Discover the Sufi side of Delhi
Nizamuddin Dargah is colourful proof that Sufi culture and traditions are still strong in the Indian capital.
Monuments to Delhi’s multicultural and multi-faith history are scattered throughout the city. The Sufi branch of Islam has been a vivid component of that historical mosaic, in Delhi and the rest of South Asia, for a millennium.
Tucked away at the heart of a maze of alleyways, close to the honking chaos of a major urban thoroughfare, Nizamuddin Dargah feels disconnected from the world.
The Dargah, or mausoleum, of the 13th-century Sufi saint Nizamuddin forms the core of this bustling labyrinthine neighbourhood. To reach it, you wander through the steam and smoke arising from street-side vendors of tandoori-roasted chicken, kebabs, naan bread, and biryani. The pungent food gives way to the aroma of rose petals, glistening with sprinkled water and heaped next to brightly coloured shrouds, to be laid as offerings at the tomb.
Etiquette requires visitors to take off their shoes and to cover their heads. But like Sikhism, the Sufi faith is known for its inclusivity and all visitors are welcome, although photographing the inner sanctum of the mausoleum might attract some disapproval.
On Thursday evenings at dusk, the crowds gather to sit in the inner shrine to listen to devotional Sufi songs and music played on harmoniums and tablas, a wonderful incense-shrouded event. Women congregate reading from scriptures, while men take turns to pray and place the shrouds over the tomb, screened by the mausoleum.
One estimate puts the daily attendance at the Dargah and the surrounding mosques and tombs as high as 50,000, a number that can double on Thursdays. So this can hardly be described as one of Delhi’s best-kept secrets. But as an intense essential Delhi experience, it’s hard to beat.
Text and photos Tim Bird