>In search of a Sacred Space

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The gate is open

I’m planning to see Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace this weekend and decide to do some reading up on it before I get there. Of course all the usual information is available, and then I come upon this really interesting story about the birth of Tipu Sultan. A little more probing online reveals exactly the same story, featured on about a million websites which of course you can read right here since I’m more interested in specific aspects of the story and not the story itself. So anyway, I hop into an auto from Avenue Road and tell Nagaraj the friendly auto driver to take me to Cottonpet. ” Yelli hogbekamma ? ” he says, revving up his engine enthusiastically. ” The Dargah ? ” I reply, a little hesitatingly. It comes out as a question and not a statement.

Within minutes we are off, whizzing under the great flyover near KR Market and swinging into Arcot Srinivasa Char Street. After some James Bond type of twists and turns through the narrow gullies of Akkipete and Balepet, he brings me to the afore mentioned Dargah. He is bang on target. It is the very one. The 18th century Dargah is the venue of an extremely popular Urs on 19th Safar ( Muslim Calendar ) each year which is visited by many, including the Sufi Dervaish community. A veritable festival site during the Urs, it is now quiet as the setting sun prepares for dusk. There are `qawwali’s’ playing outside the main gate and the stalls sell the usual vehicles of memory, those substitutes for devotional symbols – key chains, pendants,  calendars, pictures of the shrine.  But above all, I notice that the doors are wide open. I like places of God where the doors are kept open.

The shrine inside

I wash my hands and feet at the community taps and walk into the Dargah barefoot. My slippers are with the stall owner outside the gate who assures me he will keep an eye on them. In the corner are beautiful brass lamps over 5 feet high.They bear a strong resemblance to the heavy metal lamps seen in South Indian temples.The only amendment to the traditional design is the crescent moon and star at the top. I light my incense sticks quietly. The cross cultural influences do not end with the lamps. Diyas are lit here instead of the usual candles, when asking for favours, or making a `nazar’.  You then walk around the inner sanctum thrice ( almost like a `pradikshana’ ). I find these non-Islamic influences intriguing.

Women are not allowed inside the inner sanctum, but your `chader‘ can be offered with flowers from the doorstep and of course your head must be covered when you are there.

Devotion has a unique fragrance

Hazarath Tawakkal Mastan Saheb Soharwardia (RA) was a Sufi Saint from the Soharwardia Order of the 17th Century and a disciple of  Hazarat Baba Fakruddin of Penakonda.(R.A). The Dargah was begun by Haidar Ali as a gift to the saint in 1777 and completed by Tipu in 1783. This is where the narrative gets split.

The maps and the Dargah

One version says Hazrat Tawakkal Mastan Saheb ( RA) came to the aid of Haidar Ali, the father of Tipu Sultan, in the guise of a mason ( which you would have read above) and the other version is closely connected to the Dharmarayaswamy Temple in Nagarthpet. For any student of secularism though, the Dargah is significant. Not only are its doors open to all but it is also a destination point on the sacred journey taken by the Karaga bearer during the fascinating Karaga Festival of the Tigala ( Tamil origin ) community, usually held during a full moon in the month of Chaitra ( Hindu Calendar ).

The heavy cross cultural bell metal lamps

As the Karaga procession maps its way through the Pete, the bearer of the `kalasha‘ ( pot ) stops at the shrine, where the priests wait in welcome . A `fateha‘ is read. S/he circles the shrine, thrice. Once on foot. Then on his ( her )  knees, and finally s/he dances around the shrine while the Veerakumaras do `Alagusevai’ with their swords and burning of camphor. I say s/he because the Karaga bearer is a man who, for the stipulated duration of the festival, takes on the garb of a woman to absorb the overwhelming feminine powers unleashed at this time.

The `Mutawalli’ of the Dargah and the Karaga bearer then exchange lemons and the procession moves on. A very powerful moment indeed. In today’s fragmented times when communities are engaged primarily in staking their claim on sacred spaces through violence and hatred, the respectful sharing of a sacred ritual and site is not just significant but worthy of a deeper study on how this has been achieved so effortlessly and sustained over centuries.

Make a Nazar, light a diya.

But while we exist as separate communities, I would like to believe that we are also capable of creating sacred spaces where physical boundaries dissolve into emotional ones that unite us. This is one of them,  as it lends itself perfectly to a  ” … sense of spiritual significance associated with those concrete locations in which adherents of different religious traditions, past and present, maintain a ritual sense of the sanctity of life and its cycles “ Mapping the Sacred. Religion, Geography and Postcolonial Literatures – Jamie S Scott and Paul Simpson Housely.

I leave the Dargah with a packet of sweet Boondi and an immense faith in the true soul of mankind. As Rumi says,

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu

Buddhist, Sufi or Zen. Not any religion

or cultural system…I do not exist…

my place is placeless, a trace

of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two

worlds as one and that one call to and know

first, last, outer, inner, only that

breath breathing human being.”

Read more about the Karaga connection here.

Dargah Hazrath Manik Mastan Saheb can be found here.

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3 comments

  1. Really lovely, thank you for this. Chronicle them, a collection of this could be really something bigger. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Aman, though I am not sure what chronicle means in this context.

  2. […] Hazrath Tawwakkal Mastan Saheb Dargah can be found here. […]

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