SITE – Basic information
Neighbourhood: Khadim Mohalla, Dargah Bazaar
Type of religious site: Dargah
Religious communityies attending: Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Tourists
No of communities attending: 5
Languages used for ceremonies and prayers: Urdu, Arabic, Hindi, Brij Bhasha
Approximate size of the site: 400-500 m2
Year of construction: 12th century
Pilgrimage location: YES
Pilgrimage season: All year round, particularly during annual Urs in March-April (according to the lunar calendar)
Names and dates of the main festivals celebrated in situ: Urs, Id, Birth anniversary of Moinuddin Chisty, Basant Panchami
Website page of the site: http://www.gharibnawaz.in/ & http://ajmerdargahdewan.com/
Name and title of the in-charge of the site: Nazim, Dargah Committee (under the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India)
SITE – Overview of the site
The Dargah Sharif of Ajmer is the most important Sufi shrine of South Asia. This shrine is important because it has been built over the place where Moinuddin Chisti
(1138? – 1235) used to live and where is tomb is. Mu’in al-din is the founder of the Chisti order in the region – the most popular Sufi order in India.
Although, Chisty had arrived to Ajmer in the 12th century, it was only after the visit of the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 17th century, that the shrine’s popularity had increased to an unprecedented level under its new patron. After Akbar, most of the political leaders of India, including Hindu maharajas and current Hindu nationalist figures, will come and pay respects to the saint.
The shrine is a shared sacred space between various religious communities of South Asia, both Muslims and non-Muslims. They are drawn towards the power of the saint, who practically can fulfil all their mannats, wishes, regardless of one’s own religion, caste or creed. There are several cultural traits of Hinduism that have been absorbed by the Dargah culture at Ajmer, for instance making of a langar, community kitchen, or celebrating the festival of Basant Panchami, or even wearing of a saffron robe by the Sajjadanashin. These certainly give a syncretic element to the place. However, the shrine largely remains an Islamic place in its character, where sharing can be restricted both temporally or spatially.
In spite of these limitations, the Dargah remains one of the few places where Muslims and non-Muslims of India co-exist (and sometimes interact), at a time when the segregation of the urban space and the rise of Hindu nationalism have made the relations between both communities more complicated. In that sense, the Dargah culture shows some resilience.
SITE – Economy of the site
The Ajmer Dargah is a site of immense economic activity. While one takes the Dargah Bazaar, the bazaar named after the shrine itself, road, one comes across an incredible variety of shops, from eateries to cloths, shoes, utensils, toys, bangles, parking lots, hotels, sweets to of course religious paraphernalia including chadars and baskets of roses. The shops continue till we enter the first gate of shrine. The shops outside the shrine are owned mostly by Sindhis and Hindu Baniyas, and some by Muslims (closer to the shrine); those inside the shrine are exclusively run by khadims.
Khadims inside the shrine have access to hujras, pilgrim rest places, which they claim belong to them. These are practically the offices of khadims from where the religious business takes place – the pilgrims come to the khadims and pay a certain amount for the khidmat, the services, the khadim will offer for the ziyarat, prayer, all scrupulously noted in their ledger. Besides, many khadims use websites to promote their activities, and for online payment for the ziyarat, lest the pilgrim may not be present in person.
SITE – Conflicts revolving around the site
There are several conflicts revolving around the site. First, conflict between the Dewan or the Sajjadanashin, and the khadims for access to the offerings made to the shrine or property inside or around the Dargah. A minor one is between the family of the Dewan himself – between him and his son on one side, and Dewan’s younger brother who claimed to be the Dewan recently. Second, conflictual relationship is between the Dargah Committee, and the Committees of the Khadims on one side and the Dewan on the other, once again on matters of sharing the offering. Third, Between the Khadims – there are two branches, Syedzadgan and Sheikhzadgan[JSS1] , the former in majority. Both try to have more access to resources and pilgrims. Also, there are conflicts within some khadim families for access to the hujra. Last, between some radical right wing Hindu elements who were involved in the Ajmer Dargah blasts, or organisations like Shiv Sena Hindustan that recently made a call to demolish the Ajmer shrine.
SITE – Bibliography pertaining to the site
Akbar, Sohail. 2018. “Ajmer Sharif’s Photo Booths Capture an Islam that is Diverse and Local.” Econmic and Political Weekly, 53(5), pp. 3320-3331.
Begg, Wahiduddin. 1977. The Holy Biography of Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti. East-West Publications Fonds.
Currie, Peter M. 1978. “The Shrine and Cult of Mu’in Al-dīn Chishtī of Ajmer.” University of Oxford.
Dhaul, Laxmi and Sanjay S. Badnor. 2001. The Sufi Saint of Ajmer. Thea Enterprises.
Metcalf, Barbara D. 2009. Islam in South Asia in Practice. Princeton University Press.
Moini, Syed L. H. 1989. “Rituals and Customary Practices at the Dargah of Ajmer.” Muslim Shrines in India: Their Character, History and Significance:60-75.
Nizami, Khaliq A. 1961. Some Aspects of Religion and Politics in India during the Thirteenth Century. Bombay; New York: Asia Publishing House.
Rizvi, Saiyid A. A. 1978. “A History of Sufism in India, 2 Vols.” New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal 83.
Sarda, Har B. 1941. Ajmer: Historical and Descriptive. Fine Art Printing Press.
Tirmizi, SAI. 1968. Ajmer through Inscriptions [1532-1852 AD.Indian Institute of Islamic Studies.
See Photos of the Ajmer Sharif dargah site here
And for a comparison, see photos of the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi
SITE – Videos of the site
SITE – Links to the site
General link: https://www. sundayguardianlive.com/news/ ajmer-dargah-sees-rift-dewan- khadims
Dewan was not allowed to enter inside during the important ceremony of Gusl inside the tomb: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=FLONjVNjSNw
The Ajmer rape case, where many of the khadims were involved: http://www.opindia.com/2018/ 02/india-rotherham-ajmer- chisty-congress-dargah-muslim- rape-gang/amp/
Violent clash of khadims and the Nazim, representative of the Dargah Committee: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=ICf_0X4PH7w
Two group of Khadims violently clashing with each other: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=5aBxdJCUvLc ; https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=FLONjVNjSNw
Khadims clashing with the pilgrims about offerings and entering the sanctum sanctorum:
A very love-love-sufi-peace documentary by Sadia Dehlvi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKikQnf7tVA&ytbChannel=null
Fieldwork conducted by Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot and Jusmeet Singh Sihra