Friday, April 28, 2006

Songs of the Mystics

It is impossible for even the whimsical visitor to remain untouched by the energy and vitality of the Dargah. It is in every way an assault on the senses from the moment you enter the crowded lanes till the time you leave the complex. One dare not hurry through it all lest one misses a whisper from beyond the grave. Turn a corner and Mirza Ghalib rests in an unfortunately unnoticed complex. Stop for a moment and you might be waylaid by the insistent perfume seller. "You must try Khus today", he says. Little grubby urchins with an impish sparkle in their eyes tug at your clothes. "Spare a rupee in the name of Allah!" The heaps of roses, the bright green chadors and the pulsating throb of the crowd engulf the unguarded visitor. Just when it seems too overwhelming the first strains of a Sama (traditional Sufi musical assembly) in full swing reach ones ears. That is what one came for. The calm within, despite the chaos without is always a welcome surprise. The Sufi way has revealed itself already. Order in chaos, unity in multiplicity.

Littered with the graves of long forgotten saints and dusty ancestors, the small complex betrays its many liaisons with the ghosts of yesterday. A vagabond mogul and a beloved princess share the same space (if not the same glory) as the mighty poet and his mentor. Many lives thrive within these walls. Some have made this place their home simply for sustenance, others in search of emotional and spiritual reassurance. But each one whatever be the purpose, is tied to the other in their acknowledgement of that Truth that none can deny- the truth of the Universal Spirit. The core of being itself that unites all things on earth. It is this that one sees embodied in the myriad faces of the Dargah-e-Nizamuddin. The water- bearer, the flower seller, the shoe keeper, the qawwal, the fakir, the pir, the sheikh, the pagan, the Hindu, the Mussalman, the rich, the poor, the woman, the child, the old, the young, the dead and the alive. Sufism is a prism through which the unity in the multiplicity of Beings becomes plain for all to see.

The crowd that throngs at the gates of Dargah-e-Nizamuddin each day bears testament to the living legacy of Nizamuddin Auliya and Amir Khusro, and also to the continuing relevance of Sufism. As a poet has rightly said, "In these senseless times a faith that makes you look within is a faith that makes sense". Synonymous with Sufism in India, Nizamuddin Auliya and Amir Khusro stand for values such as tolerance and humanism. Khusro’s contribution to poetry and music is not unknown. His verses have often been a eulogy of a country that he likens to heaven on earth, and a celebration of the diversity of Hindustan. His devotion to his teacher, Nizamuddin Auliya is unmistakable in his work.

I shall be set free from the bonds of the two worlds

If you become my companion for a while.
By your wanton playfulness you must have destroyed
Thousands of hearts of lovers like that of Khusrau.

What is remarkable is that Amir Khusro is perhaps more alive today than his mentor. It is customary at the Dargah to visit the smaller (but no less significant) shrine of Amir Khusro before proceeding to the main shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusro lives in the innumerable verses, riddles, qawwalis and sayings he penned. He was indeed an ambassador of an India that was assimilative and inclusive. The foremost exponent of a spiritual and literary movement that rose above parochial concerns to reflect a truly cross-cultural sentiment.

Love is the only intoxicant in these mystical alleys. A sublime truth; the eternal and immortal soul of being itself. It rests beneath pearly white and swathes of green velvet. Poetry has been put to rest forever in the company of He who inspired it. These marble walls do not bind him. These bloody roses do not bury him. He rises out of his stony grave each time a single voice of the many reverberates through the air. They seek him in pleasure and they seek him in pain. They seek him in ecstasy and they seek him in despair. He seeks no one and yet he turns none away.

A timid strain at first; a lilting melody. Crowds melt into oblivion. No one is spared the tyranny of love. It consumes the self in its wake leaving only the soul. Cleansed, pure, pristine, provoked by passion and yet forever at peace. The words float above, over, under, around and through the crowd, wrapping themselves around the agony and the ecstasy of those who give themselves freely in love. Spirits leave their fleshy confines and come alive in the guise of the flourish of a dervish’s skirt or the solitary tear on a weather-beaten cheek. They take forms so delicate that they defy the cacophony that inspired them.

The attraction of love won’t leave you unmoved;

Should you not come to my funeral, you’ll definitely come to my grave.
My soul has come on my lips
Come so that I may remain alive

After I am no longer - for what purpose will you come?

For some the shrine is the beginning of a life anew whereas for some others it is the culmination of a journey that has brought them closer to achieving a desired state of rest. Ahmad Raza, 8 years old, has left his home in Bihar to come and live with his uncle. He is the boy who collects the empty flower baskets and takes them back to his uncle's flower shop. He knows Nizamuddin like the back of his hand and his eyes betray the many stories that he has to tell. He looks at my camera with curiosity and bewilderment. "What can you see through it? Can I see what you see?" Obviously he knows something I don’t.

The water bearer has seen it all. He has seen the compound choked with people the day riots broke out in Gujarat. They came in droves, he whispers. Some held on to each other while others wept by the grave of their saint, their confidante. Baba Khusro listened to them all. Khusro ki marham jaisi is duniya mein aur koi nahi. Where are you from, he asks. Do you have something to say to Him too? I have come from Ahmedabad I say. And I have come to listen to Him and his people. God bless you, he says. We share a smile and already a moment has transpired between two strangers - a moment of compassion, a moment of truth.

Death is not to be mourned. Rejoice in death for it is death that will unite you with your Beloved. Let me die before I die! Urs is the death anniversary of the Sufi saint and it is celebrated with much pomp and glory. It was my privilege to witness one such celebration. Crippled as one is by the insufficiency of language and the inadequacy of words, it is futile to attempt to describe an experience such as this. To say the least it is a world where you are defined by what you feel and not by what you know. Look around and it is plain to see. A lone voice rises above the crowd. It is some tune you haven’t heard. But listen to it you must. Twilight approaches and the crowd is like viscous glue. The summer air, thick with incense is about to get thicker with the songs of Love. The Qawwali begins without warning. Before you know it your hands join the others in the maddening rhythm. Soon it has made a fanatic out of you. But you stand still while these waves break over you with unending force until you are spent. You wonder, what is the diaphanous glow that has suddenly come over all that you see? Blink. The glow clears as tears flow free.

The journey of the mystic is a tremulous one at first. But only to be transformed, with time, into the confident stride of the seasoned traveler. There are no tourists in these quarters, only wanderers who need no maps, who in fact despise all maps. The journey then is a journey within, an inexorable quest. Who can say what the end shall be in a journey such as this? But the rewards are plenty. Love, compassion, humanity, universal brotherhood, the innate potential of every being to reach a higher state of existence and the realization that God is after all a mirror of the Self, are what drive the Sufi towards greater consciousness. The Sufi proclaims in all earnest: love is the cause of all creation. Love of God is the love of humanity, because to love god is to love all that He has created.


rajat nagpal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rajat nagpal said...

The irony of the comment "soul-less"
city against your description in a few decades of words capturing a moment that repeats itself as periodically as the gears in the clock of ghanta ghar is certainly commendable. I am really impressed by the imagery even though they are the cliches of our daily lives in India. What would be interesting is to not see all of it for once with the knowledge of the mindset and the culture but rather with the excitement from the eyes of a child or that insolent "foriegner". And also todiscover with ignorance as to what makes things work the way they are right now... Hence no biases, no prejudices and perhaps immense freshness in the though process. Keep writing.

Arun Gupta said...

Well written, and with empathy and feeling.

Sufi, however, is a buzzword today - the 'with it' stuff for the people who stay 'without'

Mandakini said...

Thanks for the comments. My fascination with this place (Nizamuddin) began when I did a history project in school on Sufism as it developed in India. Since then it has been a pet subject of mine.
"sufi" is definitely "in" today. But i like to think that my preoccupation is with the place and people rather than sufism itself.