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Sufis for real…and effect!

R.V. Smith
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CITYSCAPE The recent Sufi festival reminds R.V. Smith that the trend now is more towards pseudo-sufism which finds an outlet in glamorous functions in Delhi

The three-day International Sufi Festival hosted in Delhi by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations once again threw light on the Capital's Sufi connections. When Ibn Batuta came from Morocco during the reign of Mohammad Bin Tughlak, he had not expected the Sufi influence to be so dominant. That was also the time when Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and his chief disciple, Amir Khusrau, were propagating their own brand of Sufism, which transcended religious borders to encompass both Muslims and Hindus. It was the same influence that was later to attract the Bhakti saints, Kabir, Nanak and others of their ilk. That meant a 200-year-old gap from Nizamuddin's time. This Sufi influence was to attract Akbar the Great so much that he created his own specimen of it in the form of Din-e-Illahi that sought to bridge the gap between Muslim rulers and Hindu subjects and forged links.

At the time of Partition riots, Sufism took a tumble with thousands from both the prominent communities being slaughtered. The shrines of the Sufis were also attacked (along with temples and gurdwaras and churches) by those hungry for revenge. Mercifully after tempers had cooled down and Pakistan became a reality, the Sufi influence reasserted itself and all communities were drawn to it again in large or small measure.

Communal peace

The late fifties and sixties were times of comparative communal peace in Delhi and one remembers how the Thursday qawwalis drew big crowds at a time when TV was still to make its presence felt. Sitting at the mazaars till late at night and listening to the Sufiana kalams, one and all were, emotionally, spiritually and physically affected. But long after the qawwalis were over, came Sufi divines with conical caps to sit in meditation at the shrines of which there are so many in Delhi, which is regarded as the threshold of 22 Khwajas. The word Khwajas has a certain mystic significance attached to it. Besides Muslim Khwajas there were Armenian Khwajas, among whom the best remembered to this day is Khwaja Mortenephus, a saintly merchant who came to India in Akbar's reign. This area was later to become Sufi land with many shrines coming up on it. A part of it was a mango grove which was given by Akbar to a saintly lady, Mariam Pyari to build a cemetery. The Martyrs' Cemetery that came up in it still bears traces of the Sufi influence. Devotees to the twin graves of Fr Santus and Khwaja Mortenephus go to their chapel on Thursdays and light candles and joss-sticks after tying threads (to signify their wish) to the trellis work. They belong to all communities and have a fervent belief in the two saints, one of whom was martyred. Unfortunately the trend now is more towards pseudo-sufism which finds an outlet in big and glamorous functions in Delhi. To entertain the audiences there are singers from Pakistan. Some years ago came Allan Faqir from Sindh, who was really able to instil the Sufi spirit in Delhiites. The latest Delhi show saw the participation of the Bauls of Bengal too, along with singers from Punjab. While such events are worthy of praise they are a bit too pseudo to create the real Sufi spirit of Mast Kalandar. To imbibe that one has to be a loner on personal visits to mazaars where meditation brings out the best in sufiana kalam. As one who experienced this some 50 years ago, the influence still lingers and makes one visit and revisit the shrines of Hare Bhare Sahib, Sarmad Shaheed, Bhure Mian and Hazart Kalimullah. Sit at these places, hear a qawwali (if it is on) and lose yourself in spiritual thoughts.

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