Down The Mystical Alley In Dilli

“Do come in, oh truthful soul, so that we may become close and become trusted friends.
But if you are ignorant and have no wisdom, then you better go back the way you came.”


I don’t know if this turns out to be a “shuru karo lekar prabhu ka naam” post. But, who cares! I feel like writing my first post about a beautiful (spiritual) experience I had recently. I must start by uttering ‘Bismillah’! Shall I? Hehe!

So, it was in the fourth semester of my graduation that I read about the Nizamuddin Dargah. Prior to which it was just another place in Delhi for me. I had opted for Medieval Delhi as an optional for that particular semester. Our professor made a quirky decision for our mid semester marking. He asked us to write about ‘anything’. It could be about a trip to a monument, or any such experience with history coloring the canvas in some way or the other. And it had to be fully furnished with proof and thorough research. The plagiarists that undergraduates can be sometimes, it would make sure we don’t just steal material off the net and vomit it out on the paper.
The announcement caught me in a fix. What was I supposed to do? For your information, I am always game for visiting historical monuments and places. It gives me a high. But I wanted my project to be absolutely different from everyone. So, I let my mind churn its wheels for a brilliant idea. On the same day, I was visiting some relatives in Delhi and on my way back home, I passed the magnificent Tughlakabad Fort. And there it lay, my subject! I had visited it years back. Had but faint memories of it and remembered it as the site where the quirky song ‘Agar Main Kahoon’ from Lakshya was shot; the instrumental of which is my ringtone. If not on vibration, that is. Hah!
So, I quickly got home and started my search to refresh my memories of it. In midst of that, the story of Nizamuddin Auliya and Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq caught my eye. I had heard the famous Persian saying- “Hanooz Dilli Door Ast” (translated in English, it means “Delhi is still far off”). And the reason behind it introduced me the larger picture. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was an erstwhile slave of the Khilji dynasty. You can well imagine the amount of intelligence, strength and cunning he must have possessed to overturn his fortune and become a ruler. It’s all about the correct strategies and planning, peeps! (Of course, sucking up to his master would have helped too!) Haha!

Anyway, the construction of his “dream fort” started on an inauspicious note, inviting the wrath of Nizamuddin Auliya, the powerful sufi saint, with a massive fan following, so to say. Now the story goes like this-
“Ghias-ud-din is usually perceived as a liberal ruler. However, he was so passionate about his dream fort that he issued a dictate that all labourers in Delhi must work on his fort. Saint Nizamuddin Auliya, a Sufi mystic, got incensed as the work on his baoli (well) was stopped. The confrontation between the Sufi saint and the royal emperor has become a legend in India. The saint uttered a curse which was to resonate throughout history right until today: Ya rahey ujjar, ya basey gujjar which can roughly be translated to “either remain inhabited or would live gujjars”. So, after the fall of sultanate, Gujjars of the area captured the Qila and till date village Tughlakabad is situated in it.”
(Source- Wikipedia)
Now, I felt agitated. I felt for the ruler. The son Mohammed Tughlaq is often held responsible for the murder of his father, while he was on his way back after a victory at Bengal. Look at the ruining of a man, who rose from the ashes to end up with nothing. He was a prototype of what we see in these quest narratives as the alpha man! But a simple curse changed the course of his life. Having a discord doesn’t lead one to wish death on the other party, does it? But I guess, the antagonism the sufi saint harbored for the materialistic and self centered rulers, just exploded on one man. How fair was that, I thought. So, I wrote extensively against the Sufi saint and saw the monument as testimony of defiance, and won an excellent grade for the paper.
That, I thought, was the end of the story.


But, during the first year of my masters, I met this woman, who’s now a friend.  She came from the Nizami community; the clan which looks after the Dargah. It was from her that I often heard about the Dargah, and about the peace and positivity it supposedly gave her on regular visits. I was mesmerized. I thought, maybe I was too harsh in my judgement and gave a one sided view of the story. Adding to it, the accounts of the famous qawwali of the Dargah, and of the pilgrims prayers being answered miraculously added to my excitement.
So, after many plans failing to materialize, the Mehboob E Ilahi summoned us finally on the First of March. We had a two and a half hour gap between lectures that day. And an impromptu plan was made. The dargah was just 20 minutes away from us. We set off quickly, without wasting a second. And there we were, after all those moments of wanting to visit it! Something about that place was so different. No jostling for space, at least that day. It was full of energy, enthusiasm and devotees thronging all over the basti. I could spot little girls wearing hijab, along with their mummyjaans for a quick visit to the dargah. After waking some distance, dodging shopkeepers who were adamant on selling us flowers, incense sticks, chaadars, ittar, lockets and what not,  we finally reached the last shop before the entrance to the Dargah and dutifully kept our shoes outside for safekeeping.(One tip-unless you don’t care about your feet getting soiled, leave your footwear only at the shops right next to the dargah. They don’t charge you for it. Sweet folks, I tell you!) So, one of my friends (thoughtfully) bought a rose ittar from the shopkeeper as a thank you gesture.



And I expected some security cover, and frisking before being allowed to enter, but was surprised to find none. I guess, it’s too blessed a place to be provided protection. Anyway, one friend from our group of five exclaimed- “Oh god, so this was where parts of the movie Rockstar were shot!” Hearing which we giggled, constantly taking care not to let the dupattas fall off our heads (Tip two- they only expect you to cover your head there as a mark of respect. There is no strict dressing code. But I somehow feel wearing traditionals looks proper.)



We just sat there for a while, absorbing the atmosphere. People were busy praying all around. We went ahead and bought the mannat ka dhaaga from a shop in the compound (You’ve got to pay for that, fella!). And one of my friend suddenly asks- “Can I get some black string for protection against the evil eye. The panditji here might bless it, no? Hearing this, we laughed. So used to going around in temples, she had forgotten we were at a sufi shrine. Anyway, we called our very own Nizami Bandhu, (my friend, the classmate) who sadly couldn’t join us, for the dargah prohibits entry of menstruating women and she obeys the rule. So she told us that we could just take a black string, rub it on the main wall of the sanctum sanctorum, while reciting a holy verse from the Koran Sharif, and that would do. Post the query session, we tied our Mannat ka Dhaaga and clicked pictures of the place (they allow that. No problem there!).  Two of my friends recited holy verses and prayed silently, while I did a secular, silent prayer, for the saint understands you, your desires and language, no matter what. Ladies aren’t allowed inside, so we could spot them occupying the place right outside the four walls.




The best time to visit is in the morning, before noon. It is fairly less crowded. Thursdays and Fridays (Jumme ka din) are the days when they get the maximum footfall. My friend though visits it during the wee hours, that is, at the time of fajr. Suits her, as the Nizami community lives at a stone’s throw from the shrine. Coming back to my experience, I found it to be calming, just sitting there, doing nothing. I felt ashamed of writing the Sufi saint off in my assignment. And apologized silently. I felt one with the devotees, strangely. The air itself was magical. It was spiritually enlightening and a positive experience, where I felt, as mere mortals, we cannot fathom the ways of the mystique. We need to be acceptive, rather than rebellious. An aunty sitting beside me was teaching another kid about the merciful character of the saint, who loved and cared for his followers, being a benign paternal figure to them, in addition to speaking about the cruel sultans. And somehow, I felt the lesson was being meted out to me, never to read a one sided account of any tale, and look at both sides of the coin.
So, post the enlightenment and a successful darshan, we reached the Ghalib Academy and thereafter the Urs Mahal.


Ghalib Academy. You need a membership in order to browse their collection, which lies on the first floor.

There we found some kids playing cricket. And amongst them was this munchkin- a pretty girl, less than five years of age. We were clicking a group picture when she just photobombed cutely, and sat close to me. We all were enamoured by her and babytalked with her, indulgently.
As we were moving out from that compound, reluctant to wave goodbye to that cherub, her father called out to her from his house above. And her name turned out to be Iram! I was stunned! Being a Hindu, I just love this name of all the Urdu/Persian/Arabic names I have come across. It means “a garden in Paradise.” I felt as if it was a sign, telling me I was blessed on my maiden visit to the dargah. The girl was my lucky charm, I sensed. I wanted to share our pictures with her, but I don’t want her daddy to find and strangle me for posting his daughter’s photographs on a public forum. Hehe! Moving ahead after experiencing this epiphany, I joined my friends for the famous Nizamuddin ki phirni. (The non vegetarian fare holding no attraction for a vegetarian like me!) 

Having an enormous sweet tooth, I relished every bit of it. It was only after a friend squeeled after looking at her watch, did we realize we had to rush back for the important, impending lecture. And with heavy steps, we paid our respects to the Auliya, with promises to come back soon, with a belief that our prayers will be answered and the mannat ka dhaaga shall be untied. (Inshallah!)


They often cut the threads if an enormous amount prevents new ones from being tied. Hence, you see the locks all over, ensuring no one touches them before the individual comes by to unlock them after fulfillment of a wish . Worried? Don’t be. Even if they cut your thread, you can go back and untie the one at the place where you tied your own one. It’s just a act of saying thank you. The Auliya won’t judge you for that. 🙂

I was tempted to visit the Chilla Khanqah too! It’s still a well kept secret, despite my yelling about it down here. But my Nizami Bandhu advised me against it. She maintained it was okay if married girls paid a visit there. As it’s considered to be a little haunted, she was convinced some evil might befall us unmarried females. And, this time, instead of rebelling, I quietly accepted it, choosing to respect her beliefs. (The spirits don’t harm men, be assured! So much for Freud’s theory of Penis envy. Sigh!) 😀
And, oh yes, do listen to the song on the sufi saint from the hindi movie ‘Black and White’ (a brilliant movie and a beautiful song, I tell you!).

So, this was me penning down my first memorable ziyaarat of sorts.


4 thoughts on “Down The Mystical Alley In Dilli

  1. Pingback: Journey(s) « PedestrianRaga

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