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Sunday, October 3, 2010


Another festival which is celebrated in memory of a great saint is the Urs or birth anniversary of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti. It is held at his tomb in Ajmer, Rajasthan. As the Muslims follow the lunar calendar, which is shorter than the solar year, the Urs, which lasts for six days, may occur in any month of the Gregorian calendar.

A hundred years after the death of the Prophet Mohammad(A.D. 632), there rose a class of people in Persia who called themselves the Sufis. The word 'Sufi' is derived from suf (wool) or suphia (wisdom) or from safa (pure). Whatever may be the origin of the word, the Sufis were Muslim saints or mystics who emphasized love and devotion as a means of realizing God. Prayers, fasts and similar rituals were of no importance to them. They were seekers of divine love and looked upon God as the beloved, separation from whom causes untold pangs to the human lover.

The Sufis formed into several orders and spread out to far- flung lands. Muin-ud-din; who belonged to the Chishti Order, came to India with his disciples much before the Slave dynasty established its rule in the country. He settled down at Ajmer and soon gathered a large number of followers because of his piety and love for his fellow beings. He encouraged music and believed that devotional music was one way of coming closer to God. Some of the finest music could be heard at his gatherings.

Muin-ud-din died in A.D. 1256. His tomb became an important place of Muslim pilgrimage. The Mughal Emperor Akbar used to visit the tomb every year—many times walking the entire distance from Agra to Ajmer. He endowed the tomb richly and donated two huge brass vessels in which nearly 3000 kilograms of sweet rice could be cooked. This practice continues till today and rice is served to all the pilgrims.

The Urs at Ajmer attracts pilgrims not only from India but also from countries as far away as Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Both Muslims and Hindus pay their homage to the saint, who is affectionately called Garib Nawaz ('cherisher of the humble') and Khwaja Ajmeri.

The qawwali which became popular during the saint's life time, still retains its importance. During the Urs, qawwali competitions are held when the best qawwals of India assemble at Ajmer.

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