>In search of a Sacred Space


The gate is open

I’m planning to see Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace this weekend and decided to do some reading up on it before I get there. Of course all the usual information is available, and then I came upon this really interesting story about the birth of Tipu Sultan. A little more probing online revealed 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 a trifle too enthusiastically. “The Dargah?” I reply, a little hesitatingly, because I have no clue where it is. It comes out as a question and not a statement.

We are off within minutes,  whizzing under the great flyover near KR Market and swinging into Arcot Srinivasa Char Street. After some exhilarating James Bond type twists and turns through the narrow gullies of Akkipete and Balepet, we arrive at the afore mentioned Dargah. He is bang on target, without GPS. It is the very one. The eighteenthth century Dargah is the venue of an extremely popular Urs (a religious event) commemorated anually on 19th Safar (Muslim Calendar)  which is visited by many of the faithful, including local traders and the Sufi Dervaish community. A vibrant festive site during the Urs, it is now quiet as the setting sun prepares for dusk. There are `qawwali’s’ playing outside the main gate on loudspeakers 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 to everypne. A true house of God opens its doors to all. Faith is universal.

The shrine inside

I wash my hands and feet at the community taps and walk into the Dargah barefoot. My slippers are safe 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 brass 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 completing the ziyarat, a symbolic visit to a holy site.  You then walk around the inner sanctum thrice (almost like the temple pradikshana). I find these syncretic influences intriguing but so much a part of our local Bengaluru traditions.

Women are not allowed inside the inner sanctum, but your chader‘ can be offered with flowers from the doorstep and of course everyone must have their heads covered when there.This is the dargah, a shrine built over the final resting plave of a veenrated Sufi saint. The word is rooted in the Persian dar or doorway, meaning threshold, in this case, and gah, or place. The shrine is a point of mediation, and the saint, an intermediary between the ordinary man who comes with the hope that his petition will be carried to the great divine by one who is pure enough to do so.

Devotion has a unique fragrance

Hazarath Tawakkal Mastan Saheb Soharwardi (RA) was a Sufi Saint from the Soharwardi Order of the seventeenth Century and said to be a disciple of the great Hazarat Baba Fakruddin of Penakonda.(R.A). The Dargah, say local legends, 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 Nagarthapet. For any student of the history of secularism in India, 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 (traditional horticulturists of Tamil origin) community, usually held in the old city, during a full moon in the month of Chaitra (Hindu Calendar) to honour Goddess Draupadi.

The heavy cross cultural bell metal lamps

As the Karaga procession maps its way through the Pete, the priestly bearer of the `karagam‘ (pot), dressed as a woman to absorb the Drapadi-shakti or Goddess energy,  stops at the shrine, where the mutawallis or custodians of the shrine wait in welcome . A `fateha‘ or paryer is read for the saint who lies buried here. 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.

As the Mutawalli of the Dargah and the Karaga bearer then exchange lemons, a symbol of healing before the procession moves on, the watching crowd is silent. This ritual has been conducted here for over two hundred and fifty years. It is a very powerful moment indeed in today’s fragmented times when communities are engaged in staking their claim on sacred spaces through acts of violence and hatred, not love. This respectful sharing of a sacred ritual  by one community in the sacred site of another is not just significant but worthy of a deeper study on how this has been achieved so effortlessly and sustained over centuries in our beautiful and harmonious city.

Make a Nazar, light a diya.

But while we live together and yet exist as separate communities in our diverse country, I would like to believe that we are also capable of creating spaces where boundaries can dissolve and unite us. This place 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” as mentioned in Mapping the Sacred. Religion, Geography and Postcolonial Literatures – Jamie S Scott and Paul Simpson Housely.

“People from all religions come here through the day” says Tabrez, the stall-owner with whom I left my slipper “Baba’s blessings touch everyone”. I leave the Dargah with a packet of rose petals and sweet Boondi, and a restored  faith in the true soul of mankind. I did not know then, hat I would spend days and nights here by myself, sitting, watching people come and go, and understanding with each moment the universality of faith. The mutawalli’s will become known to me, and they will respect me as i am, a woman, a mystic seeker, a believer, an equal. 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.

The story about Dargah Hazrath Manik Mastan Saheb can be found here.


  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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