By Mohammed Iqbal /EOM, “Embodiment of syncretic traditions” – The Hindu – Chennai, India
May , 2008
Founded after the arrival in India of one of the most outstanding Sufi saints, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, the Ajmer dargah continues to be at the centre of a way of life born of the human heart
The aesthetic and stunning white dome that crowns the main tomb of the historic dargah of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer stands out as an illustrious embodiment of Islamic mysticism of the Chishtiya order founded in India after the arrival of one of the most outstanding figures in the annals of Sufism from West Asia.
The dargah at Ajmer Sharif today attracts lakhs of people – Muslims, Hindus, Christians and others – from the Indian sub-continent and from other parts of the world, depicting a rare blend of religions.
People assemble at the shrine during the week-long Urs every year to beseech for fulfilment of their prayers.
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, popularly known as Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (protector of the poor), was born in 1141 A.D. at Sanjar in the Sistan province of Iran. He was a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. His parents died when he was only 15 years old and he used to look after the orchard and windmill that he inherited from his father.
During his childhood, young Moinuddin was different from others and kept himself busy in prayers and meditation. He was sober, silent and serene.
Legend has it that once when he was watering his plants, a revered monk, Sheikh Ibrahim Qandozi, came to his orchard. Young Moinuddin approached him with all humility and offered him some fruits. In return, the monk gave him a piece of bread and asked him to eat it.
The Khwaja got enlightened and found himself in a strange world after eating the bread. This was a turning point in his life. He disposed of his property and other belongings and distributed the money thus received among the poor and the needy. He renounced the world and left for Bukhara in search of knowledge and higher education.
In those days, Samarkand and Bukhara were great seats of Islamic learning. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti visited the seminaries of the two cities and acquired religious learning at the feet of eminent scholars of his age.
He visited nearly all the great centres of Muslim culture and acquainted himself with almost every important trend in the Muslim religious life.
He became the disciple of the famous Dervish, Khwaja Usman Harooni, and remained under his guidance for nearly 20 years. They travelled in West Asia extensively together and also went to Mecca and Medina.
Khwaja Gharib Nawaz turned towards India reputedly after a dream in Medina in which he received the directions to go to Hindustan. After a brief stay in Lahore, he reached Ajmer along with his 40 followers and camped near Ana Sagar lake.
The place from where the Khwaja’s extensive missionary work was taken up is now known as Chillah of Khwaja Saheb. The residents of the city admired the wisdom, purity and grace of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz and people from various walks of life cherished to be his disciples.
The vast number of his followers, both Hindus and Muslims, emulated him and symbolised his dictum of “Sulh-i-Kul” (peace with all).
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s firm faith in “Wahdat-al-Wujud” (unity of being) provided the necessary ideological support to his mystic mission to bring about the emotional integration of the people among whom he lived. His teaching lay stress on renunciation of material goods and tolerance and respect for religious differences.
He interpreted religion in terms of human service and exhorted his disciples to develop a “river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality”.
The highest form of devotion, according to him, was to redress the misery of those in distress and fulfil the needs of the helpless and feed the hungry.
Sufism in Islam is akin to Vedanta in Hinduism. It believes in non-dual Absolute and looks upon the world as the reflection of God, who is conceived as Light. Sufism is claimed to be a way of life born of the human heart against the cold formalism and ritualism.
Ajmer Sharif emerged as one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in India during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605). Akbar undertook a journey on foot to accomplish his humble wish to reach the place and presented a big cauldron for cooking food after his conquest of Chittorgarh.
A small cauldron was later presented by Emperor Jehangir in 1646.
Some of the books authored by Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti are Anis-al-Arwah and Daleel-al-Arefeen, dealing with the Islamic code of living. His most famous disciples were Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and Hamiduddin Nagori.
The week-long Urs, observed every year in the dargah, commemorates the event in 1236 when Khwaja Gharib Nawaz entered his cell to pray in seclusion for six days, at the end of which he died.
When his devotees opened the door, the Khwaja was found dead, and on his forehead were written these words: “He was a beloved of God and he died in the love of God.”
He was buried, according to the traditions of the prophets, in the same tenement which he occupied in his life and in which he breathed his last. During the Urs, attended by people from far and wide, devotional music and recitings from the Khwaja’s own works and other Sufi saints are presented in the traditional Qawwali style and in chorus.
The Urs – observed between the first and sixth days of the Hijri month of Rajab – is also the much sought-after occasion when “Jannati Darwaza” (door to heaven) is opened for the devotees. People from all religions offer chadar at the grave of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
Pilgrims visiting the shrine in large numbers every year can look forward to finding themselves in spruced up surroundings with an ambience promoting spiritual contentment and fulfilling the mystical yearning to find the true purpose of life.
Evidently, the message of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz does not admit of time. It is as true today, as it was when delivered centuries ago.