Exploring the spiritual traveller’s connect with Ajmer
Exploring the Spiritual Traveller’s Connect With Ajmer. Ajmer brings out the Sufi in even the most ordinary traveller who comes to this vibrant city located 130 kilometres from Rajasthan’s state capital Jaipur in the midst of the dusty Aravallis. After all, it is home to the shrine of the revered Sufi Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti
Ajmer brings out the Sufi in even the most ordinary traveller who comes to this vibrant city located 130 kilometres from Rajasthan’s state capital Jaipur in the midst of the dusty Aravallis. After all, it is home to the shrine of the revered Sufi Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti
A relatively tranquil morning usually gives way to a hectic afternoon as hordes of followers and excited visitors come to the ‘dargah’. What is it that pulls in such enormous crowds here? Is it the search for spiritual solace or mere curiosity? Or maybe it is a combination of the two? Today, the world outside may be divided on communal or caste lines and ridden with everyday struggles for survival, but within the premises of his shrine Chishti’s brand of Sufism, which does not exclude any religion, reigns supreme. There’s no talk of faith or politics, only human values and lots of hope.
I find myself coming to Ajmer Sharif at least once every year. Although I never make any special plans, somehow whenever I find myself either very distressed or happy, I land up at the doorstep of the saint who is known as ‘Gharib Nawaz’. Earlier this year, my khala (maternal aunt) and I drove down from Delhi to Ajmer in the high heat of May in search of some much-needed spiritual succour. As I made my way to the Khwaja’s ‘darbar’ (chamber), walking alongside a huge group of people, I was not surprised to hear different accents and dialects. From Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat to Maharashtra and Karnataka, Ajmer is frequented by travellers from across India. Regional disparities seem to melt away magically inside the ‘dargah’ as the Chisti’s ideology binds everyone in a common thread. A committed ‘khadim’ (caretaker) quietly explained, “Inside the ‘dargah’ everyone is equal. There has never been any ill will or discrimination. We respect every human being and there is no distinction made on the basis of political leanings or social and economic stature.” Another ‘khadim’ added further, “We truly believe in what the Sufis have taught us. When Allah doesn’t discriminate then who are we to talk about divisions? The bounty of sunlight, air, water and fruit trees is for everyone to share. In the eyes of that Creator we are all the same.”
Sitting under the shade of a sprawling tree in the complex’s courtyard, as I looked around at the milling crowds, I couldn’t help but reflect on the life and times of Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti, one of the pioneers of Islamic mysticism in the region. His arrival from central Asia in 1192 coincided with the conquest of India by Muhammed of Ghor, who defeated Prithviraj Chauhan, one of the last Hindu kings to rule Delhi. After settling in Ajmer, a Hindu pilgrimage town close to Pushkar, home of the only Hindu temple dedicated to Brahma, he won the respect of both believers and non-believers. Although he passed away in 1236 at the age of 97 – incidentally, his death is not mourned but celebrated through a grand annual event in the city – Chisti has continued to touch the lives of the hundreds of thousands who come here daily.
Why does he hold a unique place in the heart of the Sufi? Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the fact that he believed in reaching out to everyone – and particularly the poorest of the poor. And this was not an outlook he developed as he went along in years but something that he practiced ever since he was a young man.
According to historical accounts, it is said that Khwaja Saheb was born in East Persia around 533 Hijri (1138-39 AD) and lost his parents at an early age. Though he had inherited an orchard and a windmill when he came in contact with a dervish Sufi called Ebrahim Qandoosi he gave up all his worldly belongings and travelled towards Samarkand and Bukhara. From there, he made his way to Mecca and Medina and it is whilst he was there that he decided to continue his journey eastward till he reached the hills near Ajmer where he decided stay on in the vicinity of Ana Sagar Lake. Within days Chisti was besieged by the locals, who were taken in by his simplicity and piety. He’d often say that “the closest to Allah is one who possesses the following three qualities: magnanimity of the river, kindness of the sun and humility of the earth”. He truly believed that the “noblest of character is possessed by one who is bountiful in poverty, content in hunger, cheerful in grief and friendly in hostility” and the “surest way to keep off punishment in hell is to feed the hungry, to redress the aggrieved and to help the distressed”. The Khwaja never brought up any issue related to religion and was known as ‘Gharib Nawaz’ because he came to the rescue to those in need, irrespective of their caste or creed.
The power of his beliefs compelled even the most mighty rulers and rajas to come to the humble dwelling of this Sufi. The Mughals, particularly, attributed their success in India to the blessings of Moinuddin Chishti. Emperor Akbar is said to have visited the ‘dargah’ many times during his rule and as per legend was blessed with a son after he offered prayers at the shrine. Thereafter, his son, Jehangir, was also a regular visitor and even lived in Ajmer for a few years. His successor, Shah Jahan built a marble mosque near the ‘dargah’, while his daughter, Jahanara raised the marble porch Begumi Dalaan (Begum’s courtyard), opposite the entrance to the ‘darbar’. The Mughal princess is also said to have written a book on the Khwaja called ‘Munis-ul-Arwah’.
Mughal emperors have left very obvious traces of their visits in the form of buildings, compound walls, mosques and darwazas (gates). Even the tradition of distributing free food to all those assembled at the shrine has continued ever since Emperor Akbar is said to have presented a ‘deg’ (large cooking vessel) in which rice enough to feed 5,000 people at a time could be prepared. A second vessel was presented by Jehangir. Till this day, vegetarian food is cooked in them and given to visitors.
Here’s a thought: how many people throng the historical sites of the high and mighty rulers today with as much passion and fervour as they display while setting foot in Ajmer Sharif. In fact, every time the Khwaja’s followers, who are spread across South Asia and beyond, come to the shrine they disregard the rifts that are being created in the name of religion and region. There’s a lot we all can learn from Chishti, a saint who lived life with the bare essentials and provided that healing touch to all those who needed support and anchorage.