“… Spirit of Guidance,
Source of all beauty, and Creator of harmony,
Love, Lover, and Beloved Lord.
Thou art our divine ideal.”
~ Ameen (Rasul)
The above verse is from the third evening prayer in Sufism, Rasul.
Sufism in India goes back a 1,000 years, both as part of Islam and woven into the Bhakti Movement. Today, the country is an epicentre for Sufi culture; its dargahs a devout space for connecting with the divine.
One such dargah stands across the Haji Ali Dargah in Mahalaxmi, on the other side of the coastline hugging the Arabian Sea. Lesser known, but no less revered, the Saint Ma Hajiani Dargah is a place of worship for women and their dreams of finding love and having offspring.
Offerings here take the form of bangles and prayers: red bangles for marriage; green bangles for offspring. Sufism interprets a woman’s search to belong to a soul mate and offspring as reminiscent of our desire to commune with our higher being. In our human journey we satiate ourselves instead with mortal love and sex.
The word Sufi comes from the Persian word ‘wisdom’. A mystical Islamic belief and practice, Sufism seeks to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. The love of God for man and the love of man for God is central for its believers.
The white-washed, sea-stained, crumbling mausoleum with its fairy-tale minarets and a cerulean blue cupola is one of the most beautiful Islamic buildings in Mumbai. It was built in 1908 by Ma Hajiani’s son, Haji Ismail Hasham, a local shipping mogul. He died a few years after its completion and lies buried next to her tomb inside, along with his son; all three tombs are draped in red and green chadors edged with golden thread.
It is a quiet place, almost deep in meditation. A couple of women pray inside in hijabs, whispering sacred words, their eyes fixated on the saint’s tomb in reverence. I can hear the sea waves crashing outside, and the sea gulls calling out to each other. As I am about to leave, a stream of 20 odd women file in, old, young, middle-aged, with hopes in their eyes.
I pray too. That all the prayers said to the saint inside the 100-year-old walls and in these women’s hearts come true, and the bangles are not in vain.
A 1908 poem of minarets and a blue domed ceiling
winding staircases, wide open windows
and arched doors leading the believer to the believed
Chadors offered in His name
Chadors on sale in His name. Ameen.