July 21, 2014

Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's Dargah, Mehrauli, New Delhi

"To write about Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, is an almost impossible task. At the first step, a wide mountain range appears before the eye—and the longer the seeker pursues the path, the
more difficult it seems to reach any goal at all. He may dwell in the rose gardens of Persian mystical poetry or try to reach the icy peaks of theosophic speculations; he may dwell in the lowlands of popular saint worship or drive his camel through the endless deserts of theoretical discourses about the nature of Sufism, of God, and of the world; or he may be content to have an all-around glimpse of the landscape, enjoying the beauty of some of the highest peaks
bathed in the sunlight of early morning, or colored by the violet haze of a cool evening. In any case, only the elect few will reach the farthest mountain on which the mythical bird, Simurgh, lives
to understand that they have reached only what was already in themselves."
– Annemarie Schimmel, "Mystical Dimensions of Islam"

Unlike ordinary tombs – by ordinary I am referring to the tombs of emperors, military commanders, slaves, courtiers and so on – the tombs of holy men (“dargahs”) are almost always painted in brilliant, vibrant colors – glittering gold, blood red, shining silver and blinding blue – perhaps it has something to do with dargahs being living spaces, providing solace and a touch of belonging to weary souls in time of pain and suffering, often spawning a network of settlements and medieval-looking bazaars (markets) in the surrounding web of labyrinthine alleys and thereby providing support and livelihood to numerous dependants, and possessing a regular presence of hundreds, if not thousands, of faithful seeking advice or miracle from the saint who is considered only to be separated from the physical world by an invisible veil but otherwise present in the soul of the universe to answer the faithful and help them in times of despair by acting as a gentle medium between them and the almighty but beneficent divine. A common belief in Islam is that the tomb of a holy man sanctifies the area around itself for several miles and residence or burial in the said area is an easy-access direct shortcut to heaven – therefore prompting several others – from those at the lowest economic and social status in the society to the powerful and the affluent – to seek a tract of land for their burial in the vicinity of the venerated saint – many of these devotees too often renovate the saint’s tomb and/or add further features to the dargah complex thereby making it even more colorful and architecturally-artistically diverse, much like the saint’s following. I happened to observe these simple rationales following a recent visit to the dargah of Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki located in the dry and over-congested narrow lanes of Mehrauli, the oldest continuous settlement in Delhi. Hazrat Kaki’s dargah is undoubtedly one of the most revered shrines in the city despite its relatively less fame and inconsequential influence in 21st-centuy life and religion – perhaps it has to do something with the location of Mehrauli in a far-off corner of the city or the fact that Hazrat Kaki hasn’t received equal adoration and attention from the mainstream – unlike Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, one of his successors, his dargah has neither featured in popular movies nor is a part of history/photography walks that are led by several clubs in the city – and yet it won’t be wrong to point out that Hazrat Kaki was one of the earliest and foremost saints responsible for the acceptance and adoption of Islam as a religion by the people in the Indian subcontinent – he did not spread faith and brotherhood through the blades of swords but rather through his uninhibited kindness and unending piety.

Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's serene, pearlesque tomb. Notice the massive floral finial emerging from the dome.

Hazrat Khwaja Muhammad Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Aushi, a Saiyyid by genealogy (implying belonging to the hereditary lineage of the prophet), is considered to have been born a saint and was reverentially entitled to the honorifics Hazrat Malik-ul-Mashaikh Qutb-al-Aqtaab (“Lord Chief of the learned saints and the arbiters of Islamic jurisprudence”). The esteemed saint, born in AD 1173 in a small township known as Aush (in modern-day Krygyztan), influenced Islam and its acceptance in the Indian subcontinent in an immense, unprecedented manner by laying down the laws of Sufism and the spiritual and physical obligations of the saints of the order – he was the first religious student of the venerable saint Khwaja Garib Nawaz Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer and as such holds the enviable position of one of the most respected holymen in the subcontinent, the spiritual preceptor of the popular line of Sufi saints known as the Chishtiyya Order in India and the master of Hazrat Fariduddin Ganjshakar who in turn trained the magnanimous saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the patron saint of Delhi whose Dargah is amongst the defining landmarks of the city and its culture (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah). Having lost his pious father at the age of a year and a half, the boy showed a deep interest in learning and achieved distinction in spiritual and theological studies besides other subjects; he was educated by several conscious teachers besides his learned mother before coming in contact with Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti who was then visiting Aush and accepted the former as a student of religion after noticing the yearning for divine knowledge in him. The young boy received highly-treasured tutelage from Khwaja Chishti and became well-versed in several subjects and divine matters through the education imparted by several learned scholars from the Indian subcontinent and central Asia under the guidance of Khwaja Chishti while they stayed at Baghdad – travelling far and wide with his master and on occasion with other highly-esteemed scholars in his bid to receive as much comprehension as he could, he soon came to be accepted amongst the leading scholars and one of the most educated and practical of monastic saints the region had ever produced. On the completion of his education, Khwaja Chishti moved to India and Hazrat Qutbuddin, unable to bear the anguish of separation from his master, followed soon; recognizing his skilled comprehension and unyielding piety, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti sent his favorite student to Delhi to spread Islamic faith and bring followers close to religion and the divine by acting as solace for his poor and suffering devotees. 

Looking within - The beneficent saint's mortal remains rest here eternally, while he looks onto his followers from beyond a veil that renders him invisible

Legend goes that so devoted and regular was he towards his prayers that when he got married and ignored his prayers for several consecutive days, the Prophet himself was forced to send a divine vision to another pious man to inquire why Hazrat Bakhtiyar had abandoned his spiritual duties – deeply repentant and embarrassed over his loss of control under influence of worldly matters, the saint immediately divorced his wife and resumed his faithful prayers with renewed fervor – he did marry again several years later but never again neglected his prayers and religious obligations. Hazrat Qutbuddin gained a wide following, coming in touch with Sultans, merchants, travelers, spiritual seekers as well as the poor and the needy – streams of wealth flowed through his monastery everyday though the beneficence of his affluent devotees and passed on to relieve the despair and starvation of the poverty-stricken faithful – despite the abundance of riches and his ever-standing bidding to intimate him of the arrival of any faithful in need of monetary/spiritual aid at any time of the day, the saint spent his life in extreme poverty and hunger, stressing on the basic tenet of Sufism of staying close to suffering and starvation to understand the needs and condition of the poor in the bid to achieve union with the divine by alleviating poverty and suffering – subsisting on baked bread dipped in water, he did not even take a nickel from the donations to fulfill his and his family’s needs, the result being that his humiliated and tired wife was forced to beseech the local baker’s arrogant wife for mere morsels of leftover bread – once the baker’s wife reduced Hazrat Qutbuddin’s wife to miserable tears by incessant taunts over her husband’s inability to provide for her and the family; Hazrat Qutbuddin, on hearing about the entire episode, forbid his wife to ever ask anyone again for food and instead ordered her to take as many loaves of bread (“Kaak”) as she required from his prayer alcove – to the utter surprise and admiration of the people of the household, the alcove was always supplied with these loaves notwithstanding how many were already withdrawn from it – though the appearance did cease following the announcement of this miracle (belief is that miracles must be kept to one’s self else they never repeat and/or cease to yield the desired result), the neighbourhood people, attributing this ethereal presence of bread loaves to divine intervention, began adoringly referring to the saint as “Hazrat Kaki” and the name stuck! 

Forgotten - An enclosed, medieval cemetery in a corner of the dargah complex near Zafar Mahal 

The saint travelled a lot and came in contact with several learned mendicants and scholars during his sojourns which further helped mature his experiences and realization and fermented in him a pressing urge to seek further command over sacred matters – he never failed to mention these mendicants and dervishes in his sermons and included their teachings too in the lessons he imparted to his disciples – despite his knowledge and ecclesiastical status, he never discriminated between the pious and the evil and often inquired if Allah would reserve his blessings and grace only for the holy and the irreproachable, then who would look after the wicked and sinful.

Hazrat Kaki’s settlement in the suburb of Kilokheri evoked wide interest in the population and gained him an array of impressive followers, including the then Sultan Shamshuddin Iltutmish (reigned AD 1296-1316), who, after initially failing to convince the honored saint to settle in his magnificent city, used to wait upon his spiritual highness twice a week to receive spiritual guidance and understanding – impressed by the Sultan’s dutiful seeking and noting the wastage of regal time which could be better utilized in judiciating over public and legal matters, the saint eventually did move to the outskirts of the city and began staying in Mehrauli. It is said that upon his arrival one fine day, the righteous sultan found the benevolent saint in a disheveled state and upon learning that the same was caused by the lack of potable water for the purposes of drinking and ablutions immediately ordered for the construction of a striking stepwell – the same still exists near Hazrat Kaki’s Dargah and is referred to as “Gandhak ki Baoli” on account of its water possessing miraculous healing powers due to the concentrated presence of sulphur (“Gandhak”) in it (refer Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli). Myth is that Sultan Iltutmish also ordered construction of the mighty Qutb Minar as a tribute to the inspiring personality of Hazrat Qutb Kaki – however, this is contested by scholars who point out that the minaret was in all probability built by Iltutmish’s predecessor Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak (for other myths associated with this victory tower which has been hailed as a landmark striking piece of architecture in the country, refer – Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar). 

An abundance of graves and simple wedges indicating burial of a person at the spot is the defining feature of the dargah complex

His stay at Delhi brought Hazrat Kaki in a bitter conflict with the Sheikh-ul-Islam (an authority on Islamic legislature and jurisprudence) Nazmuddin Sughra (a brother disciple of Hazrat Chishti) – the latter, annoyed and jealous of the former’s growing fame amongst the masses and proximity to the emperor as well as the who’s who of the city, began bitter-mouthing and back-bitching about him. Hazrat Chishti arrived in the city soon thereafter to stay with his favorite disciple but pledged to take him back with him to Ajmer on learning about the growing enmity with Hazrat Sughra who was a renowned scholar and legal authority par excellence in his own right – on the day of departure, the teary-eyed and heartbroken population of Delhi gathered at Hazrat Kaki’s monastery and beseeched Hazrat Chishti to spare them the bitter pain of estrangement from their adored patron saint – moved by the overwhelming demonstrations of the poor and the pleadings of the rich and mighty, Hazrat Chishti ultimately relented to allow Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki to reside in Delhi and spread the love of faith and philosophy, but being aware via a divine intervention of his approaching death, he bid Hazrat Kaki visit him at his Ajmer monastery in a few days. While at Ajmer, Hazrat Chishti bestowed his “Khilafat” (caliphate/spiritual emissary) and blessings on Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki and asked him to return to his peaceful abode at Delhi as the chief of the Sufi order of Chishtiyya – Hazrat Chishti passed away a few days after Hazrat Kaki’s return to Delhi, leaving him heartbroken and much anguished. His parting advice to Hazrat Kaki was a set of basic tenets to be followed as chief of the Order – 
  1. A Sufi must appear content outwardly even when he might be poor and hungry. 
  2. A Sufi must feed the poor to their heart's satisfaction. 
  3. A Sufi must always remain sorrowful inwardly and pray for the poor and those afflicted by greed and grief, but outwardly he must appear cheerful and contented before the world. 
  4. A Sufi must always forgive and treat his enemy with all due affection and kindness. 

Hazrat Qutbuddin continued to look after his devotees and became even more magnanimous towards the poverty-stricken and offered much needed solace and kindness to the grief-stricken; despite his own self-imposed poverty, he never partook of whatever wealth came his way but with much affection and liberality distributed it amongst the faithful; such was his grace that none retired from his monastery empty-handed, every visitor received what s/he seeked – financial assistance, spiritual or worldly advise or scholastic guidance – he would ask his disciples to distribute water to visitors in case there was nothing else to offer. 

Hallowed - One of the three mosques within the complex

Hazrat Kaki never wrote down his teachings in the form of a book or sermon but the principles that he and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti developed – renunciation of material needs and worldly desires, strict self-discipline and regular prayer regime, participation in musical congregations (“sama”) and the utilization of the same to bring people to the folds of the faith, reliance on unsolicited offerings for basic livable subsistence, independence from rulers and rich patrons, steering away from administrative and policy decisions of the state, rejection of monetary and land grants and lastly, generosity and beneficence towards others irrespective of economic, social or religious position or gender – were adopted as the central tenets of Sufism in the subcontinent. Khwaja Sahib’s teachings and sayings were compiled in a short publication “Fawaid-us-Salikin” by his spiritual descendant Fariduddin Ganjshakar in which a summary of his interactions with other distinguished mendicants and saints, mystical instructions and divine experiences has been furnished. About the saint, it has been written that he was habituated to sleep little, talk little and eat little, devoting most of his waking hours to fervent prayers and administering to the faithful through sermons, guidance and assistance. He had memorized the entire Quran and would recite it faithfully at least twice a day in the last few days of his pious life. Hazrat Kaki was very close to his friend Qazi Hamiduddin Nagauri who too was a disciple of Hazrat Chishti – it was Qazi Hamiduddin who taught Hazrat Kaki the recital of Quran at the beginning of the latter’s spiritual education; the two became dear friends immediately and would undertake long voyages to far-away centers of Islamic faith and learning together. Qazi Hamiduddin was the erstwhile king of Bukhara (in modern-day Uzbekistan) but became disillusioned with the material world when, through divine intervention, a deer spoke to him while he was on a hunting trip, beseeching him to spare him and inquiring what answer would he offer to God on the day of judgment when pronounced guilty of the murder of an innocent being – he immediately gave up the throne and began to strive for religious instruction and holy wisdom, travelling as far as Baghdad (Iraq) to acquire learning. On a visit to the Medina shrine, he heard himself being referred to as Qazi Hamiduddin of Nagaur by an invisible mystical existence – he couldn’t fathom the portent of this prophesy but considering it divine will, immediately headed towards India where he was accepted under the proficient holy tutelage of Hazrat Chishti who later entitled him as “Sultan Tariqin” (“Master of the Sufi way”). Regarding the arrival of Qazi Nagauri’s arrival at Hazrat Chishti’s monastery, storytellers say that when the latter was about to initiate the holy education of Hazrat Kaki, a divine realization dawned upon him proclaiming that the young boy’s education would only be commenced by Qazi Nagauri – soon thereafter the Qazi arrived at the monastery and was entrusted with the boy’s care and training. Interestingly, such impressive was Hazrat Kaki’s prowess in matters of faith and spirituality that he asked Qazi Nagauri to begin his education from the second half of Quran since he had already learnt the first half while he was in his mother’s womb! Qazi Nagauri later came to Delhi with Hazrat Kaki and they both started living together with their respective families and initiated the initial Sufi scene in this ancient city – the orthodox Muslim scholars and priests were opposed to the idea of music, dance and universal harmony irrespective of religious and social differences and challenged them to do the same in Baghdad first and then return to Delhi – Qazi Hamiduddin returned to Baghdad, a great center of religion, commerce and learning in those days, and established Sufi faith there. He returned to Delhi amidst much admiration and veneration and went on to become one of the leading saints of the subcontinent, sharing the mantle of Sufism with his dear friend and trustworthy confidante Hazrat Kaki; impressed by his admirable countenance and unyielding faith in the divine, Sultan Iltutmish designated him the chief judicial authority (“Qazi”) of Nagaur (Rajasthan), therefore fulfilling the divine prophesy. 

Sparkling magnificent - The last of the three entrance gateways to the dargah complex 

“Kushtagaan-e-khanjar-e-tasleem raa, Har zamaan azz gheb jaan-e-deegar ast” 
“For the victims of the sword of divine love, there is a new life every moment from the unseen”

The year was 1237 AD - just a year since Hazrat Chishti’s demise – Hazrat Kaki too passed away after having become ecstatically spellbound while listening to the above mentioned couplet while attending a devotional music and dance congregation (“sama mehfil”) and immersing himself in an unprecedented state of joyous worship for several days from which he relieved himself only to offer the customary prayers five times a day. Throughout his life, Hazrat Kaki, like his predecessors and successors, had emphasized on musical traditions – conjecture is that he associated these devotional couplets to the role of music in Hindu worship and considered in effective in facilitating development of a spirit of syncretism and ridding the inhibition over visiting and praying at shrines of a faith different than the one one professes to – it is only fitting that he died while listing to the music he so cherished. Qazi Hamiduddin Nagauri and Sheikh Badruddin Ghaznavi (dearest people for Hazrat Kaki, but I couldn’t retrieve much trustworthy info on their lives – various sources seem to contradict each other) were next to him when he passed away in this extraordinary manner, conferring upon him posthumously the entitlement “Shaheed-e-Mohabbat” (“Martyred to love”). His will specified that the funeral prayers could only be led by a person who had never skipped the (non-obligatory) afternoon prayer nor performed any sinful act in the eye of Allah – the funeral congregation fell silent upon hearing these requirements and in the end it was none other than Sultan Iltutmish who led the prayers since amongst the thousands present he was the lone soul who adhered to these preconditions. The simple tomb that was built then has been repaired several times by well-meaning devotees – emperors, military commanders, court officials, medieval officialdom, spiritual seekers and enlightened faithful – the structure that exists today appears as if it has been erected very recently. The tomb complex is the earliest funerary shrine in Delhi with several additions made to it throughout medieval and modern history and yet most structures within appear pretty new given the paint jobs and the ornamentation with which the caretakers (who are all Khwaja Sahib’s direct descendants and suffix their names with the title “Qutbi”) and devotees have adorned them.  

Colorful, eye-catching prayer material for sale just outside the dargah

Unlike the narrow alleys (draped with cubbyhole-shops offering everything from chaddars (vibrantly-colored, intricately-embroidered cloth sheets that are wrapped on a saint’s tomb as a mark of respect), sugarballs, skullcaps, prayer materials and memorabilia) that pave the way to Hazrat Nizamuddin’s Dargah, Hazrat Kaki’s tomb complex is led to through a proper street lined with large commercial establishments offering eatables, hardware items and construction material – in fact, the medieval-era brilliantly-colored and dimly-lighted, narrow alleys are nowhere to be seen and the small bazaar that actually stocks traditional prayer material and offerings to the saint consists only of only about half a dozen or so shops! There aren’t many visitors here either – so much for the esteemed Hazrat Sahib who enjoyed such an exalted position in the mystical-spiritual scene that Hazrat Chishti himself had decreed that no visit to his tomb would bear fruit unless the devotee first pay obeisance at Hazrat Kaki’s tomb (a tradition late followed by Hazrat Nizamuddin with respect to his favorite disciple Amir Khusro, refer – Pixelated Memories - Amir Khusro's Tomb). Immediately on stepping into the tomb complex, one notices, besides the unmatched brilliance and an unparalleled but subdued riot of colors, an abundance of graves – only a few are surrounded by tomb proper, the rest are in such large numbers, cropping up in straight, defined lines along the shiny white marble floors or covered with dashing chaddars in almost every corner and peeping out from behind locked gates and run down walls, that they seem to appear to be a part of the dargah’s decoration! Walking along the short path that leads to the first gateway that marks the outer periphery of the dargah complex, if one hasn’t yet climbed up the stairs and started admiring the huge collection of assorted prayer materials and not very flamboyant chaddars that a guy sells right at the gateway's periphery, one can step into a small rectangular "muhajjar" (tomb open to the sky) on the right side just a couple of meters before reaching the staircase – the lone, large grave is drenched in light blue color and so are the walls and the arched alcoves near the head of the grave, though the latter are largely blackened now due to the lighting of oil lamps (“diyas”) in them frequently; the repeated chores of paint and whitewash have largely filled in the star and foliage shaped peepholes that convert the outer wall of the muhajjar into a jaali (stone lattice work), though atleast these are better maintained on the outside. The gateway is a simple white structure painted over the central protruding rectangle in blue with green patterns for ornamentation and a line of calligraphy running along the high arch and loudspeakers propped up atop the its rectangular minarets.

The simplistic blue and green entrance to the complex. The funerary zone begins right from this gateway with the first tomb being a small enclosed structure in the right foreground.

Stepping through the first gateway, one reaches an open square and even though the second gateway (“Baab-e-Khwaja” or “The Saint’s Gateway”), even more exquisite than the first with its multicolored floral patterns and calligraphy inscriptions as well as painted over arches and kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation), is clearly in view, one is tempted to run along either towards the side where several graves compete for space with dirt-poor beggars, frail old men, women and devotees of all hues and types, or though a narrow passageway that leads to the dargah complex’s secondary tombs. We first headed towards the open space – there were a few tombs scattered around – one of them, painted white and green and possessing an intricate stone latticework for its four walls, rests on a white marble plinth with a heavy curtain draping the entrance (entry is forbidden to male visitors so the female devotees sitting clustered just outside the entranceway  informed me); near the tomb are beautiful slender male graves inscribed with striking calligraphy on their entire surface except the tops where magnificent floral artwork manages to peep through layers of fragrant red, white and orange flowers that some faithful left there. Opposite the tomb are several more graves and chambers where the descendants of Hazrat Qutb reside in all probability. 

The well-kept, quiet interiors of the dargah are a surprise, especially considering the presence of hordes of devotees in other religious places throughout the city. The tomb photographed here belongs to a female follower of the Khwaja Sahib and male entry within is prohibited. 

Walking into the narrow passageway that emanates from the eye-catching gateway and turns its way half-stride to reveal a large courtyard sprouting scores of graves – the centerpiece is a majestic-looking pavilion tomb with very splendid artwork on all sides, a heavy but skillfully cut marble panel set atop its front face between two slender marble minarets and domed kiosks (“chattris”) topping all four corners. We later headed into this courtyard – most of the graves here are antique though it is very difficult to judge given the frequent paint jobs that they have been subjected to; a canopy of foliage delicately hangs between the graves and the open sky, neither engulfing them completely nor exposing them to the elements; the majestic tomb is divided into two halves internally by means of a stone partition, each half has a calligraphy-embossed cenotaph and the interiors are as ornately covered as the exteriors with colorful lamps for company in each half; just within the iron grille that separates this funerary zone from the rest of the courtyard is a narrow, dust-laden and cobweb-covered staircase that leads underground, perhaps to the real graves placed in the crypt below.  

The intricately adorned pavilion tomb standing aside from one of the several funerary clusters within the complex

The portion of courtyard free from graves is flanked on two opposite sides by two mosques – the first is a simple rectangular structure, warmly painted cream inside and layered with deep red carpets; the other mosque seems older, it has tall minarets, a grass green dome influenced by Central Asian architectural traditions and a wide, protruding chajja (eave); between the two mosques hangs a spiderweb of hollow iron poles surmounted upon several more poles used to spread a cloth canopy cover when the summer becomes scorching enough to make walking barefoot on the marble unbearable (one is required to leave their footwear either at the numerous shops leading to the dargah or the official designated shoe-counter at the first periphery of the tomb complex); a massive minaret emerges from the ground along a corner of the first mosque – with its three floors with circular and angular flutings, the minaret is an exact replica of the magnificent Qutb Minar except for the three passageways that bud out from it on all three levels – since the bottom most layer has alternate circular and angular flutings, the passageway at its head too consists of both, while the second and third floor have only angular and circular flutings respectively and hence the passageways too take a similar shape. The best view of the minaret can be had from Zafar Mahal, the pleasure palace of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II (ruled AD 1837-57), nearby (a post on it too will follow in future). 

The minaret adjacent to the mosques, view from Zafar Mahal. Built to imitate nearby Qutb Minar, the minaret's rough exteriors give it an appearance as if it is still being built. I doubt if any muezzin climbs it today to call the faithful for prayers.

There is another mosque too in the dargah complex – this one, painted deep vibrant red, sits on a high plinth and is led to by a massive, thick gateway with a perfectly semi-circular entrance arch and white marble plaques embedded around the arch describing the mosque’s construction and commission in Persian calligraphy. The monotony of the brick-red paintwork is broken by thick blue kanguras and even thicker, pillar-like minarets at the entrance and deep-green doorways inside. The mosque retains signs of beautiful artwork done in incised plaster breaking into a pattern here and a bloom there, most of these designs have largely lost their exquisiteness given the thick layers of paint that embellish them and yet it radiates a subdued charm that promises to engulf an onlooker into a world of silent thoughtfulness and appreciation. The open mosque has a portion of it covered by a protruding roof supported on pillars with graceful engrailed arches stretched between consecutive pillars, reminiscent of the renowned pavilions and palaces within the Red Fort complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Red Fort). The simple and yet thought-provokingly graceful mosque becomes the bedchamber of numerous wandering mendicants and resident dervishes who sneak into its cool, shady corners to escape the furious summer sun and catch some winks in the scorching afternoon.  

Pretty! - Patterns embossed on the mosque's courtyard walls  

Heading back into the narrow passageway that led to the Khwaja’s sacred tomb, one comes to the final gateway – a bewilderingly magnificent golden gateway with exquisitely embossed silver gates, immensely skilled floral artwork along the corner panels and beautiful calligraphy in gold inscribed within black and red margins. Thick white marble lattice screens separate the visitors from the central courtyard, women devotees are not allowed in the courtyard where the tomb stands and most of them can be seen sitting and praying next to these screens, many would also tie red-yellow threads to these screens beseeching the saint to grant their wishes (the threads have to be removed once one’s desires come true) – it is difficult to click the tomb from here because of the inhibition offered by the thick screens but the view, with the tomb veiled by this ornately symmetrical patchwork, is simply astonishing. The marble screens as well as the beautiful mosques were later additions made by the Emperor Farrukhsiyar (reign AD 1713-19). This marks the beginning of the holiest of areas in the entire hallowed complex – past the screens, one comes face to face with the courtyard in one corner of which stands the saint’s simple tomb – supported on twelve golden pillars and topped by a massive circular dome, the spellbinding tomb has an end-to-end cloth sheet thrown over it – even the glittering pillars cannot match the dazzle of the saint’s grave where the brilliance of the decorative sequins and the vibrance of the large colorful cloth beads that tie the sheet to the pillars of the marble railing that surrounds the grave appears otherworldly despite their simplicity and subdued glimmer. The dome’s interiors are done with beautiful mirror work with symmetrical but colorful calligraphy and geometrical patterns adding further charm; but the most impressive feature of the tomb is its endearing finial which appears like a full-blown blooming golden floral outburst. The thick marble minarets and pearlesque onion domes of Moti Masjid (“Pearl Mosque”) that the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah I (ruled AD 1707-12) built in a clear imitation of his father Aurangzeb Alamgir’s personal mosque in the sprawling Red Fort complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Red Fort Complex) peep from behind the boundary wall of the courtyard. 

Exquisite mirror work along the dome's concave surface

Apart from dozens of wedges symbolizing the presence of graves underneath throughout the open courtyard, the courtyard boasts of another twelve-pillared pavilion tomb (“baradari”) in one corner of it along the side adjoining the saint’s tomb – this particular tomb, also adorned internally with alluring mirror work with a small chandelier sprouting from a floral motif in the center of the roof adding further grace, belongs to Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bistami, a Sufi saint belonging to the Suhrawardy Order, from whom Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki purchased the land for building this final resting place – legend is that once Hazrat Kaki was returning from Id prayers with his followers when passing through this very spot he became spellbound and immersed in the gripping world of thoughts; he was reminded that more devotees were waiting for him at his monastery and escorted back but he immediately sent for Abdul Aziz and proclaimed that he smelt the fragrance of love from this particular patch of ground; the entire land was duly purchased and the pious Sheikh Aziz too was accorded a place of honor with his grave located so close to the Khwaja’s. A very bewitching qibla (wall mosque) displaying a red and black medallion adorned with several inscriptions enclosed within a layer of mirror work that is further framed by a protruding arch and enclosed within silver and blue floral patterns is built in the portion of the periphery wall overlooking Sheikh Abdul’s tomb. Opposite Sheikh Aziz’s tomb is a small dark chamber embedded deep in the periphery wall and slightly lower than the tomb courtyard, a large steel lamp holder stands solo in this chamber but there was not a soul lighting earthen lamps here; at least the dark recess afforded a majestic view of the entire shrine as well as the onion domes of the Moti Masjid peeping from behind the high walls (refer Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid, Mehrauli). It is a wonder that this entire place, offering silence and solace amidst such humble serenity with these mystical giants for spiritual guidance and these splendid structures for a visual adrenaline rush are so isolated, so forgotten by devotees and tourist circles alike. 

The small, flamboyantly-decorated wall mosque next to Sheikh Aziz's tomb

The dargah is also the site for the annual “Phoolwalon ki Sair” festival (“Walk of the flower-sellers”), usually held in the months of October/November as a mark of interfaith harmony and syncretism – the history behind this unique event is that once Mumtaz Mahal, the bereaved queen of Emperor Akbar Shah II (ruled AD 1806-37), prayed that if her arrogant son Mirza Jahangir, guilty of insulting British high officials as well as shooting his pistol (and missing) at the British Resident (negotiator) of Delhi Sir Archibald Seton, could return from his exile at Allahabad, she would offer a chaddar at Hazrat Kaki’s dargah and a flower “pankha” (ornamental fan for hanging over a shrine) at the nearby Yogmaya temple (Hazrat Kaki’s dargah and Mehrauli as a whole saw a resurgence in popular culture and architectural sphere during the reign of the later Mughals). The wish having been fulfilled, the queen started this legendary tradition that has since been held continuously for almost two centuries, except for a brief lull during British rule, and has brought members of different communities residing in the area closer to each other facilitating peaceful cohabitation and dialogue. High-profile dignitaries like the Chief Minister and Governor of Delhi attend the festival with their entourage and it is the Hindus who offer the chaddar first at the shrine of Hazrat Kaki and Muslims who adorn the Yogmaya temple with the beautiful pankha. Incidentally, Akbar Shah II decided to be buried adjacent to the open marble enclosure (“muhajjar”) that houses the mortal remains of Bahadur Shah I close to the dargah and adjacent to the Moti Masjid; also buried alongside Akbar Shah II are Shah Alam II and Mirza Fakruddin (son of Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II) – the graves and the mosque can be accessed from the “Ajmeri Darwaza” (“Doorway opening towards Ajmer”), a soothing blue entrance way with shards of tiles patched together to generate a handsome yet serene effect. Zafar too desired to be buried here and had even earmarked a patch of grassy land in Akbar Shah II’s muhajjar for his cenotaph but he was exiled to Myanmar by the British where he spent his last few years in exile and was buried in a nondescript unmarked grave. The Emperors Shamshuddin Iltutmish and Alauddin Khilji are also buried nearby in the shadow of the soaring Qutb Minar, the individual posts about their eminent tombs can be accessed from here – Pixelated Memories - Iltutmish's Tomb and Pixelated Memories - Alauddin's Tomb & Madrasa Complex

The beautiful but unkempt Ajmeri Darwaza. Children could be seen playing cricket around it and vegetable sellers set up stock just outside the courtyard abutting the gateway and Moti Masjid mosque.

The Urs of Khwaja Sahib (death day celebrations) is also held with much pomp and grandeur every year at the dargah – death is considered to be an auspicious occasion in Sufism, referred to as a wedding where the saint leaves behind his physical form to become one with the divine and hence a cause for celebration – the entire dargah complex is beautifully decorated with flowers, sparklers and fairy-lights and Qawwali mehfils (Sufi devotional music congregations) are held all night long. The dargah also boasts of a still continuing association with the dargah of Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer – every year, devotees of Hazrat Chishti begin assembling at Hazrat Kaki’s dargah almost a month before Hazrat Chishti’s Urs celebrations; as mentioned earlier, Hazrat Chishti had it proclaimed that visit to his tomb complex would be incomplete without first visiting Hazrat Kaki’s tomb complex, hence these devotees begin assembling here and wait for the full moon night when the date of Hazrat Chishti’s Urs date is decided upon according to the traditional lunar calendar following which they proceed on foot to Hazrat Chishti’s Dargah (over 400 kilometers away!) – every mendicant, saint and devotee in this colorful congregation is armed with a wooden stick topped with a fluttering green flag and hence it is known as the “Festival of Sticks” (“Chadeeyon/Chhadiyon ka Mela”). For those who cannot make it to these special events, there is always the regular Qawwali night held every Thursday evening in the Dargah complex when the Dargah’s resident singers dish out the harmoniums and tablas and render devotional songs and heartbreaking couplets. 

Colorful and artsy - The second of the three entrance gateways to the dargah

Heading back, we were directed to the small alcove built into the terrace overlooking Hazrat Kaki’s tomb and led to by a beautifully ornamented gateway with floral motifs painted on the white walls – probably the most beautiful structure in the entire dargah complex and literally the humblest despite its glittering adornments, shimmering paintwork and the shine of several locks on its pillars (similar to the red-yellow threads, these too are tied by devotees pleading with the saint to act as an interlocutor between them and God and have their wishes granted) – this is the tomb of one of the Khalifas (“spiritual emissary”) of Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki. Most websites dedicated to Sufism, Islam and Delhi refer to it as the tomb of Hamiduddin Nagauri, Hazrat Kaki’s close companion and spiritual guide, but Qazi Nagauri is buried in the far away city of Nagaur in Rajasthan where he preached throughout his lifetime – his dargah there is an important part of the Sufi pilgrimage circuit; the tomb’s old caretaker couldn’t offer me any answers when I pointed this anomaly to him; perhaps the identity of this revered saint has been forgotten through the tides of time. One sighs with relief with the firm belief that Hazrat Kaki’s identity would never be forgotten in this ancient city of cities, come what may and even in the face of dwindling follower count and the relinquishing of matters of faith, history and humanity by the general public in the bid for economic and social welfare – after all, don’t the Khwaja Sahib’s followers contend that no harm would ever come to Delhi as long as his dargah stands erect since he loves this city even after death and showers blessings on it everyday from his seat in heavens. 

The highly ornate and glittery tomb of Hazrat Kaki's caliph

Location: Near Mehrauli Terminal bus stand
Nearest Metro Station: Qutb Minar
Nearest Bus stop: Mehrauli Terminal
How to reach: One can walk from the bus terminal (approx. 10 min away) or take an auto from Qutb Minar/Saket metro stations (charges approx Rs 40)
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min
Advisory: Since the dargah complex is a religious shrine, it is advisable to be properly dressed, especially for women. Both men and women visitors are required to take off their footwear at the gateway (can be kept in bag or deposited at one of the numerous shops/shoe counter) and cover their heads with handkerchiefs/skullcaps/dupattas.
Relevant Links - 
  1. Dargahsharif.com - Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaaki R.A.
  2. Delhibyfoot.in - Chhadeeyon ka Mela
  3. Ghumakkar.com - In the mystic alleys of Delhi (II) – Phool Wallon Ki Sair
  4. Google books - "Sufism: Heart of Islam" by Sadia Dehlvi
  5. Hazratbakhtiyarkaki.com - Other mazaars in the Dargah premises
  6. Sufiwiki.com - Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki
  7. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Attack took place close to emblem of Indian secularism" (dated Sep 28, 2008) by Sameer Arshad
  8. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Say it with Flowers: Phoolwalon-ki-sair" (dated Nov 2, 2006) by Pranav Khullar
  9. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Where religion does not define identity" (dated Oct 23, 2008) by Radhika Oberoi
  10. Travel.cnn.com - Article "The Sufi music tour: Where to hear qawwali in India" (dated Feb 14, 2012) by Divya Dugar
  11. Tribuneindia.com - Article "Singing in praise of the Lord" (dated March 7, 1999) by Devi Singh Naruka
  12. Wikipedia.org - Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti

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