Dr Sanobar Haider is Assistant Professor, Department of History, MBP Government PG College, Lucknow
The holy month of Rabi ul Awwal (third month of the Islamic calendar), marks the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the last messenger of Allah the Almighty. Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) was born in Mecca to Hazrat Abdullah ibn Abd al-Muttalib and Hazrat Amina bint Wahb in the year 570 A.D. His father was the son of the Quraysh tribal leader Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim. Prophet Muhammad lost his father before his birth and his mother Amina died when he was six years, leaving Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) an orphan. He was raised by his grandfather, Hazrat Abd al-Muttalib, and paternal uncle Abu Talib.
The day of his birth is celebrated with great pomp all over the world, especially in India. Eid-Milad-un-Nabi is also known as Barawafat and the celebrations are marked by Mehfils, Milads and such religious gatherings where sermons are delivered about the life of the holy Prophet (PBUH). People across the country celebrate the day by greeting each other and distributing sweets. The life of our dear Prophet (PBUH) inspires everyone and he serves as a role model for many. This Barawafat, we decided to visit the holy shrine of Haji Waris Ali Shah, (who commands a lot of respect amongst many) at Dewa Sharif, Barabanki. Dewa Sharif is known all over the world for the shrine of the revered Sufi saint whose mazaar (tombs of Islamic saints) is thronged by believers all throughout the year. The pilgrim town is situated just 42 kms from Lucknow and 12 kms from the district headquarters of Barabanki. Haji Waris Ali Shah came from a family of Husaini Syeds, and was born in the first quarter of the 19th century. Every year an Urs is held at the sacred tomb in the Islamic month of ‘Safar’. Pilgrims from all parts of the country and abroad come to pay their homage to the great Sufi Saints, Haji Waris Ali Shah and his father Qurban Ali Shah.
Writing about the pre-pandemic times, a big cattle market used to be the highlight of the fair. A variety of cultural programmes were also organised during the fair including an All-India Mushaira, Kavi Sammelan, Seeratun Nabi (recitation) and sports events like hockey, volleyball, badminton, athletics, etc. Hundreds of brightly lit and decorated shops were set up offering a variety of handicrafts, bangles, jootis household utility items, toys, delicious snacks and exotic sweetmeats. A brilliant display of fireworks marked the conclusion of the 10-day Festival. However, the past two years have not made such a celebration possible. A visit was nevertheless possible which we made on the day of Barawafat.
Reaching the shrine amidst the unseasonal showers we alighted the vehicle and reached one of the many shops beautifully decorated with colorful offerings of chadar, baskets, flowers, incense sticks and itr. Having bought one set from the parking incharge’s stall (at his behest) we walked through the lane heavily encroached by the vendors of the Tuesday bazar. It being a rainy day, the pathway leading to the shrine was full of undrained water and slush but nevertheless the spirit of the pilgrims was far from being dampened.
The sight of the majestic mausoleum from the gate is as always one to behold. A sudden current of spiritualism engulfs the visitor. With absolute calmness we moved towards the mazaar of the great saint which is surrounded by men, women, children of all religions and sects some bowing before the mazaar in the centre, some getting blessed while a few sitting on the floor and praying vehemently. We climbed up the stairs and bowed in reverence while our boys made the offerings. The man incharge gently took the basket, helped us spread the chadar for the ‘chadar poshi’ and then guided us to make floral offerings. While he rubbed the itr on our wrists he also handed back to us the basket carrying the tabarruk (consecrate).
Casting a look around I observed that the entire façade of the shrine was painted white and adorned with green flags. The main entrance to the central dome was decorated in Arabic calligraphy with the verses from the holy book, while the doors were carved in wood. The jaali work on marble was noticeable and exquisite and the giant rectangular chandelier was definitely dazzling. All of it reflecting upon the Indo-Islamic style of architecture and decoration with some Persian influence.
Having made the oblations and prayers we moved out, drawn by the sound of the qawwali (a style of Muslim devotional music associated particularly with Sufis) being rendered in the open space just outside tomb. The group was sitting comfortably on the ground which perhaps was still wet and damp but failed to deter their spark as they continued to sing one after the other all in the praise of the Holy Prophet. Beginning with the well-known, ‘Bhar de jholi meri ya Muhammad…’ the group led by Afzal Warsi sang around 10 qawwalis before making way for the second group. While we felt entranced by the atmosphere so created, my husband, Mohammad Haider, made good by sitting and clapping with the qawwals. Visitors stopped to listen while some presented the performers with a currency note, the others just walked away after having heard a verse or two. The second group soon replaced the first one, led by Sohail Warsi. They began their renditions in the praise of the Messenger of Allah (SWT) and once again the atmosphere was dazed with awe and respect for the greatest of all the Prophets sent by God on Earth.
After spending a good deal of time there we stepped down only to discover a well and another covered grave to the left of the main staircase. The dysfunctional well all painted in white also had dysfunctional pulley. Moving further left was a white painted grave and adjacent to it was a marble canopy covering another grave with a plaque. On enquiry we were informed that the grave was that of a Colonel who lived in the times of the Sufi saint. The open space was dotted with vendors selling tea, chana, khasta and sweet meats. The visitors/pilgrims were busy taking selfies amongst the younger groups while some headed towards the main shrine, the big, bulbous green dome of which overlooked them all. The dome which is overwhelming is mounted by a golden top. The Dargah compound is lined with a number of rooms which are under the supervision of its committee. These rooms are always open for the devotees who come to get blessings from Sarkar as this is how popularly the Sufi saint is addressed by devotees.
With a few clicks we also walked out of the Dargah, feeling blessed and calm. So ended our pilgrim which was our way of celebrating the birth anniversary of the Prophet. Back home, the celebrations were to continue…