Thursday, July 10, 2008

City Notes - No Women Inside Nizamuddin Dargah

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Hazrat Nizamuddin - Hail the Sufi

Shame on the house of Delhi's best known Sufi shrine.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

What if Nobel laureate Mr. VS Naipaul goes to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's dargah?

What would Mr. Naipaul, ever the pessimist, ever the cynic, observe in the famous south Delhi shrine? Going by his past, if he goes on to write a book, Mr. Naipaul would surely use the most elegant language to describe the filth, the stench, the beggars, the unruly crowd, the shouting, the shoving and the general hullaballoo.

He would notice all the unpleasant aspects of the dargah and ignore the beauty of it: the serenity, the peace and the Sufi ishq. Reading such an account, I would just shrug and smirk.

But what if Mr. Naipaul notices what I notice and feel ashamed of each time I visit the dargah — that women are not allowed inside the main shrine.

While men and eunuchs are privileged to go inside to pay their hajiri, our women can only pray, kneel, kiss and cling to the wall of the tomb-chamber. I have often seen women who mistakenly enter the shrine being rudely asked to leave by caretakers. As if they are herding cows or goats.

Are women inferior? Are they impure? Does the presence of a woman destroy the sanctity of the sanctum sanctorum? Curiously, Delhi boasts the shrine of a woman Sufi — Bibi Fatima's dargah at Kaka Nagar. If we can have that, why can't we let women enter the shrine of a Sufi?

Writer Ms. Sadia Dehlvi, who is working on a book on Sufism, has never been inside the dargah. "This reflects the conservative attitude of the dargah caretakers. It is a matter of culture rather than religion, for these were not rules laid down by the Sufis," she says.

Intolerance is not, of course, the official reason for barring women's entry; there are more bizarre explanations. A khadim (caretaker) at the shrine says that the inner chamber is small and everyone has to stand so close to each other that women might find it uncomfortable. So why not let the men stay outside?

These sexist discriminations are not part of the Sufi tradition. My mother has every right to enter the dargah. Till the time she's not allowed entry, I, too, should perhaps just pray by clinging to the outer wall. Meanwhile, I must take her to the shrine of Gharib Nawaz - another great Sufi saint - in Ajmer, 6-hour car-ride from Delhi. There they let the women inside.

9 comments:

monica said...

I agree. We visited the dargah for the first time last year with my 7 year old daughter and she declared-'it's not fair, why can't we go in as well?'

Anonymous said...

But that's typically Indian. Mother India, woman President, and this! Jolly nice melee of attitudes.

John said...

Is it unique this Nizamuddin?? No discrimination is visibly practised (being male, I might not have been attuned to it) at Ajmer in Moinuddin Chishti's dargah, nor at Panipat at the Kalandar dargah..

indscribe said...

There are two things. Firstly, in certain shrines due to either historic or certain mythological reasons the women are not allowed entry.

Just like in case of Hanuman temple, as he is considered a Brahmachari.

In some temples, women are considered unclean as they menstruate. Most of us don't like it but then it has been for ages and women also accept that.

In mosques and Islamic shrines there is no such ban of women's entry as women are not considered unclean.

However, there can be mythological reasons like that a particular dervesh who is known to be shy and so the practice goes on.

What is however unacceptable is the rude behaviour. Often, mujavirs and the khadims do it.

And such people need a kick on their butt.

Anonymous said...

Wish they'd make me a Saint of some sort! If they don't like women around them, they're "shy". If I don't like em, I'm just some bloody homo! :(

applepiecrust said...

I am wondering, and this probably a completely random thing to wonder, but are there any shrines or temples or dargahs where men are not allowed?
I can think of other places of worship etc. where women are not allowed, or, in case of certain temples, if they are allowed, they are not allowed into the "sanctum sanctorum". But are there any, devi mata shrines or something, where men aren't allowed?

ramesh_lalwani said...

I also found it curious.I thought it was Muslim tradition.Even in Dargah of Qutb Sahib in Mehrauli you would find women peeking through screen.

Sherebanu said...

In Fatehpur Sikri too, in the very atmospheric shrine, women are allowed in. I wonder if Nizamuddin has always been like this. Makes me cringe.

Shruti said...

Mayank,
I've been to Hazrat Bande Nawaz's shrine in Gulbarga. And there too, women can only enter from a separate entrance, into a smaller part of the shrine. I remember being very upset about it. And to think that its always been women who were great visitors of pirs.

I think what you're doing in your delhi project, is absolutely wonderful. Great good luck and spirit to keep it going.
Shruti