City Monument – Chilla Nizamuddin, Near Humayun’s Tomb
Delhi’s calming monument.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s an escapist’s paradise. The chilla, or retreat, of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is Delhi’s most serene monument. Here, the city’s iconic 14th century sufi saint lived, meditated, and died. This was his khanqah – a monastery – where he also used to perform chilla-kashi, the spiritual practise in which a secluded sufi goes without water, food or sleep for 40 days.
In Hazrat Nizamuddin’s time, the khanqah was in wilderness. Yamuna flowed a stone’s throw away. The saint’s followers flocked to him daily. They all were served food. Down the centuries, the river’s course shifted further east; a railway line came up in its place. Despite the rumble of trains, the khanqah feels remote. Surrounded by trees, it is flanked on one side by the stony ramparts of Humayun’s Tomb, and on the other, by the white dome of Gurudwara Damdama Sahib. Dozens of well-kept graves dot the slope behind.
Built on a stone platform, the khanqah has a vaulted veranda leading to a domed chamber, where Hazrat Nizamuddin prayed. In a recent renovation, the grassy yard was laid with marble. (In winter, the cold stone numbs the feet.) Battered walls of rubble masonry were partially painted white. New lamps were installed. The chamber’s grilled door was done in green; it remains locked. Sitting on the veranda’s blue velvety durree, the detached world of the khanqah grows intimate and hypnotic. The air appears saturated with solitariness.
The resident fakeer lives in a neighbouring ruin with seven cats. His chamber has an alcove in which believers light the candles to wish away personal distresses. Pointing to a cell in the adjacent Humanyun Tomb complex, the fakeer told The Delhi Walla that it was Hazrat Nizamuddin’s original hujra, or chamber where he would withdrew from the world. According to him, the khanqah was raised by a court noble called Ziauddeen Wakeel. When Wakeel offered to build a new chamber, Hazrat Nizamuddin warned that the person commissioning it would not live for long. Wakeel went on with the project saying that everyone has to die someday. The khanqah took 30 days to finish. On the first evening of its completion, a mehfil was organized. As the samaa built up, and songs and dancing started, Wakeel’s ecstatic soul left his body. His grave lies in the courtyard.
The graveyard in the backyard is as peaceful. Some tombs have potted plants. An electric lamp hangs from a peepal. In the evening, Sikh devotional songs waft over from the gurudwara. The effect is calming.
Where Near Humayun’s Tomb, drive straight past it towards Gurudwara Damdama Sahib Nearest Metro Station Khan Market Best Time Evening
The meditative retreat
Spot the cat
The inner chamber
Ziauddeen Wakeel’s tomb
The graveyard scenes
The fakeer’s family