City Landmark – Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed, Old Delhi

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Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed, Old Delhi

In the shrine of Delhi’s naked sufi.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The sufi shrine of Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed in Old Delhi, shaded by a large Neem tree and lying opposite the eastern gate of Jama Masjid, is a bubble of serenity in the otherwise chaotic district. The noisy biryani sellers and quarrelsome Bangladeshi beggars in the alley outside are unable to disturb the quiet that lurks inside the shrine.

Cross the entrance and you are in a chamber that has been distilled of all the turbulence of the worldly world. Here you can be as calm as Buddha and as cozy as when you were in your mamma’s womb. Nothing stirs the senses. Not even the flaming red walls of the dargah. Everything—the tomb, the tiny courtyard, the sunlight, the occasional pilgrim—conspires to make you lose the concerns of the day. The weary body starts surrendering itself and the worried mind starts forgetting its existence. The heavy burden of one’s being becomes as light as mynah’s feather.

The tranquility of the dargah is misleading though. Its patron saint, Sufi Sarmad, lived a controversial life and died a violent death. People say Sarmad was an Armenian Jew from Iran who converted to Islam, came to Sindh, fell in love with a Hindu boy, grew oblivious to society’s conventions, discarded clothes, became a naked fakeer, and arrived in Delhi.

Here the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, the heir anointed, took to the naked sufi and became his disciple. But history strummed its own tune. Aurangzeb, Dara’s younger brother, rebelled against his father Shahjahan, killed Dara, and was crowned as Hindustan’s emperor. Not long after Sarmad was martyred by Aurangzeb’s executioners and soon he came to be known as Sarmad Shaheed.

This verse is displayed outside the dargah:

And call not those who are slain
Nay, they are living
Only ye perceive not

However, all that ishq, janoon, and khoon that defined Sarmad’s life seems to be forgotten within the blood-red walls of his dargah. Sarmad is a sufi saint and perhaps that’s enough in itself. Who cares for his story? Devotees come, pray, make wishes, sit, doze off, wake up, go away, and come back again. Like the Delhi walla.

Where Opposite Gate No. 2, Jama Masjid Nearest Metro Station Chandni Chowk