Nestling in the busy streets of the royal state of Rajasthan is Ajmer, a city of pure serenity and devotion. Strategically located with beautiful landscape bordering it from all sides, this city is beloved to the devotees of the Islamic community. It is where the holy shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti is. And it also where the incredible Urs Festival is held. Celebrated to honor the Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti on his death anniversary, this festival is held every year at the dargah and lasts for six days. There is no fixed date for the festival. This is since the Islamic community follows the lunar calendar. Hence, every seventh month of the Islamic lunar calendar, known as Rajab, the shrine of Ajmer Sharif is decorated and illuminated with candles, and qawwalis are sung to mark the sanctity of this occasion.
Thousands of devotees gather at the Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Dargah to offer their prayers. Blessed are those who get to perform ziyarat at the shrine. The holy grave of the Sufi saint is covered by chadars. The area is washed with rose water. Incense sticks are lighted that spread a soothing fragrance in the air. And the shrine is illuminated with golden fairy lights. The attendees of this event are not only Islamic pilgrims but people belonging to other religious communities as well. A lot of travelers also attend the ceremony to enjoy the tranquility that captures the atmosphere.
Scroll below to read all about what happens during this festival and how you can be a part of it.
About Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti- The story behind the Urs Festival
Regarded as the founder of the Chishtiya Sufi order in the Indian subcontinent, Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti was one of the greatest contributors to Islamic mysticism. Born to the land of Afghanisthan, he is said to have migrated from Sistan to India and found solace in Ajmer. He was deeply moved by Islamic mystics. It is said that it was his benevolent, compassionate and selfless nature was that drove a majority of masses during the 12th century to change to Islam. It was he who allowed his followers to use music and hymns while offering their homage to God. Many remember him as Khwaja Gareeb Nawaz for his generosity towards the poor and the noble acts he did for those who sought his help. He dedicated all his life to serve the needy and to spread the brilliance of Islam.
A pristine white tomb (or dargah) was built in Ajmer to pay respect to the revered saint. His last mortal remains were also buried here. Since then, a lot of followers visit his shrine every year. From royals like Emperor Akbar to pilgrims coming from different religions of the society, all come to seek the blessings and remember the great Khwaja. And to memorialize the day of the union of the Sufi saint with the Almighty, Urs festival is celebrated every year in Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Dargah in Ajmer city with great passion and zeal.
Celebrations and ceremonies of the Urs Festival
A lot goes on during the Urs festival. Rituals begin early in the mornings and carry on till the night. Even before the commencement of the six-day festival, a grand flag hoisting ceremony is held to mark the beginning of the celebrations. The ceremony takes place on the premises of the tomb. A white color flag is hoisted. Prayers are chanted in unison by the crowd gathered at the shrine. The entire landscape looks like an expanse of white as devotees from different corners of the world dress in traditional white attire to perform ziyarat of the Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Dargah. Devotees from all kinds of beliefs, and travelers who wish to marvel the sanctity of this occasion, all come and offer roses and jasmine flowers on his grave. The dargah is sprinkled with rose water, and the fragrance of flowers is spread in the yard. The casket is draped with ceremonial green chadars and Ghilaf-e-Kaaba. All these offerings are made to honor the saint and seek his blessings. Performing ziyarat of the tomb in Ajmer is considered very auspicious, and hence, the occasion sees huge crowds gathered to pay their homage.
The first day begins with the opening of the Jannati Darwaza. Located near the entrance of the complex, this colossal gate is painted silver and has threads tied to it. These treads are tied while chanting a prayer to pray to Allah to fulfill all your heart’s wishes. Considered highly auspicious, this gate has a ritual attached to it. Legend goes that any person who crosses this gate in the said manner for seven consecutive ends up securing his place in heaven. Hence, it was granted the name of Jannati Darwaza, or ‘door to heaven.’
As said before, Khwaja Garib Nawaz was the one who first allowed music to be incorporated as a part of prayers to the god. Hence, zikr qawwalis are sung in his honor all night long on each day of the festival. Melodious Sufi tunes resonate in the atmosphere as classical Qawwali singers sing praises about their saints and gods while clapping their hands to the rhythm. This is one of the blessed events of the festival. One feels absolute peace and harmony as you lose yourself to the harmony of the melodies.
The successors of Khwaja, known as Khadims, play an important role in all the rituals. Every day, it is their responsibility to recite the shajra, the spiritual tree associated with Chishti order. After this, they gently touch the temples of each devotee with candles that are later on lit to seek blessings from the Almighty. This ceremony ensures that the grace of Allah spreads to every soul present in the dargah.
The sixth day or the last day of the festival is regarded as the most auspicious day. It is named the ‘Chhati Sharif.’ This is because it is said that it was on the sixth day when Khwaja was finally relieved from his human form to reunite with the Almighty. Massive crowds are observed on this day. The Khadims recite Shajra while the pilgrims chant their hymns and remember the divine saint. The rituals on this day begin at 10 in the morning. And the last Fatiha is read at 1:30 pm sharp. After this, the Khadims announce the closure of the festival.
Syed Behlol Chishty, a revered Khadim, composed a special form of a recital. It is a song that does not use any musical instrument. It only involved clapping of hands in rhythm. He named it Badhawaa or the song of praise. So, on the last day, just before the Qu’l ceremony begins, Khadims and pilgrims gather at the main entrance of the dargah and perform Badhawaa, praising the revered Khwaja.
The rituals marking the end of Chhati Sharif are named Qu’l ceremony. Another form of prayers called Fatihas is read by all, and at 1:30 pm sharp, a canon is fired that marks the closing of the Urs festival.
Delicacies served during the festival
Pilgrims worship the Sufi saint with full devotion and pray for their Allah’s blessing to always be with them. So, as “Tabarruk,” or a form of blessing from the good, all devotees are offered “Kheer.” Kheer is a form of delicacy prepared by cooking rice in milk, along with saffron and nuts. Large cauldrons called ‘degs’ are used to distribute the sweets amongst the thousands of pilgrims attending the occasion. This blessed food as part of a ritual to everyone who offers their prayers with full devotion to the great saint.
Sightseeing in and around Ajmer
One of the oldest cities of the majestic state of Rajasthan, Ajmer, has historical significance for the Islamic community. Located peacefully with the Aravalli Hills in its backdrop, Ajmer has a myriad of picturesque sites for travelers. So after experiencing the lovely Urs festival, if you have more days to spare, here are some places that can make it up to your travel itinerary.
Ana Sagar Lake: Named after its maker, Maharaja Anaji, this manmade lake is a renowned picnic spot of Ajmer. Tranquil waters reflect the sun setting in the clear sky to paint a mesmerizing picture. One side of the lake has lush green gardens called Daulat Bagh. Formed by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, these gardens provide a clear vision of the island nestling in the middle of the lake. The island can be accessed using boats.
Adhai Din ka Jhopra: Originally constructed as a college and later converted to a mosque, Adhai Din ka Jhopra is a famous heritage site. The facade of this mosque is formed by an arched entrance that has Islamic calligraphy all over it. The site, however, is now in ruins. Its intricate architecture of domes and pillars makes it perfect for photography.
Nasiyan Jain Temple: Also known as the Red Temple, Nasiyan Jain Temple worships the first Jain ‘Tirthankara’, Lord Adinath. Built in the year 1805, this double-storeyed temple also has a museum in its complex and is embellished with carvings of gold and silver.
Nareli Jain Temple: An extraordinary architectural marvel that glorifies the best of both traditional and modern styles is the Nareli Jain Temple. Located at a distance of 7 kilometers from the city center, this temple is situated in close proximity of NH-8. The wondrous design of this temple, along with the 24 mini-temples built atop the overlooking hill, is what attracts the tourists to this holy place.
Akbar’s Palace and Museum: Akbar fort served as a resting spot for the great Mughal emperor and his troops in the early 19th century. Now, it is a renowned tourist attraction of Ajmer. The Dil-e-Aaram Gardens of the fort enclose a museum displaying weaponry, terracotta, inscriptions, and other such artifacts. The palace even has an impressive idol of Goddess Kali in its premises.
How to reach Ajmer
By Train: Travelling by train is a very convenient and comfortable option to reach the divine city of Ajmer. The nearest station to Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Dargah is the Ajmer Junction Railway Station. Hardly 2 km away from the shrine, this railway station falls on the Mumbai – Ahmedabad – Jaipur – Delhi line and is connected to almost all the major metropolitan cities of India. Several sleepers and seater trains run throughout the day. Some of the local trains that run every day on this route are Chetak Express, Ajmer Rajdhani, Ajmer Shatabdi, Aravalli Express, Ali Sdah Express, and Bsb Express. The schedule of these trains can be obtained on the official portal of IRCTC.
By Air: For those who wish to travel by air can land at the Jaipur International Airport (also called Jaipur Sanganer Airport). The shrine is roughly 135-140 km from here, making it the closest airport to Ajmer. The airport is well-connected as numerous airlines operate from almost all the major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and many more. Getting a cab or a taxi is very easy as many cab services are operating near the airport. You can also take a bus or an auto from outside. Even the railways are very near if one wishes to travel by train till Ajmer. The journey can take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending upon your mode of travel.
By Bus:Rajasthan has a very scheduled and efficient bus service throughout the state. From deluxe to private, from AC to non-AC, from public buses to luxurious Volvos, all kinds of buses are operated as per their timetables by the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation and many other private tour operators.
By Road:Love to travel on your wheels? Well, you are in for a delight as the smooth roads of Ajmer will give you one of the best road trips of your life. Ajmer city can be easily accessed by all cities as it lies in close proximity of the Golden Quadrilateral National Highway 8, or NH-8. There are many street vendors and restaurants running all along the highway. Plus, the ride is comfy as the roads are very well-maintained.
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