The tomb of the Sufi saint Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti in the holy city of Ajmer attracts pilgrims throughout the year. But the influx is more on festivals like Urs , Eid and The famous Pushkar fair. Being an atheist (though technically Hindu Rajput), I visited Ajmer only in the capacity of a tourist. I was curious to know, what is it about this famous shrine that so many people are drawn to it!
To feel the pulse of the place, I walked down the area of bazaar which leads to the Dargah. It is typical of what is expected outside an Islamic religious place. The shops sold flowers and ‘chadar’ for offer, caps, clothes , scents , lobans (produces fragrance upon burning), CD sellers pushed Dargah themed kitschy VCDs. Most VCDs showed distressed women hysterically and dramatically wailing and crying and asking Khwaja for ‘rehem’ (Mercy) . The VCDs further showed once they visited the Ajmer shrine , its happy days for them again. Some more non serious CDs has songs playing in a child’s voice , “Papa, mujhe Khwaja ji ke mele mein hai jaana” (Daddy, I want to go to Khwajaji’s fair).
Also on offer was a never ending buffet of Mughali food such as sheermal , naans , biryaani , kebabs, keema , mutton curry , the works! A gastronomic delight at a throw away price for non-vegetarians! Soon my eyes wandered at a butcher shop next to the Dargah. The streets were inundated with fancy looking goats since it was Bakrid the next day. The vegetarian animal activist in me was left wondering, ‘Why no ‘rehem’ for these poor harmless animals? Just because they can not sing and dance in a VCD?
Once inside, I was mesmerized by the whole ‘mahaul’ (ambiance)! It was populated with long bearded men dressed in traditional pathani suit and speaking in exotic Arabic, cats roaming around confidently , people reading holy texts, fragrances of incense sticks filling the air!Pilgrimstied holy threads on a wall and kissed it. People and pigeons jostled for space in a charming water pond to wash their legs. Some offered money and other mundane things in a well. What intrigued me the most were humans and their dreams, hopes , aspirations, despair , grief, happiness , total surrender , the works ! It was so palpable; I could read all these emotions on people’s faces ! A teary eyed face there , a trance-ed soul there.
The atheist in me didn’t stand in a queue to offer a prayer or a chadar. Nor did I kiss any holy door or tie a thread. What drew my attention instantly were the live qawwalis. I rushed to the place following the sound. Since it was the first time I entered a ‘majaar’, I briefly observed how others were behaving or sitting and tried to fit in. I sat there with closed eyes and complete surrender, listening to soulful qawwalis peacefully. The words were all themed around human vulnerability. For me , my God was in that moment! I offered no chadar , no prayer , tied no threads , didn’t even ask for anything (Despite the fact that at the time a lot of things were not going right in my life), but still felt at peace hearing those words. I observed a man, his eyes red with all the weeping ; a foreign woman , so engrossed in the music, even though she didn’t understand a word and an elderly person who emotionally overwhelmed, closed his eyes and swirled his head in ecstasy in almost trance like state. I can only imagine his mystical experience of self-transcendence. The songs almost made me cry as it made me reflect on my past and present, both of which I found to be in shambles. Not one to cry in public , I fought back my tears valiantly and gained control on my emotions. The singers had powerful voice and rendered qawwalis with immense passion even though they do it daily , non-stop. Not wanting to get up even after an hour session, but bound by time constraints , I left the place humming those qawwalis.
I returned back to dargah in the evening to experience the Dargah in its night glory. Somehow the place was even more magical by the night. The scents were uncannily more stronger and the sights more delightful. (What with all those colorful lights!). Even the emotions grew stronger! I saw a woman crying while leaving the Dargah (A sick child? A divorce?). Another woman was walking to-and-fro like a frustrated lioness in a cage shouting to God and herself, “ My daughter never harmed anyone! Then why did this happen to her ? I want an answer…) She was furious and grief stricken and freaked out the pilgrims with her antics. It was a sad sight. Something which still disturbs me when I think of it. Life is certainly easier in the VCDs.
Absorbing all this, I spent 45 minutes listening to qawwalis, this time putting an alarm in my cell , lest I would have missed my train ( Thanks to the hypnotizing music). Coming out of the Dargah , I returned the handkerchief to an old man selling the same, so that he could sell it again. It took the old man by surprise and he was happy to receive the handkerchief which could fetch him an extra Rs.10/-. Yes, sometimes all it takes is Rs. 10/- to gift someone a wide smile! Some people’s prayers do work!
This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Abhinav Singh