By Mohd. Salman

My kind of place in Delhi has always been the type that isn’t reached via a straight road. The snaking around and the twists and turns always add more fun to a place. Especially when explored on foot.

I took terribly long to explore Mehrauli somehow. It was only after six years in Delhi that I finally got to the Qutub and have I cursed myself for missing out ever since! Little did I know, that tucked away in a little corner, not very far away, was a place I would find just as fascinating.

Hardly a kilometer away from the Qutub Minar, after a mildly amusing, mildly annoying, increasingly narrowing path, lies the Dargah of the Sufi saint Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. The place swarms with people on Thursdays and Fridays, and on my last visit I arrived to see a mohalla cricket tournament being played in a little ‘park’ near  the Dargah.

The approach to the shrine is not very different from the approach to the dargah at Nizamuddin. Flower sellers, chadars and incense line the path leading , and the stall owners will very obligingly take care of your shoes if you ask them to. This being a less ‘happening’ place than Nizamuddin, you are thankfully spared the frenzied shouting and screaming of vendors and the like. The Dargah is built on sloping ground which makes the walk to the saint’s grave even more engaging.

{Bab E Khwaja, the saint’s gate}

The well-lit sanctum is where the saint and his most ardent followers are buried including the later Mughal emperors {Bakhtiyar Kaki was the spiritual successor of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, and occupies a very eminent place in Sufi mysticism}. There are many mosques inside the compound where small groups sit in prayer and I photographed some of the graves and shrines while dodging missiles from a badminton game that was being played inside the dargah.

The saint himself chose the place where his shrine is now built, after he felt and got the proverbial ‘good vibes’. He is known to have been extremely devout, praying so much that he hardly ever slept, and legend has it that in his final years he never slept at all. Recognised by the Khwaja of Ajmer as the man who would take his legacy forward, Bakhtiyar Kaki was the first of the great men who turned Delhi into a prominent centre for Sufism. Legend also has it that death came to him on the fourth day of an extremely elevated state of piousness.

The most fascinating thing about these places for me is the fact that people visit them for completely different if not diametrically opposite reasons and that too simultaneously. Parents come to seek blessings for a newborn child when at the same time, people mourning a loved one’s demise pray to the saint to shelter the departed and provide safe passage. A harmonium and dhol are lying in a corner of the chowk, the main courtyard, and anybody who feels like a qawwali can have a go. An amazing accompaniment to the evening’s main event, I got to watch and hear a solitary singer accompanied by a child on the percussions.

That said, when you go to a place like this, it is always worthwhile to probe the symbols and motifs you see there. There is much to be learned and understood from the excerpts of the Quran hung on the walls, the inscriptions on the graves and the instructions for prayer {thankfully written on a white board in Hindi considering my skills with Urdu}. It is important to sit awhile since the beauty of a holy place is not always in the commotion around the shrine, the frenzied asking of wishes or the bright and very visible rituals. I always tell myself that such places are where people are at peace with themselves and where they pray quietly in the serenity a shrine provides. I look for a corner to sit in to be as inconspicuous as possible, and I realise that the real sense of peace is usually to be found among those who come in silence, pay their respects to the dead, say their prayers alone, and spend a few hours at the shrine. Saints, deities, temples and mosques are just a medium or a mode of achieving the peace that ultimately has to come from within ourselves.

Tell Us What You Think