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Celebrating the Mystic Tradition of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya

The Hindu Daily

February 05, 2017

The yearly Urs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is a reminder of Delhi’s composite culture

The 713th Urs or death anniversary of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya recently was marked by Qawwalis by the Nizamis and others to highlight the tradition of religious integration and Sufism started by the saint. According to Sadia Dehlvi, a votary of the Sufiana Kalam, the Auliya died at the age of 82 (some say 90) in AD 1325, corresponding to 725 Hijri. As per his wishes “Sama singers” (creating the ambience) accompanied the funeral procession in which thousands of devotees participated amid recitations from the poetry of the Persian mystic Sheikh Saadi, the key verse being : “O, you, who draws the gaze of the World/On what does your gaze linger?”.

Among the pall-bearers was Mohammad bin Tughlaq, who had just ascended the throne. The saint wanted to be buried under the open sky but Tughlaq built a dome over the grave. “The original mausoleum, of which not much remains, was repaired by Firoz Shah Tughlaq who hung four huge golden cups in the four recesses of the dome. The marble balustrade surrounding the grave is the gift of Khurshid Jah of Hyderabad. Another nobleman, Faridun Khan built the present dome in 1562. Later kings and nobles made additions and alterations to the Dargah complex,” says Sadia.

The Mughals were greatly devoted to the saint. After his victory in the first Battle of Panipat, Babar paid homage at the Dargah. When Akbar escaped an assassination attempt in Delhi he attributed it to Nizamuddin’ s blessing and visited the grave with his mother, Hamida Bano Begum, Humayun’s second wife. As a matter of fact, the site for Humayun’s tomb was selected in the vicinity of the mausoleum as a mark of respect to the saint by his first wife, Haji Begum. When Shah Jahan as Prince Khurram rebelled against his father Jahangir, the latter prayed for divine help at the Dargah, close to which lies buried the colourful Emperor Mohammad Shah Rangila.

What was it that drew both royalty and the hoi polloi to the Auliya? It was his message of equality and secularism. He celebrated festivals like Basant and the practice continues to this day. Nizamuddin’s mysticism embraced all sections of society as perpetuated by preceding and succeeding Sufis, 22 of whom lie buried in Delhi, making it known as the “Threshold of the Khwajas” As such it is the revered seat of Sufi mystics honoured by both Muslims and Hindus.

Proof of this is amply provided by their attendance at the Thursday Qawwalis at different Mazar. One remembers a Brahmin woman who came every Thursday to the shrine of Hazrat Kalimullah from Chandni Chowk on foot, bringing a whole basket of Laddoos for distribution and often going into “haal”. Such fits of ecstasy were the inspiration for the Rubais (quatrains) of Sarmad Shaheed whose own tomb is situated, next to that of his mentor, Hare Bhare Sahib below the steps of the Jama Masjid. Qawwalis, incidentally, were started in India by Hazrat Nizamuddin’s chief disciple, Amir Khusrau who blended mysticism into his poetic works.

When mysticism comes into poetry, it imparts to it an additional fervour, not only in the East but also in Europe. The charm of John Donne’s poetry lies in its mystic thought and in that of those who followed him right down to our own century. In ancient India Patanjali recommended seven stages of sanctification to be experienced by the follower of the Divine path of mysticism, recounts Rajendra Sarup Bhatnagar in his book, “Mysticism in Urdu Poetry”.

The same path was divided by the Buddha into four stages which have to be crossed by the seeker of the Absolute. The author then works his way down to Muslim mysticism or Sufism. Those who choose this path, Tasawwuf, follow the principle, ‘lay aside what thou hast in thy head to give way to what thou hast in thy hand, and not to retreat from whatever befalls thee on the road to God-realization (Tawhid). Abu- Ali al-Rudhari points out, “Tasawwuf is to alight and abide at the Beloved’s door, even though one is driven there from.” The Beloved here, of course, is the Almighty. He who seeks this sort of knowledge needs the guidance of a Pir or Sheikh. It is interesting to note that many of the early mystic poets of Urdu were dervishes. Bhatnagar formerly of the Department of Philosophy, Allahabad University, mentions the interaction of Muslim holy men with Indian yogis as early as the eighth Century in South India. They both influenced each other.

In the North, Sheikh Fariduddin Ganj Shakar, who lived in the 13th Century, was a disciple of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki of Mehrauli, Delhi and a follower of the Chisti Silsila (tradition) started by Khwaja Moinuddin. Sheikh Farid was the one who laid the foundation for the incorporation of mystic thought into Urdu poetry. “Waqt-I-Sahr Waqt-I-Munjat Hai/Khez Daran Waqt Ki Barkat Hai” (the time of dawn is the real time for supplication/Awake because this is the time for the award of divine grace), he observed.

Sayyid Muhammad Husaini Gisudaraz Shahbaz, who died in 1421, was a disciple of Khwaja Nasiruddin Chiragh Delhi, the spiritual successor of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Shahbaz is regarded as a learned Sufi poet like Shah Ahmad, Siraj, the great Shah Mir and Mazhar Jan-e-Janan, who renounced the world for ‘Shauq or the passionate love of God’. Wali Dakhni, the father of Urdu poetry as we know it, made his mark in Sufism with the famous exclamation, “O, Beloved, no thought of anything except of Thee enters into my heart’. His argument was that God could not be realized by those who used reason to search for him. That was the contention of Zahuruddin Hatim too. Mir Taqi Mir, who lifted up the veils of the Ghazal, was a mystic of note and followed the path shown by Ghazali and Ibn al-Arabhi. To him Bhatnagar gives the credit for casting ‘a far-reaching influence on the development of Sufi poetry’ and influencing Ghalib too, who preferred to be buried close to Nizamuddin’s tomb. The saint’s Urs was further evidence of the Sufi tradition and those who attended the function in large numbers bore testimony to its secular credentials, with no barrier dividing Muslim, Sikh or Christian. Or how else could Bisheshwar Prasad “Munawwar” of Lucknow, who died in 1970, have made his valuable contribution to Indo-Muslim mystic thought?