lakeside city of Ajmer is located in central Rajasthan, and is held in
great reverence by devotees of all
communities who call it 'Ajmer Sharif' (Holy Ajmer). It is here that
the mortal remains of the highly respected Sufi saint Khwaja
Moin-ud-din Chishti lie buried.
The Khwaja came from Persia and established the Chishtia order of
fakirs in India. He is popularly known as
Gharib Nawaz (protector of the poor) because he dedicated his entire
life to the service of mankind. His spartan life spanned almost a
hundred years and he embraced death in solitude while he had withdrawn
to his cell for six days, asking not to be disturbed.
The Dargah Sharif in Ajmer is the place where the Saint's mortal
remains lie buried and is the site of the largest Muslim fair in
India. More than five lakh devotees belonging to different communities
gather from all parts of the subcontinent to pay homage to the
Khwaja on his Urs (death anniversary) during the first six days of
Rajab (seventh month of the Islamic calendar.)
The pilgrims who come to seek the blessings of the Khwaja make rich
offerings called nazrana at the holy spot where the saint has been
entombed. The offerings of rose and jasmine flowers, sandalwood paste,
perfumes and incense contribute to the fragrance that floats in the
air inside the shrine. Also offered by devotees are the chadar,
ghilaph and neema, which are votive offerings for the tomb.
These are brought by devotees on their heads and handed over to the
khadims inside the sanctum sanctorum. Outside the sanctum sanctorum of
the dargah, professional singers called qawwals in groups and sing the
praises of the saint in a characteristic high pitched voice. People
gather around them and listen attentively, sometimes clapping to the
rhythm of their instruments.
The Urs is initiated with the hoisting of a white flag on the dargah
by the Sajjada Nashin (successor
representative) of Chishtis. It is done on the 25th of Jamadi-ul-Akhir
(sixth lunar month), with the accompaniment of music. On the last day
of the sixth month, the Jannati-Darwaza (gateway of heaven) is flung
open early in the morning. People cross this gate seven times with the
belief that they will be assured a place in heaven. On the 1st of
Rajab, the tomb is washed with rose water and sandalwood paste and
anointed with perfumes. This ritual is called ghusal. The tomb is then
covered with an embroidered silk cloth by the Sajjada Nashin.
An interesting ritual is the looting of kheer (milk-pudding) which is
cooked in two large cauldrons called degs and distributed to the
devotees as tabarruk (blessed food). On the 6th of Rajab, after the
usual mehfil and the sound of cracker-bursts accompanied by music, the
Sajjada Nashin performs the ghusal of the tomb. Fatiha and Salamti are
read. A poetic recitation called mushaira is arranged in which poets
of all communities arrive to recite compositions dedicated to the
Khwaja. The Qul (end-all) on the 6th of Rajab marks the end of the
At night, religious assemblies called mehfils are held in the
mehfil-khana, a large hall meant for this purpose. These are presided
over by the Sajjada Nashin of the dargah. Qawwalis are sung and the
hall is packed to capacity. There are separate places reserved for
women who attend the mehfil. The mehfil terminates late in the night
with a mass prayer for the eternal peace of the Khwaja in particular
and mankind in general.
The Dargah is located at the conjunction of three bazaars. There are a
number of restaurants around the Dargah where visitors can choose from
a variety of dishes most of which are non-vegetarian preparations.
Guest houses on the road leading to the Dargah offer accommodation
that ranges from economical to luxurious. Many other guest houses are
strewn across the city. The shops in the market around the Dargah sell
flowers, prayer mats, rosaries, textiles, and general merchandise as
Ajmer is 132 kms. south-west of Jaipur and 198 kms. east of Jodhpur.
It is connected by road to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Udaipur and Kota.
Ajmer is a railway junction on the Delhi-Ahmedabad section of the
Western Railway. During the Urs, special buses ply from cities all
over India carrying people to Ajmer and back.