lakeside city of Ajmer is located in central Rajasthan,
and is held in great reverence by devotees of all communities
who call it 'Ajmer Sharif' (Holy Ajmer). It is here that the
mortal remains of the highly respected Sufi saint Khwaja
Moin-ud-din Chishti lie buried.
The Khwaja came from Persia and established the Chishtia order
of fakirs in India. He is popularly known as Gharib Nawaz
(protector of the poor) because he dedicated his entire life to
the service of mankind. His spartan life spanned almost a
hundred years and he embraced death in solitude while he had
withdrawn to his cell for six days, asking not to be disturbed.
The Dargah Sharif in Ajmer is the place where the Saint's
mortal remains lie buried and is the site of the largest Muslim
fair in India. More than five lakh devotees belonging to
different communities gather from all parts of the subcontinent
to pay homage to the Khwaja on his Urs (death anniversary)
during the first six days of Rajab (seventh month of the Islamic
The pilgrims who come to seek the blessings of the Khwaja
make rich offerings called nazrana at the holy spot where
the saint has been entombed. The offerings of rose and jasmine
flowers, sandalwood paste, perfumes and incense contribute to
the fragrance that floats in the air inside the shrine. Also
offered by devotees are the chadar, ghilaph and neema, which are
votive offerings for the tomb. These are brought by devotees on
their heads and handed over to the khadims inside the sanctum
sanctorum. Outside the sanctum sanctorum of the dargah,
professional singers called qawwals in groups and sing
the praises of the saint in a characteristic high pitched voice.
People gather around them and listen attentively, sometimes
clapping to the rhythm of their instruments.
The Urs is initiated with the hoisting of a white flag on the
dargah by the Sajjada Nashin (successor representative) of
Chishtis. It is done on the 25th of Jamadi-ul-Akhir (sixth
lunar month), with the accompaniment of music. On the last
day of the sixth month, the Jannati-Darwaza (gateway of heaven)
is flung open early in the morning. People cross this gate seven
times with the belief that they will be assured a place in
heaven. On the 1st of Rajab, the tomb is washed with rose water
and sandalwood paste and anointed with perfumes. This ritual is
called ghusal. The tomb is then covered with an embroidered silk
cloth by the Sajjada Nashin.
At night, religious assemblies called mehfils are held in the
mehfil-khana, 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 reserved for women who attend the mehfil. The mehfil
terminates late in the night with a mass prayer for the eternal
peace of the Khwaja in particular and mankind in general.
An interesting ritual is the looting of kheer (milk-pudding)
which is cooked in two large cauldrons called degs and
distributed to the devotees as tabarruk (blessed food).On the
6th 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 Salamti are read. A poetic
recitation called mushaira is arranged in which poets of all
communities arrive to recite compositions dedicated to the
Khwaja. The Qul (end-all) on the 6th of Rajab marks the end of
The Dargah is located at the conjunction of three bazaars.
There are a number of restaurants around the Dargah where
visitors can choose from a variety of dishes most of which are
non-vegetarian preparations. Guest houses on the road leading to
the Dargah offer accommodation that ranges from economical to
luxurious. Many other guest houses are strewn across the city.
The shops in the market around the Dargah sell flowers, prayer
mats, rosaries, textiles, and general merchandise as well.
Ajmer is 132 kms. south-west of Jaipur and 198 kms. east of
Jodhpur. It is connected by road to Jaipur, Jodhpur,
Bikaner, Udaipur and Kota. Ajmer is a
railway junction on the Delhi-Ahmedabad section of the
Western Railway. During the Urs, special buses ply from cities
all over India carrying people to Ajmer and back.