This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Hansikha Vohra. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

My Experience Of Nizamuddin Dargah Was Both Intoxicating And Troubling

More from Hansikha Vohra

As I entered a space where whirling dervishes have lived, danced, cried, and loved, I felt intoxicated with energy – energy I am unable to put in words, an energy mystics have devoted their entire lives trying to decipher, energy I still feel hungover with. This space that I talk of is the dargah (mausoleum) of the great Sufi mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, situated in the Nizamuddin West area of Delhi.

I waltzed down the narrow lanes that house heaps of rose petals, itr (perfume), Sufi books, chaddars (holy blanket), and vendors calling out to customers with, “Dargah ke liye yeh lijiye (Take this for the dargah).” I bought two chaddars – one green, embroidered with flower designs, and one yellow, as a gesture of my devotion towards Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, who lies peacefully in a shrine where thousands from all backgrounds come to find solace, everyday.

I had the opportunity of meeting Sufi Syed Ajmal Nizami, a descendent of Prophet Muhammad and a traditional caretaker of the shrine. Sufi Ajmal Ji received me and my family at the main entrance and welcomed us with a warm smile.

We first visited the main shrine, passing by the qawwals, whose voices adorned the evening with Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s couplets in praise of Auliya. Three main singers, dressed in green kurtas with white kufis, accompanied the main singer dressed in white, singing while playing an old harmonium. Women, men, and children bore witness to the gala that celebrated love, adulation, and euphoria.

As I stood there and relished the symphonies of the evening, Sufi Ajmal Nizami educated me on a lesser-known fact. The word ‘naan’ was recorded for the first time in Khwaja Khusrou’s couplets, he claimed.

Pointing to the left, he showed us the tomb of Princess Jahanara Begum, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan. Pointing even further down he showed us the tombs of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s two sufi brothers — Mirza Babur and Mirza Jahangir.

He apologised for the dire conditions there as he led us into a tête-à-tête, talking about the restrictions put up by the government that doesn’t allow the authorities to use their own resources for the amelioration of the centuries-old dargah.

Q: Why do they not allow you to spend even your own money in order to alleviate the conditions of the dargah?

A: To control Muslims – simple. For the past 70 years, we haven’t been able to do anything for the dargah. We are still hiding ourselves. And this doesn’t apply just to us. Unfortunately, it is prevalent throughout the country.

We have nothing left. We don’t have our libraries, our belongings. Sab cheez toh cheen lee (They have stripped us of everything). You see that masjid there? We cannot even get that repaired. We are low on funds. Even when we try to, we are threatened with official notices from the ASI, the Ministry of Tourism, and the cultural ministry, who, amusingly, don’t do anything themselves. Nor do they let us do it.

Q: Must be nice to meet prominent personalities every now and then.

A: Whenever someone important comes to visit India, there are only two prominent places of worship, the first being Jama Masjid and the second is the dargah of Nizammudin Auliya. Actually, not even the Jama Masjid. This dargah is unrivalled in the country, the primary point of Muslim worship. Because there you only have the mosque. Here, we have culture, we have music. Come, let me show you the mosque from inside…

Q: What is its significance?

A: This is one of the oldest and most important mosques in the country — The Jamat Khana Mosque, built between 1315 and 1325. And it is one of the oldest pulpits for Sufis here, known as minbar, where every Friday the Imam delivers a sermon. And on Eid, we have the namaaz six times here, the sixth one delivered by the Imam himself.

Basically, minbar means “woh jagah jo dusri jagahon se unchi hai” or the place higher than the rest. The mosque you stand in is 800 years old and till 1618 it stood without any support. Even today, the dome stands without any support and no iron has been used. The gate too hasn’t been made of iron.

Q: What do the Arabic sayings on the shrine signify?

A: These are the names of the immediate family of Prophet Muhammad written next to his. The son-in-law, his daughter Fatima, the oldest grandson Imaam-e-Hussain, who was killed in Karbala (one of the most tragic incidents ever recorded). Karbala is the reason why the Shias hit themselves on Muharram.

Khwaja Nizammduin Auliya himself has read the namaaz here. What is interesting to note is that Khwaja Nizammudin Auliya never met any king himself, for he felt that dining and receiving gifts from such nobles was hypocritical on his part as a dervish.

Yahaan ki legacy bohot zabardast hai. Abhi Agha Khan walon ne isse restore kiya hai (The legacy of this place is exciting. Recently, the people from Agha Khan (Trust for Culture) restored it).

Q: How does one become a Sufi?

A: It’s all chosen by the almighty. There are three possibilities. Either you’ve been chosen (Gabriel comes and blows on your soul in your mother’s womb and with that blow you become a sufi) or by serving the people, which in itself shows your devotion towards the almighty. Thirdly, you should be in love with Allah.

Q:  (Pointing to a man who was blowing air on people and dancing to the qawwali) What is he doing? What does it mean?

A: It is an old custom to bless the people who visit the dargah.

Q: What is your favourite poem by Maulana Rumi ?

A: It is in Persian, but I can translate it for you —

 Koi bhi cheez apne aap cheez nahi ban jaat/ aur koi bhi cheez apne aap se talvaar nahi ban jaati hai/aur maulvi tab tak maulvi nahi banta jab tak woh shamz tabrizi/ ka ghulam nahi banta  (Nothing attains itself independent of another/Nothing becomes a sword on its own/And a maulvi does not become a maulvi unless he bows down to Shams Tabrizi)

Q: How do you and your family live with such a prestigious title amidst everyone else?

A: We are very down-to-earth people and we live like this. We lay a lot of emphasis on education. My sisters are also very educated and are government officers. One of them is a dental surgeon at Tihar Jail. My maamu is a retired officer from Air India.

 My ancestors migrated from Medina on the basis of education, and to preserve our familial legacy. We shifted to Uzbekistan when Genghis Khan was in power. They say that there have been as many as 124,000 prophets in the world, including Jesus, Solomon, etc…and my family carries the blood of all.

After a minute of silence, Sufi Ajmal Nizami’s father Pir Khwaja Afzal Nizami, a renowned Sufi, said to me, “Sufi is a four-lettered word, and so is Love. Sufi is Love and Love is Sufi. Allah gave us mohabbat (love) and he made us to experience it. Woh hamein pyaar, mohabbat, aman aur chain ka pegam detein hain (His message is of love, peace, and equanimity). We are not concerned with anyone’s religion and we love all. Sufiyon ke mamlon ko samajhna asaan nahin (It is not easy to understand the way of the Sufis).”

Adding to which, Sufi Ajmal Nizami, very beautifully said, “We don’t represent a certain faith. Our identity is far greater and broader than the identity of religion.”

Featured image by author.
You must be to comment.

More from Hansikha Vohra

Similar Posts

By Akash Dutta

By Akash Dutta

By Kp Singh

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below