On Sufi Intellectualism and Philosophy

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The Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526CE) is collectively credited for welcoming into its centuries-long fold Sufi intellectualism even as the Mongols were busy trouncing it back home in Central Asia. Eventually, the Mongols too pushed their way into Hindustan but by then this mystical tradition of Islam, drawn no doubt in equal part by the spiritual mystique of Bhakti thought, had found a firm foothold. The Sufis of yore were philosophers, scholars and poets of immense note, as much as they were itinerant knowledge seekers who established a number of silsilas (orders) in their adopted homes.

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The Chishtiya order founded by Moinuddin Chishti who set up his khanqah (hospice) in Ajmer was the first such and may I add most resilient of those that followed or preceded. His successor Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki lies entombed in Mehrauli while Fariduddin Ganjshakar who came next is buried in Pakpattan (earlier Ajodhan) in neighbouring Pakistan, and is inextricably linked with Punjab and the Sikh faith. For the most part considered the first major Punjabi poet, over a hundred hymns composed by Baba Farid (as he is also known) form an integral part of the Granth Sahib. The city of Faridkot, formerly a princely state, bears his name and it is at his Chilla (place of meditation, usually for 40 days) here that he is reported to have met his spiritual successor Nizamuddin Auliya.

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At whose dargah (mausoleum) I found myself on the very first day of this New Year. Now, his story begins in Badayun in Uttar Pradesh, travels to Pakpattan a few times, and then settles down in seclusion in Ghyaspur, a place we now know as the bustling Nizamuddin Basti. Today, Hazrat Nizamuddin is Delhi’s most beloved Sufi saint, attracting visitors of all denominations in their hundreds to his side year round, particularly Thursdays; so was January 1st. And in step with accepted Sufi praxis–excepting Naqshbandiyas who internalise zikr (remembrance)–I was going to witness devotion through qawwali at the weekly Mehfil-e-Sama. Elsewhere, this fervour is represented by whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi order founded by Persian poet Rumi’s son.

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That the founding father of qawwali, classical poet and musician Amir Khusro Dehlavi is buried across from his spiritual mentor elevates the entire experience to a whole new dimension. He was Nizamuddin’s favourite disciple–who would have him buried beside him in the same grave had Islamic tradition permitted. And that Khusro matched his master’s love as intensely is evidenced in his death a few months after Auliya’s that same year.  Traditionally, the faithful first pay their respects at the sepulchre of the murid (follower) before that of the murshid (teacher). Little wonder then that Khusro’s prolific compositions are what hereditary performers at the dargah choose to render above all in celebration of this extraordinary expression of fanaa.

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Puneet Sidhu
Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu, travel enthusiast and the author of Adrift: A junket junkie in Europe is the youngest of four siblings born into an aristocratic family of Punjab. Dogged in her resistance to conform, and with parental pressure easing sufficiently over the years, she had plenty of freedom of choice. And she chose travel.

She was born in Shimla, and spent her formative years at their home, Windsor Terrace, in Kasumpti while schooling at Convent of Jesus & Mary, Chelsea. The irrepressible wanderlust in her found her changing vocations midstream and she joined Singapore International Airlines to give wing to her passion. She has travelled extensively in Asia, North America, Australia, Europe, South Africa and SE Asia; simultaneously exploring the charms within India.

When she is not travelling, she is writing about it. Over the past decade or so, she has created an impressive writing repertoire for herself: as a columnist with Hindustan Times, as a book reviewer for The Tribune and as a contributor to travel magazines in India and overseas. Her work-in-progress, the documenting of colonial heritage along the Old Hindustan-Tibet Road, is an outcome of her long-standing romance with the Himalayas.
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