It was already dark when we reached the Nizammudin Shrine, or Darga. We walked through two-foot-wide alleys lit up by hanging light bulbs, lined with tiny shops selling flower garlands, Sufi music, and gaudy jewelry. Hawkers invited us to leave our shoes with them, as we had to enter the darga barefoot. I'm glad we didn't give our shoes to them, because we reached the shrine after five minutes of walking. There was a man handing out tokens and tying sets of shoes with jute string.
"Please cover your head before entering". The men draped starched
hankerchiefs on their hair while the women donned colorful dupattas or black hijabs. The strong scent of sandalwood incense hung in the air as we merged with the packed crowd. We moved slowly toward the rhythmic drumming.
A group of 7-8 men were singing devotional tunes in praise of Allah. No microphone, no high-tech technology. Just smooth, soulful singing. A few foreigners were clicking photos and videos with tripods and lenses that protruded out of their bulky cameras. Two things struck me about the qawwali singers.
First, the chubby boy that was singing with his male elders. His stubby fingers were clapping with such ferocity, it looked like he might hurt his hands. But the force of his clapping stayed consistent. His singing was off key but he sang with such feeling that I couldn't help but enjoy it.
Second, the drummer was phenomenal. Whether it was the tabla or dhol, he looked like he was having a blast. Which means his listeners were having a blast. To add to his amazing talents, he was also singing with the rest of the group. His temples were a pool of perspiration, and his smile spread from ear to ear.
It was two hours of hypnotic music. Time flew by quickly and we walked back to Jangpura since traffic was a horn-blaring jammed mess. The rickshaw ride would have taken much longer. I am determined to enjoy the magic of qawwali for as many Thursdays as I can.
Fellow Delhi-ites, if you haven't had the Nizammudin darga experience, you are missing out!
* Photos taken by Nikhil Gulati