Thursday, September 06, 2007

How I Got Drunk And Lost My Virginity at Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah

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Trance music in Delhi’s most famous sufi shrine.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Every Thursday evening music lovers gather at Nizamuddin dargah. They wait for the Nizami Khusro Bandhu, a family singing here since 750 years, to settle down with their harmoniums and tablas.

As Ustad Meraj, the senior qawwal, leads the singers into sufi love songs, the mood goes electric. More exciting than ticketed concerts, you sit right alongside the singers and watch their eyes popping out, hands slicing the air, and faces dissolving into momentary madness. Beware; you too could end up possessed in a feverish frenzy of longing and sensuousness. This is an incredible out-of-the-body experience. It happened to me too. One Thursday evening.

Ustad Meraj’s voice was low pitched when he started the qawwali. His eyes were dancing with the lusty logic of his lyrics. Gradually the rest of his men picked up the Qawwali. Soon they were singing in chorus. Ustad’s voice was prominent.

Naksha tera dilkash hai
Soorat teri pyaari hai
O mere Khwaza Nizamuddin
O mere Mehboob-e-Ilahi

Loosely translated:
[One who is loved by The Lord
You looks have won my heart
Your look beautiful
O My Nizamuddin
O my loving Lord]

The first song came to an end. Some admirers presented money to the qawwals. Another harmonium was brought in. A young qawwal shifted to the front. He closed his eyes. His lower lip gently quivered. He had a most moving voice. The longing in it seemed to come from the core of his soul. It was a hymn to Ali – the Shiite leader who was killed about 1400 years ago.

Ustad Meraj soon joined the boy’s solo recital who graciously lowered his volume.

Mein to naam japu Ali ka
Ali-Ali se mera vaasta
Ali-Ali mera maula
Mein to naam japu Ali Ka
Koi Aur Na...

[I will only recite the name of Ali
He is my world
Ali-Ali is my Master
I will only recite the name of Ali
There is nobody else...]

The white tourist sitting next to me started swaying.

Mein to naam japu Ali ka
Ali-Ali se mera vaasta
Ali-Ali mera maula...

The edges of the people’s bodies started dissolving into each other.

Beti ho Zaynab jaisi, beta ho Husayn sa

[Daughters should be like Zaynab, sons should be like Husayn]

There were shrieks of Ali Ali from the crowd.

Pal bhar mein sajda karke
Sar bhi katwa diya

[After a quick prayer
He got his head sliced off]

Bahut khoob (Well said), a man on my right murmured. He was shaking.

Ustad Meraj paused. He started again, raised voice, and sang with a greater urgency. This time the melody was furious. His quickening breath made the words incoherent.

Ali Maula, Ali Maula
Ali Maula Ali Maula

His expressions spilled out from his face. He screamed out from his insides. His low-pitched voice turned piercingly high. His arms shook. His chin quivered. His eyes rolled. His body waved violently. Ustad Meraj had gone mad.

Somebody asked me if I was all right. What could be wrong with me?

Oh, my eyes were rolling (!)

Ali Maula Ali Maula
Ali Maula Ali Maula
AliMaula AliMaula

I know what was happening. I became the universe, the marble, the dust, the sky, the star, and the raindrop.


Finally, it all ended. I came back. Spent and tired, it was time to leave.

The Soft Sufi


The Portrait of a Marriage


Life is Unfair


With Seeing Eyes


Hail Nizamuddin




The Alm Seeker


The Qawwals


Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya


Where Mathura Road When Thursday, After Maghreeb (evening prayers); the qawwalis are held during other evenings on a smaller scale


Thomas Kappler said...

Wow, that must be one of your finest stories, concerning both words and images. And yes, the Qawwali there is a magical event!

maryam said...

"chaap tilak sab cheeni re mosey naina milaye ke" ... nothing like listening to a qawali at hazrat nizam ud-din aulia's dargah

Alfred said...

The title could not have been more apt and story could not have been better told through an interesting insertion of Quwwali lyrics (with lyrics translated into English for the understanding of we the frenchmen) Mr. Soofi you really spell magic with words.

raymakesmyday said...

the turbulence beneath the harmony..oh no!

amitbasole said...

Love your photos. I was there this past July in pouring Delhi rains and the atmosphere was absolutely sublime. I write a bit about my experience and also share a couple of short movies I shot, on my blog:

Malvika Jain said...

HI..enjoyed the couplets you picked out form the songs and explained. ur blog inspired me to visit the dargah. here is how my experience was -

garam beni said...


cubano said...


Do you know if the qawwals only perform on Thursday nights or if they perform on other nights of the week as well?


cubano said...

nm..found the answer at the end of the post..