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Sufi Saint Inspires World's First Eco-Shrine In India

From Washington Bangla Radio  |  15th April 2011 The holy and world-famous Ajmer Sharif dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan , is finally getting an...

From Washington Bangla Radio | 15th April 2011

The holy and world-famous Ajmer Sharif dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, is finally getting an eco-friendly makeover. From switching to solar power electrification to recycling the mazaar flowers to make itr (perfume), it is perhaps the first shrine in the world to go green.

Dargah Sharif or the Holy Dargah is one of the most sacred Muslim shrines in India. Revered by both Hindus and Muslims, it is the tomb of Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chisti, a Sufi saint who came from Persia and devoted his life to the service and uplift of the poor and downtrodden. Khwaja Sahib arrived in Ajmer at the age of 52 around 1190 AD on his divine mission, unique in the annals of Islam. He made Ajmer his abode from 1192 to 1236 AD and established the Chisti order of fakirs in India.

At that time Ajmer was ruled by Prithvi Raj Chauhan, the famous Rajput king. Khwaja Saheb stayed at a hill close to Ana Sagar lake, now known as the Chilla Khwaja Saheb. When news spread that a very pious dervish had come to Ajmer, people began to flock to him in increasing numbers. Whosoever came to him, received the kindest treatment and blessing. The order’s simplicity attracted the people and they began to embrace Islam.

The Dargah History
The dargah has a massive gate with silver doors built in several layers. Venerated by the Mughal rulers, it enjoyed patronage from emperor Humayun to emperor Shah Jahan. Initially the shrine was a simple marble tomb of the saint with a golden dome. It was built by Mughal emperor Humayan and later Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan added other mosques and huge gateways, turning it into a huge complex.

A silver railing and a marble screen surround the actual tomb of the saint, made of marble with a gold plated dome. Every year, the Urs festival is held here for six days in the saint’s remembrance. Urs commemorates the death anniversary during the first six days of Rajab (seventh month of the Islamic calendar). It is said that when he was 114 years old, he locked himself in a room for six days to pray and left his mortal body in solitude.

Several thousand devotees throng this place during this time of the year and food is cooked in huge cauldrons and served to the devotees. These cauldrons are said to be offered by emperor Akbar when the saint blessed him with an heir for the throne.

The pilgrims make rich offerings called 'nazrana' at the sacred spot where the saint has been entombed that include rose and jasmine flowers, sandalwood paste and incense which make the air inside the shrine heavy with perfume. Cash offerings are also made. Also offered by devotees are the 'chaadar', 'ghilaph' and 'neema.'

A Greener Shrine
With so much offerings and funds for sprucing up the dargah, the committee members thought of turning it into a green space. It started with a 20 KV solar plant inside the dargah premises, which began operating from January this year. A Rs 50 lakh project, sanctioned by Union ministry for new and renewable energy (MNRE) and headed by Dr Farooq Abdullah, had sanctioned the project under Special Areas Demonstration Project (SADP) a year ago.

Under the SADP project, not only the shrine but also the road leading to the dargah is being illuminated by solar powered lights. Today, the electric supply to the sanctum sanctorum is being totally provided by solar powered lights. It is the dargah’s main attraction as it contains the mausoleum of saint Chisti.

Till now, the dargah committee spent around Rs 4 lakh per month to illuminate the dargah area. "The dargah had about 261 tubelights, bulbs and mercury illuminated lights in the area with a 17,910 watt capacity,” said S L Davera, consulting official of Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corporation Limited (RRECL). Majority of the tubelights and bulbs in the dargah have now been replaced by CFL lights.

A 1500 litre per day (lpd) capacity solar water heater put up at Bada Hauz and 500 lpd capacity heater at Akbari Masjid will help the devotees perform the rituals with hot water.

Fifty solar lanterns have been put up in the campus and the street leading to the dargah. The maintenance of the solar plant will be taken up by the private installing agency for the initial period of five years and later would be maintained by the dargah committee.

Ahmad Raza, the dargah’s Nazim said that the solar plant will help cut the electricity bill by about 25 percent when the plant starts operating at its full potential of 20 KV.
“Now the dargah incurs an electricity bill of Rs 40 lakh per annum. Once the full solar plant becomes operational, the dargah committee will be able to save Rs 10 lakh per annum,” Raza said.
More than five lakh devotees belonging to different communities visit the dargah to pay homage to the Khwaja on his Urs. Seeing the teeming crowds especially at this time and all round the year, the dargah committee is also rebuilding a palatial house as a three-storey house which will house 80 toilets with a lift system, adjacent to the shrine.

Another eco-friendly step which the dargah committee is taking up is the recycling of the rose petals which are offered at the shrine everyday. About 1500 kg of rose petals are offered by devotees each day at the mausoleum, which till now were dumped in the wells. Now the rose petals would be recycled in a plant, set up about 1 km away from the shrine and would be operational from February. The rose water would be distilled and end-products would consist of rose water and incense sticks.

A pilot project involving 400 poor women has already been completed with the help of Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plant, Lucknow, aided by the ministry of Science and Technology. These women would be employed in the plant, earning approximately between Rs 4000 and Rs 5000 per month.

:: Washington Bangla Radio

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