple of the Khwaja and spent the rest of his life in the service of the helpless and downtrodden.(Husain 1959: 37)
As can be seen, this is only a rehash of the legends from Jawahir-i arıdı with fantasy purged from it. The portrait of the saint, quick to anger or to retaliate, painted by hagiographic legends, differs considerably from the textbook image of Mu‘inuddin Sijzi as the ‘ocean of charity’ and the ‘sun of compassion’, of a man who corresponds to the very name of the saint (Mu‘n - ‘one who gives help, renders assistance’).
Generally speaking, unlike Data Ganjbakhsh, the individuality of the founder of the Chishtiyya order escapes the modern researcher, being wholly levelled by legends. It has already been mentioned that the Malfuzat ascribed to him are entirely inauthentic, and reference to him in chronicles goes back to the end of the fourteenth century when he had already started being venerated as a most eminent saint in India. He has not left any doctrinal works and verses, which, in spite of all the unreliability of Sufi poetry as a historical source, could at least clarify aspects of his personality.
Probably the image of the Old Man of Ajmer finally took shape posthumously, after his demise on the sixth day of the month of Rajab (16 March) in 1236, even up to the present time marked as his ‘Urs. One thing is beyond doubt, Mu‘inuddin Sijzi was no coward: during the years when Islam had only just started consolidating its power in India, he preferred to be engaged in missionary activity not in Lahore or Delhi, where the armies of the Sultan were stationed, providing at least some guarantee of safety, and where there existed a community of Muslims, even if small, but in the hostile ambience of the dashing and bellicose Rajputs.
The saint in his lifetime had a passionate attachment, which imparts character to his pleasant but impersonal image and determines the peculiarity of the subsequent tradition of the order founded by him: he unreservedly liked sama‘ and considered ‘audition’ to be one of the main instruments of spiritual transformation of a mystic. The defence of sama’, beginning with Mu‘inuddin, which permeates the entire literature of the Chishtis, on the one hand became a watershed between them and the competing Suhrawardiyya fraternity, and on the other, put them against the ‘Ulema.
On the saint’s order Hamiduddin Suwali Nagori compiled a ‘Treatise on audition’ (Ris la-i sama ‘), where he formulated the theory, later developed by other authors, according to which three stages of ecstasy are reached successively, owing to sam ‘:tawajud, the ecstasy deliberately evoked by means of psychotechnics: Wajd, the state of ecstasy proper; and Wujud, the state beyond the limits of ecstasy, that is existence in God (Lawrence 1983: 76-7). Excessive enthusiasm of the Chishtis for Sama‘gradually mitigated the ‘sobriety’ of their original practice, pushing the fraternity towards ecstatic Sufism.
The history of the veneration of the tomb in Ajmer, which has become, without exaggeration, the main Sufi shrine of India, more than matches the history of the saint’s life in its richness of events.
As happens to be the custom among Sufis, the Khwaja was buried near his Khanquah, and the original Mazar of bricks was in due course covered with a marble cenotaph. The tomb, erected on the orders of the Sultan of Malwa Mahmud Khalji (1436-69) was later rebuilt and expanded more than once. The main entrance doors of the Dargah Buland Darwaza were built during the reign of the same sultan.
No information is available regarding pilgrimage to Ajmer in the thirteenth century, but after a hundred years the role of the Chishtiyya fraternity in Indian society had increased to such an extent that performing Ziyarat to the Mazar of the founder of the fraternity became obligatory for representatives of the ruling dynasties and the aristocracy. Thus, poet ‘Isami, author of the historical Masnawi ‘The Sultans’ conquests’ (Futuh as-salaţin, 1350) refers to Muhammad bin Tughlaqu’s pilgrimage to Ajmer:
Mu‘in al-din, that Sijz who was a refuge of the faith
That Guide of the Road who is asleep at Ajmer,
When the Sultan had performed Ziyarat to him
He took the road thence to his capital (Dehli)
(Digby 1983: 97)
Anna Suvorova is the Head of the Department of Asian Literature at the Institute of Oriental Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences), Professor of Indo-Islamic culture at the Institute of Oriental and classical cultures (Russian State University for the Humanities), member of the International faculty in National College of Arts (Pakistan), fellow of Academic Advisory Board, Centre for Study of Gender and Culture (Pakistan), fellow of Royal Asiatic Society (UK).
Other Parts of the Book, Muslim Saints of South Asia: