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The sacred tradition of community iftar at Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi

The Nizamuddin Dargah is popular for hosting one of the biggest iftar congregations in the city during Ramzan

A photo of the Dargah during iftar. (Courtesy: Sadaf Hussain)
A photo of the Dargah during iftar. (Courtesy: Sadaf Hussain)

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One of my favourite things about Ramzan is the sense of unity it brings. It is essential to fast, but it is a lot more important to break bread together. The iftar meal is often shared with friends, family and neighbours.

This year, I was invited to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah at Nizamuddin West in New Delhi for iftar by Peerzada Syed Altamash Nizami, a descendent of Hazrat and Chairman of the Al-Nizami Foundation in the city. Hazrat was born in 1238 AD in Baduan, Uttar Pradesh, and was a renowned Muslim scholar and Sufi saint. His Dargah stands for unity and secularism, and various festivals—be it Diwali, Basant Panchami or Ramzan—are celebrated with equal enthusiasm and thousands of people are fed.

That evening, as the sun began to set over Delhi, food carts offering iftar specialties like seekh kabab, haleem, pakodas filled the streets near the Dargah. I believe Old Delhi, Zakir Nagar, and Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah are a perfect trinity for Ramzan specialties in the city. The options for festive delicacies in these alleyways are inexhaustible: You can get tired of eating, but you won't get tired of being served delicious food during this time of the year.

There is a marked difference in the menu offered inside and outside the Dargah. The food stalls, located outside the premises, have steaming pots of nihari, korma, biryani, haleem, and piles of pakodas, phirni and shahi tukda. However, the food served inside is simple and comforting with options like, dal chawal, pulao, sabzi and halwa; and most importantly, it’s free for all and there’s always enough to take home.

I walked into the courtyard of Nizamuddin Dargah and was awestruck by the sheer number of people, yet the atmosphere was one of peace. The enormous crowd was bound by a singular intention: to find a spot for iftar. The arrangements for the evening meal were done on both sides of the Dargah, with men and women sitting in separate areas. Khuddams (servers) laid down dastarkhwan (dining mats) on the ground and placed mouth-watering delicacies to break the fast. There were hundreds of plates with khajoor, fresh fruits, pakodi, samosa, jalebi, and dry chana dal, along with glasses of roohafza doodh sharbat and canned juice.

Khuddams laying out food for iftar. (Photo: Sadaf Hussain)
Khuddams laying out food for iftar. (Photo: Sadaf Hussain)

A few minutes before the iftar, there was a ceremonious prayer. The congregation got up to pray together, raising their hands in dua with bowed heads. When it was time to break the evening fast, a loud siren was played. People first ate khajoor and sharbat in absolute silence. The peacefulness of the setting and the stillness of those seeking the Sufi's blessings were indicative of a spiritual atmosphere.

“We serve more than 1500 people every day, and nobody asks them about their beliefs; everyone comes here to be with Mahbsub-e-Ilahi (the beloved of God),” says Nizami. The Nizamuddin Dargah is popular for hosting one of the biggest iftar congregations in Delhi every day during Ramzan. People can bring their own food as well, but at the Dargah, food is offered to all.

The importance of food as service is intrinsic to Ramzan as well sufism. Hazrat was a disciple of the Sufi saint Baba Farid and it was from him that he learnt to hoard nothing and distribute food among those in need. Hazrat’s kitchen in Delhi’s Ghiyaspur now known as Nizamuddin Basti fed every visitor in the khanqah (central hall) daily. This centuries-old practice continues even today in and around the Dargah. Nizami says, "Hazrat ensured that anybody who visited him has to be fed well. We regularly serve langar here, but during this month, it takes the form of iftar, serving hundreds of people daily. These meals are vegetarian and inclusive; everyone can have the food without thinking twice."

As I made my way through the winding lanes of the old quarters of the Dargah, I was struck by the sense of camaraderie and togetherness. In Delhi, the month-long celebration is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the city and to the enduring spirit of its people.

If you want to visit the Dargah as a culinary enthusiast, I would suggest going to Ghalib’s and Hussaini Hotel for kebabs, sheermal and mutton korma.

Also read | Making a case for Sehri foods during Ramzan

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