The historic town ruled by the Chauhans and continually fought over by Sultans of Delhi and rulers of Gujarat, Mewar and Marwar, Ajmer, becomes the venue of the crowded annual Urs fair of the great Chisti Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in the month of Rajab.
Son of Khwaja Giasuddin and Bibi Mahenoor, Moinuddin was born in 1135. Right from early childhood, he had a religious bent of mind. By the age of 9, he had learnt the Quran by heart and could recitet it fast. He had also started studying scriptures such as Hadis and Fika. His father passed away in Bagdad when Moinuddin was only 15-year old. He inherited a garden and a flour mill. When he came in contact with Derwesh Hazrat Ibrahim Kandoji, he was so impressed with the saint that he sold his property and distributed the proceeds among the poor. Then he went to Khursan. He acquired the knowlege of the scriptures there. After studying till the age of 20, he reached Harun via Iran and Arabia and also stayed at Bagdad. He visited several other places such as Tehran, Khursana, Herat, Multan and Lahore. Then he went to Mecca and lived
with Khwaja Usman Haruni. He was ordained to go and work in Ajmer by a divine decree. He got his initiation from Hazrat Khwaja Usman. In 1191 he came to Ajmer.
Like a real saint, Moinuddin led a very simple and austere life and kept himself away from wordly pleasures. He never took a full meal. After being hungry for several days, he would eat dry bread soaked in water. He had only two sets of dress that he washed himself. He would put a patch on the torn part. Thus over years, his clothes became very heavy. He would spend a lot of reading the Quran. After the ‘namaj’ at night, he used to retire to his small cell and pray all through the night. Khwaja never prayed for his good health and used to say that suffering pain removes all sins and makes one pure as a newly born babe.
Khwaja Saheb kept himself away from those in power and did not believe in conversion. He never discriminated between people following different religions. For him every one was a human being and deserved to be helped and loved. He believed that different religions have their own traditions and ways of worship. He had great respect for all religions. He
was a saviour of the poor, the needy and oppressed. All this made people of different communities love and respect him and he was addressed as Gharib Nawaz, the messiah of the poor.
It is said that on the night of 1st of the Islamic month of Rajab, he entered his cell asking his disciples not to disturb him in his prayers. When even after 5 days the door was not opened, they broke it open and found that the great saint had departed for his heavenly abode. As the exact date of his death is not known, his Urs is celebrated for six days i.e. from 1st to 6th Rajab.
The coming of the Urs is heralded a week before, the start of Rajab when a flag is hoisted at Buland Darwaza the main entrance to the shrine. Before Independence the flag was brought from Peshawar by Lal Shah Baba. Now his descendants from Bhilwara in Rajasthan do so. The ‘jhanda’ is taken in a procession and ‘chadar’ and flowers are offered at the shrine of Khwaja Saheb with deep reverance.
On the last day of the month preceding Rajab, the Jannati Darwaza (gateway of heaven) is flung open early in the morning. People cross this gate seven times with the belief that they would be assured a place in the
heaven. On the first of Rajab, the tomb is washed with rose water and is anointed with sandalwood paste and perfumes. The ritual is called ‘ghusal’. The tomb is then covered with a ‘chadar’, an embroidered silk cloth, by the Sajjada Nashin. At night, religious assemblies called ‘mehfils’ are held in the ‘mehfilkhana’, a large hall meant for this purpose. These are presided over by the Sajjada Nashin of the Dargah. Qawwalis are sung and the hall is packed to capacity. There are separate places for women who attend the ‘mehfil’. The ‘mehfil’, terminates late in the night with ‘fatiha’, which is a mass prayer for the eternal peace of the Khwaja in particular and mankind in general. On the sixth of Rajab, after the usual ‘mehfil’ and the sound of cracker-bursts accompanied by music, the Sajjada Nashin performs the ‘ghusal’ of the tomb. Fatiha and Salamati are read. A poetic recitation called ‘mushaira’ is also arranged.
The Urs of the Khwaja is a special occasion for the group of over 400 pilgrims who consider them fortunate enough to be given a chance to visit the shrine on the auspicious occasion. As soon as they alight from he special train that brings them to the holy city, they touch the ground reverently and perform ‘shukrana namaz’ to express their gratitute for
getting this opportunity. As their parents had lived in India, they are eager to know about the places and people they had been associated with and wish they could go there. They are touched by the similarity betqween he people of the two countries. The warmth and the hospitality of the people of Ajmer simply overwhelms them as also the way they welcome the procession in which the guests take ‘chadar’ for offering to the great saint.
The chadar processions are a common sight during to Urs. Chadars are still offered on behalf of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Other political leaders also do so. A chadar is also offered jointly by Bollywood film stars. Paying respect to Khwaja Saheb in this manner has a long tradition in which heads of states of South Asian countries have sent chadars but it was for the first time that a non-Asian country did so last year. The chadar was presented on behalf of American President Barak Obama by two Harward University professors.
The ‘kinnars’ who come to the Urs fair in large numbers from far off places such as Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi become a special attraction. No other holy place is visited by them in such big numbers. As these people have no relatives, when they go to the Dargah they do not pray for themselves but for the welfare of the humanity at large.
They feel that the Dargah is the only place where their prayers are heard. They arrange a special ‘qawwali mehfil’ during the Urs and offer big sums for every couplet they like. The chadar procession in which they pass through the town, is a sight worth watching. Singing and dancing with deep love and respect for the Khwaja they reach the shrine to offer the chadar.
The six-day long Urs that is full of ardent prayers, fascinating rituals and palpable excitement concludes on a rather sad note, when pilgrims return home hoping that they would be fortunate enough to be called back by the Khwaja soon.