This is a good time to visit one of Karnataka’s oldest Sufi shrines, located in the heart of Bangalore
The monsoon showers have left the narrow bylanes full of puddles, but they haven’t drenched the festive spirit. Many Hindu and Muslim visitors are walking into the dargah, with prayers for good health, marriage and professional goals. “This is oldest dargah in Karnataka. Caste and religion don’t count. Anybody with a wish can come here and pray,” says Naseer Ahmed, who officiates inside the shrine.
During Ramzan, between 500 and 1,000 people visit the shrine every day. Those coming from out of town are offered sehri (meal eaten before dawn during Ramazan). Other visitors are offered iftaar (meal after sunset) in the evenings. And it’s all free. Many of those visiting the shrine bring locks they hang on a railing inside. Naseer Ahmed explains, “It is a belief that when you attach a metal lock to the railing, your prayers are answered”. Shops selling tea, sweets and shawls (to be offered to the dargah) are all ready for the festival crowd. In addition to the regular stalls, 50 temporary ones are erected to serve traditional festival favourites.
At the nearby New Savera Tea House, business nearly doubles during the Ramzan season, and the narrow lane becomes even harder to navigate. Business thrives. A shop that prepares 20 kg of samosa on regular days prepares 40-50 kg during Ramzan. Stalls serving kebabs spring up during the season. The dargah holds significance for Hindus and Muslims alike. Many people go there when children are sick. During Ramzan though, the dargah is full of men who go there to break their fast with the iftaar. Muslim women are few: they stay indoors. Two buildings enclose the dargah.
One is open only to men during prayer time, and the other allows people of all faiths. At least 500 people break their fast together, but the number dwindles to half if it rains. On rainy days, the dargah officials don’t serve fruit, which tends to spoil quickly.
Healing and harmony
I would focus on two aspects regarding the Hazarath Tawakkal Mastan Vali Dargah. To begin with, it has remained a classic example of communal harmony in Bangalore for the last two centuries. Hazarath Tawakkal Mastan Vali was a Sufi saint who lived in the fort area.
The Karaga festival, one of Bangalore’s oldest Hindu religious festivals, was very well known even at that time. As a part of this festival, the Karaga holder goes to various temples and offers puja. The story goes that once, as the Karaga was passing by, Tawakkal and his followers offered flowers to the Karaga, as was the custom. This saint demonstrated that he gave as much respect to the Karaga as the Hindus devotees did.
His followers then made it a custom to pay respects to the Karaga, a practice which continues to this day. On the night of the Karaga, the Karaga holder continues to visit the dargah just as his predecessors did more than 200 years ago. The second aspect that I would like to highlight is the fabled healing powers of Tawakkal Mastan Sahab, which used to draw people of all faiths and creeds.
This practice of healing continues even today, kept alive by Sufi hakims. On a regular day, you can see many Hindus, especially women, going to the shrine to offer prayers and for healing and medicines. There are many other places of worship in the city where people of all faiths are welcome. For instance, at the St Mary’s Basilica in Shivajinagar or the Infant Jesus Church in Viveknagar, you see people from other faiths. This is typical of Bangalore’s culture, where people do not worry about the place but just gather in harmony.