It all starts, not at the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, but instead at the Indian International Center. Not, in other words, at the symbol of medievalism,, old Delhi and of religious syncretism but at the symbol of modernity, the New and the Secular. I have just finished a meeting at the IIC and my plans of visiting Nizamuddin Dargah in the evening to listen to the Nizami-Khurso Bandhu offer Qawwali (somebody has told me they play on Thursday nights) seem to be washed out by a mid-July downpour. I am absolutely drenched by the time I can find an auto. Even as I stand near Lodhi Gardens hoping an available auto will show up, I feel the tussle inside me. Will it be the warmth and dryness of the Gandhi Peace Foundation Hostel where I am staying while in town, or will it be a jaunt in the darkness and the rain to a place I have never seen before, but which has been pulling me not only since I have been in Delhi, but all the way from the US. By the time an auto comes around, Hazrat Nizamuddin has decisively called me to him. There is no room for doubt. I ask the auto-wallah to take me to Nizamuddin. I don’t mention the calling part. By the time we reach it is very dark and the rain is still coming down heavily. He lets me off somewhere. Nothing much is visible. Certainly not a magnificent mausoleum with crowds of worshipers, as I have imagined it in my mind. I stumble towards the hazy structures in the middle distance. A dingy, narrow alley, leads to a black hole. An entrance? All I can see is an unlit marble lined passage through which water is flowing in great torrents, already my feet are more than ankle deep in muddy water. A man is standing at the mouth of the tunnel. Is this is the way to the Dargah? I ask. He nods. Is there Qawwali tonight? He looks more skeptical. Probably not, he indicates the rain and the general inhospitability of the environs. But I have come all the way, so I must press on. I brave my ignorance of the terrain and push on into the water and the darkness.
After what seems like endless watery corridors, there are some promising signs. Brightly lit stores selling religious gear (head-coverings, chaddars, frames with verses from the Qur’an, copies of the Qur’an itself and so on). Suddenly the narrow passage open into a clearing, a splendid marble structure right in front of me and all around, marble and other stone flooring, water everywhere. To my right a large mosque is semi-visible through its gates. I notice I have entered through the back door, so to speak. I walk around to the front of the compound and at last the actual inner sanctum is visible. It is dazzlingly lit and there is a line of worshiper waiting to go into the small room and pay their homage to the grave itself. The grave of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the famous Chishti saint of Delhi, Amir Khusro’s pir, the one for whom Khusro, the polymath, is said to have invented the Qawwali. Since 13th century an unbroken tradition exists of singing Qawwali at the grave of Nizamuddin Auliya. Today, seven hundred years on, it is a watery, messy day to reenact the rituals, water is leaking everywhere from the make shift tarpaulin covers in the compound. Only one area is relatively dry. This is where, a little before 8pm the Qawwals arrive. Ah! The chap at the door was wrong after all. I will after all have the privilege. It is Thursday night, Jumme raat, and there is a big crowd there waiting patiently for the Qawwals to begin. They start with a hamd to Allah. In a usual Qawwali recital there is an order to be followed for praise. First Allah, followed by Mohammad, then Ali and finally the saints (Nizamuddin, Moinuddin).
I manage to take a small video clip on my digital camera. Needless to say the video clip captures hardly anything of the atmosphere there.
(to be cont’d)