‘The fire of your separation has burnt our hearts; The Storm of desire to meet you has ravaged our lives’
(‘Ae Aatish e furaqaat dil ha kabab kardah; Selaab a ishtiqat khanaha kharab karda’)
Thus greeted Baba Farid at his Ajodhan khankah in modern day Pakistan, to Nizamuddin Auliya who, instead of accepting title of a qualified Qazi in the King’s court, chose to embrace the love and spirituality of Sufism. Formally initiated as the successor to Baba Farid in 1265, he continued to provide spiritual solace to the poor and rich alike, till his death in 1325, just when Muhammad bin Tughluq had ascended the throne in Delhi. Nizamuddin’s bitter relationship with the former Sultan, Ghiasuddin Tughluq, could be defined by two eternal moments: while his curse of “Ya rehey ujjar; ya basey gujjar” turned the Sultan’s newly built grand fortress to a ghost-city; “Hunuz Dilli Dur Ast “ symbolized Ghiasuddin’s untimely heavenly abode, just 4 years after his pioneering establishment of the Tughluq Dynasty. The new Sultan – Muhammad-bin-Tughluq, however had great respect for the Sufi Saint, and it was he who carried the funeral bier of Nizamuddin on the streets of Delhi – paying his final homage to the ‘Sultan al Mashayakh’, or ‘emperor of the Mystics’.
Below is a video of the life story of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya by the head priest of the dargah, Farid Ahmed Nizami.
Muhammad bin Tughluq, in his times, built a dome over the grave of Nizamuddin Auliya, which was further repaired and restored by Feroz Shah: however these 700-year old original structures no longer exist. The present structure of the Dargah was first constructed during Akbar’s time in 1563; and the dome was constructed by Mughal Emperor Akbar Shah II in 1824.
“We buy flowers for Nizamuddin’s feet; Dream in the corner to the quawwal’s beat.
The saint’s song chokes in his throat. The poor tie prayers with threads
Accustomed to their ancient wish, For the milk and honey of paradise.”
-Agha Shahid Ali ( 1949-2001); Indo-American Poet.
In those dark medieval times, Nizamuddin was witness to countless acts of extreme violence let lose on a population living in abject poverty. It was certainly a political and social volatile world, of extreme cruelty and vulgarity : it was a time when Sultans would crush rebels under the feet of elephants; when his fellow Turkish Sultans routinely flayed hundreds of people; when Sultan Balban – known for never having laughed in his entire life – executed 12000 people including women and children; when founder of Khilji empire – Jalaluddin executed fellow mystic saint Sidi Maula; when Allauddin Khilji paraded his predecessor Jalauddin’s head mounted on a spear on the streets; and, when Allauddin Khilji did not hesitate a bit in executing thousands of ‘goat-bearded’ Mongols to sprinkle their blood on the foundation of his new fort Siri, to bring good luck and success.
Culturally however, Delhi in the 13th century -along with Cairo and Anatolia in Turkey- was a lively place attracting a variety of unusual personalities, who were fleeing their homelands in the Mongol ravaged Central Asia.
In Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin’s thatched settlement in the small village of Ghiyaspur became a refugee for all those seeking spiritual solitude. While Nizamuddin and the inmates lived in abject poverty, but the he would only eat sparingly saying that he can not swallow food when thousands in the city are in hunger. Nizamuddin, a bookworm, would be studying manuscripts by candlelight throughout the night, resulting in his red inflamed eyes from reading late into night. For the spiritual nourishment to the Saint and his followers, regular sama mehfils were being held in the khanqah.
(Qawaal brothers Sultan and Osman Nizami at the Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya)
Sama, a kind of devotional concert using music and dance, was fiercely opposed on the basis that song and dance in worship are un-Islamic. On the demands of fellow noblemen to prohibit Nizamuddin to practice Sama, Ghiasuddin asked each of them to note down their understanding of Sama. On reading the papers as “wicked”, “impure”, “dirty”, etc; the Sultan asked if the esteemed noblemen could not agree on a single interpretation of Sama, how could he ask Nizamuddin to stop it?
Today, surrounding the epicenter of the final resting place of Hazrat Sheikh Khwaja Syed Muhammad Nizamuddin Aulia, lie numerous tombs and mausoleums of devotees , noblemen, and emperors reading like who’s who list of Delhi history – from the non descript tombstones of some unknown foot soldier of history, to the gigantic Humayun’s tomb – all vying for the spirituality radiating out from the Dargah to the rest of the world.
Starting of course with his closest companion Amir Khusrau, other tombs belong to that of poet Ghalib; historian Barani; the Sufi princess Jahanara-the favourite daughter of Shahjahan; Delhi’s first octagonal tomb of Khan e Khanan Tilangani – prime minister of Firuz Sah Tughluq credited with building 7 Delhi mosques in militaristic Tughluq architecture; tomb of Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah ‘Rangeela’ ( 1719-1748); tomb of Atgah Khan – husband of Akbar’s wet nurse Ji Ji Angah; tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s brother Mirza Jehangir – for whom the ‘Phoolwalon Ki Sair’ was institutionalized in Delhi; the exquisitely beautiful ‘Chausanth Khamba’ with the grave of Atgah Khan’s son – Koka; and many more known and unknown souls all of whom sought to have their final resting place in the vicinity of the greatest of Sufi saints.
As poet Agha Shahid Ali writes:
Between two saints, he shares the earth, Mohommad Shah “Rangeele,” (evoked in Paluskar’s khayal)
The beggar-woman kisses the marble lattice, sobs on Khusro’s pillars.
In a corner, Jahanara, garbed in the fakir’s grass, mumbles a Sufi quatrain.
Nizamuddin was happiest in the company of Amir Khusrau; and it was Khusrau’s nature to make sure Nizamuddin never stopped smiling.
Amir Khusrau at the age of 16 thus approached Nizamuddin at the doorsteps of Ghiyaspur khanqah, reciting:
Thou art such a king that when a pigeon perches up on top of thy palace it becomes a falcon;
A poor and distressed person stands on thy threshold, Is he permitted to go in or should he return?
Khusrau would ask Nizamuddin to grant sweetness to his lyrics and melodies; and pray to God for the success of his compositions. Lovingly addressing him as ‘my Turk’, Nizamuddin had proclaimed, ‘Khusrau is the keeper of my secrets. I shall not set foot in paradise without him.’
Such was the Saint’s affection for the poet that he told, ‘If permissible by Islamic law, I would have willed Khusrau be buried in the same grave as me.’
Khusrau achieved his creative zenith with blessings from his Sufi master. He lived under the patronage of 7 successive sultans, and was awarded the title of ‘Nightingale of India’ –or, Toot e Hind: a genius poet who laid the nucleus of Urdu poetry by his fusion of local Brijbhasha ( Khari Boli) and Hindi melodies with Arab, Turkish and Persian compositions; and evolution of Indian classical vocal and instrumental music. He is credited with the innovation of Sitar & Tabla; and also the creation of Qawwali.
On hearing his master’s death in 1325 , Khusrau blackened his face, tore his garments, and recited his last verse at Nizamuddin’s grave:
Gori sove sej par, mukh par dare kes; Chal Khusrau ghar aapne, rain bhaee chahun des.
(The fair one lies on the couch with her black tresses scattered over her face; O Khusrau, go home now, for night has fallen over the world.)
Amir Khusrau died exactly 6 months after Nizamuudin breathed his last in 1325.
His dargah at erstwhile Ghiyaspur has been the prayer site for Babur when he first reached Delhi, for Akbar when he escaped an assassination bid, for Jehangir when son Shahjahan rebelled against him, and for Zafar who – in 1857 – visited the dargah to hand over the scared relics – footprints of the Prophet on a stone slab, and strands of hair – and offer his final prayers before surrendering to the British.
Sufism is more demanding of a person than the mere fulfillment of religious duties. An unbroken Silsilah or chain of ‘Initiations’ binds the Master and the disciple in both life and after-life. The Chishti order of Sufism –which peaked during Nizamuddin Auliya – was elevated to a socio-economic movement higher than just mere rituals. The word Sufi is perhaps derived from Arabic ‘Suf’ –wool, ‘Safaa’ – to clean, or even ‘sophia’ – the Greek word for wisdom.
Having transcended boundaries of religion , he was of the view that when God has made no such distinction of Hindu and Muslim while distributing nature’s bounty, who are we to make distinctions and discriminations.
In the poet’s words:
I come here to sing Khusro’s songs.
I burn to the end of the lit essence,
as kings and beggars arise in the smoke.
( Interiors of the chilla or the meditation centre of Nizamuddin Auliya situated behind Humayun’s Tomb)
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib ( 1797- 1869), the last great Mughal-era philosopher-poet, was witness to the defining moment in Indian history of decimation of Mughal Era, and establishment of British rule. Using pennames of Ghalib, and Asad, he wrote 1792 Urdu couplets, and as many as 11,340 Persian couplets. His verses were in such difficult metaphors that most of the times they seem unintelligible. Only selected poems from his entire Persian poems, or even his smaller Urdu Diwan, are popularly accessible even today.
(For few anecdotes of Ghalib, please see my earlier blog post on Shahajahanbad:
These famous lines by him adorn a marble plaque in front of his grave at the Nizamuddin Dargah:
‘When nothing was, then God was there. Had nothing been, God would have been.
My being has defeated me. Had I not been, what would have been.’
Ghalib’s rivalry with Zauq, his contemporary poet and tutor to Zafar, was legendary. Other famous poets in those times were Momin, and Daagh; and even Emperor Zafar was an accomplished poet. Ghalib wrote :
‘Tis true a Poet’s words should burn; And melt, and glow like candle-flame.
But foster first a feeling heart; That can, like candle, melt with flame.”
Ghalib was appointed as the Zafar’s Poet-laureate only after Zauq’a death. His life was spent in poverty, and even after the British rule, his many attempts to get a pension did not materialize. He prophesized, that his talent will be recognized only by later generations.
“Of dust I would ask if I could: O Miser, where are they?
Those treasured ones, those assets prized; Where have you hid them, prey?”
He died on 15th of February 1869, the same year when Gandhiji was born.
In his Ghazals, the gender and identity of a lover is immaterial, it is the concept of love that he used in his poems, rather than any actual lover.
“In love I found life’s joy; and balm for pain that men endure.
And yet in love itself I found, That pain which knows no cure.”
He was a liberal mystic, almost a non-believer in religious orientation.
“Dark-souled is he who seeks to gain; Plain pleasures from the wine.
All that I need is, day and night, To drown this self of mine.”
© Ravi Batra / TERI Press.
This image has been reproduced with the permission of TERI Press. It appears in their book: Batra, Ravi, 2012. The Splendour of Lodi Road: my brush with heritage. New Delhi.
(For the story of Nizamuddin & Ghisauddin Tughluq on the construction of Baoli, please refer my earlier blogpost on Tughluqabad: https://lighteddream.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/tughluqabad-the-sultan-of-soul-vs-the-savior-of-islam/)
It was built by Nizamuddin himself in 1320 at the same time when Tughluqabad was being built by the first Tughluq Sultan, Ghiasuddin. The Baoli, the source of famous conflict between the Sufi Saint and the Sultan, was renovated and cleaned by AKTC in 2009. After 700 years of its construction, tons of debris were removed and water was drained out to reveal its original wooden floor and circular steps. During the renovation, a secret underground passage which was said to be used by Nizamuddin to access the Baoli, was also found.
Atgah Khan’s tomb:
It was built during Akbar’s time in 1566 for the husband of Akbar’s wet nurse Ji Ji Angah. Atgah was murdered by Adham Khan, son of Akbar’s another famous wet nurse Maham Angah out of jealousy. It is a beautifully ornamented square tomb 6 mts on each side, with marble and sandstone screens all around.
It was built by Atgah Khan’s son, Kokaltash, in 1625, and houses the graves of Kokaltash and his family members. It is made completely of marble, in a 6×6 matrix in a square layout, where the four corners consist of 4 pillars each, and each of the 16 pillars on its perimeter are each double-pillars; so making the total number of pillars as 64. There are 25 bays in the chamber, each having a low dome. In 2011, Germany granted 1,50,000 euros to AKTC for its restoration which is now complete.
The structure’s scenery was painted by William Daniell in 1789, with few palm trees around it, and a palanquin in the foreground depicting an important visitor.
Other notable structures around the dargah is the Kali Masjid built by Tilangani; and the Jamaatkhana Mosque – the first mosque in India to have 5 domes- believed to be built by Firoz Shah Tughluq.
Ramit Mitra of Delhi By Foot led this walk, with Parwaz for discussion on Ghalib.
- The Sufi Courtyards: Dargahs of Delhi; by Sadia Dehlvi
- The Book of Nizamuddin Aulia; by Mehru Jaffer
- Batra, Ravi, 2012. The Splendour of Lodi Road: my brush with heritage. New Delhi: TERI.
- Whispers of the Angel; by Ghalib Academy
- Rana Safvi’s blog on Chausath Khamba:http://hazrat-e-dilli.com/chausath-khamba/
- Agha Shahid Ali ‘s poem : http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2011/11/15/city-faith-agha-shahid-alis-poetry-hazrat-nizamuddin-dargah/
- Paintings & Drawings ( please visit respective sites for details, & further references)
Chausath Khamba, by William Daniell:
Chausath Khamba, by Anonymous; source British Library:
Chausath Khmaba from Dehli Book by Thomas Metcalfe; source British Library:
Tomb of Amir Khusrau, from Dehli Book by Thomas Metcalfe; source British Library:
Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya, from Dehli Book by Thomas Metcalfe; source British Library:
View of the Baoli, from The Splendour of Lodi Road; by Ravi Batra