Saturday, July 14, 2001

The President’s itinerary:
From siyasat to ziyarat

A view of the Neharwali Haveli in the Capital, where Musharraf was born
A view of the Neharwali Haveli in the Capital, where Musharraf was born

THE narrow forgotten alleys in Daryaganj, just a stone’s throw from the historic Lahori Gate of the Red Fort, is abuzz with activity of a different kind. He was just a four-year-old when he stepped out of these lanes to travel to an hitherto unknown land which was to become a country called Pakistan. Over half a century later, he is coming back to the same portals as the President of that country and palpable excitement is the flavour of the day today.

The Neharwali Haveli in the Old City is the birthplace of Gen Pervez Musharraf. He was the second child of the then Director-General, Civil Supplies, Delhi, Syed Mushrafuddin.

Time has taken its toll on the original structure of the haveli, but despite rapid modernisation one can still get a glimpse of the time gone by. The courtyard of the haveli has given way to a theatre, Golcha, where reel life heroes recount tales of war and peace.

Little remains of the original haveli, which was built in the late Mughal architectural style on a sprawling complex spread in Kucha Sadullah Khan, the crowded Faiz Bazaar area.


Ninety-year-old Kashmiro Bai, who worked in the haveli as a sweeper, remembers the days when the young Pervez Musharraf and his elder brother, Ashraf, kept the entire family on its toes with their childhood pranks.

Arches of the haveli’s courtyard and the intricate jali work are the only structural remains of the old building, which has now been converted into a residential complex.

The arches exhibit little of the craftsmanship that Mughal architecture is known for. The jalis were used as zanan khana for the women during the Mughal era. Red sandstone jalis have lost their original sheen and colour as the present owners have painted them white.

Another portion of the haveli, occupied by the Golas, has been turned into a commercial complex and there is little left of the original structure which had been bifurcated into two parts occupied by two families — Musharraf’s grandmother Ameena Begum and her sister lived in one part, while the other was occupied by Musharraf’s grand-uncles (Ameena’s brothers) Motmanuddin Ahmed, Qazi Mohammed Nizamuddin Ahmed and Qazi Mugheezmuddin Ahmed.

As part of the preparations for the visit, a special stone structure has been constructed at the entrance of the haveli.

The living room of the Kohinoor Suite of Amar Vilas Hotel in Agra, where President Pervez Musharraf and his wife will be staying
The living room of the Kohinoor Suite of Amar Vilas Hotel in Agra, where President Pervez Musharraf and his wife will be staying

From his ancestral home, President Musharraf will move to the historic city of Agra which was once the seat of Mughal power. On July 15 and 16, it will be the venue of a summit meeting between the Pakistan President and the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

VIP visits are nothing new for residents of Agra. Having to live in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world, they have developed considerable equanimity over the years.

Their only problem is that once again their normal lives will be disrupted because of the elaborate security that necessarily has to accompany a Head of State and the resultant curfew-like situation, particularly around the Taj Ganj area.

Particularly disturbed are the residents and traders of this area who had to close down their establishments from July 13 itself. Since tourism is the biggest business in this city, which dates back to the 3rd century BC and finds mention in the Mahabharata, in which it is referred to as Agrabana or the paradise city, the traders of this area

feel that they would lose a good three days’ business. They are, therefore, obviously not excited about the summit.

Narendra Aggarwal, who operates a non-polluting six-seater vehicle between the main parking lot and the Taj Mahal, said that he would lose about Rs 3000 in these three days. So would Shakeel, a licensed photographer and tour guide at the monument.

The excitement and fervour is confined to the officials responsible for making the arrangements and the management of the three hotels. The approach roads to the hotels and the Taj Mahal have been freshly carpeted, the areas cleared of garbage dumps. Fresh saplings have also been planted on the roadsides, hoping that this would dissuade people from throwing garbage on the roadsides.

At the Oberoi group’s Amar Vilas, where President Musharraf is scheduled to stay in the coveted Kohinoor suite, last-minute touches have been given to the facade and the landscaping. The group’s new luxury resort is situated just 600 metres from the Taj Mahal and boasts of uninhindred view from all rooms and suites. The lobby, restaurants and the bar too have been designed in such a manner that they provide a clear view of the world famous white marble monument.

The Jaypee Palace, where Vajpayee is scheduled to spend the night, has also been spruced up for the VIP visit. So is the Mughal Sheraton of the ITC- Welcomegroup which is the venue of the media centre. The briefings will be held in the spacious convention centre, the Diwan-e-Khas, which has a capacity to seat 750 persons in theatre style.

The President of Pakistan will move from siyasat to ziyarat when he undertakes a trip to Ajmer Sharief. Mughal Emperor Akbar used to undertake a pilgrimage every year from Agra to Ajmer to pay obeisance at the dargah of the great Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Years of praying and undertaking the journey barefoot for days, got him the gift he most cherished — a son.

The Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti
The Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti

The Pakistan President will be at the dargah for just about half an hour on July 16 evening. The people at the dargah believe that General Musharraf is undertaking this pilgrimage along with his begum only because Khwaja wishes so. There is hope among the worshippers that good will be in store for both India and Pakistan after he undertakes this trip to Ajmer. And if he and Prime Minister Vajpayee are able to reach a solution on that all-important word "Kashmir" in the near future, they will create history.

Historically, Ajmer has always been the meeting place for Muslims and Hindus. At the Dargah Sharief, both Muslims and Hindus are seen praying together at any given time. Both the communities participate in the annual Urs at the dargah. Situated 132 km south-west of Jaipur, in the green oasis surrounded by barren hills, Ajmer has been a witness to an interesting past. The city was founded by Raja Ajay Pal Chauhan in the 7th century and was ruled by the Chauhans till Prithiviraj was defeated in 1193 by Mohammed Ghori. It then became a part of the Delhi Sultanate. However, later, Rana Kumbha of Mewar and Raja Maldeo again established Rajput rule over Ajmer.

The front view of Amar Vilas Hotel
The front view of Amar Vilas Hotel

Since then, Ajmer became home to many dynasties which left an indelible mark of their culture and tradition on the city’s history, converting it into an amalgam of various cultures and a blend of Hinduism and Islam. The Dargah Sharief is the ‘final resting’ place for Garib Nawaz — Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti.

The revered Sufi saint came to Ajmer from Persia (while the city was still under the rule of Prithviraj Chauhan) in 1192. He left for his heavenly abode in 1236, after a six-day prayer in seclusion. These very six days are now celebrated every year as the annual Urs of the Khwaja, which falls in the seventh month of the lunar calendar.

The khadims, who have a special standing in Ajmer, have been in the service of the Khwaja for more than 800 years now. Over the centuries, they have held on to the small cubicles which were given to them by Garib Nawaz himself. The shrine was erected by Mughal Emperor Humayun. The dargah also has mosques built by Shah Jahan, Jahangir and Akbar.

The entrance to the complex is through the dargah bazaar which leads to the first courtyard. This courtyard has a mosque built by Akbar and has two cauldrons, known as degs, with a capacity of 2240 kg and 4480 kg. On special occasions, or on the special request of the devotees, food is cooked in these degs and distributed among the poor. The dargah also has a special prayer room for women devotees. It was built by Shah Jahan’s daughter Chimni Begum. The dargah also has the tomb of Khwaja’s daughter Bili Hafiz Jama along with that of Chimni Begum. Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti had come here from Iran on his divine mission in 1190 through Lahore. He was 52 years’ old at that time. He died in 1236 at the age of 97. The Khwaja enlightened the people with his Sufi teachings of truth, love, peace, secularism and national integration and sent his disciples all over Asia. Some of the practitioners of his teachings are Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar, Hazrat Shaikh Fariduddin Ganj Shakkar (popularly known as Fareed Baba of Sindh), Hazrat Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya(Delhi), Hazrat Shaikh Nasiruddin Chirag (Delhi), Hazrat Khwaja Bande Nawaz Gesu Daraz, Shaikh Salim Chishti (Fathepur Sikiri) and Amir Khusro, a famous poet.

The Humayun Bridge of Mughal Sheraton
The Humayun Bridge of Mughal Sheraton

According to the secretary of the Anjuman Syedzadgan Dargah Sharief, Sarvar Chishty, "Instead of a sword, we have decided to send two used chadars of the holy shrine of the Khwaja for the shrines of Baba Farid of Pakpattam (Sindh province) and Hazrat Dataganj Bakhsh of Lahore through General Musharraf."

The Anjuman Committee has changed the age-old tradition of honouring dignitaries and Heads of State with a sword. "Henceforth, we have decided not to present a sword to honour any dignitary as it is contrary to the noble message of peace and love given by the Garib Nawaz," he said. The president of the Anjuman, Syed Ghulam Kibria, said, "We have taken the decision taking into consideration the strong emotional ties between India and Pakistan."

Syed Gulam Kibaria will recite the fateha (recitation of Koranic verses) during the ziyarat by President Musharraf and his wife Saba Musharraf . They are bringing a chadar from Pakistan to offer at the shrine. After this there would be a "dastarbandi" in front of the shrine. In this ceremony, a pink cloth would be scrolled on his forehead amid the chanting of fateha. On behalf of the Anjuman, Begum Saba Musharraf will presented an odhni (shawl). They will then be taken to a nearby corridor known as "Dalan of Hazi Waris Ali Saheb." Here, President Musharraf will address a gathering of Anjuman members known as khadims who keep the keys of the shrine and manage all religious affairs inside the shrine.

(With inputs from Ravi Bhatia, Girija Shankar Kaura, R.Suryamurthy, Syed Ali Ahmed and Mudit Mathur)