Thursday, April 28, 2011
Visiting Memory Lanes of History
Winter was setting in Delhi as it welcomed the morning fog, the sun rays searching for a way to seep through the mist, after a two month long rigorous schedule during my internship, I finally got the chance to explore the city and this time my destination was Nizamuddin Basti and areas around that place.
After getting down at Pragati Maidan Metro station, I took a bus to Nizamuddin which is presently a cluster of Muslim dwellings but breathes a rich historical past. It is in these narrow lanes of the slums that Islamic architecture, traditions and culture flourished but lost in the humdrum of times. But thanks to a revival project being carried out by Aga Khan Trust in collaboration with Archeological Survey of India, that the history of this place is again coming to life. It is through the initiative of the trust that a heritage walk around the area covering important landmarks was organized.
I along with five others entered the basti through a low arch into a snake-like lane called the Phoolonwali Gali. This is the only gateway surviving from the original wall that once enclosed the whole settlement. Phoolonwali Gali was a flower market during the 14th century Khalji dynasty and was said to be the largest flower market in the world. Lost amidst the walls of buildings the only evidence of this once upon a time bazaar is a 10 feet tall iron gate. As we walked further, the basti had some or the other trivia to share. Coming across graves and tombs after every two steps, the fact lies behind it is that according to Islam, you don’t need a specific area to bury your loved ones. Instead the graves are dug beside their houses to keep the dead man’s soul near to themselves.
As we searched our way through the winding narrow roads, the next stop was the dargah of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, head of the Sufi Order International who promoted Sufi as an attainment of spirituality across Europe and America. Although the dargah was situated in the middle of the bazaar, everything was quiet and it seemed time had frozen for an instant inside the shrine. I stood inside looking at the sleeping tomb and felt a certain spiritual bliss! Coming back from the short-lived trance to reality, we headed towards Kalan Mosque, also known as Black Mosque. Surrounded by high walls, from the entrance of the mosque one could see the illusioned paralleled pillars standing in a file. Once we entered the mosque, students chanting Koran verses in the madrasa inside can be heard. The mosque is said to be 600 years old and was built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq, the 14th century Sultanate ruler.
Markets inside the basti looked like they are framed according to the bazaars of Arabian Night stories. Shops selling groceries, jewellery, sandalwood, meswak sticks, itar and soorma. Hawkers shouting prices in order to sell their wares and cloth and burqa-clad women bargaining while hidden under their veils. As I pass through the busy market, it reminds me of a poem by Sarojini Naidu where she says-
What do you sell O ye merchants?
Richly your wares are displayed.
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirror with panels of amber,
Daggers with handle of jade.
The next destination reached inside the citadel was the Urs Mahal which houses the famous Chausanth Khamba tomb built by Mirza Aziz Koka who served under emperor Jehangir, the tombs of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s family, Ataga Khan’s tomb and the tomb of the reknowned Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib. The open courtyard of the well is used to celebrate the Urs i.e. the birthday of the 14th century sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Facing the courtyard is the beautiful Mughal structure of Chausanth Khamba. Even though the pillar count comes to only it’s half, the structure is named after its sixty four pillars that support the roof which looks flat from outside but are dome-shaped from the interior. There are ten tombs inside the monument, two of which belong to Aziz Koka and his wife. The stoned jaali bring in sun rays forming beautiful reflections in the shiny marble flooring.
Next to it is Emperor Akbar’s Prime Minister Ataga Khan’s tomb which depicts a unique blend of Islamic and Indian art. The intricate Persian carvings on the walls of the tomb have been erased in due course of time leaving patches of it at some places. The tomb faces the Nizamuddin’s shrine which is situated in the direction of Mecca.
The tomb of Mirza Ghalib built in marble and recently revived by Aga Khan Trust lies alone at the centre of a marble courtyard. The poet’s tomb gives life to one of his own couplets which says-
Unke dekhe se jo aati hai muh par raunak
Woh samajhtey hai ki beemar ka haal achha hai
The Nizamuddin journey wouldn’t have reached a better finality with a visit to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah. Even after 700 years since the death of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, people believe all their wishes would be fulfilled by the great saint. Hundreds of people from all religious backgrounds come here to pray, tie the wishing threads and to seek his blessings. There was a certain mystic energy around the place which forced me to sit there and meditate. Even after leaving the place, I came back to the shrine in the evening to experience qawwalis sung by sufi musicians. Nizamuddin believed in the power of music and poetry to be able to attain God. Continuing this tradition, every Thursday at 7pm, sufi musicians in and around the city gather and sing qawwalis. During the function, some eyes were getting wet, a few started dancing in trance and others like me were just lost in the performance.
With so many sights experienced at one go, Nizamuddin was like a kaleidoscope of different events happening at a same time. Being a part of the capital city, which is constantly trying to be the next Paris and New York, it was surprising to see one such place that was unaffected by this constant change. Entering the archway was like entering a time machine moving backwards. After the two hour journey, I felt an irresistible urge to go back to the time of Nizamuddin Auliya and be a part of that beautiful world.