Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Sacred And The Profane




The Sacred And The Profane is an audio slideshow made during the annual Urs of the Sufi saint Moin'Uddin Chisti in Ajmer, Rajasthan. It can also be viewed here (perhaps better quality).

The 'ecosystem' feeding off the shrine of the Sufi saint Moin'Uddin Chisti consists of pious pilgrims, vagabonds and charlatans, sightseers, mendicants and beggars, fakirs, shoppers, established and opportunistic vendors, pickpockets and thieves, the poor, the wealthy, the venal and the innocent...who come here during the Urs to seek spiritual salvation, riddance of 'jinns', money and entertainment. Even the transgendered hijras come to Ajmer to take part in the veneration of Gharib Nawaz.

Notwithstanding (or perhaps in a way because of it), it was uplifting to see Muslims (Shi'a and Sunni, Sufis and non Sufis), Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and non-believers congregate to pay homage to the most important Sufi saint of South Asia.

And in spite of my repudiation of all religious traditions, I was also impressed by the piety and zeal that grip the pilgrims that surrounded me in the shrine. I have no doubts that Moin'Uddin Chisti is deserving of much reverence, and that he and many of the Sufi saints before and after him were instrumental in establishing Islam in South Asia through their liberal philosophy, tolerance and kindness towards the poor. It was not the orthodox and rigid Islamists of the time who spread the faith in this region of many ingrained beliefs, creeds and practices....but it was because of gentle Sufis like Gharib Nawaz.

In Delhi, adjacent to the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya (one of Chisti's disciples), followers of the orthodoxTablighi sect have an office building, and frequently excoriate pilgrims and visitors to the shrine as being blasphemous.

In my view, nothing could be further from the truth.