City Faith – Newly Restored Sufi Shrines, Hazrat Sarmad & Hazrat Hare Bhare Shah
A pandemic-era restoration.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A historic place in Delhi, drastically transformed.
While life in the city has severally shrunk due to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the capital’s most important Sufi shrines, or dargahs, is undergoing a major overhaul. The twin shrines of Hazrat Sarmad Shahid and Hazrat Hare Bhare Shah lie tucked within a tiled chamber, at the foot of the great Jama Masjid. A neem tree grows between the graves of the two mystics, its trunk shooting up through an opening in the roof, beyond which it spreads out into a lush green foliage.
The two parts of the shrine are distinguished by two colors—green for Hare Bhare Shah and red for Sarmad Shahid. The latter was executed by emperor Aurangzeb on charges of apostasy, and the red symbolises the Sufi saint’s blood. The dargah’s colour divide has always been so stark that despite being under the same roof, both graves seem to belong to two separate worlds—even the shrine’s walls are painted half in red and half in green.
But now the saints are finally united. The thick cracked wall that lay between them — and that stifled the tree — has been gotten rid of. The tree has more room now, and can breathe better. While the graves are still identifiable by their respective red and green tiled wall, each has been given a canopy of white marble.
“This marble is of Makrana, in Rajasthan,” says the shrine’s flower seller. “The same place where the Taj Mahal’s marble was from.”
About half a dozen craftsmen from Rajasthan have been at work for one month, “and the work is not over yet.” The flower seller says that the renovation is being funded by a devotee who wishes to remain anonymous.
The dargah has undergone at least one minor overhaul in the recent years, but that had not as profoundly altered the feel of the place. A regular visitor might be unsettled by the change, but the new appearance won’t take much time to get used to. This morning a few devotees, including a woman in red sari, are sitting on the floor, some with eyes closed, others with folded hands. Immersed in devotion, they seem to have already adapted their senses to the shrine’s altered aesthetics.
Not far away is the garden tomb of freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was a devotee of Sarmad Shahid and wrote a book on the saint. His marble grave has always had a white canopy.