Fasting and feasting with Sufi saints

Visit Nizamuddin Dargah during the holy month of Ramzan to soak in the spiritual atmosphere, sway to soulful qawwalis and gorge on meaty delights.

It is not for nothing that people have been thronging the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi for 700 years now – after all, nobody returns empty handed from here. Whether it is the fulfilment of a wish, a spiritual encounter or a musical experience, the revered saint provides it all.

During the holy month of Ramzan, especially just before Eid, the raunaq – splendor – of the shrine increases manifold. While people visit the dargah throughout the day, the crowds begins to increase in the evening around the time of iftaar (breaking of the fast).

Iftaar in the courtyard of the Nizamuddin Dargah. Photos by Syed Saad Ahmed & Ayandrali Dutta (Banner Image)

The dargah is located in the heart of a patchwork of narrow, winding lanes. All along these lanes, there are stalls selling chaadars (drapes) and roses – the customary offerings at the saint’s grave – as well as rosaries, prayer mats, topis (skullcaps) and books. The vendors persistently beckon passersby to buy offerings as well as leave their footwear at their stall (the competition is pretty tough!).

Roses and chadars on sale outside the dargah

As the evening approaches, the faithful throng the shrine to pay obeisance and offer prayers. The dargah’s authorities organise the iftaar and everybody is free to join in. People sit in lines in the courtyard and plates laden with dates, fritters and fruits are laid out. At sunset, a siren goes off to mark the end of the fast and the feast begins.

A man prays before the breaking of the fast
The traditional iftaar spread

After the iftaar and the evening prayers, comes one of the biggest attractions of the dargah – the qawwali. It is a genre of Sufi devotional music performed by a group of singers to the accompaniment of a harmonium, tabla and dholak. Although the performance happens daily after almost every namaz (Islamic prayer), Thursday, Friday and Sunday evenings see huge crowds.

Qawwali at the shrine

As the song progresses, the tempo becomes faster, ultimately reaching a resounding crescendo. Many in the audience go into a trance and it is not uncommon to see people dancing or whirling. During the performance, attendants enthusiastically wave large flags, providing much-needed breeze in the crowded confines of the dargah courtyard.

An attendant fans the crowd during the qawwali

A hearty dinner is the perfect way to conclude the evening. The area has an abundance of restaurants serving meaty Mughlai dishes ­– nihari, biryani, qormas and kebabs – as well as desserts – kheer and phirni. Some of the famous restaurants here are Dastarkhwan-e-Karim (an outlet of the renowned old Delhi restaurant) and Ghalib Kebab Corner.

A stall selling sewai, a traditional delicacy prepared on Eid