City Faith – Hazrat Madni Shah Baba, Near Jama Masjid
A shrine’s best-kept secret.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s one of the lesser known shrines of the capital and it is tucked within… oh well, another lesser known shrine.
The historic graves of Hazrat Sarmad Shahid and Hazrat Hare Bhare Shah lie just outside Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid, and yet aren’t visited by many tourists, nor many pilgrims. Until recently, the shrine was identified by its red and green colours. Red symbolises Hazrat Sarmad, who was executed by Emperor Aurangzeb, and the green, or hara, commemorates Hazrat Hare Bhare. But as part of an ongoing renovation that began during the coronavirus-triggered lockdown last year, the shrine’s signature tiles are being gradually replaced by white marble from Rajasthan. This week, the outer wall too has been paved over by marble.
Whatever, the two ascetics are buried next to each other, separated by a neem tree. For that reason, many consider the landmark as a twin shrine.
That’s true only up to a point.
The third grave—also of a mystic—lies in an almost-invisible corner, in a narrow gallery just by the entrance. The tiny place appears so dilapidated that not everyone will notice it, and it might as well be dismissed as an unused cupboard. The window screen is broken. The wall is defaced. The seeming neglect fills up the narrow place with melancholy. And the spot itself feels remote, like a cell for intense self-isolation.
The grave belongs to Sufi ascetic Madni Shah Baba. Not much is known of him except the fact that he lived in the time of Aurangzeb. The shrine’s rose seller remarks that “these three tombs constitute a silsila (order) of mystics… Hazrat Sarmad was a shagird (disciple) of Hazrat Hare Bhare Shah, and Hazrat Madni Shah was a shagird of Hazrat Sarmad.”
Meanwhile, the early impression of Madni Shah’s memorial lying in neglect dissipates on closer inspection. This morning, a fresh rose is lying on the chadar covering the grave. The ashes of the previous night’s incense sticks are piled up in a mound, while the dust-covered floor immediately beside the grave shows an array of footprints. Clearly, the third saint in the so-called twin shrine is visited by some devotees at least, even though he lies in such a cramped corner. This makes his resting spot a place for consolation and comfort for those who feel largely ignored by the world around them. For they reside fondly in the hearts of a few, at least.