THIS MEDIEVAL settlement, or  basti, is named after Sheikh Hazrat Nizarnuddin Aoliya, whose grave and hospice are located here. Nizamudclin belonged to a fraternity of Sufi mystics, the Chishtis, respected for their austerity, piety and disdain for material desires, and was a spiritual descendant of Moinuddin Chishti, His daily assemblies drew both the rich and the poor, who believed that he was a “friend of God” who would intercede on their behalf on Judgement Day. He died in 1325 but his disciples call him a zinda pir (living spirit) who continues to heed their pleas. A three-day Urs is observed, with qawwalis sung, on the anniversary of his death, and another on the death of his disciple Amir Khusrau.

A winding alley leads to the saint’s grave. It is crowded with mendicants and lined with stalls selling flowers and chadors (ceremonial cloths), polychrome clocks and prints of Mecca. The main congre- _ gational area is a marble pavilion (rebuilt in 1562) where, every Thursday evening, followers sing devotional songs composed by the celebrated Persian poet, Amir Khusrau (1253-1325). Women are denied entry beyond the outer verandah but may peer through jails into the small, dark chamber where the saint’s grave lies draped with a rose petal strewn cloth, surrounded by imams who continuously recite verses from the Koran. Amir Khusrau is buried in the complex, as are other eminent disciples, such as Jahanara Begum.

Across the western side of the open courtyard is the red 1 sandstone fama’t Khana Mosque, built in 1325. To its north is a baoli (stepwell), excavated in secret while Tughlugabad was being built, because Ghiyas-tiddin Tughluq had banned all building activities elsewhere. Legend has it that labourers worked here at night with the help of lamps lit not with oil but with water blessed by Nasiruddin, Nizamuddin successor. The early 16thcentury Tomb of Atgah Khan is to the north. A powerful minister in Emperor Akhar’s court, he was murdered by Adham Khan, a political rival. The open marble pavilion, Chaunsath Khamba (“64 pillars”), is close by and just outside is an enclosure containing the simple grave of Mirza Ghalib (1786-1869). One of the greatest poets of his time, Ghalib wrote in both Urdu and Persian, and his verses are still recited. Nearby is the Ghalib Academy, a repository of paintings and manuscripts.

Despite its crowds, the basti preserves with miraculous serenity the legend of Nizamuddin, described by Khusrau as “a king without throne or crown, with kings in need of the dust of his feet”.

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