I finally found myself at the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin.
Having lived in Nizamuddin for a number of years I had managed to visit the dargah only once. Moving from Delhi to the NCR and having subscribed to many a group which organised walk and music related activities around the dargah, I had never managed to go back.
An announcement by Delhi Karavan regarding an afternoon Saturday walk in November, through the Nizamuddin Basti ending at the Dargah, caught my attention. Everything fell into place seamlessly. It was meant to be. The husband and the daughter expressed a keenness to join. No coordination with family needed. The walk was in the afternoon. No coordination with domestic help needed. Traffic was a little chaotic but even there, no coordination needed. A little late, but still in time, we joined the group at Chausath Khamba.
The Chausath Khamba (14th century) is part of the Nizamuddin religious complex. It was recently landscaped by the Aga Khan Trust and has been declared a heritage monument. The structure, housing the tomb of Mirza Aziz Koka (Kokaltash), is a square structure made entirely from marble. It has 64 columns that support 25 bays. Each bay supports a dome which are not externally visible as they are reverse domes. The roof is flat. Each wall has five arches held by square pilasters. In each face, between each of the five pilasters, marble trellised screens have been fixed). (Source: Wikipedia).
When we reached Chausath Khamba, the discussion had begun. However, history had to take a back seat as a peacock, oft seen in this premise, was squawking at all the visitors making them back off. He made sure we did not stay too long at the monument and certainly did not allow us to step inside. To my fanciful mind it was the guardian spirit of the tomb keeping visitors at bay.
The group then moved to Ghalib’s mazaar. The tomb of Ghalib, the beloved poet of many, whose verses are still quoted in the name of love, longing and nostalgia. The entrance to the tomb had always been through a crowded lane of small shops selling food, offerings, books and knick-knacks.
Recently, in 2009, the tomb was restored under the aegis of the Aga Khan Trust. Before the restoration, the boundary wall was not too high. Cats clambered down from the surrounding butcheries to snooze beside the poet’s tomb. Today cats are not seen. The sounds seem to come from afar. The courtyard is paved with red sandstone, white marble inlays and ornamental patterns. A Ghalib couplet is inscribed on a marble slab in Urdu with English and Hindi translations.
While the musafirs of the Delhi Karavan exchanged views, recited couplets, I made my way around trying to feel the presence of the great poet. His tomb stood in the centre with rose petals strewn on it. Out of respect, I did not enter but tried to attach myself to the ray of sunlight streaming onto the cenotaph via the ‘jaalis’. An odd angle shot was the best I could manage before crowds waylaid me.
A short stop at the Atgah Khan tomb set the tone for the evening that was to follow. See, my earlier blogpost, for details on the Atgah Khan monument.
Amidst a sea of faces, rose petals, garlands, chaadars and vendors trying to attract our attention to buy offerings or coupons to feed the poor, we found ourselves at the dargah of the 14th century saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. As the azaan was called, men trooped towards the masjid while women picked up copies of the holy book and sat in the verandah which ran all around the shrine.
For a Saturday it was not crowded at all. There were hardly any ‘tourists’ in sight. This was for me, my moment of finding myself. I stood at the door of the shrine looking in. Women are not supposed to enter the sanctum but with no one in sight to even ask me to move away, I stood there, outside, yet right in front of the saint’s grave. Any closer would have made the ‘viewing’ unclear. Did I feel blessed? I do not remember. The incredible feeling of being there because it was meant to be, to be able to be near inspite of the rule of not entering was overwhelming. I must’ve stood transfixed for only a few seconds but it seemed like a lifetime. Suddenly all the people who seemed to have made way for me (parting of the Sea?) returned and again I was part of a milieu which could only walk around. Women were rocking themselves back and forth in prayer, girls were chattering, men were collecting after the namaaz, some were tying prayer-laden threads to the jail screens. An image of a woman peering in and kissing the wall of the shrine stayed with me for a long time. I kept being reminded of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
The clock had struck 6pm, the namaaz was over , everyone settled down in front of the shrine to hear the qawwali sessions, now an extremely popular reason to visit the dargah, after Kun Faya Kun in the Ranbir Kapoor starrer, Rockstar. The Nizami brothers were performing that evening and I overheard someone saying that it was indeed rare (and, therefore, fortunate) to find them in qawwali on a Saturday. Again, the feeling of ‘meant to be’ without any coordination. Effortlessly, falling into place.
The husband and daughter were getting a little fidgety but sat down in wonderful companionship in acquiescence to the fact that I had waited years to be at the Dargah again.
As Chand Nizami’s voice rose in crescendo and the crowd clapped in abandon , a memory flashed by. A distant yet very vivid memory of visiting the dargah with my nephew, then a few years old. He had stood there unsure how to go in alone, feeling abandoned by his aunt. He had stood there, unsure, how to pray. Fold his hands? No, no one else was doing that. Raise his hands above, palms slightly cupped, facing upwards? That was not how he was used to prayer. As I turned the corner of the verandah, knowing he had to find the method himself, I saw him bending down and touching his forehead to the floor.
He had found his connect and I found myself again.