The journey to Ajmer: From Akbar to Zardari

From Mughal emperor Akbar who came praying for a son, to a relentless stream of around 12,000 people who throng every day, to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari who will visit it on Sunday, the pull of the 12th century Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer remains undiminished.

The marble-domed tomb of the Sufi saint, located 145 km from Jaipur, in the middle of Ajmer’s walled city area, attracts a huge mass of people from all over the world who come here with an ardent wish and a prayer on their lips.

For peace and prosperity: In 2005, General Pervez Musharraf prayed at the shrine during his three-day visit to India. “Please let our prayer for peace, harmony and amity between Pakistan and India and prosperity of both the countries be answered,” he wrote in the visitor’s book at the Ajmer shrine

The tomb is located at the centre of a courtyard and is surrounded by a marble platform. It is believed that the remains of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, also known as Khwaja Garib Nawaz, lie buried at the shrine.

Khadims, or priests at the dargah, claim to be his descendants and are authorised to carry out prayers at the shrine. The premises have eight more tombs, including those of the saint’s family members.

A second chance: Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was living inĀ self-imposed exile offered prayers at the shrine in April 2005, hoping to return to her country after the return of democracy

S F Hussein Chishti, a khadim, said that people come here with the hope to fulfil their wishes and offer chadars. After their wish is fulfilled, they visit again to express their gratitude.

For all religions
“It used to be Mughal emperor Akbar’s favourite destination for many years,” said Chishti. He said the most spectacular thing about the shrine is that it is visited by not only Muslims but equally by those from other religions, including Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.

“At that time, society had many social evils; so he spread the teachings of equality and brotherhood. Sufism is a moderate philosophy and Mughal kings were impressed and encouraged the spread of its teachings.” He is largely famous for the Sufi philosophy that preaches brotherhood, harmony and prosperity, say the khadims.

Julfikar Chishti, another khadim, said, “The deprived and the poor come barefoot, walking hundreds of kilometres. For the past three to four years, people from Europe and America are also coming here to learn the teachings of Sufism.”

Let’s talk about peace: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited the shrine in July last year. Pics/AFP

There are eight gates for entrance to the shrine, but only three are used. “The Nizam gate was constructed by the Nizams of Hyderabad,” said Aajam.

“Our duty is to organise rituals and provide food to the deprived coming here,” said Waheed Angara, secretary of the Anjuman Committee. There are regular elections to this committee and only khadims can participate in it.

Zardari will be the fourth Pakistani head of state or government to visit the dargah. His late wife Benazir Bhutto and former presidents Zia-ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf also visited the shrine.

In need of blessings: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is set to visit the Ajmer shrine on Sunday

“The shrine has always been a great source of communal harmony and national integrity,” said Mohammad Ahmed, a resident of the dargah area.

Barefoot to Ajmer
Mohamed Aajam, a historian, said, “King Akbar came barefoot from Agra to the Ajmer dargah and wished for a son here. There is the Akbari mosque and also Shahani mosque constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.”

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