Nizamuddin Basti is the centre of Delhi’s spiritual existence and the torchbearer of a pluralistic and syncretic way of life. Its cultural heritage of over 700 years has evolved with time; but the core principles of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, ishq (love), aql (wisdom) and ilm (knowledge) have remained at the heart of this sacred space. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya lived in the thirteenth century. He was an important religious and spiritual figure in his lifetime – believed to fly to Mecca and back each night on a winged camel! The urban village of Nizamuddin is a living remnant of his time. The Nizamuddin Dargah does not only create inclusive structures but also fosters new identities and inclusive narratives.
South Asia has a long record of intermingling between religious communities, which to this day remains epitomized by the sharing of various kinds of sacred sites: saints’ tombs, temples, churches and street shrines. Inclusive sacred spaces carry all the polysemy of the notion of sharing and provide rich insights into the dynamics of religious interaction. Nizamuddin Dargah as a shared and living sacred space offers a plethora of perspectives and anecdotes about identity and belonging. One such narrative is about the association of the Indian and Pakistani pilgrims to this shrine and how this bond has evolved in the past seven decades. The monumental history of Nizamuddin Dargah comprises turbulent times which followed the Partition, several years of cultural exchange between the two nations and the harmony and brotherhood which the pilgrims of both India and Pakistan experience together at this shrine.
During the harrowing days of the Partition, many Muslims took shelter in religious spaces such as Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi. Many Muslim families from the city took shelter in Purana Qila, Humayun’s Tomb and Nizamuddin Dargah complex before leaving for Pakistan. Later, these sites served as refugee camps for Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to Delhi. This aspect of Nizamuddin Dargah’s history is significant as we know so little about it. Unlike Nizamuddin Dargah, Humayun’s Tomb and Purana Qila have a well documented and archived history of the turbulent times of the Partition.
Hundreds of Pakistani artists, celebrities, political figures have visited the Dargah in the decades which followed the Partition. Some Pakistani pilgrims even come again and again to be with the Sufi saint and get a glimpse of the ‘home’ they left behind during the Partition. It’s fascinating how a space at the heart of Delhi holds so many histories and memories and rises above the ideological tensions of the national boundaries. As Allama Iqbal commemorates this shrine in Ilteja e Musafir (The Plea of a Traveller): “a visit to your shrine gives new life to the heart”, we remember the shared feeling of love and harmony the pilgrims of both India and Pakistan feel for this ‘shared’ sacred space, the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.
This zine was created for The Pind Collective by Delhi-based organization Zikre-E-Dilli, in partnership with Amsterdam-based, Pakistani-origin artist Nahal Sheikh.