During October 2006, when Ullal was in the grip of communal violence, the sprawling Seyyid Muhammad Shareeful Madani Darga in the centre of the town stood as a benevolent asylum for residents, irrespective of their religion or sect.
Abdul Rehman, a watchman at the darga, recalls the reverential calm within the premises which contrasted scenes of chaos and fear on the streets outside. “Muslims and Hindus could be seen praying at the darga for peace. The darga was left untouched during the violence as it is considered holy for both communities,” he said.
Called the “Ajmer Darga” of the South, the Ullal Darga was built around 500 years ago and since then has continued the syncretic traditions of the eponymous saint.
According to U.S. Hamza, president of the Darga Committee, the saint came to the town from Madina. It is believed that he performed miracles, aiding people of all faiths, and soon he became revered in the region. “After his death, hundreds of devotees continued to come to the grave. The darga was built here later,” Mr. Hamza said.
In a region where communal lines appear stark, the Ullal Darga remains unique for attracting people across religious lines. “Many people from across the country regardless of religion come here to pray away their miseries and problems,” Mr. Hamza said.
The darga continues to follow in the principles laid out by the saint. Every afternoon, a simple meal of ganji (porridge) is given to everyone who comes there. United in their faith, people are seen whispering a prayer in the silver-coated shrine, dropping a gratitude amount in a well, and having ganji as blessing.
Sirajuddin, who mans the counter at the darga, said most of the pilgrims were from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. The grandest display of communal harmony comes during the Uroos celebrations. The month-long celebrations are observed every five years and sees lakhs of people attending them. Mr. Hamza estimates that around 4 lakh people come, of which Hindus and Christians could number more than 50,000.