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Wednesday, July 11, 2001

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Flurry of activity among Khadims

By Mohammed Iqbal

AJMER, JULY 10. ``May Allah accept the services of Khadims. Amen!'' wrote former Pakistan military ruler, Zia-ul-Haq, while recording his impressions during his visit to Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti's dargah here on February 22, 1987. The Khadims had taken him round the dargah and helped him perform ziarat (pilgrimage) at the shrine.

The Khadim community, comprising around 700 families, occupies a prominent position in the hierarchy of the Ajmer dargah. As the custodians and protectors of the monument, Khadims have an unrivalled access to the inner sanctum and they perform all the rituals and ceremonies at the tomb.

The proposed visit of the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, here on July 16 - the second by a serving President of that country after a gap of 14 years - has led to a flurry of activity among Khadims. They have chalked out an itinerary for the General's visit in which they themselves figure prominently, much before the district administration finalises the schedule.

The way the Khadims have monopolised the dargah affairs and gained control over the huge revenues received in the shape of offerings makes an interesting account. They trace their descent from Khwaja Fakhruddin Gurdezi, who had accompanied Khwaja Gharib Nawaz when the latter came to Ajmer around the year 1190 on his divine mission.

Khwaja Gurdezi was one of the blood relations and follower of Khwaja Usman Harooni who was the spiritual mentor of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. As Khwaja Gurdezi was the `Khadim-e- Khas' (chief attendant) of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, Khadims consider it their religious obligation to serve the tomb and receive all offerings.

``We are not simply the workers of dargah. Since we have the hereditary right to perform all rituals and arrange spiritual functions, we are the custodians of the shrine,'' Syed Sarwar Chishti, secretary of the Anjuman Khuddam Syedzadgan - a representative body of Khadims - said while speaking to The Hindu. The Moghul emperors, Hindu kings and later the British Government had liberally granted jagirs, honours and rewards to Khadims.

However, there is an alternative tradition about the origin of Khadims, as mentioned by historian P.M. Currie in his book The Shrine and Cult of Muin Al-Din Chishti of Ajmer. According to it, Khadims have descended from converts originally belonging to the Bhil tribe. Three Bhil brothers - Laikha, Taikha and Shaikha - who got converted to Islam through Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, dedicated their lives to his service and, after his death, looked after his grave as have their descendants ever since.

Khadims have always refuted this. They had even filed a defamation against the author. The court had acquitted the accused holding that the allegation about Bhil descent of a man did not lower him intellectually, morally or socially in the Islamic society.

It is generally agreed that the ancestors of the present day Khadims had worked as servants of the dargah since the lifetime of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Interestingly, almost no Khadim family migrated to Pakistan at the time of partition ostensibly to protect the shrine from pillage and plunder. The commercial motives and attraction to the social recognition might also have contributed to Khadims deciding to stay in Ajmer.

The man who is left out in the medley of dargah management is the dargah dewan, Syed Zainul Abedin, who claims to be the direct descendant of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz and asserts that he is the only legitimate caretaker of the shrine. ``Khadims, who are no more than workers, have usurped my position. They have no right to look after the management which is my domain,'' he says.

With the district administration likely to finalise Gen. Musharraf's itinerary within a couple of days, Syed Abedin has written a letter to it stating that he would be accompanying the visiting dignitary inside the tomb despite the objection by Khadims. Khadims assert that since the ziarat rituals are performed by them, only they would be accompanying the Pakistan President.

Syed Abedin has stated that there has always been a tradition of dargah dewan entering the mausoleum with the visiting dignitaries. He was there with the former Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Mr. V.P. Singh, in November 1983 and February 1990, respectively. He has warned that he would boycott Gen. Musharraf's programme if the traditions are not followed.

Gen. Musharraf and his wife will be welcomed in a royal style at the Shahjahani Gate after entering through the Nizam Gate. The entire dargah complex will reverberate with the sound of drums beaten from atop Shahjahani Gate when he crosses it. The practice was started about 400 years ago for welcoming Moghul emperor Akbar who used to visit the dargah occasionally and had once travelled on foot from his capital, Akbarabad, to Ajmer.

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