Sufi Soul of Delhi and Beyond


The tourist triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra is probably the most popular in the country – thanks to seven world heritage sites in their cradle, all within a short distance from each other. The grandeur of these majestic monuments notwithstanding, something more sublime and invisible is in the air around them. This is the very heart of Sufism not only in India, but entire South Asia. The blessed courtyards of the Sufi dargahs here offer a unique spiritual pull for pilgrims of all religions and faiths to come and bath in the divine showers.

( Video: Introduction to Sufism, by Sadia Dehlvi : duration 3 mins)

In Delhi, we have the dargahs of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki and Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.

A short distance from Jaipur, at Ajmer, the dargah of Khwaja Mu’in-ud-din Chishti beckons to us as the oldest Sufi shrine in South Asia, from where flowed down the silsilah of Chishti tariqah. In Jaipur, the dargah of Moulana Ziauddin Sahab is a beautiful and serene shrine.

m8 ( Offering a handful of red rose petals, author Sadia Delvi at the mausoleum of Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib in Jaipur )

And, in the outskirts of Agra at Fatehpur Sikri, bringing up the splendid image of an erstwhile imperial capital from a long-lost ghost-town – stands the tranquil tomb of Salim Chishti– an emblem of an emperor’s tribute to a Sufi dervish.

Together, these Sufi shrines offer a syncretic religious heritage that has transcended the divisions of faith over centuries. The invisible canopy of faith spreads across these shrines, welcoming people with a divine aura – drenching them with a magical fragrance and countless rose petals.

Sufism – called tasawuuf in Arabic – refers to a spiritual path. It is the art of awakening to a spiritual consciousness by complete surrender to the Divine Essence, and is referred to as ‘to die before you die.’

Farid Ahmed Nizami, Gaddi Nashin of Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia summarizes the allure and magic of Sufi dargahs.  “People from all religions and walks of life – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, King, or Poor –come to Sufi dargahs as if it were their own. Devotees come here to pray and seek solace. The syncretic identity of the Sufis attract people from even far-away countries simply to come and offer a few flowers and a chadar at the tomb of their beloved Pirs, whereas those of kings and emperors remain as empty shells – architecturally attractive but devoid of any emotional attachment.”

One cannot agree more, seeing the devotees lining up to do qadambosi or ‘kissing the tomb on the side of the feet’, tying pieces of thread or dhaga around the jaalis in its balustrade, collecting few rose petals from the tomb, draping the tomb with a chadar – and hoping to come back soon for thanksgiving or shukrana, once their prayers are granted.

The origin of the word ‘Sufi’ has many possible sources. Some say it originated from the Arabic word ‘Suf’ meaning wool, which was the simple dress or the ‘jama’l suf’ of early Islamic mystics. The word is also attributed to ‘Saf’ – row or line – because the early mystics always placed themselves on the first row in congregations around the Prophet. Symbolically, it also refers to the first row of the people of spirituality.

1415818_10153784958538682_346943247_n ( Paintings by fellow Sufi seeker and painter Bindal Shah. For more Sufi themed artwork, contact at )

The word is also traced to the word ‘Suffa’ or bench, because the early 45 practitioners used to occupy the bench at the entrance to the Prophet’s mosque at Medina. They sat on those benches offering incessant prayers and fasting. They were called Ashab-e-Suffa, or the People of the Bench. The bench area is visible to this day in the Prophet’s chamber in that mosque. They also became known as Al-fuqara, which is the plural of the word faqir or the poor. The Persian equivalent of faqir is dervish. Safa also means purity, and Sufis are called Auliya Allah, or the friends of Allah.


Major schools of Sufism and the Big Five

‘There is only the Creator and his creations and one should not differentiate between the creations. In order to serve the creator, one should serve the creation.’ Says Haji Syed Salman Chishti, Gaddi Nashin of Dargah Ajmer Sharif.


 ( Video : Concepts of Sufism, by Haji Syed Salman Chishty – Gaddi Nashin at Dargah Ajmer Sharif, duration : 5 min )

There are many major Sufi orders, but their common essence is ‘love for humanity’. There is no monastic life in Sufism. The dervish does go to seclusion for days or months to meditate, but ultimately the enlightened soul comes back to the society to serve people. Sufism does not differentiate among the seekers, an example of which is the importance of langars in Sufi dargahs. Everyone sharing the same langar food signifies that all are same, perhaps distinguishable only by their sanctitude.

Author Sadia Dehlvi explains the founding principles of Sufism as laid down by Khwaza Mui’in-ud-Din Chishti: “River-like Generosity, Sun-like Bounty and Earth-like Hospitality.”

The Qadiriyyah order was established by Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani (d. 1166) of Baghdad. Chishtiyyah order was initiated by the Syrian Shaykh Abu Ishaq Shami (d. 940 AD) from a small village of Chrisht Sharif, about 125 kilometers from Herat in Afghanistan. Shadhiliyyah order was set up by Shaykh Abu’l Hasan al-Shadhili of Morocco (d. 1258), the Mevleviyyah order was by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (d.1273) of Konya, Bektashiyyah order by Hajji Bektash ( d.1338) of Khorasan, while the orthodox Naqshbandiyyah order was by Shaykh Bahaudin Naqshband of Bukhara ( d. 1390).

1 (2)( Another painting by Bindal Shah. Contact at for more Sufi themed artwork)

The ‘Big Five’ of Chishti silsilah refers to  Khwajah ‘Uthman Chishti Haruni, Khwajah Mu’in-ud-Din Chishti of Ajmer (d.1236), Khwajah Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiar Kaki of Delhi, Shaykh Farid-ud-Din Shakarganj, or Baba Farid of Pak Pattan (d.1265), Hazrat Nizam-ud-Din Auliya of Delhi (d.1325) and Shaykh Nasir-ud-Din Muhammad or ‘Chirag-i-Dihli’ or the ‘Lamp of Delhi’ ( d.1356).

There are many later Sufi saints throughout the country. It spread to the Deccan when Muhammad-bin-Tughluq shifted his capital to Daulatabad. One order called Sabiris take their spiritual lineage from Hazrat Makhdum ‘Ala-ud-Din ‘Ali Ahmed Sabir of Piran Kaliyar near Roorkee.


Shari’ah, Tariqah and Haqiqah

To inherit the sacred knowledge, a Sufi aspirant entrusts his inner awakening to a spiritual master called a Shaykh, or Pir. In the early days, the Shaykh would sit in a secluded corner of a house or a cave, surrounded by his murids, meaning disciples. Such a place was called zawaiyah or corner in Arabic, Khanaqah in Persian, and tekke in Turkish. Later on, the Kanaqah became a monastery built around the tomb of the Pir who founded it. The residents were either ‘dwellers’ who stayed in the Khanaqahs, or ‘travelers’ who would go out to villages to collect gifts.

Similar to the ‘Guru-Shishya’ tradition of handing down the sacred knowledge, ‘piri-muridi’ system was based on the murid or wayfarer being guided in the spiritual way, or tariqah, through the practice of ritualistic observance, or dhikr, through stages of progress, or maqamat, for the final unison with the God, or wasl.  The final illumination is achieved by progressing through various stages, or maqamat. A Sufi’s journey in reality is into the unchartered depths of his own mind and soul, traversing from the outer world through mere ritualistic routines he wages a war against his own ego, ultimately aspiring for the surrender and merging with the God within.

The mystical knowledge imparted to the early Sufis from the Prophet is kept different from the publicly shared knowledge. This duality of approach to understand the world is one of the key concepts of Sufism.

12434406_10153784959253682_563229227_n   ( Paintings by fellow Sufi seeker and painter Bindal Shah. Contact at for more Sufi themed artwork)

The essence of Sufism is purification of the heart through constant self-observation. Sufism is more demanding and requires deeper understanding than merely discharging customary religious obligations.

The Sufi’s path to awakening is based on the three concepts of Iman, Islam and Ihsan. Iman refers to the faith in the heart, Islam is complete submission to the Divine Will, Ihsan refers to worshipping God as if you saw Him, leading a spiritual life and killing one’s ego.

One’s journey from the external world to the inner soul is similarly defined by three stages. While Shari’ah refers to obeying the laid down religious laws, Tariqah refers to the spiritual way and the final stage of Haqiqah is recognising the inner truth.

The Shahadah says – La ilaha illa ‘Llah, Muhammadun rasuluALlah, meaning ‘There is no god except God, Muhhamad is the Messenger of Allah’. The juxtaposition of negation and affirmation in the same sentence can be seen in ‘there is no divinity’ (negation) followed by ‘except God’ (affirmation). The same concept is often conveyed as ‘There is no guide except The Guide’, ‘there is no truth except The Truth’ etc.

( Video: Life Story of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, by Farid Ahmed Nizami – Duration : 23 mins )

The dhikr practiced by murids can either be aloud or silent. While dhikr jahri (Zikr-e-Jehr) is reciting aloud so as to shut out wandering thoughts from mind, dhikr khafi (Zikr-e-Khafi) is a quiet recitation.

A better refined form is just sitting idle, shutting eyes, closing the lips and concentrating only on exhalations and inhalations. The devotee throws his head downward to the right while exhaling and focusing on ‘La ilahah’ or ‘There is no God’, while he brings his head back and throws it downwards to the left, inhaling and focusing on ‘illah Allah’ or ‘Except Allah’.

The dhikr can be practiced either alone or in groups, till exhaustion brings about a state, or hal, in spiritual ecstasy, or wajd. The methods to achieve wajd vary from country to country. Whirling dervishes, howling ascetics, qawaali renditions all highlight the wonderful ways for ‘Divine Submission’. In contrast with the perceived harsh religious laws of Islam – poetry, dance, art, calligraphy and a universal love define the heart of Sufism.



Sufi traditions have generally been adapted to the local cultures, so that people can express their devotion in their own languages and own style. So, while whirling may be common in countries like Turkey, it is the qawaali that is prominent in India. It is the listening to Mehfil-e-Sama or qawaali that differentiates Chishtis from other Sufis. It is said that qawaali is too dear to a Chishti Sufi for him stay away for more than three continuous days. In India, qawaali renditions are regularly performed in all prominent Sufi dargahs. Devotees sit on both sides of the qawaals, keeping the centre path free for djinns and visiting souls. It is believed that heavenly showers, called sharrab-e-maarifah or ‘wine of gnosis’ and sharaab-e-mohabbah or ‘wine of love’ pour over such gatherings to nourish the souls.

p1 (2) ( Enjoying getting drenched with heavenly showers pouring down on a Mehfil-e-Sama at the dargah of Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib in Jaipur )

During a qawaali rendition, if someone goes into the state of ecstasy, the qawaal always repeats the same lines until the person comes back to his normal state. Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki passed away in such a ‘hal’ or ecstatic state while listening to qawaalis for three days, in the lap of Hazrat Qazi Hameeruddin Nagauri. It is said that once the hand of the Shaykh slipped out of his grave while a qawaali rendition was being performed at his dargah!

( Video: Qawaal brothers Sultan and Osman Nizami at the Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya: Duration 11 mins )

Modern day qawaali is attributed to Amir Khusrau who created the fusion of Arabic, Persian, Khari Baoli and Brajbhasha music to bring novelty in the mehfils of his beloved peer, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. The innovation was a semi-classical form of music that allowed poetry of other poets or ragas to be included as long as they were thematically matching.


Chaap Tilak Sab Chini Re

One of the most popular qawaali by Amir Khusrau is “Chaap Tilak Sab Chini re” whose interpretation is explained beautifully by Sufi singer Dhruv Sangari. When Amir Khusrau was a boy of about nine or ten years of age, his mother took him to the house and khanaqah of their family Pir Hazrat Nizamuddin which today stands behind Humayun’s Tomb near  Arab ki Serai. Stubborn as he was, Khusrau said he will only go in if Khwaja Saheb answered one of his questions. He wrote a couplet there itself and posed it to Khwaja Saheb: “You are a King and I have come to your palace. And I have heard that those who come here as a pigeon, go back transformed as a falcon. I have come to your doorsteps afflicted with poor knowledge. Will I be invited inside, or will I be shooed away?” Then a slip came back from the house, apparently written by Khwaja Nizamuddin Saheb, saying, “Come in, O seeker of truth and knowledge. You too become privy to the sacred knowledge.”

Then Amir Khusrau went inside and met Hazrat Nizamuddin and in just one glance he surrendered himself completely. Later he recited the qawaali in the praise of Hazrat Saheb that interestingly explains the entire path and stages of tasawuuf.

Chhāp tilak sab chīnī re mose nainā milāike

Bāt agam keh dīnī re mose nainā milāike

Prem bhakī kā madvā pilāike

Matvālī kar līnhī re mose nainā milāike

Gorī gorī baīyān, harī harī chuiyān baīyān paka har līnhī re mose nainā milāike

Bal bal jāūn main tore rang rajvā

Apnī sī rang dinhī re mose nainā milāike

Khusro nijaam ke bal bal jaiye

Mohe suhāgan kīnhī re mose nainā milāike

Bāt agam keh dīnī re mose nainā milāike


( Videos: Chaap Tilak by Dhruv Sangari, duration : 9 mins)

Loosely translated, it reads as:

You’ve taken away my identity (‘Chhap Tilak’ in Brajbhasha means identity), by just a glance.

You’ve said something very deep and immeasurable with your glance. From the kiln of love, you have given me a cup to drink, And you have made me ecstatic;

‘Nazar’ or glance is a Sufiana way to describe ‘seeing with the heart’, imagining as if one is receiving positive divine blessings. Khusrau says that in the bazaar or market of love, the transaction or ‘sauda’ happened eye-to-eye with the exchange of glances with his Pir Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. In the next stanza, Amir Khusrau describes himself as seeker, a student, a maiden of knowledge, or someone who is spiritually not initiated by using the simile of a virgin.

I have come to you with my pale arms with green bangles, And you took me in your arms by your glance.

Next, he uses ‘Rang Rajva’ which is Hindi-ized Persian, or an eastern way to describe a professional dyer in a sweet native dialect. The Sufi path is often personified as a woman and it perhaps comes from the Arabic word of Divine Essence, ‘Dhat’, which is feminine in gender. Amir Khusrau often compares himself as Radha and his Pir as Lord Krishna in the imagery of the Holi celebration where he is coloured with the gulal of Sufism. Even Holi, though an agrarian celebration, is considered a syncretic festival with the colours and pichkaris coming from Persian New Year celebrations ‘Nawruj’.

I am beholden by you, Oh cloth-dyer, You’ve coloured me in your own Chishti colour with just your glance. Khusrau has given his whole life to you, Nizam has made me his bride,, You’ve uttered the deep and immeasurable with just your glance.

(  Video of Interpretation on Amir Khusrau’s Chaap Tilak Sab Chini Re by Singer Dhruv Sangari, duration – 10 mins)

In the poem, Khusrau has described the complete Sufi philosophy of Shari’ah, Tariqah and Haqiqah as it progresses. The journey starts from normal regimented life going through truth, transcendence, which leads to ecstatic union, before the final merging of the self with the Divine Will.

It is interesting to note that Khusrau who was of mixed parentage – his mother being Indian and father of Turkish descent – played a major role in developing the early idea of India. He told that in his mind, Khorasan and Hindustan have become one. He welcomed the best of Khorasan but as a ‘Parrot of India’ he vowed to use the sweet tongue of Hindi. So, some 800 years ago, a secular and syncretic image of India was beginning to emerge and people like Khusrau were at the forefront of this Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. This type of inclusiveness contributed to the success of Sufism in India.

In Sufi renditions, the verses of Jalaluddin Rumi, Amir Khusrau are set to lilting music. Whirling dervishes meditate in the tradition of the Sufi master Rumi. Even Kufic style of calligraphy, introduced by the Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin Imam Ali of Kufa, became prevalent in writing Quranic verses in enchanting styles. While Arabic was the language of the Qur’an, Persian language started prevailing around the twelfth century as the language of Sufi poetry and art. The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam and verses by Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) established the early directions to the openness in Sufism. Qasida or formal ode, ghazal or lyrics, ruba’I or quatrain, mathnawi or rhyming couplet, divan or a collection of poetry soon became engrained as musical constructs.


Popular Metaphors in Sufism

The popular story of Layla and Majnu is considered a representation of a murid’s love for his Pir. Long time ago in Arabia, a boy called Qais and a girl named Layla, belonging to two different tribes in a village, fell madly in love with each other. The boy became so obsessed with Layla that people started calling him Majnu or a mad man. However their love and longing for each other was not acceptable to the tribal seniors, and Layla’s father barred her from meeting him. Time passed by and one day Majnu decided to have a glimpse of his beloved at any cost. He donned himself in a sheep skin, joined a horde of sheep and went down on his fours and marched towards her house. He could hardly get a proper glance at Layla but his heart was delighted beyond imagination. He continued to wear his sheep-skin dress for days. They were away from each other, but her mind and heart was dedicated to Majnu only. Very soon, Layla breathed her last and the dying word that she whispered was ‘Majnu’. The news reached him and the devastated Majnu mourned for days in the mountains and ultimately he too died of sorrow. The villagers buried him besides her, and both were united in the after-life.

In this story, the metaphor of sheep-skin clad by Majnu is interpreted as the woollen dress of a Sufi seeker. His longing for a glance of his beloved is akin to ‘seeing with the heart’. The ultimate union refers to the merging of the self with the Divine Essence.

12404668_10153784958988682_1161151771_n ( Paintings by fellow Sufi seeker and painter Bindal Shah. Contact at for more Sufi themed artwork )

In Sufism, the divine love for God and the ecstatic enlightenment is often described in few other popular similes as well. While a murid or an individual is often described as a drop of water, the Divine Unity is referred to as the Ocean. The ecstatic Sufi is often described as one in an intoxicated state, helped by the cup-bearer or the Sufi Shaykh with the wine of the beloved, who is lost in a different state of drunkenness or spiritual ecstasy.



Khwajah Mui’in-ud-Din Chishti

‘This is a centre for lovers. Anyone who is incomplete visit here and find themselves complete’, says Haji Syed Salman Chishti of Ajmer Sharif. There is a pull that attracts pilgrims to the Ajmer Sharif dargah. People’s wishes and prayers are granted, the magical atmosphere gives inner peace and completeness.

Khwaja Haruni, the Pir of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer did not come to India, and is buried in Mecca, while Khwaja Mu’in-ud-Din Chisti was the first to come to South Asia.

aj1( The entrance to Dargah Ajmer Shareef )

Chishti is the oldest Sufi dervish order that was introduced in our country by Khwajah Mui’in-ud-Din Chishti of Sistan in southern Afghanistan. Born in 1142 AD, he was the disciple of Khwaja ‘Uthman Chishti Haruni at Nishapur in Khorasan for twenty years at a time when Mongol invasions were in full swing. During this tenure, he was granted the title of Gareeb Nawaz by his Pir. While travelling to Mecca and Medina through Iraq and Persia, he came in contact with ‘Abd-ul-Qadir Jilani and Khwajah Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki.  Khwaja Haruni advised him to travel to India to settle there and spread the faith. He travelled to Herat, Balkh and Ghazni before coming to India in 1192, where he was warmly welcomed.

aj5 ( “Allah Muhammad Chaar Yaar, Hazi Khwaja Qutb Farid Haq Farid Ya Farid” at Ajmer Shareef )

At the age of 50, he went to Ajmer in 1195 AD, which was the erstwhile capital of Prithviraj Chauhan. He quickly became known as a guide unto the unguided and voiceless for people from all religions and adapted the Chistiya colour of ochre yellow that was the colour of spirituality in India.

aj2 ( Faith is in Air: The lighted dome of Ajmer Shareef )

Emperor Akbar was a devout follower of both Shaykh Salim Chishti and Khwajah Mu’in-ud-Din Chishti of Ajmer. The mosque at the dargah as well as the palace was built by Akbar for the pilgrims, while the madrasah was built with the grant from the Nizam of Hyderabad. Akbar even gifted one gigantic cauldron that is still used to cook food for langars. A second cauldron was gifted by his son Jehangir. Even while food is cooked in these, the outer surface remains surprisingly cool and are a major attraction for pilgrims.

aj3 ( The huge cauldron at Ajmer Shareef that was gifted by Akbar )

Akbar had taken a vow that if he managed to capture Chittor, he would walk on foot from Agra to Ajmer for thanking God. After his dream was achieved in 1568, he continued the practice of visiting Ajmer by foot as an annual pilgrimage for almost ten years till 1579.

 aj4 ( A beautiful old candle stand at Ajmer Shareef )



Khwaja Qutbuddin Kaki

It is said Delhi – which became the heart of Sufi movement after incessant Mongol attacks on Central Asia and Iran – will exist as long as the dargah, where Khwaja Qutub lies buried in Mehrauli, is there. Khwaja Qutbuddin was awarded the honorific title of ‘Qutub-ul-Aqtaab’, or the ‘Central Pole’ by his Pir Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who advised him to settle in Delhi. His wish was to stay at the Kilokhri mosque close to Yamuna, but at the request of Sultan Iltutmish, shifted to Mehrauli.

DSC_0010 ( The beautiful dome over the grave of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki )

The village of Mehrauli grew around his shrine over centuries, adding layers onto the area’s history as Delhi’s oldest settlement of Lal Kot was founded here about two centuries ago in 1060 AD. Over time, as sultans shifted their capitals to other parts of Delhi, Mehrauli ceased to be the seat of power, but continued to flourish nonetheless as the city’s oldest continuously inhabited area.

The name of Kak of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhiar Kaki comes from a popular anecdote that God provided bread, or ‘kak’ in Persian, for him.  He lived as a poor man and gave away all the gifts he received in charity. His wife used to take groceries on credit and one day the ‘baqaal’– or grocer – told her arrogantly that the Khwaja’s family will be starved if he did not give things on credit. When she narrated it to Khwaja Sahib, he forbade her from buying groceries on credit and instead instructed her to recite ‘Bismillah’, in the name of Allah, and take out bread from a niche in the wall whenever needed.  This continued for many days, but the bread stopped appearing when she told this secret to the grocer.

DSC_0026 ( The strikingly beautiful Kufic scripted calligraphy on an unknown tomb in Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki’s dargah. Mehrauli )

Khwaja Qutub was very fond of Sama, or music assemblies, with whatever string instruments that would have been in use in those olden days. However, many orthodox clerics in the court objected to the sama mehfils and created hindrances. When Khwaja Mu’in-ud-Din knew this, he came to Delhi and advised Khwaja Qutbuddin to accompany him to Ajmer. However, as soon as they both started out from Delhi, the entire population came after them, including emperor Iltutmish who kissed the feet of Khwaja Mu’in-ud-Din and begged Khwaja Qutub to stay back at Delhi.

DSC_0016 ( The grave of Qazi Hamiduddin Nagauri, on whose lap rested the head of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki in his final moment. )

He and his close friend Qazi Hamiduddin Nagauri were both passionate about sama mehfils. Qazi Hamiduddin –who belonged to a royal family from Bukhara – tutored Khwaja Qutub on Islamic studies and had authored many books, including a lost treatise on Sufism called Lawa’ih, or ‘Flashes of Light’. Both of them believed that sama ignites love in the hearts of lovers. It was during one such mehfil, that Khwaja Qutub went into a state of ecstasy and asked the Qawaals to recite the lines over and over again. After four days, he passed away, with his head rested on the lap of his friend – Qazi Hamiduddin Nagauri.

Khwaja Mu’in-ud-Din had instructed his devotees coming to Ajmer to first visit Mehrauli and pay their respects to Khwaja Qutub there. The same practice continues till date.

Grave-MaulanaFakhruddin ( Grave of Maulana Fakhruddin at Dargah of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Delhi )

His grave remained an undecorated mound of earth for almost three hundred years, till a noble in emperor Sher Shah Suri built a marble enclosure around it in 1541. Various gateways were added upon by later Mughals and the present beautiful dome was constructed in 1945 by Imam Hafiz Jafar, after he could convince the British authorities to do so. The area around the dargah became a popular final resting place for emperors. Even ‘Phoolwalon Ki Sair’, or the festival of flowers, was associated with the dargah. The last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who used to shift to the adjoining Zafar Mahal during monsoons, wished to be buried in a small graveyard enclosure adjoining the marble Moti Masjid built by emperor Bahadur Shah, son of Aurangzeb, who ruled from 1707 to 1712.

Khwaja-Abdul-Aziz-Bastami ( Grave of Khwaja Abdul Aziz Bastami at Dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Delhi )

12oldGandhijipic ( Gandhiji at Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki’s dargah in the aftermath of 1947 riots. “I recognise no God except the God that is to be found in the hearts of dumb millions.” How this quote of Gandhiji echoes the very philosophy of Sufism. )

The dargah was widely vandalized in post-Independence riots in 1947. Gandhiji visited the shrine and oversaw the first Urs in Independent India. He also ordered the low marble balustrade to be built around the grave, since the original one was destroyed by rioters. After the partition, the shrine was filled with refugees from Pakistan, till alternate arrangements were made for them.

Farrukhsiyar-inner-gateway1-horz ( The Inner and outer gateways at Dargah of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki – built by Mughal emperor Farruksiyar )

Many emperors and noblemen wanted to be buried near the divine shrine. Few notable graves include that of Mughal emperors Bahadur Shah I (r. 1707-12), Shah Alam II (r. 1759-1806), and Akbar II (r.1806-37). Other notables include Mualan Fakhruddin ( d 1807), Khwaja Abdul Aziz Bastami ( late 19th or early 20th C), Mu’atmad Khan ( a famous eunuch in Aurangzeb’s court), Bibi Hambal ( wet-nurse of Qutb Saheb, only women are allowed inside his grave enclosure), Hazrat Qazi Hameeduddin Nagauri ( 18th C),  Zabita Khan and his wife, Nawabs of Loharu (built in 1802), etc.

Grave-Nawabs-Loharu1 ( The quaint little grave complex of the Nawabs of Loharu – at Dargah of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Delhi )

 13Nizamuddin's prayer stand ( The prayer stand at the entrance of Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki’s dargah where Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya used to pray without going inside because of his respect. )



Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya

It is a magical experience to listen to an evening-full of qawaalis in the blessed courtyard of Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah in the centre of Delhi while bathing in the invisible showers of divine radiance, or nur. Standing under the lighted dome, with the entire dargah awash with red rose petals, wisps of incense stick and that magical fragrance lingering around, the murid forgets the worries of the world as he bows forward to tie a thread in the marble trellis around the tomb.

DSC_0009 ( The Lighthouse of Faith: Dargah Nizamuddin Auliya )

In his lifetime, Hazrat Nizamuddin believed that though there are many paths to the God, none is as effective as serving the poor and bringing happiness to the destitute – which is far more valuable than merely following religious practices.


Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia’s grand-father Syed Ali Bukhari had migrated from Bukhara to India and settled down at Badaun in Uttar Pradesh, which was a holy centre that time. Both his father and Hazrat Nizamuddin were born in India at Badaun. He lost his father at the tender age of five and his early days were spent in great difficulty.

His mother, Bibi Zulekha, took up residence in a thatched house in Delhi’s Adchini in order to educate her son with the best tutors. Faced with continuous periods of hunger and starvation, she died soon too. The young Hazrat Nizamuddin by that time was qualified to become a Qazi, but was persuaded by Shaykh Najeebuddin to meet his brother at Ajodhan, Baba Farid, to have a deeper perspective of life. Once he went to Ajodhan, there was no coming back from the spiritual path.

DSC_0072 ( A Thousand little threads: At Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi )

He visited Ajodhan three times in his life and during his second visit there, Baba Farid declared him to be his spiritual successor. In his last visit, Baba Farid prophesized his own death, which came true soon after and at that time Hazrat Nizamuddin was in Delhi.

At Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin was offered a temporary residence by the maternal grandfather of Amir Khusrau, where he put up for two years till it was required to be vacated. He then shifted to Ghiyaspur on the banks of Yamuna, set up a khanaqah with makeshift wooden walls. Word soon spread about his prophetic blessings. His popularity increased by leaps and bounds, but the Pir and his disciples still had to live in abject poverty. Once a dervish visited his kanaqah and forcefully crushed the very pot where a handful of rice was being cooked for everyone, including all the inmates, remarking that he was breaking the symbol of the saint’s poverty.

DSC_0295 ( Tying a thread on the marble trellis around the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi )

Immediately thereafter, donations started pouring into the khanqah. Over time, heaps of gold and silver coins started to flow in as gifts, but it was his instruction to donate away every single coin among the poor. He always believed that tomorrow would be taken care by the Almighty’s blessings, so there was no need to hoard rations. He himself ate very sparingly and said that he could not swallow food if a single person in the neighbourhood remained hungry.

At one point of time, as much as seventy maans (one maan is approximately 40 kilograms) of salt were used in cooking food for langar. He was aware of many poor people who did not have the courage to openly ask for money, so he hid coins in the food distributed in his langars so that people could collect them anonymously. Historian Barni mentions about the sea of people coming to the langar at his khanaqah. The traffic of bullock carts and horses around his khanaqah was so large that it prompted officials to demand that he shifted out of the city.

DSC_0281 ( The Grave of Mirza Jahangir at Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi: With Whom Was Started the ‘Phoolwalon Ki Sair’ )

Soon, sultans started becoming envious of his rising popularity. Delhi saw many sultans coming and going during the lifetime of Hazrat Nizamuddin. While some like Alauddin Khilji were in awe and wanted to be his disciple, some like Ghiasuddin Tughluq remained hostile throughout.

When Mubarak Khan ascended the throne, he was in a fierce succession battle involving his brothers. Unlike Mubarak Khan, his brothers had been initiated by Hazrat Nizamuddin, and on his ascension to the throne, he immediately ordered their execution. When asked what they gained by associating with the saint, the brothers replied that they were saved from the sin of bloodshed. Mubarak Khan also threatened Hazrat Nizamuddin of dire consequences if he failed to appear before the court to pay respect to him on the eve of next new moon. As it turned out, that very night, when all his disciples were nervous with the possible consequence at day break, news emanated from the palace that sultan Mubarak Khan had been decapitated in yet another power struggle.

DSC_0282-1 ( The ‘mis-aligned’ grave of Khwaja Abdur Rahman at the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya – the only grave not aligned to the customary north-south directions, as he wished his head to point towards the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya  )

There was a special love and respect between Hazrat Nizamuddin and Amir Khusrau, who was not only a poet par excellence, but also a musician, author, a businessman and above all a devout disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Once, a poor man visited him at his khanaqah and asked for help. Hazrat Nizamuddin requested him to wait but the visitor became impatient. The saint then took out his pair of slippers and gave him as a gift. The man was hugely disappointed on such a gift that Hazrat Nizamuddin gave him. However he could not say a thing.

On his way back to home, he spent a night at an inn where Amir Khusrau was also staying after returning from an expedition. When Amir Khusrau found the grieving man, he came to know of his complaint. He immediately asked him not to despair and bartered his horse load of wealth in exchange for his Pir’s slippers. At Delhi, when Hazrat Nizamuddin received Amir Khusrau and asked him what he had brought from his trip, he respectfully placed the pair of slippers and narrated the whole story. A bemused Nizamuddin told him that it was after all a cheap bargain!

DSC_0039 ( Spreading the Faith at the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya )

He passed away in 1325 at the age of 82. He had altogether stopped taking food for almost 40 days prior to it and told his disciples that he could see the Prophet awaiting him eagerly in the heavens. The Chishti Sufi order which had reached its peak during Hazrat Nizamuddin’s lifetime, slowed down considerably after his death.

On the eve of Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi to celebrate the day symbolising renewal and birth, when the Prophet Muhammad came into the world as well as left it, few sacred relics are displayed at the dargah. When the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar surrendered to the British in 1857, he had deposited these relics here. These include the Qadam Mubarak – the footprint of the Prophet Muhammad on a stone slab and Mu e Mubarak – strands of his hair.

DSC_0276 (2) ( Here sleeps historian Ziauddin Barni in the blessed courtyard of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi )

His dargah is full of graves of his disciples – from emperors to poets to nameless believers. These include that of his chief disciple Amir Khusrau, emperor Muhammad Shah and his family, the Sufi princess Jahanara, Mirza Jahangir (son of emperor Akbar Shah II – the frivolous young man for whose release from the British prison the famous ‘Phoolwalon Ki Sair’ festival was established by his mother), historian Ziauddin Barni, Atgah Khan (husband of Akbar’s wet-nurse Jiji Angah), Mirza Aziz Kokaltash (son of Jiji Angah and Atgah Khan), poet Ghalib, amongst many others.

One interesting grave is that of Khwaja Abdur Rahman which is not aligned to the customary north-south direction as mandated in Islamic burial practices, rather lies at an angle. It is said that he wished to be buried so that his face would remain towards the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin. Another interesting grave is that of Mirza Jahangir, who infuriated the British Resident Mr Setton into arresting him. His grave has a ‘takhti’ – a customary emblem of a woman’s grave. It is said that the grave originally belonged to a woman, but the prince was buried there afterwards.

1 ( “Let nought cover my grave save the green grass, for grass well suffices as a covering for the grave of the lowly.” Thus reads the tombstone of Princess Jahanara in Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya )

The tombstone of humble Sufi princess Jahanara has the following famous words written on it:

“Let nought cover my grave save the green grass, for grass well suffices as a covering for the grave of the lowly.”



Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib

Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib was born in 1730 at the Nizamuddin Basti in Delhi and was a renowned Chishti dervish around late 18th century. His father Khwaja Mir Rafiuddin was a renowned calligrapher titled Nadir-e-Raqqam in the service of Nawab Ayazuddin Khan.

m1 ( The magnificent shrine of Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib in Jaipur )

The wide spread of Chishtiya Order in India is chiefly attributed first to Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz, i.e. Khwaja Mu’in-ud-Din Chishty and then to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. During his time, as many as 1400 palikis were sent to south India by his khaleefas or spiritual successors to spread the Sufi teachings and the Order became known as Chishtiya Nizamiya.

Centuries after him, the popularity of Chishtiya Nizamiya started again in South India by Hazrat Nizamuddin Aurangabadi towards the seventeenth century. His son Hazrat Maulana Fakhruddin Dehlvi revived and popularised it further and a new Order known as Fakhariya started as the off shoot of the original order in the sub-continent. And, Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Jaipuri was the chosen spiritual successor or khaleefa of Maulana Fakhruddin Dehlvi for Dhundaar, Rajputana.

o5 ( The holy mihrab lies enveloped at the centre of the five bays in the mosque at Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib’s shrine in Jaipur )

He first came to Jaipur (then Jaynagar) when the city was ruled by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh. Legend says that at that time there was a rule for any visitor to the city to seek permission from the king to stay beyond three days. After three days, when the saint continued to stay in the city, soldiers approached the dervish in order to evict him. But a strange thing happened when they went there: they saw tigers guarding the tent of the humble saint. The king became curious and wanted to visit the dervish. It is said that the king became so impressed with the saint that henceforth began to consult him every day even before sitting at his darbar.

o3 ( The graceful mosque’s designs are a study in symmetry in Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib’s shrine in Jaipur )

He had received the authority from his Pir to teach various Orders, including Quadriya, Chishtiya, Soharwardiya, Naqshbandiya, Kubrawiya, Gaazrooniya, Firdosiya, Shuttariya, Hamdaniya and Noorbakshiya, but primarily he used to spread the spiritual messages of Quadriya and Chishtiya Sufi Orders.

Maulana Sahib was very fond of greenery and would say, ‘Demolish a Building! But do not cut a tree, because a building can be reconstructed within a few days but a tree takes a long time to grow up and mature’. He built a garden that was called Bagh-e-Subha Saadiq. There is an interesting story behind the land on which the dargah stands today. Many years ago, he liked a patch of land belonging to a farmer and wished to purchase it for the purpose of laying a garden on it, but the farmer refused to sell him.

m3 ( The mausoleum of Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib, constructed in 1929 by Nawab Fayyaz-ud-Daula, the Wazir of Jaipur. )

The thought was bothering Maulana Sahib continuously but he finally left it to the will of Allah. Once, one of his disciples travelled to Buland Sheher and spent a night near the holy grave of a saint known as Shah Kallu Faqeer. In the night, he saw a dream of Basharat, i.e. a dream disclosing a spiritual message, where Shah Kallu Faqeer came to convey the grant of the land to the traveller’s Pir by the Holy Prophet Muhammad. The disciple hurried back to Maulana Sahib and conveyed the strange happening. Soon after, the farmer came to meet Maulana Sahib and pledged his land for whatever money he could get.

o8 ( Florets and Vines: perennial beauties )

In 1798, Maulana Sahib constructed a beautiful garden along with a Mahfil Khana, hoz and a mosque on it. Every week, he organized Sama mehfils and Zikr there and said that prayers of visitors to this place would always be granted because the land had Divine blessings.

In the khanaqah, Maulana Sahib would arrange daily assembly for Zikr, or remembrance of the God. While new-comers were assigned vocal Zikr, or Zikr-e-Jehr, experienced practitioners conducted silent Zikr, or Zikr-e-Khafi.

o1( The stunning designs of perennial flowerets budding from the entwined creepers on the walls of the 200 year old mosque at the dargah of Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib,  Jaipur )

DSC_0273( Superlatively beautiful Buland Darwaza at Dargah Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib, Jaipur )

Mehfil-e-Sama or Music assemblies were organised at the kahnaqah once a week for his selected group of disciples, where they enjoyed the ecstatic drinks of the God’s divine love. He would address the public in daily Darbar-e-Aam, or ‘general assemblies’ held at Gulabi Dalan. Spiritual discussions and sharing of experiences among his disciples were held at Sandali Dalan in ‘Majlis-e-Khaas’, or ’special assemblies’.

Maulana sahib was known for his generosity and the langar food was cooked in his khanaqah kitchen for distribution among the guests, resident murids and hungry people. Today, as one enters the majestic gateway called the buland darwaza, a huge cauldron can be seen which is similar to the pair inside Ajmer Sharif. It is still used to cook for langar in the annual Urs ceremony of Maulana Saheb.

DSC_0142 ( The dome over the grave of Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib, Jaipur )

The small mosque inside the complex is exquisitely decorated with mother-of-pearl inlays of floral designs. Built in 1798 in Mughal style, its holy mihrab is at the centre of five bays in perfect symmetry, in the sawal-jawab architecture. Even the marble on the floor once mirrored the floral designs on its roof, but now has been replaced with plain marble during restoration. The whole structure with its monochromatic fine design is a photographer’s delight. The mausoleum was constructed in 1929 by Nawab Fayyaz-ud-Daula, the Wazir of Jaipur.

DSC_0185 ( The mosque at Dargah Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib, Jaipur )

During his lifetime, Maulana Sahib constructed more than twenty mosques throughout Jaipur as well as the first madarsa of the city known as Madrasa Zia-ul-Islam.  The school continued to remain quite popular till Independence and even had few Chinese students.

There is a popular incident depicting the humility and hospitality of Maulana Sahib. One day, a man called Turab Ali Shah came to his khanaqah and started to interrupt and talk disrespectfully to him. The disciples were shocked with the visitor’s violent words and tried to restrain him, but Maulana sahib asked them to allow him to speak everything that he wanted to say. When the assembly was finished and the visitor stopped his outbursts, Maulana Sahib presented him with a plateful of sweets and said that he acknowledged all of his shortcomings. He told Turab Ali that he was aware of his own deficiencies and it was only a part of his defects that he had said in the assembly in front of all his disciples. He thanked him, invited him for future meetings while maintaining that he was even worse than all the criticism the visitor had shared of him.

DSC_0279( Floral details on the Buland Darwaza at Dargah Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib, Jaipur )

Turab Ali was blown away by the humility in the words of Maulana Sahib and instantly tendered his apology. Once he was gone, Maulana Sahib told his disciples that all visitors to this place were sent by the God and therefore each of them commanded respect and hospitality. No visitor, he told, must go back from this house of a faqeer with empty hands or with a broken heart.

Syed Ziauddin Ziai – Janasheen at the Dargah beautifully summarizes the universal spiritual appeal and ever increasing popularity of the shrine. “His Urs ceremony is organised every year on 24th Zi Qada at Bagh-e-Subha-Sadiq, where his Dargah is situated today. The Urs Celebration includes Quran Khwani, Milad Sharif, Mushaira, Mehfil-e-Sama and ends with Fateha Qul Sharif on 25th Zi Qada.


Sufis from different parts of the country including several thousand devotees visit the Dargah irrespective of caste, creed and culture with their deep love and respect at the Holy Grave of Maulana Sahab. Till now, two centuries have passed but the numbers of the lovers and visitors of Dargah of Maulalan Sahib Rh are ever increasing. Even today people from different places could be seen visiting the mausoleum of Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Rh, where the seekers of spirituality receive peace and the sufferers of the worldly troubles get a hope of surety for the remedy of their problems. Whoever comes to the holy shrine of Maulana Sahib Rh at least once never left without feeling love and attractive peace. This is the reason that the people of Jaipur and from rest of India, come to visit the holy shrine, being his staunch devotees.”

o2 ( Shooting up from simple flower vases, the plants cluster inside framed panels, on the mosque wall in Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib’s shrine in Jaipur )

DSC_0275 ( Ceiling of the Buland Darwaza at Dargah Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahib, Jaipur )



Shaykh Salim Chishti

Shaykh Salim Chishti (d.1572) of Sikri near Agra was one of the later saints in whose house Jahangir was born. The Chishti movement had been forced south by Muhammad bun Tughlaq and Chishti khanaqahs virtually disappeared in the north for almost 200 years. Then in the late 18th century, it had an indigenous revival by Khwajah Nur Muhammad Qiblah-i-‘Alam who was of Rajput origin.

j0 ( The marble-clad dargah of Shaykh Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri )

At the peak of his power, Akbar was still impatient for a male heir to the Mughal empire and he sought the blessings of a Chishti saint living in the non-descript village in a rocky barren land, called Sikri. The saint blessed him that he would have three sons and just a year after – in 1569 – his first son was born. The grateful emperor named him as Salim (later titled Jahangir) as a tribute to the Sufi saint Sheykh Salim Chishti. Prince Salim was brought up by the daughter of Sheykh Salim Chisthi, his wet-nurse.

j0-1 ( White in Black: dargah of Shaykh Salim Chishti at night )

He even built a whole new capital city at Sikri and called it Fatehpur Sikri, or the ‘Sikri-the City of Victory’ after he conquered Gujarat. Built between 1571 and 1585, it became the first planned city built by the Mughals. In the city that he built in reverence to a Sufi dervish, Akbar created a unique new faith called Din-i-llahi or the Divine Faith, by combining the religious teachings of Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. It was indeed a Sufiana way to look at religion.

j14 ( Pillar Shaft shooting up from a vase of flowers )

Intricate marble screens based on arabesque patterns of polygonal design are the highlights of this beautiful Dargah. Repeated geometric patterns represent a theme without beginning or end – to represent ‘infinity’, a metaphor of spiritual significance. Variety is often introduced by introducing complex geometric patterns in this saracenic art form. All the tomb facades use different patterns and serpentine brackets adorn its pillar tops.

j13 ( Entrance to dargah of Shaykh Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri )

The tomb situated within a large courtyard is Akbar’s tribute to the Chisthi saint. On the west side of the courtyard stands the Jama Masjid. A grand entrance way – the buland darwaza- on the north is reached by a flight of 42 stairs. The badshahi darwaza on its east is the closest to Fatehpur Sikri palace compound, and was used by the emperor to enter the mosque and dargah. The vast courtyard measuring 110 x 130mt was planned as an open-air prayer place.




j1 ( Intricate geometric patterns in the marble screens: dargah of Shaykh Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri )

j15 ( Ornately Carved Serpentine brackets dargah of Shaykh Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri )



Side note#1: Fatehpur Sikri –A City for a Dervish

Though it resembles a ghost-city now, it is not difficult to imagine it populated with the royal life, with people from every walk of life assembled at the great imperial engine house that ran Mughal India. Calligraphers, musicians, poets, scribes, architects, generals, scholars, holy men, artists, merchants, visitors from faraway lands, translators, scribes, painters, economists – all of them and more, mingling and blending together, while their patron emperor discussed with his ministers and ‘navratnas’ the innovations in governance, taxation, religious practices, arts and foreign affairs.

anoop talao

(Anoop Talao, at Fatehpur Sikri)

The nine elite connoisseurs called the navratnas assembled by Akbar to run his administration were  chronicler Abul Fazl; poet Faizi; singer Tansen; jester Birbal; economist Raja Todar Mal; Raja Man Singh of Amber; poet, linguist and general Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khan; advisors Mullah do Piaza and Fakir Azia-ud-din.

Today, we can only presume the way of life around these half-broken skeletal buildings, by theorizing the intended use of some of them.

Diwan-i-Aam: Akbar would sit in this graceful pavilion surrounded by 111 colonnaded bays every morning for three hours where he dispensed justice and addressed the gathering in the large courtyard. Tethered to ground were state elephants, used to crush the condemned persons to death.

diwan-i-aam( Diwan-I-Aam at Fetpur Sikri )

Diwan-i-Khas: With a faux-double storey facade and topped with marble cupolas, the hall for private audience has a dramatic setting inside for the emperor and his ministers to sit. Inside the Diwan-i -Khas, sat the throne of Akbar the great on a central pillar with 36 serpentine brackets. His ministers were seated around him in the four corners reached via passages with impressive balustrades.

diwani-i-khas( Diwan-i-Khas at Fathepur Sikri )

throne( The dramatic interiors of Diwan-i-Khas, at Fatehpur Sikri )

Anoop Talao, or the ‘incomparable pool’ is a square tank measuring 30m on each side, with a central pavilion-island reached by four causeways supported on short pillars. As per Abul Fazl, the pool was once filled with gold, silver and copper coins in April 1578 for charity.

Khwab-gah, or the Chamber of Dreams, once decorated richly with mural paintings, housed the emperor’s sleeping quarters, a library stocked with 25000 books, dining hall as well as a window for Jharokha darshan.

khwab-gah( Khwab-gah or the Chamber of Dreams at Fatehpur Sikri )

Paanch Mahal: also known as Badgir or Wind-Catcher: A five-storeyed structure, with 84 pillars in its ground floor, 56 in first floor, 20 in second floor, 12 in third and 4 in its fourth floor. The size decreases as it rises to its apex of a chhatri surmounting the top floor barricaded by a latticed balustrade. It was designed perhaps for the emperor as well as the royal women as a viewing gallery and to catch the higher wind, or to enjoy a moon-lit evening.

panch mahal( Paanch Mahal, known as Badgir or Wind-Catcher at Fatehpur Sikri )

Chaupar Courtyard: The marking of two intersecting arms divided into squares can be seen on the floor of central courtyard for playing the game of Chaupar, or Chaupad which is a variant of Pachisi (twenty-fiver) from which Ludo is derived.  Akbar was very fond of this ancient dice game that finds mention as early as in the Mahabharata and his pawns were slave women from the harem.

DSC_0040 ( A courtyard for playing Chaupar at Fatehpur Sikri )

The Harem-Sara consisted of palaces surrounding a huge courtyard. Prominent among them are Jodha Bai’s palace and Maryam ki kothi, used by his mother. Jodha Bai’s palace is a misnomer since it housed the living quarters of all the queens, and not just hers. The double-storied entrance to the Harem-Sara, or the Imperial Women’s Wing is accentuated by chhatris, chajjas and jharokhas. The entire complex was guarded by eunuchs.


entrance to Jodha Bai palace ( Entrance to Jodha Bai Palace, at Fatehpur Sikri )

DSC_0060 ( Harem-Sara at Fatehpur Sikri )

DSC_0057 ( Jodha Bai’s temple at Fatehpur Sikri )

A private temple for Jodha Bai, said to be Akbar’s Hindu wife, with hanging garland designs on the pillars is in the same area. Another interesting feature is a structure popularly known as Jodha Bai’s kitchen, which has bands of jhumka drops or ear-ring like designs on its richly carved walls.

DSC_0050 ( Jhumka-drop designs on the richly carved walls of Jodha Bai’s kitchen, at Fatehpur Sikri )


My sincere thanks to ‘Times Passion Trails’ for organizing this unique spiritual Sufi trail led by author Sadia Dehlvi and including me as one of the participants.

Thanks for their invaluable inputs and interactions: Sadia Dehlvi – author, Haji Syed Salman Chishty – Gaddi Nashin at Dargah Ajmer Sharif, Farid Ahmed Nizami – Gaddi Nashin at Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, Syed Ziauddin Ziai – Janasheen of Dargah Maulana Ziauddin Sahab – Jaipur, Qamar Dagar – Pictorial Calligrapher, Dhruv Sangari – Sufi Singer.

Thanks to Sanjay Lal, Jatin Kapoor, Jamal Ayub of Times of India and  Manoj from for the seamless organization  and to all fellow participants for the lively and lovely company as an extended Sufi family. My gratitude to Syed Ziauddin Ziai for sharing his published articles as referenced below, as well as to fellow participant and talented painter Bindal Shah for sharing her beautiful Sufi-themed paintings.



12434343_10153784956573682_1478502171_n  ( Paintings by fellow Sufi seeker and painter Bindal Shah. Contact at for more Sufi themed artwork)



  1. The Sufi Courtyard, Dargahs of Delhi, by Sadia Dehlvi, 2011, New Delhi
  2. The Essence of Sufism, by John Baldock, 2004, London
  3. Sufism, Heart of Islam, by Sadia Dehlvi, 2009, New Delhi
  4. Fatehpur Sikri, DK Eyewitness Travel – The Monuments Series, 2008, New Delhi
  5. Early Sufis and their Sufism, by Prof. A.M.A. Shushtery, 2009, New Delhi
  6. The Best of Speaking Tree: A Sufi Selection; The Times Group, 2015, New Delhi (launched on 17th Nov 2015 on the eve of the Sufi Trail)
  7. Dargah Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahab (Tarikh ke Aaine mein), by Syed Ziauddin Ziai, Janasheen of Dargah Sharif at Dargah Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Sahab Rh Fakhri Nizami Chishti. Jaipur
  8. Aina-e-Ziai: A Short Biography of Hazrat Maulana Ziauddin Rh, by Syed Ziauddin Ziai, Janasheen of Dargah Sharif
  9. Mehrauli Village, by INTACH Delhi Chapter and World Monuments Fund
  10. A Guide to Nizamu-d Din, by Maulvi Zafar Hasan, Memoirs of Archaeological Survey of India, 1922 (Reprinted 1998), New Delhi.






10 thoughts on “Sufi Soul of Delhi and Beyond

  1. Great work by Sadia Delhvi and Debashish das and of course great knowledge shared by Salman chisty and Sayed Ziauddin for keeping alive Sufi culture and tassawuf in modern era. Needed many more work to cover the whole aspect of Sufi culture .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hamari duniya badal ke rakhdi
    Nazar ka milna hua fasaana
    Udhar nigaahein mili kisise
    Idhar ye dil bangaya nishaana

    For me, a fellow passion trailer with Debasish, the above couplet sums up Sufiism at its very core.

    Unconditional surrender on the proverbial leap of faith is the purest form of prayer and seeking.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very enlightening Debashish !!! How intricately you have woven those fulfilling moments of our trail with the spiritual woof and warp of Sufism….. Divinely Blessed you are indeed….Thank you for expressing it soulfully for the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Debasish, I’m amazed, truly amazed with this article of yours. How beautifully you have summarized the essence of Sufism in your words. The images you have selected to present your thoughts are simply marvelous. The stories you have rendered of various Sufi Saints and of various Kings and Emperors go only to tell how much of hard work has gone into bringing this article about. Compiling this beautiful article must have been truly a humongous task as one can see with the sheer canvas you have chosen, starting from the origins of Sufism to present-day Sufi following. Great job! You can count me as a fan now!

    Liked by 1 person

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