Sufism is often described as a path—a path which is both the origin of the journey as well as the intended destination. Completing this voyage (from being with God before birth, with the illusory separation in-between—to being with God again after death, when one reunites with the eternal world of the Beloved) can involve many possible paths. Travelling on this path, one can catch glimpses of His Grace, and in light of that grace, one’s journey becomes easy. The aim of Sufism is to eliminate all veils between the individual and the Almighty, so that the journey towards the Beloved becomes a journey of joy.
To understand Sufism, we must understand mysticism. Islamic mysticism is love of the Absolute, the one Reality, also called the Truth, Love, or God. The most beautiful aspect of this journey is that a seeker seeks the Beloved God through negation of his own lower self and baser instincts, by living a disciplined and principled life, through generosity and service to mankind. Sufi teachers use the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith to show the way to God, such that one becomes a spring of love and brotherhood; and an example of excellence in character and conduct. The Sufi way involves living life in such an inclusive way that the hearts or rights of none are hurt. Sufi conduct emphasises humility, selfless service, and welfare for all. Since it focusses on love and living in the light of God’s commandments—Sufism is a source of abundance, joy, and justice.
Sufis have adopted various ways to reach God, and hence there are many branches of the Sufi schools of thought. However, true seekers don’t waste time and energy criticising one another—for a true seeker has no time to waste. A true seeker seeks the path which suits his or her capacity and temperament the best. All Sufis try to reach God in their own ways. They lay claim to the grace of God by practising excellence in their conduct, as this is what God loves. Delhi is believed to have been the courtyard of Sufis since time immemorial. The past 1,000 years of Delhi’s history are filled with stories of the influence of such spiritual persons.
Shahjahanabad was the youngest of Delhi’s various cities before Lutyens’ Delhi came up. However, when we study the Sufi landscape of Delhi in totality, we find that some Sufis had made this part of the city their hospice even before Shahjahanabad or Firozabad had come into existence, perhaps because this part of Delhi was distant from the madness of the political and military capital.
Prominent Sufi Dargahs at Shahjahanabad
One of the gates of Shahjahanabad is named after a prominent Sufi of the Sultanate period, Hazrat Turkman Shah (R.A). Hazrat Shamshul Arifeen Turkman Shah aka Dada Peer (R.A) preferred isolation and hence made his abode in this part of the city. He is said to have come before most Delhi Sufis, and stayed near Bhojla Pahadi. His full name was Hazrat Turkman Shah (R.A) Shaikh Mohammad but he was called Sadruddin and Shamshuddin as well. He was a contemporary of Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (R.A) and there are some records indicating correspondence and conversation between the two. He was also known as Shams-ul-Arifeen, the Sun of the Knowers. He was referred to as Biyabani because he had made the jungle (biyaban) his home. He is believed to have become a beloved of God in AD 1240.
Some traditions indicate that Razia Sultan was also a disciple of Hazrat Turkman (R.A) and is buried in Bulbulikhana near his dargah.
Oral traditions indicate that the Basant festival was celebrated at this dargah. Every Thursday, devotees of all religions visit the shrine to seek blessings.
Interestingly, another Sufi saint, Hazrat Shah Turkman Bayabani Suhrawardi (R.A), is also famous. His dargah is just next to the Turkman Gate police chowki. He was a disciple of Hazrat Shihabuddin Sohrawardi (R.A) and was an eminent Sufi in his own right. His dargah receives many visitors even today.
On the other side of this gate is the Mehdiyan area which now lies inside the campus of Maulana Azad Medical College.
Mehdiyan is the final resting place of many Sufis. Prominent among these is Hazrat Shaikh Abdul Azeez Shakarbar (R.A). He was a celebrated Sufi of the Chishti order and was famous for his Qawwali mehfils (gatherings) where people would get into a trance in his company. Shaikh Azeez was the son of a prominent Lodi era Sufi, Hazrat Shaikh Hasan Tahir (R.A), whose dargah is in Vijay Mandal. Shaikh Azeez (R.A) left for his heavenly abode while in spiritual ecstasy in AD 1567. His was a family of Sufis; his father was a Sufi and his son, Hazrat Rafiuddin RA, and grandson, Hazrat Shaikh Wajihuddin (R.A), were also Sufis. They are buried in the same compound, adjacent to each other. One of the most respected Sufis of the Naqshbandi order, Hazrat Khwaja Baki Billah (R.A), would often visit this place and offer prayers at the shrine of Hazrat Shaikh Abdul Azeez (R.A).
The dargah of another prominent Sufi, Hazrat Shah Abdur Rahim (R.A), who was also a descendant of Hazrat Shaikh Abdul Azeez (R.A), is also in Mehdiyan. He was a disciple of Hazrat Khwaja Khwurd (R.A). He also learned from Hafiz Syed Abdullah Akbarabadi. His home was always filled with Sufis, and had an environment of learning. His son, Shah Waliullah Dehlvi (R.A) became a prominent scholar of his time. Hazrat Shah Abdur Rahim (R.A) breathed his last in AD 1718. Hazrat Shah Waliullah, whose original name was Qutubuddin Ahmad, is one of the most renowned scholars of the Islamic world. He was trained in the company of the many Chishti and Naqshbandi scholars who visited his home. He is also said to have acquired wisdom from Khwaja Khurd (R.A), Shaikh Abdul Riza (R.A), and his own father, Shah Abdur Rahim (R.A). He is better known as Shah Waliullah Muhaddith Dehlvi. He was spiritually inspired and brought a lot of reform and reconciliation between various schools of thought in light of Islamic jurisprudence. He wrote several books—and one of his prominent works, Hujjat Al Balighah, is about socio-political ideas. His work inspired the poet Allama Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. The founders of Darul Uloom Deoband also drew from his work, sans the spiritual aspects of his teaching. He was from the Naqshbandi order but was better known as a revivalist. He breathed his last in AD 1762.
Shah Waliullah was succeeded by his illustrious son, Shah Abdul Azeez Muhaddis Dehlvi (R.A), who took charge of his father’s mission through his school and his work. He wrote detailed explanations of verses from the Quran as well as interpretations of the Hadith. He was also a great scholar of his time. Some of his writings in the context of Shia Sunni differences were not well received. He died in AD 1842 and is buried at Mehdiyan near his father.
The dargahs of three other important members of this illustrious family—Shah Rafiuddin, who was the son of Shah Abdul Aziz Muhaddith Dehlvi (R.A), and his brothers, Shah Abdul Qadir and Shah Abdul Ghani—are also buried in the same compound.
Near Mehdiyan and adjacent to the office of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, is the dargah of the Sufi saint and poet, Khwaja Mir Dard (R.A). He was the contemporary of another Sufi saint and poet, Mirza Majhar Jan-e-Janaan. The area surrounding the dargah has come to be known as Khwaja Mir Dard Basti. Known for his Urdu ghazals, Khwaja Mir Dard (R.A) was a disciple of his father, Khwaja Nasir (R.A), who founded the Mujaddid Naqshbandi order (also known as Tareeq-e-Mohammadiya). Nala-e-Andalib, a famous book written by Khwaja Nasir (R.A), was an essential reading for this order, in addition to other basic religious books. Both Khwaja Nasir (R.A) and his son, Khwaja Mir Dard (R.A)—were adept at Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. Khwaja Nasir (R.A) acquired his initiation in Sufi orders from another prominent Sufi and poet, Saadullah Gulshan (R.A). Later, he acquired further knowledge from Khwaja Mohammad Zubair (R.A) as well. Khwaja Mir Dard wrote two important books on Sufi tradition: Ilm ul Kitab and Chahar Rishala. Khwaja Nasir (R.A) passed away around AD 1758 and Khwaja Mir Dard (R.A) left for his heavenly abode in AD 1785.
Khwaja Muhammad Mir Asr, the younger brother and khalifa (spiritual deputy and inheritor of spiritual mantle) of Khwaja Mir Dard (R.A), was also a respected Sufi. He wrote Mathnavi and another book called Khwab-o-Khayal.
Another illustrious member of this Sufi lineage was Khwaja Nasir Wazir (R.A) who was from the family of Khwaja Mir Dard’s daughter. He obtained spiritual learning initially from Hazi Dost Mohammad (R.A) and then from Shah Abdur Rashid Naqshbandi Mujadidi (R.A). He breathed his last in AD 1881 and is buried at the feet of the Dargah of Hazrat Mir Asar (R.A).
On the west side of Maulana Azad Medical College on Mir Dard Road is the Dargah of Hazrat Ali Ahmad Khan Ahrari (R.A), previously also known as Akhtyaruddaula’s Makbara. It is located in front of the Chausath Khambha Mosque. The compound also houses many graves of other rasul shahis.
Towards Ajmeri Gate, adjacent to the playground of the Madrasa of Ghaziuddin Khan (now known as Anglo Arabic School), is the Dargah of Hafiz Sadullah (R.A). Hafiz Sadullah (R.A) was a Sufi of the Chishti as well as Naqshbandi orders. He was the khalifa of Shah Mohammad Farhad (R.A). As the dargah is in an underground chamber, the Sufi is known locally as Tahkhane Wale Baba. One of his prominent disciples was the Sufi and poet, Hazrat Mirza Mazhar Jan-e-Janan.
Passing through Turkman Gate, one reaches Chitli Qabar area in Kucha Mir Hasim. Khanqah-e-Mazhariya, the final resting place of four Sufis. The most prominent among these is Hazrat Mirza Mazhar Jan-e-Janan Saheed (R.A) of the Naqshbandi order. He acquired his Sufi education from Hazrat Syed Nur Muhammad Badayuni (R.A), who was a leading Naqshbandi Sufi of his time. Mirza Sahab later also studied under Hafiz Sadullah (R.A). He established a learning centre named Khanqah-e-Mazhariya. He studied and understood Hindu philosophies as well, which he found to be in sync with the Islamic thought process, and tried to evolve teachings that would be acceptable in both religions. He also tried to establish monotheism in Hinduism. Mirza Sahab bridged the gap between orthodox and Sufi thinkers. He wrote on Sufi practices and the psychology behind them. He was also a key court poet of the eighteenth century. In AD 1781, he was attacked by some Shia hardliners whom he recognised but refused to identify in court. He died after three days.
Next to the Dargah of Mirza Sahab is the Dargah of Shah Mohammad Ghulam Ali who was a very popular disciple of Mirza Mazhar Jan-e-Janan. Shah Ghulam Ali used to teach in Delhi’s Jama Masjid and became beloved of God in AD 1824. Interestingly, his father, Hazrat Syed Abdul Latif (R.A), was a Qadri Sufi. However, Shah Ghulam Ali (R.A) preferred the Naqshbandi order and he was allowed by his father to join it. Shah Ghulam Ali (R.A) was once falsely accused of witchcraft by some mischief makers and was arrested in his early days in Gujarat, but the ruler of Gujarat had a dream in which he was told by the Divine that Shah Ghulam Ali (R.A) was not a witchcraft practitioner but a Sufi, and he had the Shah released.
Next to the qabr of Shah Ghulam Ali (R.A) is the qabr of his son, Hazrat Shah Abu Saeed (R.A). He was fond of learning and studied under many learned teachers of his time, including the illustrious sons of Hazrat Shah Waliullah (R.A). Shah Abu Saeed (R.A) was born in Rampur and travelled to a few places. He died in Tonk, Rajasthan, from where his body was brought to Delhi and lain to rest next to his father.
The last of the four prominent Sufis resting in the compound of Khanqah-e-Mazhariya is Shah Abul Khair (R.A), the son and successor of Hazrat Shah Abu Saeed (R.A). His full name was Shah Muhiuddin Abdiuallah. He, too, spread Sufi teachings throughout his life. He passed away in 1922.
Another prominent dargah in Old Delhi is located at the eastern gate of Jama Masjid. This dargah compound has three Sufi shrines. First is the Dargah of Hazrat Khwaja Syed Abul Hasan aka Hare Bhare Shah (R.A), who came to India from Central Asia and lived around Shahjahanabad. He was of the Qadiri order. At the feet of his dargah (green in colour) is the red-coloured dargah of his most celebrated disciple, Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed (R.A). An Armenian Jew and a successful trader who dealt in ceramics, artefacts, and precious stones, Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed (R.A) came in contact with some learned Sufis during his travels and eventually embraced Islam. He acquired knowledge from scholars such as Shaikh Sadruddin Mohammad Ibn Shirazi and Mir Abul Qasim Findarski. On reaching Delhi from Sindh, he was mentored by Khwaja Syed Abul Hasan aka Hare Bhare Shah (R.A).
It is said that Sarmad would roam the city completely lost in remembrance of God, at times shabbily or even inadequately dressed. There is a famous story regarding his encounter with Emperor Aurangzeb. Once when Emperor Aurangzeb was passing with his courtiers towards Jama Masjid, he saw Sarmad sitting inadequately clothed by the roadside. The Emperor asked Sarmad to cover himself. Sarmad flew into rage and said, ‘If you think I need to cover my body, why don’t you cover me yourself?’ It is said that when the Emperor came close and tried to lift a blanket lying near Sarmad, he saw the bloodied heads of all the family members he had killed or who got killed during his struggle for the throne. Puzzled, Aurangzeb looked at Sarmad who said, ‘Now you tell me, what should I cover? Your sins or my thighs?’ Speechless, the Emperor moved on.
Countless similar stories are associated with Sarmad. Eventually, he was executed on charges of blasphemy. It is said that when his head fell from his body after being severed with a sword, it recited the Kalimah in full (he was executed on charges of not reciting the complete Kalimah, hence negating the affirmation part in Kalimah). Hazrat Heenga Madani (R.A), another disciple of Hazrat Syed Abul Hasan aka Hare Bhare, is also buried in the same compound. Leaving this dargah, the main road leads towards Darya Ganj, where after going straight, the first right turn leads into a lane to the beautiful Dargah of Shah Sabir Baksh Chishti (R.A). Its dome is visible from Golcha Cinema road. A leading Sufi of the time of Akbar Shah the Second and khalifa of Shah Ghulam Saadat (R.A), Shah Sabir Bakhsh Chishti’s sad demise was in AD 1822.
Located next to the Dargah of Shah Sabir Baksh Chishti is the Dargah of Shah Syed Abduallah (R.A), who succeeded his father Shah Sabir Bakhsh (R.A). He breathed his last in AD 1887. This dargah was famous for spiritual gatherings and high-level mehfil-e-sama. People would often experience trances during the assemblies here.
Walking back from Darya Ganj, located opposite the Red Fort, is the Dargah of Shaikh Kaleemullah Jehanabadi (R.A), the grandson of one of the chief architects (also a mathematician) of the Taj Mahal. His father, Haji Sheikh Nurullah, and his uncles were all engineers. His father is also credited with having done the calligraphic drawings in Delhi’s famous Jama Masjid. Shaikh Kaleemullah (R.A) was himself a learned scholar of astronomy and medicine. In his early days, a faqir once advised him to seek spiritual training from an able saint. He also suggested the name of Hazrat Yahya Madani (R.A) who was in Madina, Arabia, at the time. Hazrat Shaikh Kaleemullah (R.A) immediately went there to seek the saint’s discipleship—he learned the basics of the spiritual path and returned to Delhi. He started living a simple, austere life away from royalty and politics. He established his khanqah (hospice or spiritual centre) in Khanum Bazar, where he started preaching the message of love and followed the path of the Chishti order of Sufism. His khanqah attracted a large number of Sufis and scholars. Emperor Farrukhsiyar himself was a devotee of Shaikh Kaleemullah (R.A), who is said to have written nearly 32 books. He also adopted many yogic processes in his way of life. He was always cheerful and spread happiness. He appointed Shaikh Nizamuddin Aurangabadi (R.A) as his disciple and sent him to the south for spreading the message of love. Shaikh Kaleemullah Jehanabadi (R.A) breathed his last in AD 1729. His dargah still attracts a large number of devotees from across the subcontinent. Opposite the Dargah of Shaikh Kaleemullah Jehanabadi (R.A), on the other side of the road leading to the Red Fort, is another very old shrine, the Dargah of Hazrat Sadruddin aka Bhure Miyan (R.A). He was a Sufi of the Qadri order. His brother, Syed Faiz, was also a pious person. Hazrat Sadruddin aka Bhure Miyan (R.A) is believed to have become beloved of God in AD 1575 during Akbar’s time. His dargah too attracts a lot of devotees on Thursdays.
Walking from here towards Shahjahanabad, one reaches the Dargah of Shaikh Meer Mohammadi (R.A), located at House No. 2487 on Chitli Qabar Road, in front of Masjid Abdul Qadir. It was made in AD 1826, during the time of Akbar Shah the Second. The house is currently occupied. Inside, there is a marble platform on which there are three graves. The grave on the east is said to be that of Shaikh Meer Mohammadi (R.A). His real name was Mohammad Emaduddin. A disciple of Hazrat Fakhruddin Fakhre Jahan (R.A), he had also received the blessings of Qadri Silsila (a respected branch of Sufism) from his uncle Shah Fatah Ali Ra, whose dargah is in Bhojla Pahadi.
The graves located further inside the house, in the northeast pavilion, are said to be of disciples or family members of Shaikh Meer Mohammadi (R.A). As not many people know of this dargah, it does not receive many visitors.
The compound of Fatehpuri Masjid is also home to the shrines of some prominent Sufis, located near the pond where people make wuzu (ritual cleaning/bathing of parts of the body—it is performed before commencing prayers). The most prominent among them is Hazrat Meeran Shah Nanu (R.A), the son of Hazrat Shaikh Jalaluddin Thanneshwari (R.A) and a contemporary of Hazrat Shaikh Kalimullah Shahjahanabadi (R.A).
Resting next to him is another pious Sufi, Hazrat Shah Jalal (R.A), a disciple and deputy of Meeran Shah Nanu (R.A).
Another important shrine is situated in Sadar, near Pratap Nagar Metro Station. This is the Dargah of Shah Mohammad Farhad (R.A). He was born in Delhi but spent his childhood in Burhanpur where his father was a Mughal governor. He became interested in Sufism when he met another prominent Sufi of his time, Hazrat Shaikh Dost Mohammad (R.A), in his khanqah. He was initiated into the Abul Ulai order (a Chishti Naqshbandi order named after its patron saint, Syedna Shah Amir Abul Ulai Ahrari of Agra). It is believed that when Shah Farhad (R.A) came back to Delhi, many people became his disciples; including many jinns. This is why he is also famous as Shaykhul Jinn. Many people who are possessed by jinns come here to be freed from the affliction.
One of the most important shrines of the Shahjahanabad area is the Dargah of Khwaja Baqi Billah (R.A) who was an accomplished Sufi of his time. He was born in Kabul and was named Syed Raziuddin (R.A). His father, Khwaja Abdul Salam (R.A), was a reputed Sufi scholar of his time. His mother was a descendant of another famous Sufi, Khwaja Ubaidullah Ahrari (R.A). The family hailed from Samarqand where Khwaja Baqi Billah (R.A) acquired knowledge from many accomplished Sufis and scholars of his time. He was part of the Naqshbandi Sufi order and acquired knowledge from Khwaja Ubaid (R.A), Khwaja Iftikahar (R.A), Hazrat Amir Abduallah Bakhi (R.A), and others in Samarqand. And then, via Kabul and Lahore, he reached Kashmir and acquired faiz (blessings) and vilayat (right and authority to preach their ways and enrol disciples) from Hazrat Baba Wali (R.A). He again took a journey to Balkh and Badakshan, but on the advice of Khwaja Amkiangi (R.A), he came back to Delhi and started living near Firozabad Fort. Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (R.A), one of the most prominent Sufis of his time, was a disciple of Khwaja Baqi Billah.
Khwaja Baqi Billah (R.A) became beloved of God in AD 1603. The compound of his dargah has many other Sufis resting there. Dargah of Khwaja Khwurd (R.A), the eldest son of Khwaja Baqi Billah (R.A), is in the same complex. The original name of Khwaja Khwurd (R.A) was Syed Abdullah. He studied under the chief successor of his father, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (R.A). But Khwaja Khwurd and his younger brother later started the Naqshbandi order which even permitted sema (qawwali) [spiritual songs]. Khwaja Khwurd (R.A) also authored a book called Risala-e-Sama. He was a believer in the concept of Unity of God. He promoted the idea of coexistence among people.
The qabr (grave) of the younger brother of Khwaja Khwurd, Khwaja Ubaidullah aka Khwaja Kalan, is also situated in the same compound.
A fourth important dargah in the complex is that of Hazrat Khwaja Hisamuddin (R.A), a disciple of Khwaja Baaqi Billah (R.A). He was part of the Mughal military and is said to have been in the Deccan campaign with Abul Fazal. He was keen to adopt the Sufi life and would be deeply engrossed in prayers and meditations. He became beloved of God in AD 1633.
The Dargah of Hazrat Shah Mohammad Afaq Muzaddidi Naqshbandi (R.A) is located on Roshan Ara Road in erstwhile Mughalpura area. He is said to have been born due to the blessings of Hazrat Mullah Mazhar Jan-e-Janan (R.A) in AD 1747, in Delhi. He was the deputy of Khwaja Zia-ullah Naqshbandi (R.A), who in turn was a disciple of Khwaja Huzzatullah Naqshbandi Sani (R.A). He travelled extensively and even visited Afghanistan. The Shah of Afghanistan, Shah Jamal, became his disciple. Hazrat Shah Afaq (R.A) was famous for his piety. Even acclaimed Sufis of his time, such as Shah Ghulam Ali (R.A), would send their disciples to him for training. Maulana Fazlurrahan Ganj Muradabadi (R.A) and Maulana Naseeruddin (R.A) were two of his most prominent disciples and deputies. Hazrat Shah Afaq (R.A) breathed his last in AD 1835.
Another important dargah of Shahjahanabad is Dargah-e-Punja Sharif, situated in Chota Bazar Kashmiri Gate. It contains a mosque, a musafirkhana (travellers’ inn/guesthouse), and graves of many Sufis. But it is most famous for a granite imprint of Kadam-e-Mubaraq of Syedna Hazrat Ali (R.A) (the Punja Sharif). There is a Punja (sign of the hand) copy as well. This shrine is particularly popular with the Shia community. A similar dargah which has been popular since the time of Firoz Shah Tughlaq is Dargah Qadam Sharif. It was established around AD 1374 when Fateh Khan, the son of Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq, died. The imprint of the Feet of Prophet Mohammad Sallalahu Alaihi Wassalam, engraved in stone, was brought here by the emperor’s spiritual guide, Hazrat Makhdum Jahaniyan Jahangasht (R.A). The dargah complex is like a small fortress. It was occupied by encroachers during Partition, but its core area was kept safe. Mosques, temples, and houses have cropped up in the neighbourhood. In addition to the grave of Fateh Khan, the complex has the graves of other prominent nobles and pious persons as well.
One of the most sacred shrines in Delhi is Dargah Aasar Sharif, located inside the Jama Masjid. It is said that after the completion of Masjid-e-Jahanuma, the emperor gifted to the mosque the most precious ‘sacred relics’ he had in his treasury—the relics of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), and Ahl-e-Bait. He declared that these relics would be Rahnuma-e-Jahanuma—the guide of the Mosque Jahanuma. He also brought one of the most pious persons from the family of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), and made him the blessed caretaker of the relics. Khwaja Muhammad Qayamuddin aka Haji Muhammad Arab (R.A), a Naqvi Hussaini Syed, was the first caretaker of the relics. He was given the pious task of managing the most invaluable treasures from the emperor’s treasury, that is, the custody of holy relics. Since then, the same family has been looking after these relics. Few of the Tabbaruuqat (sacred relics) present in this shrine are blessed sections from the Holy Quran, written out by Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A), Hazrat Imam Hasan (R.A), and Hazrat Imam Ali (R.A); the Nalain Pak (sacred sandals of Hazrat Mohhammad SAW), Qadam Sharif (Stone Imprint of foot of Hazrat Mohhammad SAW), and Mue-Mubarak (Holy Hair).
Mughals would visit the shrine with utmost respect and benefit from the barqat (blessings) of these relics. Many Sufis and kings have visited this shrine and derived spiritual faiz.
Disclaimer: The article is based on the author’s personal research and experience as a photographer.
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