City Faith – Hazrat Amir Khusro’s 719th Urs, Hazrat Nizamuddin Sufi Shrine
Commemorating a legend.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Attention please. Now is the most important time in the calendar of Delhi’s poetry aficionados. Usually, a person’s birth anniversary is celebrated. In poet Amir Khusro’s case, it is his death. The reason is his connections to Sufism, in which a mystic’s death anniversary — known as Urs, the Arabic for wedding — symbolises the union of the lover with the beloved, God.
Tomorrow (May 7) is the poet’s 719th Urs. The celebrations will begin on Sunday evening in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, the site of Khusro’s grave.
Belonging to 14th century Delhi, Khusro died at 72, six months after his mentor Nizamuddin’s passing. He was buried across the courtyard from Nizamuddin’s grave. The dargah’s tradition obliges a pilgrim to first step inside Khusro’s mausoleum (see photo) before walking a few steps away to Nizamuddin’s tomb.
To really know Khusro, you have to read at least a part of his vast oeuvre (including his amazing word riddles!). His literary idiom was unique, a blend of the courtly Persian and colloquial Brij Bhasha. Such duality defined his life too. Devoted to a mystic who was disdainful of emperors, he himself served those emperors. The day spent in the durbar was redeemed by the evening spent in the dargah.
The conventional way of commemorating the poet’s Urs is by visiting his grave. His tomb lies under a neem tree, the walls inside are calligraphed with his verses, the ceiling has three chandeliers. The more secular way is to join the multi-religious audience at the shrine’s courtyard, as qawwals render Khusro’s poems with a vigour so fresh that it feels like Khusro just wrote them.
Indeed, for the next few days, the shrine will be receiving a number of qawwal chowkiyan (troupes) from across the country. The festivities will start at 7.15pm tomorrow with prayers, qawwalis and the serving of langar food (channa dal and roti, plus meetha chawal called tosha). Monday night includes a special dua offered inside the poet’s grave chamber. On Wednesday night, qawwalis will be presented from 10 onwards until two in the morning. The Urs ends on Thursday evening, with qawwalis.
But between us, dear reader, the ideal way to get intimate with Delhi’s great bard is to pursue his poetry under the solitude of your reading lamp. The next most satisfying way is to arrive at his tomb very late in any ordinary night. By then, the grave chamber is closed. No devotees, no qawwals. Just you sitting cross-legged on the marble floor. The silence then is itself music, and poetry.
PS: Some of the details in this dispatch were kindly provided by Peerzada Altamash Nizami, a descendent of Hazrat Nizamuddin.