Imam Reza (a.s) holy shrine. Pic credit/AFP
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In a remarkable display of religious belief and cultural exchange, several pilgrims from Mumbai often visit the Imam Reza (a.s), the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, the holy shrine which is one of the largest holy sites in the world.
The Imam Reza (a.s) holy shrine located in Mashhad city of Iran has a unique blend of religious reverence, architectural marvels and the warmth of Iranian hospitality. The shrine holds immense religious significance for Shia Muslims.
Mumbai residents who have undertaken a spiritual journey to one of the world's largest shrines narrate their experiences and say that it is a dream to revisit and undertake the pilgrimage frequently and the point at the centre of this pilgrimage is the Grand Shrine of Imam Reza (a.s).
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Mumbaikars, many of whom were experiencing Iran for the first time, were awe-struck by the sheer grandeur of the shrine. The intricate tilework, towering minarets, and expansive courtyards left a lasting impression, with visitors marvelling at the centuries-old craftsmanship.
For the Mumbai residents, the pilgrimage was not merely a tourist excursion but a deeply spiritual experience. The atmosphere within the shrine is infused with a sense of devotion as worshippers from various parts of the world congregate to pay their respects to Imam Reza (a.s). The visitors here participate in prayers, immersing themselves in the sacred rituals that have been observed for generations.
Abu Talib Rizvi, a documentary filmmaker from Mumbai who has made several documentaries on the lesser known members of the Ahlul Bayt in a series called The Lost Legends, told mid-day, "It was in 2015 that I faced a major loss in business. The stressful period created the circumstances for me to visit Iran for the first time on pilgrimage and perform the ziyarat of Imam Reza (a.s). Moving towards the Golden Dome felt like moving towards my salvation."
He added, "I believe I was warmly welcomed because I have visited Iran multiple times ever since. I have continued making documentaries with the latest one being on grandson of Imam Hasan (a.s). They are available on my Pen Infomedia YouTube channel."
One common aspect in the experiences of Mumbaikars is the warmth and generosity of the Iranian people. From the bustling markets to the tranquil gardens surrounding the shrine.
Adnan Ali, a Mumbai-based filmmaker told mid-day, "Reflecting on my journey to the sacred shrine of Imam Reza (a.s) in Mashhad brings forth a flood of emotions, an experience that transcended the ordinary. From the moment I touched down at Mashhad airport to embracing the Zari of Imam Reza (a.s), tears streamed down uncontrollably. It felt like reuniting with a long-lost guide or embracing a parent. The sight of the Golden Dome dissolved my insecurities, problems, and sorrows, leaving me in awe of its transformative power."
He said, "Imam Reza (a.s) purified not just my mind, but my body and soul. Words fail to capture the depth of what I felt. Witnessing the generosity of Imam Reza (a.s), where thousands are fed and healed daily, left me amazed. This pilgrimage marked my first ziarat of our Twelve Imams of Shia Muslims. I prayed to Imam Reza (a.s) to grant me a visit to Iraq, and doors to other ziyarats were also opened thereafter, a blessing I'm profoundly thankful for. Being there, it felt as though the Imam had personally summoned me, fulfilling a long-held desire to witness his generosity, his love, and the magnanimity of the shrine."
Adnan added, "The revelation of a subway, a hospital, a graveyard, and a museum library beneath the shrine left me awestruck as if I had stepped into a heavenly realm. Initially overwhelmed emotionally, I couldn't fully appreciate the physical beauty of the shrine. Engaging in the first two ziyarat, I had an intensely religious experience, conversing with Imam Reza (a.s) as if time stood still. The profound satisfaction and inner peace lingered long after leaving the holy shrine."
He further said, "In a phase of personal and career challenges, the visit brought about a transformative shift. My life underwent a complete turnaround, marked by newfound intellectual and spiritual growth. Those visits, once seeming like dreams, became pivotal moments shaping my life. It still feels surreal that I had the privilege of such a beautiful opportunity. Spiritually uplifted, I gained a profound understanding of my religion and discovered a purpose in life that was previously elusive. The shrine visit not only changed me but made me a better human being on multiple levels. I owe my current state of being to the divine influence of Imam Reza (a.s). The pilgrimage stands as a turning point that molded my identity, filling my life with immense gratitude and spirituality."
The shrine is not only a religious centre but also an architectural and cultural marvel. The complex spans over 5,98,657 square metres and includes various buildings and facilities. It includes the Goharshad mosque within the complex known for its intricate tilework and architectural beauty. It was built during the Timurid era. The shrine's golden dome is a distinctive feature and a symbol of the complex. It is adorned with intricate calligraphy and geometric patterns.
The vast Courtyard or the Sahn can accommodate a large number of pilgrims and is surrounded by porches with beautifully designed tiles and water fountains.
The shrine also has the Astan Quds Razavi Museum which showcases a rich collection of Islamic art, manuscripts, and historical artifacts, providing insights into the cultural and religious history.
The Imam Reza (a.s) shrine also includes the Razavi University of Islamic Sciences and is located within the complex, this university offers education in various fields, contributing to religious scholarship. It also has the Razavi Hospital that Provides medical services to pilgrims and the local community, reflecting the holistic approach of the complex.
Another Mumbai resident, Muhammad Adil Sayed, said, "In the year 2014, I first visited the Imam Reza (a.s) holy shrine and since then I have visited there about four more times. It feels that the shrine itself is a miracle, it is huge and beautifully built. When I first went there it felt like I was protected from everything, be it my problems or anything other in life. It feels so peaceful when you sit at any area of the shrine and you feel as if you are a guest at the shrine. It is so wonderful to be there that after my first time visiting, I went there around five times and plan to keep visiting in the coming years too."
Adil added, "The locals extend a warm welcome to the guests. Many from Mumbai and also other parts of India visit the shrine to seek blessings of Imam Reza (a.s). Also, people from across the world visit the shrine."
The Grand Shrine of Imam Reza (a.s) had not only been a destination for religious introspection but also a catalyst for building bridges between diverse communities.