The Pioneer, Saturday, 18 August 2012
Whatever reason may dictate, faith in shrines of any religion or community is an all-pervading sentiment. Sadia Dehlvi’s book on the Sufi dargahs of Delhi is an eloquent example of this. Sadia has imbibed her love for these memorials from her mother who was able to make an initially doubtful teenager to believe in divine intervention in the lives of people through the intersession of Sufi saints, both men and women. The result is seen in this publication in which historical facts, legends and myths combine with personal experiences to present an interesting treatise for readers — all of whom might not be the ‘believers’ but still enjoy them all the same.
The book is as much about dargahs as it is about Sadia and her experiments with religion. “My engagement with Sufism began as a teenager while occasionally accompanying my grandfather to the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin. Apart from the knowledge that dargahs were revered spaces, I understood little else. Years later, my mother embarked on the Sufi path and became a disciple too... I observed that Ammi became softer on us as far as daily religious obligations were concerned and felt relieved. A convent-educated rebel of the 1970s, I had little to do with religion and appreciated the dargah visits in a cultural context,” she writes. “This led me to believe the Sufi path was easier, not requiring religious rituals. Over the years, as my interest in Sufi philosophy deepened, I realised that nothing could be further from the truth. I grew to understand Sufism as a difficult path, more meaningful and demanding of a person than the mere fulfillment of mandatory religious duties. Sufism welcomes you with an all-encompassing compassion, igniting a desire to swim deeper in the ocean of Divinity.”
Sadia then goes back tracing the history of Sufism in India. She tells us about Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, disciple of Moinuddin Chisti, after whom came Nizamuddin Auliya. Then came Amir Khusrau, whose love for India was more attuned to the Indian milieu. Savour this from Khusrau: “The heavens said that of all the countries which have come out of the earth. among them it is Hindustan that has achieved the pinnacle of excellence.”
Once, when Khusrau accompanied Hazrat Nizamuddin on a stroll, they saw a group of Brahmins praying. Nizamuddin remarked: “Every people have their direction of worship.” At this Khusrau replied: “My direction of prayer is towards the slanting cap.” Interestingly, Hazrat Nizamuddin used to wear his cap with a slant. Khusrau continued, “Lovers of the Beloved take us to Kaabah and to the temple of idols. Lovers of the Friend are not bothered with infidelity and faith.”
Sadia tells us more about Khusrau. “The creation of the sitar and the tabla are attributed to Khusrau. Several Indian melodies as well as the development of qawaali are also attributed to him. His music compositions include khayals, taranas, naqshs and other ragas that celebrate the fusion of Indian and Persian melodies. These were designed to provide novelty in the music assemblies of Hazrat Nizamuddin khanqah (hospice).”
Entry to a Sufi shrine is open to all, except for the dargah of Bibi Sara, disciple of Khwaja Qutubuddin, where only women are allowed. As for women, they avoid the mausoleum of Adham Khan, Akbar’s general.
The Sufis of Delhi were close to the seat of power and many emperors enjoyed their patronage, but this did not deter them from being secular in their approach. Nizamuddin Auliya celebrated Basant with great fervour and there were others who celebrated Diwali as the divine festival of lights. Many unknown aspects of Delhi’s Sufi heritage are brought to light by Sadia to make the book a really enjoyable digression from the mundane cares of life.
Her approach is neither didactic nor fundamentalist. It is the refreshing observation of a woman whose mind is open to both belief and rationality. The language is lucid but at places the description could have been more colourful. The photographs no doubt add to the appeal of the book but black-and-white shots or sketches may have been better. Also, the price could have been a notch lower for the sake of students and retired folk.
The reviewer is the author of the book, The Delhi That No One Knows