City Escape – Khwaja Baqi Billah’s Dargah, Sadar Bazaar Area
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The silence of the tombs.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Outside is the usual Sadar Bazar chaos, and heat. Enter the green coloured gate and you step into calmness, and coolness. Amidst hundreds of tombs, clustered tightly on a rolling landscape, lays a mosque, a madrassa and the sufi shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Baqi Billah.
Founder of the Naqshbandia silsila in the Indian sub-continent, Hazrat Billah was born in 16th century Kabul. After wandering through cities like Samarkand, Balkh, Lahore and Multan, he settled in Delhi to spread the deen. Here he died; here he was buried making this burial ground a favorite among Delhi’s Muslims.
However, if tombs scare you, walk straight to the Dargah. Its hushed ambiance is in sync with the pulse of the Naqshbandia silsila which is known for its silent remembrance of Allah. The Khwaja himself was a silent sort of man. He shunned publicity and was very selective about initiating disciples. That is why there is no celebratory chaos of Nizamuddin Dargah here. No picnicking crowd flock to this shrine as they to Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki’s in Mehrauli. Here there are no qawwals, no khadims, no beggars; only trees, tombs, the dry leaves, the occasional pilgrims, the crows perched on headstones.
They jointly lifts you to a above-the-cloud haven where you feel free of the worldly trappings. Connaught Place is just ten minutes away by auto but, hanging in this suspended quietness, you would refuse to believe it.
If you are not an I-love-solitude type, climb the stairs to the madrassa. In its large hall, you might find almost a hundred children reciting the Quranic verses; each boy rocking to his own rhythm. Thanks to images beamed on BBC and CNN, a few of us unconsciously tag such sights with the would-be Talibani fighters of Afghanistan. That’s rubbish. Step inside; the children would smile.
Once back in the courtyard, try chatting with Mr Salamatullah. He can be identified with his long white beard, a frail physique and sunken cheeks. His children are all married, his wife dead and he himself lives alone in this dargah-mosque-graveyard complex. Known as Peer Saheb, he could be curt in the beginning. But if you continue to show unfailing courtesy, he would open up and tell you all that you need to know about Hazrat Billah.
“Aap lived in a mosque in Ferozeshah Kotla but Aap used to sweep in the kabristan behind (what is now) Maulana Azad Medical College,” Peer Saheb told me. According to him, Hazrat Billah one day visited this graveyard and somehow got his clothes muddied here which prompted him to declare that this place would be his final destination.
According to a legend, Khwaja Billah had willed his funeral prayers to be led by a man who had never sinned, never missed a prayer, never skipped a night vigil. When he died at 40, a veiled person appeared from nowhere and declared that the Khwaja had asked him to lead the prayers. It was later discovered that the veiled person was the Khwaja himself.
Having always stressed on the concept of fanaa, the annihilation of the self, the Khwaja had wanted no dome to be built on his grave. So, in his Dargah, you sit under an open sky. They say that even if it is the sunniest day in peak summer, the barefooted pilgrims feel no heat.
Go, check out the claim.
Note: Sadly, women are not allowed to enter the grave chamber, though the rest of the area is freely accessible
Where Qutab Road, Singara Chowk, near Sadar Bazar Area Nearest Metro Station RamaKrishna Ashram Timing 4.30am to 10pm
Peaceful, the mosque courtyard
Women not allowed
Fanaa, in the mosque
The silence of the tombs
Out, now (the Dargah gate)