Delhi chronicles 8: Qawwali at the Nizamuddin Dargah

Almost everyone we told about our Delhi trip advised us to visit the Nizamuddin Dargah, and to hear the Qawwali performances that happen in the evenings. We were told the performances are stupendous, and that people from all over the world come to the Dargah to witness them. So, we after a late lunch and a cup of delicious tea, we set off for the Dargah one fine Thursday evening. The performances happen on most evenings, but sometimes get cancelled due to one reason or the other. We had heard that the Thursday performances are never cancelled, and so that was the day we chose. It happened to be the day just before Eid-Al-Fitr.

Honestly, we weren’t prepared for the scene that met us at the Dargah. We had known that it would be crowded, especially considering that it was the day before Eid, but we hadn’t estimated quite how much. The grounds outside the Dargah were choc-a-bloc, with people jostling for space for Namaaz and for the breaking of the fast. Some people were sprawled in the complex, with blank looks in their eyes, tired after a day of fasting. There were children and cats scampering around, flower and chaddar and incense sellers, eunuchs, the poor queuing up on one end for the free food distribution that was going on, lepers, beggars, gentlemen and women everywhere belonging to all castes and creeds, foreigners included. Someone rubbed a stick of attar on the OH and me and asked us for money. In a far corner, a lady was being visited by spirits and was shrieking, moving her head round and round. What we felt as witnesses to all of this was a mixture of emotions, something I cannot describe in words. If I had to try to put in a single word, I would say we were overwhelmed. We had never seen anything quite like this.

Here’s where saint Nizamuddin Auliya lies buried

We went into the Dargah, with separate places for praying for the men and the women and paid our respects to the saint Nizamuddin Auliya. The Dargah is, in fact, a mausoleum to the Sufi saint, and also houses the tombs of Mughal princess Jahannara and the Urdu poet Amir Khusro. Amir Khusro was a favoured disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya, and it is he who is believed to have given birth to the Qawwali form of music. How could we not get goose bumps on knowing that we walked on the very grounds that such greats once walked?

I had been awed by the character of Jahannara after reading about her in Indu Sundaresan’s Shadow PrincessΒ and was eager to see the place where she lay. It was rather sad to note that after she spent her entire life in service of her father, Shah Jahan, she now lies buried in a open grave (as per her own wishes, I must add). In contrast, her sister, Roshanara, wily and in favour with their brother Aurangzeb, lies buried in a grand garden in Delhi, called Roshanara Bagh. The inscription on Jahannara’s tomb reads:

Allah is the Living, the Sustaining.
Let no one cover my grave except with greenery,
For this very grass suffices as a tomb cover for the poor.
The mortal simplistic Princess Jahanara,
Disciple of the Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chishti,
Daughter of Shah Jahan the Conqueror
May Allah illuminate his proof.

(Courtesy: Wikipedia)

The tomb of famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib is just around the corner to the Dargah, but sadly, we missed it in all the hullabaloo.

I was too overwhelmed by the crowd to take many pictures of the Dargah and its grounds, but if you do want to know what they are like, you should check out this post and this one too, from A Date With Delhi.

After looking around the Dargah complex to our heart’s fill, we started our wait for the Qawwali performance, which was to begin at 8 PM, because of the breaking of the fast. It was worth the wait, I would say. The qawwals started singing in the open courtyard of the Dargah, under the stars, and their loud voices created magic. They took everyone to a different world altogether, and soon enough, the overwhelmed-ness of the past hour or so were forgotten.

The Qawwali performance in its prime

In the midst of the performance, the Eid-ka-chaand was sighted and sirens began blowing to announce it. Wishes were exchanged, and the Qawwali resumed after a brief break. At this point, we had to leave because we had quite a way to go back to the guesthouse.

All in all, the visit to the Dargah and the Qawwali are experiences we will never forget. The Dargah (and the Qawwalis) have been featured in several Bollywood movies (including Kun Faya Kun from Rockstar), and now we know exactly why.

For those of you who are interested, here is a little bit of the performance that we managed to record. (The Qawwals are performing against the backdrop of Amir Khusro’s tomb – on the left – and Jahannara’s tomb – on the right).


Have you read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 , Part 6 and Part 7 of this travelogue?

This brings us to the end of the Delhi chronicles, by the way. πŸ™‚


12 thoughts on “Delhi chronicles 8: Qawwali at the Nizamuddin Dargah

  1. I have passed the daragh on number of occasions but have never really stopped to visit. Your post makes me wonder why. The next time around, I promise.

    Now let me go listen to what you guys recorded. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚


    1. @Comfy

      Honestly speaking, we might never have gone inside (had we been passing by), if not for the numerous recommendations that we received. The Qawwali performance is something of a major attraction, beckoning people of all castes, from countries all over the world.

      We did have a bit of a scare and felt overwhelmed at the Dargah, having never experienced spirit-visiting and fast-breaking and so much of a crowd at close quarters earlier. That said, I am glad we have now had that experience.

      So, did you listen to the video?


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