Ajmer: From Mughal emperor Akbar who came praying for a son to a relentless stream of around 12,000 people who throng every day to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari who will visit it Sunday, the pull of the 12th century Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer remains undiminished.
The marble-domed tomb of the Sufi saint, located 145 km from Jaipur, in the middle of Ajmer`s walled city area, attracts a huge mass of people from all over the world who come here with an ardent wish and a prayer on their lips.
The tomb is located at the centre of a courtyard and is surrounded by a marble platform. It is believed that the remains of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, also known as Khwaja Garib Nawaz, lie buried at the shrine.
Khadims, or priests at the dargah, claim to be his descendants and are authorised to carry out prayers at the shrine. The premises have eight more tombs, including those of the saint`s family members.
SF Hussein Chishti, a khadim, said that people come here with the hope to fulfil their wishes and offer `chadar`. After their wish is fulfilled, they visit again to express their gratitude.
"It used to be Mughal emperor Akbar`s favourite destination for many years," said Chishti.
He said the most spectacular thing about the shrine is that it is visited by not only Muslims but equally by those from other religions, including Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.
The shrine is set to complete 800 years in June.
Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti is said to have been born in 1142 A.D. in Iran. "He left the place to spread the teachings of Sufism. He came to India and settled in Ajmer," added a khadim.
"At that time, society had many social evils; so he spread the teachings of equality and brotherhood. Sufism is a moderate philosophy and Mughal kings were impressed and encouraged the spread of its teachings". He is largely famous for the Sufi philosophy that preaches brotherhood, harmony and prosperity, say the khadims.
Julfikar Chishti, another khadim, said: "The deprived and the poor come barefoot, walking hundreds of kilometres. For the past three to four years, people from Europe and America are also coming here to learn the teachings of Sufism."
Mohamed Aajam, a historian, said: "King Akbar came barefoot from Agra to the Ajmer dargah and wished for a son here.
"There is the Akbari mosque and also Shahani mosque constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan," he said.
There are eight gates for entrance to the shrine, but only three are used. "The Nizam gate was constructed by the Nizams of Hyderabad," said Aajam.
A dargah committee takes care of the security and sanitation of the place. The rituals are in the hands of the Anjuman Committee, made up of priests of the place.
"Our duty is to organise rituals and provide food to the deprived coming here," said Waheed Angara, secretary of the Anjuman Committee. There are regular elections to this committee and only khadims can participate in it.
Zardari will be the fourth Pakistani head of state or government to visit the dargah. His late wife Benazir Bhutto and former presidents Zia-ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf also visited the shrine.
"The shrine has always been a great source of communal harmony and national integrity," Mohammad Ahmed, a resident of the dargah area, said.
Every year, on the death anniversary (urs) of the Sufi saint, held on the first six days of Rajab (seventh month of the Islamic calendar), millions pour into the shrine.