R.V. Smith visits a unique place which claims to have a footprint of Prophet Mohammad
Few perhaps know that an unusual Urs takes place at Qadam Sharif in Qutub Road. According to the mutawalli (trustee) of the shrine, Sultan Ziauddin, better known as Sultan Bhai, the event does not commemorate the death anniversary of Prince Fateh or Fath Khan, son of Firoze Shah Tughlak, buried there but that of Hazrat Mohammad, who was born and died on the same day. The occasion is celebrated as Id-ul-Milad or Barah Wafaat. Sultan Bhai’s father is the hereditary caretaker (Sajjadanashin) of the shrine where the footprint of Qadam-e-Mustafa is installed. He claims that his family has been organising the Urs ever since Fateh Khan died over 600 years ago, leaving Firoze Tughlak heartbroken.
At the Urs, the tabarrukh or prasad (offering) distributed is also unusual. Generally it’s a sugar preparation, gram, gur or some sort of cake, but at Qadam Sharif water from the small tank, in which the stone carrying the footprint is immersed, is given to the devotees in little water goblets or mud Surhais for drinking and anointing themselves. This year the Urs fell on 25 January. Heritage activist Surekha Narain, who happened to find her way to the shrine last week, learnt its history with astonishment. Many years ago the event lasted 12 days with people from all over coming to participate in it. But now it is a one-day affair and only those from Delhi are the ones who attend. Still the organisers have to make hectic preparations and it is hard to contact Sultan Bhai who, along with his family members, is busy making arrangements days in advance. This includes permission from the authorities for a police bandobust in the crowded area in Paharganj. In the Mughal days it had many luminaries such as Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq, ustad of Bahadur Shah Zafar, living in it. At that time one could go on horseback right up to the Red Fort as the space now occupied by railway lines was an open ground. This changed when the Old and New Delhi stations came up and trains criss-crossed the area. Now one cannot even imagine a horse ride to the fort.
The story of Qadam Sharif is an interesting one. According to historians like Y.D. Sharma, the large square tomb was built by Firoze Shah (1351-88) for himself but when his son Fateh Khan predeceased him, he interred the favourite prince’s remains here. The stone with the Prophet’s footprint was brought from Mecca by Makhdum Jahanian Jahan, the spiritual guide of the Sultan, in the years before the latter’s death. It was later placed on the tomb of Fateh Khan. The emperor then built a mosque and a school nearby and enclosed the tomb with a high battlemented wall. Adjacent to the tomb were subsequently added several chambers, such as the majlis khhana (assembly hall) and langar khhana (feeding house). There are also several graves and tombs inside the enclosure. It is believed that other members of the royal family, attendants and caretakers are buried here. Firoze Tughlak was a pious man who, according to Dr. Ishwari Prasad, was forever honouring holy men. Any dervish who came to his kingdom was sure to be met by the Sultan, who not only gave him gifts but also sought his blessings and advice. The historian feels that Firoze was more attracted towards matters spiritual than temporal and would have preferred to lead the life of a religious recluse had it not been for his uncle Mohammad bin Tughlak. The latter groomed him for kingship from an early age since he did not have an heir.
So when Mohammed bin Tughlak died suddenly at Thatta, in Sindh (some say his death was due to a plate of bad fish that he had eaten) while pursuing a rebel, Firoze was prevailed upon to succeed him. Throughout his long reign Firoze Tughlak never deviated from his spiritual practices, not even when he was busy hunting or laying gardens (he is said to have laid 1,200 gardens around Delhi), building new edifices and repairing old ones, like the Qutub Minar and Hauz Khas tank, and creating cities like Firozabad. As a builder, Firoze is regarded second only to Shah Jahan, whom he preceded by 300 years.
For such an emperor the building of the shrine was another exercise in fruitful architecture. He himself is buried at Hauz Khas but had his son not died before him then the Sultan’s grave would have been in Qadam Sharif. Incidentally, there is another Qadam Sharif in the Karbala at Jorbagh and in the Jama Masjid too. But the one in Qutub Road has its own special relevance, where one can not only view a venerated relic but also partake of the tabarrukh at Id-ul-Milad. The langar or public feeding has been discontinued as the devotees do not camp at the shrine any more but come and depart the same day. Still, the attraction continues. Firoze Tughlak and Fateh Khan couldn’t have hoped for a better tribute even six centuries after their death.