Song of the Dervish
New Delhi: Bloomsbury India. 2017
Pp 242 | ? 499
A garden of hope
‘The qawwals sitting in the courtyard that lies between the tombs of Nizamuddin Auliya and master poet Amir Khusro, break into Man Kunto Maula, a qawwali (devotional Sufi song) composed by Khusro. The accompanying singers clap, the tabla and drums become louder, more staccato and rhythmic. The qawwals hit a crescendo.
`And in one corner, tears streaming down her cheeks, sits Feroza. She needed to talk; she needed for someone to listen. She wanted hope. She wanted to live. Nizamuddin called.’
This is an excerpt from the recently released book ‘Song of The Dervish’. It connects two worlds – the seen and the unseen; seeker and the creator; the broken and the healer.
The book focuses on the life and times and the spirituality of the famous Chishti Sufi Saint Nizamuddin Auliya, who lived from 1244 AD to 1325 AD.
Author Meher Murshed weaves the stories of people who feel the presence of the saint in their lives today as he reconstructs lives of Nizamuddin Auliya and his favourite disciple Amir Khusro, the court poet of sultans, the precious jewel of the kings, the soul of the Dervish. Murshed places Nizamuddin in the times he lived in; when the powerful sultans ruled Delhi; but were wary of the Dervish who was the ‘epicentre of faith’ and popular with the people.
‘Song of The Dervish’ traces the Chishti lineage – from Moinuddin Chishti, to Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, to Baba Farid to his student Nizamuddin Auliya.
Author Meher Murshed has done an excellent job in interweaving the times of the saint with true stories of people who feel a connect with Nizammudin Auliya. One of the most wonderful aspects about the book is that it is like a garden of hope. Nizamuddin Auliya offered hope to people of his time and he continues to offer hope today.
This is a gripping book and holds the reader’s attention throughout the narrative as the author goes back and forth in time rebuilding Nizamuddin and Khusro’s lives, the times they lived in, the stories of people today while providing a deep insight into Chishti Sufism.
‘Song of The Dervish’ traces the birth of qawwali and how it has journeyed through centuries to take on a rock-infused groove today even as it retains its classical form.
What makes this book even more interesting is to read about the quest of the author whose father is a Sufi and mother a Goddess Kali worshipper. What led him to discover the grace of the Chishti Sufi saint? The author describes his own experience, saying ‘strange circumstances’ led him to Nizamuddin Auliya on a cold winter night in 2009. The author asks: ‘Why do people, across all religions, go to his shrine today, 700 years on?’ The answer, he beautifully explains in the flow of the book. ‘Song of The Dervish’ spreads the message of peace and tolerance among religions, the need of the world we live in today. Tolerance is the Chishti core: There are as many paths to the One as there are grains of sand.
The book is much more than just pages; it is a touching experience and a rosary of true stories. A must read on Sufism, this book is a gem.
These are accounts of those who feel Nizamuddin’s presence today:
‘By the time I got to the shrine, it was late at night. The moment I sat down, I felt a force all around. It was gripping. My life flashed before me. I felt like I was talking to someone, but I was not speaking. There was someone listening. I could feel it. I was sitting a few feet from Nizamuddin’s grave.’
‘I knew I was dying. My intestines were coming out like snakes. I was losing blood. And then I saw this light, this man in shining silver appeared to say, hold on, hold on, Sonepat station is coming.’
‘She slipped into a coma — for forty days she did not eat, did not drink or go to the bathroom. Doctors came again. They examined her. All her parameters were normal, pulse, heart, lungs. They said there was nothing wrong with her. But she didn’t come out of the coma. She lay there on her bed, lifeless. My mother was dying.’
‘I could not get over my mother’s suicide attempt and would brood. I have never spoken about these things because no one will believe me.’
‘I think that physicality of sight can be, and often is, exaggerated. I don’t think that dreams or dream like apparitions are any less real because they do not have flesh and blood traits.’
‘I do not know what abode it was, that place where I was last night.
On every side I saw the dance of the Divine in that place I was last night.
I saw one with the form of an angel, the height of a cypress, cheeks like tulips.’
From head to toe, I quivered, my heart astir, in that place where I was last night.’