For centuries, Delhi has been the abode of kings and emperors. As a seat of power, it dates back to epic Mahabharata, where it finds a mention in the form of Indraprasth, a city built in 1400 BC.
Since then, the city has changed hands with several rulers. It has been looted, ruined, vandalised over centuries, and has been rebuilt on seven different occasions by different monarchs. Indraprasth, Jahanpanah, Siri, Lal Kot, Tughlaqabad, Ferozabad, Dinpanah and Shahjahanabad are some of the names by which Delhi has been known over the years. The Lodhis, Khiljis, Mughals, Tughlaqs, Suris have all ruled for centuries in the Indian subcontinent with Delhi — under various names — as their seat of power. However, the true monarchs or emperors of Delhi are the Sufis and fakirs who have made Delhi their abode for many centuries.
Sufi and the city
The kings forced their nobles to stand in court with their heads bowed in their honour, whereas in the courtyards of the Sufis people stood for hours, hands folded in prayer and heads bowed in respect for the Khwaja. The Sufis never used force, nor did they lure people with the prospect of reward. They offered love and accepted every person with open arms offering spiritual guidance and a means to attain inner peace. Sadia Dehlvi, in The Sufi Courtyard, makes a brave effort to encompass all the Sufis and fakirs of Delhi. It is a near impossible task to chronicle the tales of every Sufi in Delhi, for there are over a thousand Sufis in the city — with each having at least a hundred tales of miracles to share.
The most prominent of the Sufis in Delhi include Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Amir Khusrau, Naseeruddin Roshan Chiragh Dilli and Shaykh Abu Bakr. A majority of the Sufis were migrants from Central Asia who later settled in Delhi. After the turmoil in the region caused by the looting Mongols, the Sufis moved towards Delhi in search of a peaceful location and to spread the word of Allah. The Sufis are classified into many orders, and the most widely followed in India are the Chistis, Qadris, Suharwadis and Naqshbandis.
Dehlvi has made a sincere effort in trying to bring forth the names of lesser-known Sufis, along with the popular ones and has also provided with ample historical references to keep the reader interested. Barring a few typos, the book is classified by localities and the dargahs that are located in them. Most people associate Mehrauli with the Qutub Minar, as the most prominent monument in the area. However, the most significant structure in Mehrauli is the dargah of Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, also known as Khwaja Qutub. The Khwaja is the second in line in the Chisti order after Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer. He established the first Sufi centre in Mehrauli and was bestowed upon the title of Qutub ul Aqtab by Khwaja Moinuddin.
Sultan Iltutmish was an ardent devotee of the fakir and offered the Khwaja several titles and requested him to reside in the main city. However, the Khwaja declined the offer and preferred to lead an ascetic life. Such was the aura of the Khwaja that the Sultan of Delhi paid his respects to the fakir twice a week with folded hands at his khanqah. The Sufi Courtyard contains several heart warming narrations of the times and tales of the fakirs. It explores the spiritual legacy of the Sufis of Delhi and one must read the book to discover the real Delhi that lies pilfered amidst the concrete jungle.
Shaykh Abu Bakr, also known as the Matka Pir, was a Qalandar who offered his disciples blessed water from an earthen pot. Such was the popularity of his healing powers that the ruler Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban felt threatened by the Sufi Qalandar. He sent an emissary with a pot containing iron pellets to the Shaykh. It is believed that the Shaykh turned the pellets to chickpeas. The Shaykh then sent a matka of milk to the Sultan, and he turned into a devotee. Pilgrims offer matkas and clay pots to the dargah when their wishes are fulfilled.
Jehanara: Sufi Princess
Jehanara, the first daughter of emperor Shahjehan and Mumtaz Mahal, was the first woman in the house of Timur to walk the mystic path. Mullah Shah formally initiated her into the Qadri Sufi order, along with her brother Dara Shikoh. Later, she regarded Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti as her spiritual master and remained devoted to the Chisti order till her death. She is buried in the compound of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliyaâ’s tomb. Under the open sky lies the fakira.
Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliyaâ’s mother, Bibi Zulekha is affectionately called Mai Sahiba. Her dargah is located in the village of Adchini. Thousands of devotees, especially women, come to this dargah to seek her blessings. It is said that Mai Sahiba cannot bear to see the sorrow of a woman who has come to her abode and immediately blesses her.
Did You Know?
The Sufis were called Shaykh in Arabic, Pir, Darvesh and Khwaja in Persian.