The 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years and he embraced death in solitude while he had withdrawn to his cell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 calendar.)
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. Cash offerings are also made. 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' sit 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. Cash is also offered in appreciation of noteworthy stanzas to the qawwals. On the steps leading to the main gate, 'fakirs' can be seen begging for alms in the name of the Khwaja. Their cries generally do not go in vain, as the devotees feel happy to help the needy, in the tradition of Khwaja Gharib Nawaj. URS CEREMONIES
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 'fatiha', which is 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 Urs.
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.
Members of all communities have access to the dargah. It is compulsory to remove the shoes, before entering, at the main gate. Within the dargah premises, the head of the pilgrim should be covered at all times. Many visitors engage the services of Mujavirs who take their patrons around the dargah, fetch them 'tabarruk' and are duly rewarded.
Apart from the dargah, the visitors go to see the Adhai din-ka Jhonpra (two-and-a-half-day hut) which is a mosque noted for its ornate calligraphic inscriptions on the arches and walls. People also climb up the hill of Taragarh to pay homage at the shrine of Miran Sayyed Hussain, the first Muslim Governor of the hill fort.
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.