The well-known Suhrawardi poet and Sufi Jamali thus pays tribute to shaykh Nasiruddin Mahmud, the “Lamp of Delhi”:
Tanash aadaab zaaher raa aadibi
Delash amraaz baaten raa tabibi
Cheraaghiye masjed eqsaa’i maqsud
Nasiruddin-e-mellat shaykh mahmud
His body demonstrated the external rules of good manners.
His heart healed the hidden diseases.
He was a lamp of the mosque showing the way to the goal:
Nasiruddin of the religion, shaykh Mahmud.
It was a little before noon on a hot summer day in Delhi in the early years of Sultan ‘Alauddin Khalji’s reign, that Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya left his comfortless room on the upper storey, which was burning like an oven, negotiated the clumsy and dangerous staircase, and was about to proceed to a little room that adjoined his jama’at khana (a large hall with tall clumsy pillars in which his murids lived, prayed and slept according to the principles prescribed for the community life of the Chishtis). But the great shaykh, who kept his nights alive with prayers, meditations and recitations of select verses, was not destined to enjoy his much-needed midday rest.
For, casting his eyes around him, he discerned a man of about forty-five or so standing in the courtyard under the banyan tree, which some years later was to spread its branches over the roof of the jama’at khana, so that the shaykh and his companions might sit comfortably in the shade. Something in the man, one of the newer disciples, attracted Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya, for he possessed in a remarkable degree the intuitive intelligence of the Sufis.
The new murid had come to his spiritual guide and teacher after ears of study, preparation and self-training. He was like ‘dry wood’, which the shaykh had to breathe on and it would burst into flames.
The great shaykh gave up the idea of his midday rest, turned to the gate-room and sent Khwaja Nasir to summon the new murid.
“Sit down”, said Hazrat Nizamuddin, surveying the man with those red, sleep-laden eyes of his, well aware that even his khanaqah was fortunate in the event of such a dervish. “What is in your heart? What is your aim? What work did your father do?”
The newcomer was prepared for all that the human mind and body can bear in the search for God. He had already cast aside all earthly ties, though he belonged to a well-to-do family.
“My father”, Nasiruddin Mahmud answered, “had slaves who traded in woollen cloth. The object of my devotions is to pray for the long life of the shaykh, to attend to the shoes of the dervishes and to serve them”.
Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya’s mind inevitably went back to those far-off days when, though the most distinguished of the Delhi students and one whom everyone expected to have a fine career, he had almost without an effort, cast all worldly temptations aside and presented himself at the jama’at khana of shaykh Fariduddin of Ajodhan, determined to tread the Chishti path.
He possessed nothing, absolutely nothing, in those days. A kindly lady had lent her chaddar to wind round his waist, while she washed his only pair of garments. He had not even a copper coin to buy a little paper in which to write down his master’s instructions.
Here, in Nasiruddin Mahmud, Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya could not fail to see, was a true successor to him, to shaykh Fariduddin and to all the great Chishti awliya of the past.
“Bravo! Now here me”, Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya said, “when after finishing my studies I went to shaykh Fariduddin at Ajodhan, a friend and a class-fellow of mine, with whom I used to have academic discussions, came and stayed in an inn.
Seeing me in my grimy and tattered clothes, he exclaimed: ‘Mawlana Nizamuddin! What misfortune has befallen you? Had you taken to teaching work at Delhi, you would have become the leading scholar (mujtahid) of the time with prosperity and sufficient livelihood’.
I said nothing in justification, but merely apologized and returned to shaykh Fariduddin. “What would be your answer to such a question?” shaykh Fariduddin asked. “As the shaykh directs”, I replied. “Tell him this”, shaykh Fariduddin replied:
Na hamrahi to maraa raah khish gir boro
Toraa sa’aadat baadaa maraa negun saari
You’re not my fellow traveller, seek your own path and go!
May you be happy and may I remain unfortunate!
Shaykh Fariduddin then asked me to order a tray of every variety of dishes from his kitchen and to take it on my head to my friend, who, genuinely surprised, came to see shaykh Fariduddin. He was so charmed by the conversation of the shaykh, that he entered the circle of his murids.
Tears flowed down Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya’s cheeks as he expounded the principles of the Chishti path to the new disciple, Nasiruddin Mahmud, who on his part, took in everything and understood everything.
The ascetic element was very powerful in the personality of shaykh Nasiruddin. He requested Hazrat Amir Khusraw to intercede on his behalf and secure the permission of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya for retiring from society and passing his life in meditation at some lonely spot.
When Hazrat Amir Khusraw placed his friend’s request before Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya, he replied: “Tell him (i.e. Nasiruddin) he should live with the people and bear their blows and buffets patiently. Return them by generosity and magnanimity”.
Shaykh Nasiruddin fully carried out the instructions of his murshid, but his soul always longed for loneliness.
Once shaykh Nasiruddin Mahmud travelled from Awadh to Delhi in the company of other Chishtis. His mother had given him a pony load of food, consisting of a mix of rice and lentils, to be used during the journey. At the first halt of their journey shaykh Nasiruddin got it boiled and served it all to his fellow travellers.
Mawlana Shamsuddin Yahya turned to Mawlana ‘Alauddin and said: “Did you notice this childish act? He exhausted all his food at the first stage of the journey. What will he do tomorrow?”
Next day a man came and enquired from Mawlana Shamsuddin Yahya about the whereabouts of shaykh Nasiruddin and on being conducted to his presence, presented five gold coins to him. Shaykh Nasiruddin sent this money to Mawlana Shamsuddin Yahya with the remark: “Since the man saw you first and enquired my whereabouts from you, this unsought for gift really belongs to you”.
Mawlana Shamsuddin Yahya again told Mawlana ‘Alauddin that this parting with the present was a childish act. However, throughout the journey whatever unsought for gifts came to shaykh Nasiruddin, he distributed them among his travelling companions and kept nothing for himself. His trust in God, the real source of sustenance, was so great that he never cared for the morrow.
In his early days of poverty shaykh Nasiruddin was helped by his friends, who themselves had very meagre means of livelihood. Once the shaykh had to fast for two days without being able to take anything. A kindly neighbour, Nathu Patwa, brought to him two pieces of bread with some gravy on them. The shaykh relished this humble food more than the most sumptuous feast ever arranged in his honour. When he was at the height of his fame and had a langar, a free kitchen for the poor who came in large numbers, he had not forgotten the gift of Nathu.
Passing his days in very poor circumstances, shaykh Nasiruddin kept alive the traditions of his pir, Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya. Amir Khurd says:
Maraa az majles-e-to buye yaar miaayad
Khusham ze buye to kaz suye yaar miaayad
Hazaar pirahan del chu gol shud paara
Az in nasim ke az kuye yaar miaayad
I experience in your company the perfume of the Friend.
I’m happy because of the perfume coming from the Friend.
My heart breaks into a thousand folds just as a rose falls apart,
Caused by this breeze coming from the street of the Friend.
A few months before the death of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya the question of who would be appointed as his spiritual caliphs came to the surface. Hazrat Amir Khusraw drew up a list in which 32 murids of the shaykh were recommended.
Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya however remarked upon seeing this list: “Why have you put in so many names?” A second list was then prepared. The shaykh approved it with some modifications.
Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya then first called shaykh Qutbuddin Munawwar and appointed him as his khalifa. Shaykh Nasiruddin Mahmud was summoned next and likewise was appointed as a spiritual caliph.
Shaykh Nasiruddin perhaps felt that precedence was given to shaykh Qutbuddin Munawwar. Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya, realizing the delicacy of the situation, called both of them in his presence, asked them to embrace and congratulate each other and then remarked: “You are brothers. Don’t care for precedence”.
True to the advice of their murshid both of them remained on the best of terms throughout their lives.
Some time later, when Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya was in his last moments, he called shaykh Nasiruddin and appointed him as his spiritual successor (sajjada neshin). He bestowed upon him all those things, which had come down to him from his ancestors in the Chishti tariqa, i.e. the kherqa (patched frock), the ‘asa (staff), the musalla (prayer-carpet), the tasbi (rosary) and the kasa-e-chubin (wooden bowl).
The murids of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya started to tell their problems to his successor shaykh Nasiruddin Mahmud. He listened to them patiently, but did not hesitate to remark that to complain about the times was not the practice of the pirs of the Chishti tariqa.
Nevertheless they told him:
Amma emruz jaaye shaykh-e-maa shomaa aayad. Rawaa baashad ke dard-e-khud be-shomaa beguyim.
But today you sit at the place of our shaykh. It is proper that we tell about our personal problems to you.
Someone saw Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya in a dream who gave him the advice to hold fast to the heart. He asked shaykh Nasiruddin to give the interpretation of this dream to him. The shaykh answered: “It means sitting in contemplation”.
All kinds of people came to visit shaykh Nasiruddin. His principle in this regard was:
Darwishi raa mibaayad ke baa hama khalq chonaan baashad ke bedaanand ke in az aan-e-maa-st.
To be a dervish implies to behave in such a way that all kinds of people assume that he is one of them.
Hazrat Nasiruddin had a captivating personality. He was an embodiment of knowledge, wisdom, love and unparalleled patience and perseverance. He had a sacrificing nature and bore with patience and fortitude the tyranny of the people. He rewarded evil with good and strictly adhered to the tenets of his spiritual guide and teacher. He was very fond of sama’ (audition of Sufi music). Hazrat Nasiruddin also had poetic qualities.
He had a forgiving nature. Once a qalandar entered his tenement and inflicted eighteen wounds on his face, but he would not allow the assailant to be punished. Instead, he gave him a horse and fifty gold coins, and asked him to leave the city as soon as possible so that the people might not harass him. The qalandar did so.
Hazrat Nasiruddin says this about the murshid: “O dervish! In the path of enlightenment he is called the spiritual guide, who has full control over the inward state of his murid and who, knowing the outward and inward difficulties of his murid, solves them every moment. Besides, he should cleanse the inward mirror”.
Hazrat Nasiruddin tells this in regard to the obligations of the murid (m/f): “The true murid is one who acts according to the dictates of his spiritual guide and teacher. He sees that only, which may be shown to him by his murshid. He takes his spiritual guide as omnipresent. He brings to the notice of his murshid all his good and bad ideas, that may arise in his mind. He cannot be called a true murid who disobeys his murshid even in the slightest degree”.
Hazrat Nasiruddin clearly was respectful to people belonging to other religions as can be seen from the following account. One day the shaykh was speaking about the Sufi technique of control of breath as essential for the spiritual training. He then said:
Sufi aan-st ke nafas-e-u shomarda baashad […]
A Sufi is that person who counts his breath. The loftiest in this path is that person who has control over his breath. Experienced yogis, who are known in Hindi as sidh, count their breath.
The shaykh of course was heavily influenced by the attitude of his murshid in regard to relations with non-Muslims:
• All human beings are the children of God on earth.
• You should adopt the example of God in his dealings with human beings. The bounties of God (the sun, rain and earth) do not discriminate between people.
One morning Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya was standing on the roof of his jama’at khana. As he looked down he saw Hindus being active in devotional activities on the bank of the river Jumna. He remarked:
Har qawm raa-st raahi dini o qebla-gaahi
Each kind of people has its path, its religion and its point of orientation.
According to the Chishtis the several religions are different paths to reach the same goal.
To show that God doesn’t like discrimination Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya related a story about the prophet Abraham. He never took a meal without some guest joining him. Sometimes he went out for miles in search of a guest. One day a polytheist was with him. He had some hesitation in asking him to partake food with him.
God then admonished the prophet thus: “O Abraham! We have given life to this man, while you are unwilling to give food to him?”
Hazrat Amir Khusraw, who was just like shaykh Nasiruddin a disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya, composed a poem showing the cosmopolitan spirit of the Chishtis, tolerance in the field of religion, love and amity towards the people irrespective of any considerations of caste or creed.
Ay ke ze bot ta’na be hendu bari
Ham ze ui aamuz parastash gari
O you who criticize the Hindu because of his idolatry,
Learn also from him how you should worship.
Hazrat Hasan Sijzi happened to be worried because his salary was not paid for some time. His murshid, Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya came to know about it and then told the following story:
There was a brahman, who possessed huge wealth. The ruler confiscated all his property and thus reduced him to abject poverty. One day the brahman was walking and a friend asked him how he was.
“Very fine” replied the brahman. “Everything has been taken away from you. How is it possible that you are happy?”
The brahman then answered: “My sacred thread (zunnar) is still with me”.
Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya once told another story dealing with his outlook towards Hindus: “Khwaja Hamiduddin Nagawri used to address a Hindu as a friend of God (wali). His opinion was that God alone knows what the end of a man would be”. So you should abstain from using terms, which permanently assigned you to a different religious position.
Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya exchanged views with yogis. One day a yogi came and he asked the yogi: “which way do you follow? What is the real thing in your discipline?”
The yogi replied: “Our science says that there are two worlds. One is the ‘alam-i-‘ulwi and the other is ‘alam-i-sifli. From the head to the naval it is the ‘alam-i-‘ulwi and from the naval to the feet it is the ‘alam-i-sifli. The way to discipline is that there is all sincerity, purity, good manners and good dealings in the ‘alam-i-‘ulwi. In the ‘alam-i-sifli there is observation, purity and chastity”.
Having narrated this, Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya remarked that he liked this conversation of the yogi.
On another occasion a yogi explained to Hazrat Nizamuddin Awlya his views about the birth and character of children, the appropriate time for conjugal relationship between wife and husband, and other similar matters. As the conversation developed the shaykh enquired from him about the effect of sexual relationship on particular days and remembered it.
When he reported this conversation to Hazrat Baba Farid, his murshid remarked: “You will have nothing to do with this in your life”. This prophecy came true. Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya remained a bachelor all his life.
A dervish from Yemen came to shaykh Nasiruddin. The shaykh gave something to him, but he was not satisfied and did not leave. The dervish said that he had dreamt the previous night that the shaykh had given his garments to him. Shaykh Nasiruddin then handed over his garments to him.
Following the Chishti tradition Hazrat Nasiruddin kept a free kitchen (langar). However, times had changed and it was not so big as that of his murshid. The shaykh nevertheless entertained visitors, accommodated guests who came in large numbers and distributed food.
When Hazrat Nasiruddin sat three trays of food were spread in front of him on a cloth on the floor. He gave two to distinguished murids. About the third tray he would give the order: “Aanjaa be-bar – Put it there!” Nobody knew what it meant.
One day one of his murids was weeping in front of Hazrat Nasiruddin. The shaykh turned to him and said several things to him. He concluded his advice thus:
Kaari ke bar dast-e-maa nist chaara-ye aan nist
When something is not in our control, then we should not worry about its remedy.
Hazrat Nasiruddin loved cleanliness and purity. The place where he sat was extremely tidy and clean. He had a developed and delicate aesthetic sense. Heaps of fresh and sweet smelling flowers lay on his right and left. One day he instructed his nephew to distribute the flowers among the people present.
Hazrat Nasiruddin often recited this Persian poem:
Donyaa shah raa qaysar o khaaqaan raa
Dozagh bad raa behesht mar’-e-nekaan raa
Tasbih fereshta raa shenaa mar’ ensaan raa
Jaanaan maa raa o jaan-e-maa jaanaan raa
Give the world to the king, the ruler and the emperor.
Give hell to the wicked and paradise to the good people.
Give the rosary to angels and human beings to praise Him.
Give the Beloved to me, because my life is for the Beloved.
Sultan Muhammad Tughluq changed his attitude towards the Sufis because he got more and more influenced by the ideas of Ibn Taimiyya. He inflicted many injuries on Hazrat Nasiruddin both by tongue and action, but the shaykh never heaved even a sigh of pain and never prayed to God for the destruction of the power of the sultan. For a very long time he bore patiently these tortures.
Once the sultan sent some food to him in gold and silver plates. To eat from gold and silver vessels is forbidden in Islamic law. The idea was that if the shaykh partook of the food, it would give the sultan a chance to ask him why did he do an illegal thing. If he refused to accept, he could be tortured for an act of disobedience.
Hazrat Nasiruddin disappointed the sultan by taking out a pickle from the plate. He then put it on a piece of bread and then ate it.
Hazrat Nasiruddin bore all the humiliations of the sultan patiently. Let us not go into detail. The attitude of the sultan towards the Chishti shaykh was widely resented in Sufi circles in India.
When shaykh Burhanuddin Gharib heard about the insolent treatment of Hazrat Nasiruddin by the sultan, he bitterly wept and said: “What to do? Khwaja Mawlana Mahmud is so gentle and forgiving! If he so wishes, the earth would swallow the sultan, his entire army, people, horses and elephants and would yet remain unsatisfied”. He sent a letter to Hazrat Nasiruddin containing this Persian quatrain:
Taa bar sar-e-‘aasheqaan balaa’i narasad
Aawaazaaye ‘eshq-eshaan be-jaa’i narasad
Raw bar sar-e-kongora sar-e-mardaan bin
Naa-mardaan raa khaar be-paa’i narasad
When affliction does not visit the lovers,
Then the fame of their love will not reach the Beloved.
Go and see the heads of brave men fixed on turrets:
A thorn will not prick the feet of a coward.
Hazrat Nasiruddin interpreted the oppression by the sultan in his own way. After the death of the sultan he was asked: “The sultan persecuted you so much. What was the reason for this?”
The shaykh replied: “There was a dilemma between me and God, the Glorious and the Elevated. It was settled like this”.
The explanation of the shaykh may mean that what the sultan did with him was a God-sent punishment for some lapse of his.
The health of Hazrat Nasiruddin gradually went down. Continuous fasts, vigils and penitences broke his frame, which had already been weakened by several illnesses. From early morning till late into the night he had to attend to all sorts of visitors, who brought all sorts of problems to him. He did not even get the time for a brief midday rest.
One day he told one of his murids with tears in his eyes: “Very often I wish to rest at midday, but they wake me up and say: ‘A visitor has come. Get up!’”
Over-work in combination with his ascetic discipline threw his system out of order. Even in the small hours of the morning, when people are usually fresh, one found him completely worn out.
Hazrat Nasiruddin one day, in the last year of his life, asked his elder sister: “How much is my age?” She replied: “Eighty-two years”.
“Ah, it has become too much. I should now get ready to depart”, the shaykh said. After seven days he surrendered his dear life to God. His death was widely mourned:
Jahaan be-maatam Khwaaja Nasiruddin Mahmud
Hazaar guna feghaan kard o nuha o zaari
At the death of Khwaja Nasiruddin Mahmud
There were thousands of lamentations in the world.
The light of the Lamp of Delhi still shines in this world, because of the many teachings he has left behind as an inheritance to later generations.