The Sufi Courtyard: ‘Dargahs’ of Sufi masters in the centre of Sufism, Delhi

For centuries, the dargahs of Delhi have attracted large numbers of devotees belonging to different countries, faiths and backgrounds who seek spiritual solace and pray for their wishes to be granted. The magnetism of “dargahs” emanates from the personalities of the Sufi saints buried on the premises.

The wisdom of these Sufis and the quest for blessings and intercession with god are what continue to draw devotees to Sufi courtyards. Through a simple narrative that combines storytelling with a wealth of historical detail and stunning photographs, Sadia Dehlvi recreates the Sufi ethos of Delhi and also takes the readers on a journey through the famous and lesser-known dargahs of Delhi.

Discover the history of India s capital city through the fascinating lives and teachings of its Sufi saints The Sufi Courtyard takes you on a journey through the famous and lesser-known dargahs of Delhi. From the first Sufi centre established in Mehrauli by Khwaja Qutub Bakhtiar Kaki during the early days of the Delhi Sultanate to later nineteenth century Sufi retreats in the city, the author explores the spiritual, cultural and historical legacy of he Delhi Sufis, making this book as much about Delhi as it is about Sufism.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Sadia Dehlvi’s guide to the lesser-known ‘dargahs’ in Delhi offers an insight into the different Sufi orders.

Please don’t call them shrines. That word does not fit into the Islamic context. These are dargahs. This city (Delhi), she says, has always been an important centre of the different Sufi orders called silsila. Delhi’s inclusive culture ensures that though Chishtis are the dominant order here, other orders such as Suharwardis, Qadris and Naqshbandis continue to have a presence.”

says Sadia Dehlvi, sitting in her second-floor Nizamuddin East apartment. The living room has a lived-in feel with musical instruments like the harmonium and tabla stacked up on one side and old black and white photographs framing the walls. Sufis are the heart of Islam, believes Dehlvi (she authored a book with the same name Sufism: The Heart of Islam in 2009), who took about three years to finish her latest book The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi.

In the book, Dehlvi explores the lesser-know dargahs of Sufi masters in the city, and briefly touches upon the different orders and their philosophies.

Providing an insight into the evolution of Sufi orders, she says:

“In early Islam, there were spiritual leaders with small groups of followers. Around the 11th century, these groups grew to a mass movement, with Sufi orders being formed around renowned Sufis. The orders came to be known by the name of their founder masters and spread all over the world. In the 13th century, Delhi became a centre of Sufism owing to the Sufis who migrated to the city after the Mongol invasions in Central Asia.”

We asked Dehlvi to choose dargahs from the four orders and explain why she thinks they are worth a visit. Edited extracts from the book:

Chishti order

Khwaja Qutub’s ‘dargah’, Mehrauli

The Sufi Courtyard— Dargahs of Delhi: HarperCollins India,252 pages, Rs 699.

The Sufi Courtyard— Dargahs of Delhi: HarperCollins India,252 pages, Rs. 699.

Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki established Delhi’s first Sufi centre in Mehrauli village in south Delhi in the 12th century. He was the spiritual successor of Ajmer’s Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who established the Chishti order, known for its traditions of music and inclusiveness, in South Asia.

Owing to Khwaja Qutub’s exalted rank, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti decreed that those who came to him in Ajmer must first pay homage to Khwaja Qutub. The tradition is still followed.

It’s said rulers may come and go, but Delhi will survive as long as thedargah of Khwaja Qutub exists. And so, almost all the emperors who ruled Delhi sought his blessings.

Mai Sahiba’s ‘dargah’, Adchini village

The dargah of Mai Sahiba.

The dargah of Mai Sahiba.

It’s a rare Sufi shrine dedicated to a woman (the other famous one is Bibi Fatima’s dargah in Kaka Nagar in central Delhi). Thedargah of Mai Sahiba, the mother of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, is in Adchini village. Women visit in large numbers. They believe Mai Sahiba cannot bear the sorrow of a woman and blesses her immediately. She died in 1250 and lies buried in the house where she lived.

Suharwardi order

Khwaja Makhdoom Samiuddin’s ‘dargah’, near Auliya Masjid in Mehrauli

In contrast to the Chishti doctrine of staying away from the state, Suharwardis believed it to be a religious duty to advise the state on policy matters. They always played an active role in Delhi politics. The Suharwardi order gained a stronghold in Delhi largely because of Khwaja Samiuddin and Jamali, his poet disciple.

A great scholar, Khwaja Samiuddin authored the Sufi manual Mifatah ul Asrar (Key to Divine Secrets). His tomb, which has a lovely green dome, is inscribed with a Persian couplet composed by Jamali.

Shaykh Jamali Dehlvi’s ‘dargah’, Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Hamid bin Fazalallah Jamali was the favourite khalifa of Khwaja Samiuddin. The mystic poet’s pen name was Jalal, meaning wrath, but he changed it to Jamali, meaning splendour, as advised by his spiritual mentor. Shaykh Jamali is buried close to Khwaja Samiuddin’s dargah. His mausoleum is decorated with ceramic work; its walls are inscribed with his verses. Thedargah remains locked, but the government-appointed caretaker, who has custody of the keys, opens it for visitors.

Qadri order

Shah/Shaykh Abdul Haq Muhaddith Dehlvi’s ‘dargah’, Mehrauli

The mausoleum of Shaykh Jamali Dehlvi.

The mausoleum of Shaykh Jamali Dehlvi.

The Qadri order in Delhi focused on spreading the teachings of its founder, Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad. He came to the Deccan in the late 14th century and arrived in Delhi in the 16th century, during the rule of Sikandar Lodhi. In the Capital, the Qadris are represented by Shah Abdul Haq Muhaddith Dehlvi, whose dargah is in Mehrauli.

Reaching there is complicated. A hundred yards north of the historical Hauz e Shamsi (a reservoir) is a road leading to Islam Colony, which takes you to Shaykh Dehlvi’s dargah.

He established his khanqah (spiritual retreat) in Delhi around 1611; it came to be called the Khanqah e Qadriya. The saint lived through the reign of Jehangir, teaching Hadith, the sayings of Prophet Muhammad.

Most of Shaykh Dehlvi’s writings attempt to reconcile Islamic jurisprudence with the Sufi path. Along with several other books of prose and poetry, he authored Jazb al Qulub ila diyar al Mahbub, a history of Madinah.

Naqshbandi order

Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan Shaheed’s ‘dargah‘, Turkman Gate, Old Delhi

The dargah of Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan Shaheed.

The dargah of Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan Shaheed.

Founded in Bukhara in Central Asia, this order is considered the most orthodox. For instance, it doesn’t allow the use of music to achieve spiritual ecstasy. The order came to Delhi through Khwaja Baaqi Billah, whose dargahis near Sadar Bazar in Old Delhi.

Born in 1699, the poet-mystic Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan Shaheed is another major figure in India’s Naqshbandi traditions.

From Turkman Gate, two roads lead into the interiors of the old city. A walk down the street by the side of Haj Manzil takes you to Chitli Qabar, a lane lined with shops. Further down, on the right side of the bifurcation, the domes of the mosques in the compound of Mirza Mazhar Jan e Janan’s dargah are visible. A small winding alley leads to the large, quiet compound known as Khanqah e Mazhariya, where four graves lie under a domed enclosure. His descendants presently occupy the house where the poet-mystic lived. Devotees from all over the world come to attend religious gatherings at this important centre of the Naqshbandi Sufi order.

On completing his initial education in Agra, Mirza Mazhar became a disciple and khalifa of Syed Nur Muhammad Badayuni, a prominent Naqshbandi Sufi who lived in Delhi. Mirza Mazhar took an important step in representing Hinduism as a monotheistic tradition.

The poet successfully bridged the differences between religious orthodoxy and Sufism. Mirza Mazhar is recognized as one of the four pillars of 18th century Urdu poetry.



The Sufi Courtyard— Dargahs of Delhi: HarperCollins India,252 pages, Rs. 699.

About the Author

Sadia Dehlvi is a well-known columnist who writes for leading publications of the subcontinent. Besides editing a monthly Urdu journal for women, she has produced and scripted a number of documentaries and television programmes. For over 30 years, Dehlvi has been engaged in voicing concern on issues regarding heritage, culture, women and Muslim communities