Rishi Majumder on an auspicious night unveils the mystique behind a 600-year-old islet of unshakable devotion
Photographer: Pal Pillai
Devotees offer prayers inside the dargah on the 17th Shab

Devotees offer prayers inside the dargah on the 17th Shab

   Over 800 people congregate 500 yards into the sea at 9:30 pm on the 17th night of the month (as per the Muslim calendar) at the Haji Ali dargah. People dressed in clothes as casual as a t-shirt and pair of jeans gather at Hazrat Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari’s tomb from distant locations, some well beyond Mumbai. Two legends surround the tomb’s location. While one claims this is the spot where the Pir drowned, another insists that Haji Ali had instructed his followers to set his coffin adrift in the sea (instead of burial), to be buried by people where found – and this shore was where the coffin emerged. Whichever of these incidents occurred, “the date of Baba Haji Ali’s death anniversary determines today’s festival of Naach Sharif,” Sohail Khandwani, trustee of the Haji Ali Trust informs. “Held on the 17 th ‘shab’ or ‘night’ of every month to mark that day,” a belief often voiced about saints who devote their lives to Allah is that they continue to live on after death. A multitude of Muslim and non-Muslim believers, paying their respects to the silver frame marking the Pir’s tomb and humbled by a magnificent dome boasting a glass sparkling with kaleidoscopic patterns, stand testimony to the immense belief that Haji Ali commands.
   The two-hour prayer service, with men and women standing in separate sections, begins with salaams read in praise of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed. After this come praises sung and read for a series of saints that the service honours, including Pir Haji Ali. These salaams while not taken from ancient texts have been written through the ages by Muftis. The service ends with a Fateha, Dua and finally the distribution of Niyaz, mostly sweetmeats which tonight were peras and khajas. “Our prayers at such a saint’s tomb is eventually to Allah,” Khandwani tells us, explaining the underlying essence of the service. Such pious saints, he explains, are seen as mediums between man and God.
   While the dargah was first built in 1431, the mosque complex and the causeway leading to it has seen re-construction, renovation and additions, undertaken by the Haji Ali trust, founded by members of the Kutchi Memon community, through the 1940s down to the ’90s. Now a fund fed by donations, estimated at anything from Rs 5 lakhs to Rs 30 lakhs a month, is working to re-build the direly-in-need-of-repair structure in white marble, making it as one pilgrim puts it: “Even better and sturdier than the Taj Mahal.” There are also plans by trustees to set up a hospital and to service people of every caste, creed and religion aside from promoting educational initiatives.
   But the faith displayed by the masses thronging the tomb tonight or greeting friends at the courtyard’s refreshment stalls transcends any fear that a collapsible structure might incite. Or any hope for medical aid and schooling. “Since two generations before me, our family has been attending this festival… almost every month,” says a Hanif Memon, a vehicle horn manufacturer in Chor Bazaar, who reserves “at least one day a month for helping out at the dargah”. His idea of belief, one that has been “handed down through generations as well as newly re-inforced” is replicated manifold in most of the families present here. Fahad Sheikh, an Andheri software programmer, believes this is “an especially auspicious day for mannats.” ‘Faith’ for tonight’s visitors arises from an extremely personal set of experiences. But what seems to lend this room, reverberating with salaams being repeated in unison, its queer aura is perhaps what another regular (not wishing to be named) summarized simply: “the collective experience of hundreds, rising beyond the negative trivialities of their daily chores in two hours”… via positive chanting.

This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:  http://alturl.com/bt5b



One comment

  1. mudasirkhan · August 7, 2012


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