The sight of lacs of devout pilgrims of all castes, creeds and religions from all parts of India, Asian countries and Africa converging at the shrine of the great Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in centrally located Ajmer town of Rajasthan, is indeed awesome. The occasion is the annual Urs, the death anniversary of the Khwaja in the Islami month of Rajjab. Nobody knows the exact date on which the saint left his body for the heavenly abode. For undisturbed prayer and meditation, he had confined himself in his small cell. On the sixth day when the disciples broke open the door they learnt about his death. So Urs is celebrated for six days.
The son of Syed Giasuddin Ahmed Hasan and Bibi Mahenoor, Moinuddin was born at an Iranian village Sanjar in Seestan province in 1143 AD. After his birth, the family moved to Khursan. When Moinuddin was 13, his father died leaving for him a small garden and a flour mill run by water. Influenced by saint Ibrahim Kandozi, he sold off this property and distributed the money among the poor. He made a deep study of the Quran under the guidance of his spiritual mentor Hisamuddin Bukhari. He went to Harat and became a disciple of a Sufi saint Usman Haruni Chisti.
Since his early years, Moinuddin was very kind at heart. Whenever he saw a hungry child cry, he would point towards his mother thus giving a hint that she should feed it. When he grew up one day Moinuddin was ordered by a divine voice to go to India and spread the message of Sufism there.
Khwaja travelled to Ajmer on camel back. He reached Anasagar lake and asked his campanions to tie their camels and rest for the night. During his prayer he felt that he had arrived at the place where his Peer had sent him. A cave in a hillock near the lake became his abode. Khwaja liked the place which later on came to be known as Khwaja Saheb Ka Chilla. It was here that the great Sufi saint spent the major part of his stay in this town before moving on to a spacious compound at the foot of Taragarh hill on which is located the fort of Prithviraj Chauhan. The Chilla is still considered to be a highly sacred place by the devotees who visit it in large number on the way to Dargah. Here too, all the ceremonies are performed in the traditional way during the annual Urs as also on other occasions.
Khwaja followed the parting advice of his guru Usman Haruni who had asked him to live the life of a ‘fakir’ as he had donned the clothes of a ‘fakir’. He should be kind to the poor and the destitute, keep away from sins and be balanced in adversity and sorrow.
In addition to his original name Moinuddin Hasan Chisti, Khwaja Saheb is known by various other names which symbolise his inherent saintly qualities.
The most popular one of them is Gareeb Nawaz meaning one who is kind to the poor. Not only the rich but the poorest of the poor find great solace at the Dargah and that is why they crowd the shrine not only during Urs but through out the year. It was this class of people with whom Khwaja spent his whole life in a simple and austere manner and gave the message of Sufism and ‘bhakti’. Like an honest comman man, Khwaja never sought the company of or favours from the royalty or the rich.
It is said that when Khwaja saw that the tradition of ‘bhajans’ and ‘kirtan’ were popular among Hindus, he decided to adopt ‘qawwali’ to generate greater devotion. He made it a point to ensure that the time of these ‘qawwalies’ never clashed with that of ‘aarti’ in the temples.
A week before the commencement of the Urs, there is the tradition of hoisting a flag on the 75 ft. high Buland Darwaza. To offer this flag brought by the Gauri family of Bhilwara, people walk from the Dargah guest house to Nizam Gate and then on to Buland Darwaza with a party of ‘qawwals’. This ceremony is a call to the devotees to get ready for the big event and marks the beginning of hustle and bustle in the shrine and its vicinity.
From the first day, the time of services at the shrine changes. The Jannati Darwaza is opened for the pilgrims who have a belief that passing through it would earn them a place in heaven (Jannat). For the next six days the service of
‘gusal’ inside the shrine is performed by ‘Khudams’ and nobody is allowed to enter it at that time.
In the Dargah premises at various places are held ‘mehfils’ in the honour of the saint. The ‘shahi mehfil’ presided over by Dargah Diwan in ‘mehfilkhana’ takes place every day from 10 pm to 4 am. All these ‘qawwali’ sessions are a great attraction for the pilgrims from outside as well as the localities. At the time of the sixth ‘Qul’ devotees wash the outer walls of the shrine and take away this water with them as ‘tabarruk’. Just after the completion of sixth Fatah, starts the Qul ‘mehfil’. With this the Jannati Darwaza is closed and all the services in the shrine begin to be performed according to the normal schedule.
A great attraction of the Urs fair is the visit of a class-by-itself set of pilgrims called Kalandar who come here not for the fulfilment of any desire of their own or their family, but to keep up the old tradition of their ancestors. Their prayer to the Khwaja is for the health, peace and prosperity of every citizen of the country. They are always in search for opportunities to serve humanity and also enthuse others to do so. By no means, they are beggars. The Kalandars love to spend their lives in serving at big and small dargah all over the country. They give up all wordly relations and only then are initiated into their sect. Their participation in various ceremonies during Urs adds colour to the festival.
Irrespective of caste, creed and religion, people of all ranks from the common man to kings, maharajas, nababs and badshahs have been coming to the door steps of the Khwaja to pay their homage. Emperor Akbar visited the Dargah in 1570 after the birth of his Salim. As also a number of times in the later years. During his stay in Ajmer from 1613 to 1616 Emperor Jahangir paid homage at the shrine quite often Queen Victoria Mary herself paid obesience here in 1911. Man Singh Kachchawa of Jaipur would get down his horse, walk to the shrine and feed the poor before taking his own meal. Guru Nanak had also visited Dargah.
All through the ages, devotees from different walks of life ranging from politicians to poets, artisans to actors, garmers to film-makerss, consider it their privilege to pay honmage at the sanctum sanctorum.