It is all
that matters in this courtyard.
Zuleikha’s father, Khwaja Arab, was a man of riches in Bukhara when the Mongol
Chinghiz Khan eyed the riches of the city. He sacked Bukhara, looted its wealth
and murdered thousands.
Zuleikha, Khwaja Arab and their family escaped the bloodbath and fled Bukhara,
leaving behind all their wealth. Khwaja Ali, a friend of Khwaja Arab, also
survived the mass murder. They travelled to Lahore and settled in Badaon, a
quiet city, free of political intrigues.
gave his daughter, Zuleikha, in marriage to Khwaja Ali’s son, Ahmad. They had a
daughter, Zainab, and a son, Mohammad.
Ahmad passed away soon after Mohammad was born in 1244. Mohammad would later be known as Nizamuddin.
Zainab told Nizamuddin how their father had died.
their mother, Bibi Zuleikha, heard a voice in her dream, saying she should
choose between her husband or son as one of them was destined to die. She said
Nizamuddin should live. Khwaja Ahmad fell ill soon after and passed away.
Nizamuddin was different. He was a diligent student, but destiny would take him
on a journey, a Path travelled by Chishti dervishes before him.
also playing another hand. A little away in Patiali, around 1253, Saifuddin
Shamsi, a Turk, was celebrating the birth of his second son.
had driven thousands out of Central Asia. Saifuddin joined the army of the
sultans of Delhi. He married, Daulat Naz, the daughter of Imad-ul-Mulk, the
army minister of the sultan.
Yameen Al Deen was born to Saifuddin and Daulat Naz. He was born into riches
and a milieu where brother killed brother and nephew his uncle to sit on the
throne. The sultan’s court was a cauldron of intrigue, deceit, and murder. Abul
Hassan’s father, Saifuddin, was the sultan’s soldier, his grandfather,
Imad-ul-Mulk, a key member of the royal court, the epicentre of political
deception. Abul Hassan was cradled in this air of evil design, distrust and
would grow up to be known as Amir Khusro — the master poet and musician; the
confidante of sultans; and the favourite disciple of Nizamuddin — the dervish
who despised politics, who shunned sultans.
studied hard. But Badaon could not cure his thirst for knowledge. He wanted to
move to Delhi, the seat of education at that time. It was 1260. Bibi Zuleikha
agreed. The family left Badaon.
aristocracy held sway in Delhi. The politics was cutthroat. Sixteen-year-old
Nizamuddin’s strength was his mother,
Bibi Zuleikha. The family was poor: they had no money to find a roof to
shelter, no money to buy bread.
found an inn, which only allowed women to stay. Bibi Zuleikha and Nizamuddin’s
sister, Zainab, moved there. The
sultan’s army minister, Imad-ul-Mulk, gave Nizamuddin shelter in one of his
homes close by.
Shamsi, Imad-ul-Mulk’s son-in-law, had been killed in battle. Imad-ul-Mulk was
bringing up his grandson, Amir Khusro. Nizamuddin and Khusro lived in the same
house. A Sufi ascetic, Najeebuddin
Mutawakil, lived next door. Resigned to the Will of his Maker and lost in His
devotion, Najeebuddin was so poor that even during Eid, when feasting is the
norm, all he could offer guests was a glass of water.
and opulence lived side by side with poverty and penitence. Nizamuddin saw both
worlds. He lived in one and had no desire for the other. He was content being
hungry. His mother had shown him other riches: trust in the Maker and His ways.
he was a boy, Nizamuddin had one longing — he wanted to place his head at the
feet of Baba Farid, a dervish, who lived in Ajodhan, now Pakpattan in Pakistan.
was 12 when a wandering minstrel, Abu Bakr Kharrat, came to Badaon, to see his
teacher. He praised Bahauddin Zakariya, a Sufi master of the Suhrawardi sect in
Multan, and then spoke of his visit to Baba Farid. For some inexplicable
reason, Baba Farid lived in Nizamuddin’s soul.
brought Nizamuddin to Delhi and to Najeebuddin Mutawakil, Baba Farid’s
brother. His poverty was abject, but it
did not shake his faith. Bibi Fatima
Sam, a neighbour, would send the family bread when they were on the edge of
starvation. Like Bibi Zuleikha, Najeebuddin extended his hands only before his
completed his education and wanted to be a judge. He ran to Najeebuddin asking
him to read the Surat Al Fatiha as a blessing for his success. He said nothing.
Nizamuddin asked again. And Najeebuddin said: “Don’t be a judge, be something
changed Nizamuddin’s life.
was at the mosque one night. When morning broke, the muezzin recited this verse
from the Quran:
the time arrived
hearts in all humility
engage in the remembrance of God.”
That was a
sign. Nizamuddin was 20. “I have to go to Shaikh Farid,” he told his mother.
was nervous when he travelled to Ajodhan. Baba Farid knew he was coming. It was
90-year-old Shaikh realised Nizamuddin was trembling with awe. He welcomed
Nizamuddin with these words: “The fire of your separation has burnt many
hearts. The storm of desire to meet you has ravaged many lives.”
mustered up the courage to say he wanted to kiss his feet. Baba Farid knew he
was tense. “Every newcomer is nervous,” he said as he calmed Nizamuddin’s mind.
of a Dervish
returned to Delhi from Ajodhan after spending time with Baba Farid, learning
the life and ways of Chishti Sufis.
was simple: Devote your life to God, serve the poor and the needy to realise
the Maker. Do not till the land as it will make you beholden to the tax
collector. Once you are beholden to the tax collector, your soul will be
preoccupied with worry and material want. And once the tax collector has your
soul, there is no time for the Almighty. Do not indulge in Shaghl or
government service — the sultan is not your master, the Maker is. Never meet a
sultan, stay away from the court. Eat frugally when food comes as Futuh or
unasked for gifts. Distribute everything that comes as Futuh among the poor,
never keep anything for the next day because God will provide. Storing food proves
you have no trust in your Maker. Bring happiness to the human heart — it is
more important than ritualistic prayer.
Chishti, the mystic who introduced Chishti Sufism to the Indian subcontinent,
lived by one principle: Be as generous as the river, warm as the Sun and as
hospitable as the earth. The river gives water to everyone; the sun showers
warmth without discrimination; and the earth provides its bounty despite us
stamping on it.
the Chishti mystic’s life: Serve the poor. But first you had to conquer all
your primal fears: You had no source of food — you had to rely solely on God to
provide; you had no home — you lived in a mosque or trusted in God to provide a
shelter; you had a simple tunic that you washed and wore. You had to obliterate
the desire for man’s basic needs for survival: food, shelter and clothing.
There was nothing. And in that nothingness, there was God because there was
trust. There was resignation to His Will — a creed so simple that it defies
human instinct. A creed that would make kings knock on the doors of dervishes
because there was no fear; no want; no expectation; no self. There was only
lived the life of a dervish in poverty and prayer. Once three days had passed
and there was nothing to eat. Someone knocked on his door and handed him a bowl
of Khichri. “Nothing in life tasted better,” Nizamuddin would reminisce.
Farid’s teachings and the principles of the Chishti mystics were ingrained in
Nizamuddin. He had surrendered himself to the Will of the Maker. He had no
source of food, he wore a simple Sufi tunic and he had no shelter. He returned
to Delhi from Ajodhan and found refuge in Amir Khusro’s uncle’s house. Adjacent
to the palatial buildings of courtiers, Bibi Zuleikha and Baba Farid’s brother,
Najeebuddin Mutawakil, lived in run down houses, in present day Mehrauli.
Zuleikha had passed, entrusting Nizamuddin to the care of his Maker. Nizamuddin
had nothing. But he felt secure. “If my mother had left me a house full of gold
and jewels, it would not have given me any pleasure and consolation. This
bereaved heart was consoled when she said she had entrusted me to God,”
Nizamuddin would recall years later. Her words comforted him. They calmed his
soul. He trusted in his Maker and cared for little else.
soon found a home in Ghiyaspur, but food was still a scarcity. He had to starve
for days. When he could not take the hunger any longer, Nizamuddin would put a
tablecloth at the door. People could leave anything to eat. He would end his
fast with whatever he was given. Once a beggar walked past and saw food outside
Nizamuddin’s door. He thought they were left-overs. Nizamuddin had not eaten.
The beggar took the food away. Nizamuddin smiled. “It appears that there is
still imperfection in our work and for that reason we are being kept in
had a few disciples by now and all went hungry when there was nothing to eat.
There was a woman in the neighbourhood who earned a living by spinning thread.
She would bake bread at Iftar. She once heard that Nizamuddin and his disciples
had been starving for four days straight. The woman sent them some flour she
had saved. Nizamuddin asked one of his disciples to mix it with water and put
it to boil. It had not been fully baked when a dervish suddenly appeared and
shouted: “If you have anything to eat, do not hold it from me.”
asked him to wait because the bread had not baked. The dervish grew impatient,
and Nizamuddin, rolling his sleeves, brought the boiling pot before the
dervish. He picked up the pot and smashed it to the ground. “Shaikh Farid has
bestowed spiritual blessings on Shaikh Nizamuddin. I break the vessel of his
material poverty,” the dervish said as he left.
day on, Futuh or unasked for gifts, flooded Nizamuddin’s Khanqah. His disciples
grew and the poor came in hundreds every day. No one left hungry from his Khanqah
in Ghiyaspur. Nizamuddin knew poverty well. He had gone hungry too.
had visited his master thrice in his lifetime. Baba Farid had granted him the
right to enrol disciples in 1265. While conferring the right or Khilafat Namah,
Baba Farid said this to Nizamuddin: “You will be a tree under whose soothing
shade people will find comfort.” He predicted Nizamuddin would not be present
when he would pass.
was taken aback. This was a massive responsibility he could not shoulder. “You
have bestowed a great honour on me and have nominated me your successor. This
is a great treasure for me. But I am a student and dislike any worldly
connection. I have looked at it with disdain. This position is very high and
beyond my capacity to shoulder. For me, your kindness and favour are enough,”
understood Nizamuddin was hesitant and said he would do well in his task.
Nizamuddin was still concerned, and his master reassured him with conviction:
“Nizam! Take it from me, though I do not know if I will be honoured before the
Almighty or not, I promise not to enter Paradise without your disciples in my
the hungry, the rich and those thirsting for spiritual comfort began thronging
Nizamuddin’s Khanqah in Ghiyaspur. He had become a force. The people needed
him. Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji too decided to pay Nizamuddin a visit. The sultan
did not know of his aversion to kings and politics.
declined his request. Jalaluddin was not taking no for an answer. He would come
to see him anyway.
has two doors. If the sultan enters through one, I will exit through the
other,” Nizamuddin said. Jalaluddin was adamant. He had to see the Shaikh. The
sultan planned a surprise visit. Amir Khusro, who was employed at the sultan’s
court, knew his master, Nizamuddin, would be upset should the sultan enter his
house. He told Nizamuddin, who left for Ajodhan to see his master, Baba Farid.
was incensed when he heard that Khusro had betrayed him. Khusro was brought
before the sultan. “In disobeying the sultan, I stand to lose my life, but in
being false to my master, I stood in danger of losing my faith,” Khusro said.
Alauddin Khilji, the sultan, who everyone feared, was wary of one man, tucked
away in a corner of Ghiyaspur, the epicentre of faith in Delhi: Nizamuddin. His
Khanqah was pulsating with life. Futuh flowed into his Khanqah like the Jamuna
River adjacent. It never ebbed. Food was served to people who came to see him
from early in the morning to late into the night. The roads to his house were
packed with people: the atmosphere was that of a fair. Nizamuddin fasted all day,
and even when he was served food at dawn before he started his fast, morsels
would stick to his throat. He could not eat because someone had gone hungry
somewhere in Delhi.
the scholar, the rich and the noble would come to Ghiyaspur in search of food,
knowledge, spiritual sustenance and security. No one left Nizamuddin’s house
with an empty soul. The trouble-mongers in Alauddin’s court tried to sow
intrigue in the sultan’s mind. Nizamuddin, they said, was a threat to Alauddin
Khilji. A Sufi fakir, who had nothing in this world, who fed hundreds daily,
who lived in the trust of his Maker, was a potential usurper. The irony — a
powerful emperor would have to spend sleepless nights because of God’s beggar.
thought of a ruse to gauge Nizamuddin’s designs. He wrote him a letter seeking
advice on matters of the state. The sultan’s son, Khizr Khan, delivered the
letter. Nizamuddin did not open it. He said: “We dervishes have nothing to do
with the affairs of the state. I have settled in one corner away from the men
of the city and spend my time praying. If the sultan doesn’t like this, let him
tell me so. I will go and live elsewhere. God’s earth is extensive enough.”
though calm with Nizamuddin’s declaration, was still not feeling snug. The
sultan ran a successful empire because he had a sophisticated spy network.
Alauddin did not tolerate two people gathered in a street corner. The fact that
hundreds were sitting and eating together in Nizamuddin’s Khanqah was
loathsome. Conspiracy would be born in a gathering so large. Alauddin posted
his spies in Nizamuddin’s Khanqah. He needed to know what was transpiring
behind the walls of his Khanqah, which otherwise seemed lost in prayer and
helping the less fortunate.
realised he was being watched. He asked his disciples to add a rice dish to the
menu that was served to the people who came to the Khanqah. The sultan was
incensed at this festival of food that played out every day in the dervish’s
home. Nizamuddin was told about his rage. He added some more dishes to the menu
— halwa and samosas. The sultan was dumbstruck.
Khusro, the court poet of sultans, turned to Nizamuddin when the intrigues of
the court and the blood-letting became too much to bear. He found sanctuary at
you desire?” Nizamuddin once asked Amir Khusro. “The sweetness of verse,” he
replied. “Go and bring that bowl of sugar from under the cot. Eat some and
sprinkle the rest over your head,” Nizamuddin said.
prayer, for your permanence is dependent on my permanence. They should bury you
next to me,” Nizamuddin would often tell Khusro.
master would retire for the night, no one would be allowed to enter his
chamber, only Khusro could. “What news Turk?” Nizamuddin would ask. And the
poet would tell his master what had transpired in the treacherous court and the
kingdom that day.
would leave, Nizamuddin would close the door. A candle would be seen burning in
his room. Nizamuddin was immersed in prayer. He would recite this couplet:
“Come sometimes and have a glimpse of me and the candle. When breath leaves me,
the flame goes out of the candle.”
like that for most of the night. Nizamuddin would emerge in the morning with an
ecstatic glow around him. His eyes would be red. Khusro would ask in whose
embrace Nizamuddin had spent the night because his eyes were so red, yet his
face was radiant. But even Amir Khusro, the courtier, who played sultans like a
violin, could not sit in the same room as Nizamuddin for too long. He would
tremble and run out of the room ever so often. When one of Nizamuddin’s devoted
disciples, Burhanuddin Garib, asked Khusro why he was running out of the room
constantly, he replied: “When a mirror is placed before a Sun, how can one see his
face in it?”
suffered from extreme depression when his young nephew, Taqiuddin Nuh, his
sister, Zainab’s son, passed away. He became withdrawn. His disciples were
worried. They had never seen their master this way. Khusro did not have the
magic up his sleeve to cure the depression until one day he saw a group of
women, dressed in yellow, dancing and singing their way to a temple. He stopped
them and asked what they were doing. Celebrating Basant, they replied. The
courtier dressed up like a woman in yellow and went dancing and singing to his
master. Nizamuddin smiled. Every year, Basant is celebrated at Nizamuddin’s
shrine to mark the day Khusro got the master’s smile back from the depths of
grief and depression.
If the sultan
Jalaluddin Khilji pampered Khusro, Nizamuddin cradled him like a child, never
letting go of his hand. Nizamuddin fondly called Khusro TurkAllah, the Turk of
God. “I am weary of everyone, but I am never weary of you. I get weary of
everyone, even weary of myself, but I am never weary of you,” the master would
say. The slave, God Almighty willing, would be next to the master even in
Once in a
dream, Nizamuddin saw at the end of Manda Bridge, near the gate in front of the
house where Najeebuddin Mutawakil stayed, water flowing, serene and pure.
Mutawakil was sitting on a high place. It was an exhilarating experience, he
would recall. Nizamuddin thought of asking God to bless Khusro. The master knew
his prayer would be answered.
would pray most of the night himself. Once Nizamuddin asked him: “Turk, what is
the state of being occupied?” “There are times at the end of the night when one
is overcome by weeping,” he replied. “Praise be to God, bit by bit is being
manifest,” Nizamuddin said.
loved Sama, it was a path to the Divine. Khusro transformed Sama into Qawwali
for his master.
Khusro’s couplet sums up what his master Nizamuddin stood for: tolerance.
“Oh you who
sneer at the idolatry of the Hindu,
from him how worship is done.”
would often quote this line by Shaikh Abu Said Abul Khair. “There are as many
Paths to The One as there are grains of sand.”
perhaps, love embodied in Nizamuddin, is best reflected by these couplets he
befriend all those who are my foes,
May all who
hurt me gain increased repose.
May all who
in my path place thorns from spite
that flower like a thorn-less rose.”
was much ahead of his times in thought and outlook. When women were being treated
as nothing but menial servants of the house, he held them in the highest
respect. There was never a question of discrimination. “When a tiger comes out
of its forest den, nobody ever asked if it’s a male or female,” was his
argument. The wisdom of a woman had shaped his master, Baba Farid’s life. Baba
Farid’s mother was his anchor. Mai Sahiba, Nizamuddin’s mother, meant the world
to him. She instilled in him unwavering trust in the Maker and patience in
times of distress. She was his life.
disciple and Amir Khusro’s close friend, Amir Hasan Sijzi, had a slave named
Malih, who he freed on his master’s advice. Malih once brought a number of
daughters to see Nizamuddin. One of them had just married. On seeing the
daughters, Nizamuddin asked: “What is this? Everyone who has one daughter
enjoys a barrier against Hell, and you have four! The father of four daughters
is well endowed.”
Chishti Sufis before him — Shaikh Moinuddin Chishti, Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki
and Baba Farid — married and had families as was incumbent according to
religion, but Nizamuddin did not have time for love and family. For him, there
was just one love and his heart had space for none else.
years of fasting, penitence and poverty had started to tell on Nizamuddin. It
was 1325, Nizamuddin now 81 was ailing, but the sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was
still hounding him. He thought Nizamuddin was a threat, but there were more
serious issues in his empire. There was trouble brewing in Bengal and Avadh.
The generals were at it again, mismanaging affairs. Off the sultan went, taking
Amir Khusro with him to put things right.
sultan’s son Ulugh Khan headed straight to Nizamuddin’s Khanqah. The master
asked him to sit on his cot, but the prince refused out of respect. “We asked
you to sit on the cot. Sit.” He asked his attendant Lalla to bring a chair for
Ulugh Khan’s general Jahan. Ulugh Khan said: “The Shaikh has given the throne
to me and Wazir (prime minister) to you.”
prince’s father was battling in Bengal. The mission over, he started his
journey back home, sending word ahead that Nizamuddin should leave Delhi before
he made an entrance. “Hunooz Dilli Door Ast (Delhi is still far away),”
meanwhile, prepared for his father’s arrival and ordered that Delhi be dressed
up for the occasion. Fearing that the arrangements wouldn’t be complete on
time, Ulugh Khan got a pavilion erected in Afghanpur a short distance from
son met, food was served and the feasting began. Ulugh Khan left the pavilion
to bring some elephants he had captured in war to be paraded before his father,
the sultan Ghiyasuddin. The son had barely left the pavilion, when it
collapsed, burying Ghiyasuddin and his trusted nobles. By the time the rubble
was removed the sultan was dead.
was crowned sultan and he took the name of Mohammad Bin Tughluq. Amir Khusro
was still journeying back from Bengal. His master, Nizamuddin’s health was
fading away quickly. They say Khusro was uneasy in Bengal and wanted to return
to Delhi. He didn’t want to leave his master’s side in the first place. He felt
something was wrong. Khusro hastened home.
knew it was just a matter of time that the master would be reunited with his
Love. As Amir Khusro galloped towards Delhi from Bengal, Nizamuddin went to the
mosque to offer Friday prayers. He entered into a state of ecstasy. He kept
bowing and prostrating repeatedly. Nizamuddin returned home and fell
unconscious. When Nizamuddin recovered, he asked whether he had offered his
prayers. “Today is Friday. Have I offered my prayers?” He prayed repeatedly as
tears flowed down his cheeks. “It is time, it is time,” he whispered.
But in that
state of ecstasy, Nizamuddin summoned all his relatives and disciples. “Be a witness that if this man (Lalla) holds
back anything instead of distributing among the needy, he will be responsible
Lalla to give everything away. Lalla followed his master’s orders, but kept a
bit of corn so that residents of the Khanqah would get to eat something.
Nizamuddin heard what his attendant had done and was upset. “Why have you kept
this sand?” he asked Lalla. He called the needy and gave everything away.
Dervish Reunites with His Love
gripped Nizamuddin’s Khanqah. The man who filled their hearts with warmth and
grace would no longer walk the halls comforting the needy, making them smile
again. It was hard to imagine.
was another very basic need: how would they get food? For decades people
donated to the Khanqah out of their love and respect for Nizamuddin and the
needy, but the days of starvation were long gone. These were days of plenty.
was extremely weak now, but he heard their worries. “Those of you who live at
my tomb will get enough to eat. No one will go hungry,” the master said.
was still journeying back from Bengal. The master went home. It was 1325.
called. Did he know where the master wanted to lie? “Yes, under an orange tree
in a garden,” he replied. The master would walk to the garden about two
kilometres from his Khanqah and sit under the orange tree. Sultan Mohammad Bin
Tughlaq was among the pallbearers. The
patched cloak that Baba Farid had given the master covered him. His prayer mat
was put under his head.
was too big a void to fill. Who could have that compassion? Who could have that
sense of humour? Who could have that balm of comfort?
emptiness set in.
said: “The Khwaja is not made of water and clay. The lives of Khizr and Jesus
have been mixed to form his being. Wherever his breath reached, mountains of
grief gave way.”
no breath to cure this grief. Instead, it seemed the mountains of grief could —
and would — take life away. Khusro was reunited with his master six months
Nizamuddin was a young boy, he would go bounding to his mother, asking for
food. And she would say: “Nizam, today we are the guests of God.” He knew what
that meant, there was no food at home, but he would long to hear those words.
is no longer the Guest of God, he is Mehbob-e-Ilahi, Beloved of God. For he
lived only for one Love.
courtyard today, nothing else matters.