Initiated in the Chishti Sufi order, I find Ajmer to be the kaabah of my heart. On the 6th of Rajab, June 9 (the seventh Islamic month), I look forward to participating in the 799th Urs festivities of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz. Along with hundreds of thousands of devotees, I queue for long hours to touch the threshold, usually getting my chance in the middle of the night.
Musicians come to seek the blessings of Khwaja because the beginnings of Sufi music assemblies are attributed to him. Late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan attributed his success to Khwaja’s benevolence and so does A.R. Rahman. Innumerable qawwal groups of the subcontinent arrive at the dargah to sing praises of Khwaja: “Baruti mehfil shahana mubarak bashad, saqia badao paimana mubarak basahad, ilahi ta abd astana-e-yar rahe, yeh asra hai gharibon ka barqarar rahe…”
(Felicitation to thee for this blessed majestic assembly, O wine pourer, felicitations on your goblet of sacred wine. Oh God, may this threshold of the beloved exist for ever, may this refuge of the poor remain for ever…)
The Chishti Sufi order derives its name from Chisht, a small town near Herat, Afghanistan. Khwaja Abu Ishaq Shami of Damascus established the Sufi order in Chisht where many of his spiritual successors lie buried. He mentored Khwaja Usman who came from Herwan, a town in Iran. On initiating him as a disciple, Hajji Sharif Zindani placed a four-edged cap on Khwaja Usman’s head explaining, “First is the renunciation of the world, second the renunciation of the Hereafter. Third, renunciation of the self and lastly, the renunciation of all else other than God”.
Khwaja Usman lived in the company of his Master for 30 years and died in the holy city of Mecca. The Chishti order gained popularity through the teachings of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. An outstanding figure in the history of Islamic mysticism. Drawn to mystics from early childhood, the quest for knowledge took Khwaja to centres of learning in Samaqand and Bukhara. Khwaja was bestowed with the title of “Gharib Nawaz”, Patron of the poor, in Medina. It was there that he received a spiritual inspiration to settle down in the Indian town of Ajmer. Khwaja laid down the founding principles for the Chishti order: “Develop river-like generosity, sun-like bounty and earth-like hospitality”. Gharib Nawaz stressed renouncing wealth, encouraging self-discipline and prayer. He preached tolerance, advocating respect for all religions. Khwaja’s inclusive message of peace and brotherhood brought hundreds of thousands to the fold of Islam. The Chishti order produced great Sufi masters, including Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Baba Farid, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Naseeruddin Chiragh Dilli and Alauddin Sabir of Kaliyar. The Nizami and Sabri orders are among the numerous branches of the Chishti order. The Ajmer dargah, considered the most sacred in South Asia, attracts pilgrims from different religious and economic backgrounds in the quest of the Sufi master’s blessings.
— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org