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The sacred Ullal dargah and its syncretic tradition

Anisha Sheth
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People are given food every afternoon without discrimination on the basis of faith at the Ullal dargah in Mangalore. — Photo: R. Eswarraj
People are given food every afternoon without discrimination on the basis of faith at the Ullal dargah in Mangalore. — Photo: R. Eswarraj

Scholars may wax eloquent about syncretic traditions, but a visit to a darga will show what the word truly means. The darga of Syed Madani in Ullal, popularly known as the “Ullal dargah”, is one such.

A number of people are served a simple meal every afternoon, without discrimination on the basis of faith, class, or sex, an inclusiveness that the saint himself is believed to have practised when he lived in Ullal several hundred years ago.

It appears that nobody knows exactly when the Seyyid Muhammad Shareeful Madani Dargah was built but faith in his ability to heal and provide succour miraculously to the poor and anyone who sought his help has brought lakhs of people to his darga for hundreds of years, even to this day.

The committee that manages the dargah has published a booklet compiling stories that abound about the darga. According to the booklet, Seyyid Madani is believed to have come to Ullal around 500 years ago from Medina in Saudi Arabia floating on a piece of cloth. But little else is known about its history.

Every five years, Uroos celebrations are held at the dargah, which attracts lakhs of visitors. People of all faiths pray at the dargah and also offer “harake” (a vow).

Nebissa, aged around 40 and a resident of Ullal, says she and her family go to the dargah any time throughout the year and almost every day during Uroos. She believes in the miracles of Seyyid Madani. Sumana Kamath, also a resident of Ullal, said: “We live in Ullal and my family goes to every Urus celebration at the dargah. We don't differentiate (it as a place of worship only for Muslims).” Valene Noronha of Kodikal said she went with her Muslim neighbours to the Urus celebration. “I made a wish here because it is said that wishes are granted at this dargah,” she said. U.M. Basheer, a security guard at the dargah, said the afternoon meal was served to any person who comes there.

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