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Akbar pays his respects at the dargah of Khwajah Moinuddin Chisti at Ajmer. Image: From a 16th Century watercolour painting by Basawan (V&A Collection)

akbarTHERE IS A MYSTIC known as the Sun of the Kingdom of Hind, Aftab Mulk-i-Hind. Founder of the Chisti Silsila, he walked the earth in the 13th Century. Also known as Khwaja Ajmeri, Moinuddin Chisti laid the foundations of
a mystical order that is the most important in the region.

Akbar is a great devotee of the Chisti Silsila. He frequently visits the Delhi dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya, a famous Saint of the Chisti Silsila. But he has not yet made the visit to the dargah of the founding Saint at Ajmer. The city of Ajmer, famous for being the karma bhoomi of the great King Prithvi Raj Chauhan, is now under Mughal dominion.

Today, Akbar is inspired by the songs of minstrels, and wastes no time in having his men arrange for his departure. He sets off from the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, then to the dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki at Mehrauli, before proceeding to Ajmer. The only missing link in this Urs that traces the Silsila, is a visit to the dargah of Baba Farid, disciple of Qutbuddin Kaki and guru to Nizamuddin Auliya. His dargah however is located much further away in Pakpattan (Punjab). To compensate, Akbar takes blessings from the khadims at the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya; the khadims are direct
descendants of Baba Farid, Nizamuddin having adopted the Baba’s children as his own.

The roads on the way to Ajmer are served well by sarais in the musaffir khana tradition, no doubt prompted by the flow of pilgrims. These inns serve everything from the simple khameeri roti made from sharbatti atta, to shammi kebabs and qaliya. There is also a chulao that appears to be a sarai favourite. This rice dish is the prototype for what will, several centuries later, become the famous sarai ki biryani.

Many pilgrims pour in and out of the dargah and Akbar is pleased to notice that officials make it a point to feed the poor as well as the hungry and tired pilgrims. However he cannot fail to note that their whole operation can do with a lot more organisation, a centralised Imperial order. A big cauldron for starters, would be a great idea for community cooking.

Ajmer-Sharif-Khwaja-Garib-Nawaz

The dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti as it stands today.

Akbar pays his respects at the dargah and returns. He will make several more visits to Ajmer in the future – as many as fourteen. One of his most notable endowments to the dargah which can be seen to this day – will be his gift of a giant degh (cauldron) which can cook up to 2400 kilos of food.

The purely vegetarian food known as Niaz consists mostly of rice cooked with ghee, sugar, jaggery, nuts and saffron. Prepared much the same way today as when Akbar got it organised all those centuries ago.

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