Having lived in Mumbai all my life, I am always amazed to see how people cut across communal lines and stay together in complete harmony. We are so used to visiting the churches Muslim shrines that we tend to forget that these places have a different religious beliefs.
Its always intriguing to visit a worship place of a different religion, mainly because their beliefs and principles are unknown to us. But in visiting these places, you learn to embrace the goodness and the teachings of different religions and thus understand that God only created humans. The rest is not important.
On 9th September 2014 (my birthday ), I decided to roam around Mumbai and click some pictures of the city. One of my friends suggested that being my birthday, I should visit the Haji Ali Dargah (A dargah is a tomb ) and seek the blessings of the holy seer. So in the morning I set off to visit the place for the first time.
Haji Ali Dargah – Worli, Mumbai
The Haji Ali Dargah is a mosque and dargah (tomb) or the monument of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari located on an islet off the coast of Worli in the southern part of Mumbai. Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari was a Sufi saint and a wealthy merchant from Uzbekistan. The Dargah is located on an islet off the sea near the Worli area of Mumbai. The nearest railway station is Mahalakshmi on the Western Railway, from where cabs will drop you to your destination.
The dargah is located off an islet in the Worli area of Mumbai. There is a path that connects the dargah to the main land through the sea. The 1 kilometer path does not have a railing. During high tides, the causeway is closed and you cannot access the dargah. The rain gods had a field day on that particular day. It had rained heavily early morning so when I reached, unfortunately, the causeway was closed.
The high tide was until 12 noon and so I had two options :- Either wait until 12 noon and check if the causeway opens or come another day altogether. I decided to wait and to kill time I visited another landmark nearby – The Mahalaxmi Temple.
When I reached the causeway after 12, much to my relief, I saw a steady stream of people crossing it, which meant that it was open and I did not have to wait for another day. And thus started my first visit.
Its around 10 mins walk on the pathway to the Dargah. Its quite an experience walking down the pathway through the sea. With the waves from the Arabian Sea lapping your feet, it almost feels as if you are gliding over the waters. This walk on the causeway, with the sea on both sides, is one of the highlights of a trip to the shrine.
You can spot the magnificent entrance to the dargah from a distance. Its a magnificent white washed marble structure that is a visible landmark from the shores. You’ll see many shops that sell items for offering in the dargah. Also there are many photographers around who will click your photographs with the majestic entrance gate as a backdrop.
Inside, you’ll find a majestic courtyard with the shrine and the mosque. While the shrine is open to all, the mosque is only open for Muslims who offer their prayers. The shrine is visited by one and all cutting across faiths and is especially crowded on Thursdays and Fridays. There are separate praying areas for women and men. Women are not allowed inside the shrine. (Though this has changed after a supreme court judgement on 26 August 2016.)
The Legend of Haji Ali
The Haji Ali Dargah was constructed in 1431 in memory of a wealthy Muslim merchant, Sayyed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, who gave up all his worldly possessions before making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Hailing from Bukhara, in present-day Uzbekistan, Bukhari travelled around the world in the early to mid 15th century, and eventually settled in present-day Mumbai.
According to legends surrounding his life, once the saint saw a poor woman crying on the road, holding an empty vessel. He asked her what the problem was, she sobbed that her husband would thrash her as she stumbled and accidentally spilled the oil she was carrying. He asked her to take him to the spot where she spilt the oil. There, he jabbed a finger into the soil and the oil gushed out. The overjoyed woman filled up the vessel and went home.
Later, Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari had a recurring and disturbing dream that he had injured Earth by his act. Full of remorse and grief from that day he became very serious and was not keeping well. Then with the permission of his mother he traveled to India with his brother and finally reached the shore of Mumbai – near Worli or at some place opposite the present tomb. His brother went back to their native place.
Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari sent a letter with him to their mother informing her that he was keeping good health and that he had decided to reside at that place permanently for the spread of Islam and that she should forgive him.
Until his death he kept spreading knowledge about Islam to the people and his devotees would regularly visit him. Before his death he advised his followers that they should not bury him at any proper place or graveyard and should drop his shroud (‘kafan’) in the ocean such that it should be buried by the people where it is found.
His wish was obeyed by his followers. That is why the Dargah Sharief is built at the very site where his shroud came to rest in the middle of the sea where it perched on a small mound of rocks rising above the sea. The Tomb and Dargah Sharief were built in the years to come.
On Thursdays and Fridays, the shrine is visited by an enormous number of pilgrims. Irrespective of faith and religion, people visit the dargah to get the blessings of the legendary saint. Sometimes, especially on Fridays, various Sufi musicians perform a form of devotional music called Qawwali at the dargah.
The structure needs constant restoration because of the saline atmosphere surrounding it and also because of the enormous foot falls of visitors that it receives every day. When I visited, renovation work was in progress.
It took me around 45 minutes to complete the visit and after that it was time to return. The sea was calm and cool breeze was blowing. I was happy that I could make it and seek the blessings of Baba Haji Ali. A birthday well spent indeed.
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