City Faith – Graves Facelift, Hazrat Chirag Dehli
A historical destination in a time of change.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Old graves are getting a makeover. The ones that had sunk into the earth, reduced to being a wrinkle on the ground, have been raised, their aged bricks replaced with new, plastered with a fresh coat of cement.
Here is one of the most haunting spaces in the entire Delhi region. With more than 50 graves, this is not a graveyard. It is a sufi shrine, but not very well-known outside the sufi circles, remaining mostly sparse. Even so, it gives its name to a well-known south Delhi locality, and is one of the most significant dargahs in Sufism, worldwide.
Hazrat Chirag Dehli’s shrine is snuggled deep within Chirag Delhi village. The extremely congested area is crisscrossed with cramped lanes lined with small showrooms and groceries, but the dargah’s portal opens into air and sunshine. The saint’s tomb chamber stands in the center of a massive courtyard dotted with trees and with so many graves that one might accidentally step upon them if not careful. The previous renovation of the 14th century shrine took place fifteen years ago, according to dargah’s khadim Peerzada Moeez Ahmad Naseer, “when the kachhi zameen was made pukka with cement.” The ongoing renovation, that started in January, includes paving the cemented ground with marble tiles. The work is to end by ninth April, in time for the 686th Urs — or death anniversary — of Hazrat Chirag Dehli (in Sufism, death is not mourned but celebrated, and symbolizes the union of the lover with the God). The patron saint, Hazrat Naseeruddin, was born in the holy town of Ayodhya. Raised by his mother, he withdrew from society and would meditate in the forest. On arriving in our city, he became a disciple of mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, who made him his spiritual successor. After miraculously lighting earthen lamps with water, Hazrat Naseeruddin acquired the title of ‘Roshan Chirag Dehli’, the glowing lamp of Delhi. He died in 1356 and was buried in the chamber in which he lived.
A spiritual/eligious inclination certainly adds a distinct layer of engagement with the shrine, but historically minded atheists too ought to visit its courtyard. Especially at this delicate time, to witness the efforts being undertaken to hold on to the remains of our city’s past — in this case, these unknown graves.
This afternoon, a pair of labourers are working on adjacent graves under a neem tree. Mr Ismail is applying cement to a renovated grave, Mr Manoj is replacing the old bricks of a grave with new ones.
Dehli is a beloved city because of these charms keeping it connected throughout centuries. Bless those who care for such history to be preserved..
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