Delhi- ‘the threshold of Sufis’

by Sadia Dehlvi

I Love Delhi, for it is the city of my birth and it is my prayer that I may die here, that my mortal remains should mingle with the earth in whose bosom my ancestors lie. More importantly, Delhi is the ground where my beloved Sufis walked upon and chose as their final resting place. While the sultans of Delhi were writing the political destiny of most of India, the Sufi scholars were engrossed in keeping the flame of spiritual enlightenment burning in their khanqahs. These ‘auliya’ or ‘friends of God’ taught that true worship is service to humanity, regardless of religion, race and region.

Baghdad was the centre of Sufis in the ninth century. The 13th century saw the Mongols in Central Asia making Islam the victim of their barbarism. Thousands of people were massacred; mosques burnt and learning centres were destroyed. Among those who escaped were innumerous Sufis and a large number of them made Delhi their home.

https://i2.wp.com/www.superluminal.com/cookbook/images/delhi_marble_inlay_crop.jpgDelhi thus became the centre of Islamic studies and mysticism by the end of the 13th century. Both historians and citizens began to refer to Delhi as Hazrat-e-Dilli,  Dilli Sharif, Dar-ul-Auliya, Baghdad-e-Hind and Khurd-e-Mecca or the little Mecca. Prayers to bless the city and its people are found in the prayer books of these Sufis. Amir Khusrau wrote:

Delhi, the refuge of faith and equity
Delhi is the garden of paradise
May its prosperity be long lived
If Mecca happens to learn about this garden
It may circumambulate around Hindustan.

The landscape of Delhi is dotted with sultans’ tombs but no one lights even a candle in their memory. At the Sufi shrines, lamps are lit, holy scriptures are recited, poor are fed and prayers of a thousand pilgrims answered. During the political upheavals, people of Delhi were constantly reassured by the Sufis at the khanqahs to which they had constant access.

The first Sufi centre in Delhi was established around the year 1221 AD by Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki who was the khalifa or spiritual leader designated to Delhi by Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti or Gharib Nawaz of Ajmer.  It is believed that the city of Delhi cannot be destroyed as long as Khwaja Qutub’s shrine exists, for heavenly blessings are showered on the city. Gharib Nawaz taught that the highest form of devotion   to God was, ‘to develop river-like generosity, sun-like bounty and earth-like hospitality.’ Sultan Iltutmish was an ardent devotee of  Khwaja Qutub and built the Qutub Minar in Delhi to perpetuate his memory.

Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki’s chief disciple was Baba Farid, the first Sufi poet of Punjab whose shrine is in Pakpattan (Pakistan). Baba Farid’s khalifa was Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya who dominated the spiritual landscape for nearly 60 years. He survived three dynasties of seven Delhi sultans without ever visiting a durbar. Hazrat Nizamuddin preached that ‘bringing happiness to the human heart was the essence of religion’ and often said, “On the day of Resurrection amongst those who will be favoured most by God are the ones who have tended to a broken heart.” His successor, Hazrat Nasiruddin Mahmood, who came to be known as Chiragh Dilli, furthered the teachings of the Chistiya Sufi order.

The Sufis of Delhi had a significant role in the religious and cultural history of South Asia. They were great patrons of art, literature and language. They considered languages as modes of communication to bring people closer. It was at Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s khanqah in Delhi that his disciple and famed poet Hazrat Amir Khusrau excelled. Khusrau took great pride in  writing verses in regional languages. The beginnings of the tradition of Sufiana Qawwali is attributed to him, for adapting Arab and Turkish musical instruments and enriching the traditions of Indian classical music. His poems and odes are still sung today.

Delhi has been traditionally known as ‘Bais khwaja ki chaukhat’, the threshold of 22 Sufis although the important shrines of the city far exceed this number.

There was a healthy exchange of ideas between the Sufis and the Hindu yogis in an atmosphere of goodwill. The Sufis borrowed meditation and concentration techniques from the yogis and never hesitated to benefit from the spiritual experiences of mystics belonging to other communities. The Sufi empire in Delhi represents the religious tolerance that Indian society strives for and cherishes. Sufi shrines thus stand witness to our multi cultural identity with people from various faiths continuing to seek solace and blessings at the threshold of these exalted Divines.

Published in the Hindustan Times Delhi Edition on January 26, 2007

Credit for the image above right

Published in: on January 31, 2007 at 10:11 am  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a wonderful article about Delhi and the myriad Sufis who lived there. It is indeed a blessed city, and I pray that Allah grants your wish, dear Brother.

    Ya Haqq!

  2. I came across your blog today and was suprised, pleasantly, by that picture of Dara Shikoh.

    Knowing he was a spiritual seeker, possibly via Sufism, while trying to benefit from all religious traditions, I’ve always wondered what would have been Delhi’s and India’s destiny had he and not Aurangazeb climbed the throne! If you have ever given this theme treatment in your writings, or come across other writings, can you post them here?

    Thanks.

  3. Brilliant article! I don’t know too much about sufis and I have been meaning to learn about sufis from the subcontinent. This was a great introduction. I have something to start with. Thanks.

  4. Assalaam Alaikum brother Raza,

    Alhamdulillah! Thanks for sharing this informative article.
    I wish to include another great sufi saint from Delhi,
    Shah Waliullah Muhaddis Dehlvi(1702-1760) who repeatedly emphasized “all men are equal and every man regardless of faith or religion, colour or creed has an inherent and equal right to freedom and liberty.” This saint’s dargah is in Delhi at “Kabaristan-e-Mehdian.” where great theologians, Ulemas, scholars of Islam are also resting.
    Shah Waliullah has not only bridged the gulf between the Sufis and the Ulema but also harmonized the differences prevalent among different sects of Sufis. His principles on the subject were put into practice in the great theological college of Deoband, which had among its patrons such well-known Sufis like Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi.

    Jazaak Allah Khair,
    sf

  5. Salaams Brother Raza,

    Delhi’s yet another sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan whose tomb at the Sufi Centre by Hazrat Nizamuddin’s dargah in Delhi is worth a mention, for his exemplary influential spiritual character, blending the East and the West.

    Br. Raza, I was not fortunate as you to be able to see the Library and the Meditation corners of the Sufi Centre, as there were closed on that Sunday afternoon. Due to my father’s illness, i could not make it another time. But i wish i could visit it during my next trip to India and be able to spend more time in those peacefully serene surroundings.

    InshaAllah, in my next visit to India, i intend to visit the above mentioned dargahs and also ” Kabristan-e-Mehdian” where now my beloved father is also resting in peace.

    May Allah reward your efforts and deeds in this world and the hereafter. Ameen
    sf

  6. Thank you for this precious article. I was touched. I just needed it. Marta

  7. can you give information about awliya who lie buried not in delhi proper but in the district ?

  8. excellent article.

    love it.

  9. I have heard a lot about the twenty-two Khwajgan of Delhi. I think that if I have a map of the location of each saint, I would be able to visit their mazars in the least possible time, spending the minimum required. Or, at least the addresses would do.

  10. On this cold Saturday morning here in Toronto, Canada a burning nostalgia and yearning for the city of my birth and first three decades of my life hit me like the Taj Express returning to Hazrat Nizamuddin station (at whose corner I lived all those decades when it was an idyllic retreat). The yearning for Delhi, esp. Nizamuddin which is bounded on all sides but one by Sufis, poet-musicians and Mughal history was whetted as I browsed the web looking for photographs of Nizamuddin and environs. In stumbling upon Sadia Delhvi’s article it spoke to my heart. I will never forget how pilgrims arriving at Hazrat Nizamuddin station from Ajmer, Bombay and other places would put their tins of edibles and bundles of belongings hanging on sticks aside as they all collectively took time to say their namaaz just outside the gate of my house. Their white turbans and caps, and white yellowed shirts made the movements of their namaaz a visual symphony. Their ragged mostly white bearded faces, their desire to do nothing more than visit all the Sufi shrines before they passed on.

    It is said that the past is another country. But I would love to live in Delhi and see familiar places with fresh eyes that hanker for and linger in my memories. Perhaps it is my experience of living in Nizamuddin all those years of my life that I have always had this feeling that it is the mystics of the world who are the true spiritual leaders of our universe, whether they be Sufis, Christians, Hindus or whatever. Their’s is the joy of loving God…and if we are lucky it gets passed on to us.

    Thank you for a beautifully written, content-laden and insightful article Ms. Dehlvi.


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