South Mumbai dargah celebrates centennial Urs with grandeur

Written By Unknown on Senin, 23 Maret 2015 | 22.23

MUMBAI: The magnificent gates had bulbous domes at the top and delicate ornamentation on the arches. It was not the set of a historical drama, but that of a gateway leading to the dargah of Sufi saint Haji Abdul Rehman Shah Baba in Dongri.

The dargah is celebrating the 100th Urs (death anniversary) of the saint this year. As part of the celebration, the dargah trust had roped in art director and set designer Nitin Desai to create cusp-arched gateways in all four lanes leading to the dargah.

As one walked under the gates, pleasant scents assaulted the senses. The air was perfumed with the overwhelming fragrance of roses and marigolds. Devotees tried to make their way to the grave of the saint holding baskets full of floral offerings and chadars on their heads. As sandalwood paste was offered at the grave, a devotee played the Nagara; a group of dervishes played the Daf and sung in chorus - Dulha bane hai mere Rehman Shah Baba main to waari waari jaoon...

The saint's dargah has fostered the Sufi tradition of qawwali for many decades. Veteran qawwal Aziz Naza began his career at this dargah and had once performed with his three-year-old son Mujtaba in his lap. Mujtaba got his first album offer after his performance at the dargah at the age of 11. Ghazal singer and qawwal Abu Saba earned national fame after he sang Hum to Rehman waale hain at the Urs in 2000, and has been performing the piece every year since. "The devotional piece sends the audience into a frenzy; they sing along and complete the verses even if I forget the lyrics," he said. In keeping with the practices of the Chishti Sufi order, the dargah hosts a Mehfil-e-Sama during the 10-day Urs. Qawwals from all over the country come to present devotional and metaphysical poetry set to music.

Abdul Rehman Shah Baba was born in Salem district of the then Madras state and migrated to Bombay after becoming a Hafiz, memorizing the Quran. He stayed at a mosque on Bapu Khote Street near Pydhonie and would teach the Quran to children at a nearby madrassa. After his return from the Haj pilgrimage, he renounced his modest worldly possessions, even his books, and began to roam around Dongri with a stick in his hand. He was leading the life of an ascetic. His miraculous powers came to light when people with ailments and diseases would come to him and get cured if he smacked them with his stick. Baba passed away on February 13, 1918 (1336 Hijri) and his dargah was built by Merchant Prince of Bombay Mian Muhammad Chotani at the spot where he spent his last few years.

The basalt mound (Chilla or Baithak of the saint) inside the Dongri police station compound where he used to pray and meditate. (Photograph by Rizwan Mithawala)

The saint holds a special place in the hearts of many police officers who have served at Dongri police station. Inside the police station compound is the Chilla or Baithak of the saint, where he would pray and meditate. The marks of the drilled holes on the basalt rock bear testimony to the history of the saint's seat. When the present building of the police station was being constructed in 1923, attempts were made to blow up the rock to make space for the building. The rocky mound was finally left aside and it became a place of reverence, explained Sayed Salim Peerzaada, who served at the police station in the 1980s.

Additional commissioner of police (south region) Krishna Prakash has been visiting the Chilla during the Urs for three years. "Such events help strengthen the interface between police and society; the Urs festivities create an environment of harmony and help the police shed the strong-armed image," he says.

This year, the Urs has also helped promote communal harmony: A free multi-specialty health camp by the local Shiv Sena unit. Raju Phodkar, who organised the camp, says, "It is necessary to bridge the gap between Hindu and Muslim communities; we won't get a better chance."

Devotees never leave the gates of the dargah, but we have to switch off the lights post-midnight, explained Anis Ahmed of the dargah committee. As the smoke of the lobaan rose to the sky and the flame of the chiraag (oil lamp) flickered, a dervish crooned a popular qawwali - Andhere mein dil ke, chiraag-e-mohabbat, ye kisne jalaaya savere savere...,South Mumbai dargah,Haji Abdul Rehman Shah

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