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AJMER: Chisthi Sufi Saints & Roses

ZUZANA ZWIEBEL

THE ROSE IS SYMOLISING GOD'S PERFECT BEAUTY. IN THE SUFI MUSLIM TRADITION, THIS EXQUISITE FLOWER IS ATTACHED ALSO TO A LONG THORNY STEM, SYMBOLIZES THE MYSTIC PATH TO ALLAH. 

The steps of the most Sufi pilgrims in India lead to Ajmer, bustling, chaotic city, only 15 km south from Pushar, which is one of the  holiest Hindu cities in India.  Ajmer is Rajasthan’s most important site in terms of Islamic history and heritage. It contains one of India’s most important Muslim pilgrimage centres, the shrine of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, who founded the Chishtiya order, the prime Sufi order in India.

THORNY PATH TO ALLAH

Dargah of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti  is the tomb of Sufi saint Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, who came to Ajmer from Persia in 1192 and died here in 1236. The tomb gained its significance during the time of the Mughals – many emperors added to the buildings here. Construction of the shrine was completed by Humayun, and the gate was added by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Mughal emperor Akbar used to make the pilgrimage to the dargah from Agra every year.

The Saint Muin-ud-din Chishti is believed to have had a dream in which the Prophet Muhammad appeared and told him to be his envoy in India.

DARGAH OF KHWAJA MUIN-UD-DIN CHISHTI 

is the tomb of Sufi saint Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, who came to Ajmer from Persia in 1192 and died here in 1236. The tomb gained its significance during the time of the Mughals – many emperors added to the buildings here. Construction of the shrine was completed by Humayun, and the gate was added by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Mughal emperor Akbar used to make the pilgrimage to the dargah from Agra every year. The main entrance is through Nizam Gate (1915). Inside, the green and white mosque, Akbari Masjid, was constructed in 1571 and is now an Arabic and Persian school for religious education. The next gate is called the Shahjahani Gate, as it was erected by Shah Jahan, although it is also known as 'Nakkarkhana', because of the two large nakkharas (drums) fixed above it. A third gate, Buland Darwaza (16th century), leads into the dargah courtyard. Flanking the entrance of the courtyard are the degs (large iron cauldrons), one donated by Akbar in 1567, the other by Jahangir in 1631, for offerings for the poor.

It was the Mughals who first started rose cultivation in Ajmer and Pushkar. The kings wanted their rose wines and the queens their perfumes and this land, known for its succulent fruit, seemed the right place to grow fragrant roses. Today, nearly seven hundred hectares are dedicated to rose cultivation. Roses from these fields find their way into temples and dargahs, perfume laboratories across the world.

UNFOLDIND A ROSE

The rose also resembles an important sense of spirituality, and is an important symbol in Islam. Symbolizing Prophet Muhammad and divine beauty, the rose is known as the flower of Heaven. 

"What is the scent of the Rose? The breath of reason and intelligence, a sweet guide on the way to the eternal kingdom." Rumi

The rose grows from a bush of thorns yet reveals a delicate inner beauty and shares an intimate, sweet wine-like fragrance, symbolic of how the soul emerges from the tribulations of worldly difficulty and, in so doing, recognizes her innate beauty. The inner rose reveals itself in the heart when the individual soul completely and joyously opens itself to the transcendent reality.

The ancient flower has had a strong influence on many of history's most famous poets, including the great Sufi poet, Melvana Rumi. In the mystical Muslim tradition known as Sufism, the exquisite flower, attached to a long thorny stem, symbolizes the mystic path to Allah. Rumi writes, "What is the scent of the Rose? The breath of reason and intelligence, a sweet guide on the way to the eternal kingdom."

HEALING PETALS

Since ancient times, the benefits of the rose have had a significant place in Islamic culture.  It was a customary tradition to offer rose water to the guests that attended the house for special meetings and events. 

The rose had a very strong importance in Islamic medicine. In fact, this natural healing flower is mentioned in almost every medical textbook written by Islamic physicians since the 14th century. The great physician Ibn-Sina, or Avicenna as he is known in the West, was the first great thinker to emphasize the benefits of the flowers unique fragrance. He states in his great medical text, "The Canon of Medicine" dating from the 11th century, that the rose is beneficial for fainting and rapid heartbeats, and strengthens the brain by enhancing one's memory. He also stated that boiling rose water and exposing the head to its steam, has healing effects and is especially beneficial for eye diseases. It was commonly used to treat stomach pain, ulcers, liver and mouth diseases, and also sore throats.  For instance, drinking rose sherbet was a common remedy  to relieve nausea and indigestion.

SINGLE DIVINITY OF KWAJA MUIN-UD-DIN CHISHTI

Born in Afghanistan in 1156, Khwaja Muin-ud-Din Chishti, India’s most revered Muslim saint began his religious career at the age of 13, when he distributed his inheritance among the poor and adopted the simple life of an itinerant Sufi fakir (the equivalent of the Hindu sadhu). On his travels, he soaked up the teachings of the great Central Asian Sufis, whose emphasis on mysticism, ecstatic states and pure devotion as a path to God were revolutionizing Islam during this period. Khwaja Sahib and his disciples settled in Ajmer at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Withdrawing into a life of meditation and fasting, he preached a message of renunciation, affirming that personal experience of God was attainable to anyone who relinquished their ties to the world. More radically, he also insisted on the fundamental unity of all religions: mosques and temples, he asserted, were merely material manifestations of a single divinity. Khwaja Sahib thus became one of the first religious figures to bridge the gap between India’s two great faiths. After he died at the age of 97, his followers lauded the Bhagavad Gita as a sacred text, and even encouraged Hindu devotees to pray using names of God familiar to them, equating Ram with “Rahman”, the Merciful Aspect of Allah – a spirit of acceptance which explains why Khwaja Sahib’s shrine in Ajmer continues to be loved by adherents of all faiths.

Rose water was also used as a mild sedative and antidepressant, because it enhances moods and helps to relieve nervous tension. Women have also been very familiar with the anti-wrinkle effects of rose water and rose oil since ancient times. They regularly used rose water and rose oil for their beautifying properties. Rose oil helps to improve the skins elasticity, enhance softness, add radiance, and even aid in healing acne prone skin. 

The rose does not only smell delightful, but tastes delightful too! The unique taste of the rose could be found in many delightful local dishes, and was an influential part of the palace cuisine. Rose water and rose products, such as rose confection and syrups, were used abundantly during Mughal rule. The most popular use, however, was in the flavoring of desserts such as ice cream, jam, sweet delights, rice pudding, yogurt and sherbet.

And maybe you do not know, but Ajmer is also the place, where the ghosts make the sweets during the night! But this story, we will write next time...

SOURCES:

  • https://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/ajmer/attractions/dargah-of-khwaja-muin-ud-din-chishti/a/poi-sig/1005076/356448
  • https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/travelnews/story/57324/rajasthan-roses-pushkar
  • https://www.dailysabah.com/feature/2015/04/12/the-rose-a-flower-with-deep-roots-in-turkish-culture
  • http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/Themes/Rose/index.html
  • https://www.wikipedia.org/

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EDITOR & WRITER

ZUZANA ZWIEBEL

Founder & Director of Ayurveda Trails, healing collection of (extra)ordinary people and their stories, whose experiences are transferred into various trails shared by travelers.

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