A tomb on an island in the middle of the Arabian Sea! Doesn’t that immediately sound enticing enough? But there is more to the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai than just its location. Such is the reverence that this Muslim saint commands that his final resting place draws the faithful from all communities who come here with the firm hope that their prayers will be answered. With a mosque located adjacent to the tomb complex, the edifice is also a brilliant specimen of the Indo-Islamic style of architecture.
Located about 500 meters from the coast off the Lala Lajpatrai Marg at Mahalaxmi in Mumbai, the Haji Ali Dargah was constructed in 1431 in memory of a wealthy Muslim merchant, Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, who renounced all his worldly possessions before making a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is said that he had come to India from Bukhara in the ancient Persian Empire and had travelled around the world before deciding to settle down in Mumbai.
According to a legend, the saint once came upon a poor woman crying on the road with an empty vessel in her hands. Upon inquiring the reason for her sorrow, she said that the oil she was carrying in the vessel had been accidently spilled and that she was now afraid of being beaten by her husband. The saint asked her to lead him to the spot where the oil had been spilled. There, he jabbed a finger into the soil and the oil gushed out, which the woman filled into the vessel and went home.
However, this incident is reported to have led Haji Ali experiencing disturbing dreams about injuring the earth. Full of remorse, he soon fell ill and directed his followers that upon his death his coffin should be cast into the sea. Haji Ali left this world during his journey to Mecca and miraculously the casket carrying his body floated back to the Mumbai shore, getting stuck in the string of rocky islets just off Worli. And so it was that the ‘dargah’ was constructed here.
The tomb in itself is simple in design. On an elevated platform is the main structure with a white dome and minarets. Men and women enter the ‘dargah’ through different entrances to arrive on either side of the shrine. The main hall has marble pillars embellished with artistic mirror work: blue, green, yellow chips of glass arranged in kaleidoscopic patterns interspersed with Arabic patterns which spell the 99 names of Allah. The Kinara Masjid is behind the ‘dargah’ and an open Qawwal Khana chamber next to the tomb works as a stage for Sufi singers. There is a fountain within the complex lined with a few trees adjacent to which is a tea and snack vendor and a shop selling books and ‘chaddars’ that are bought for the shrine.
The pier and the promenade leading to the ‘dargah’ have several vendors along the way selling flowers, incense sticks, colourful shawls, imitation jewellery, dresses, picture postcards, toys and souvenirs. The ‘dargah’ is also a favourite with photographers because of the sheer beauty of the place, especially the view of the sunset that is best enjoyed from the rocky edge behind the tomb.
Things to Do
Explore the capital of Maharashtra
Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra. It has numerous attractions for a visitor ranging from the museum visits to roadside shopping. The city is a paradise for such visitors. It truly is a city that does not sleep so it is worth exploring in the night too.
Have a Fun day at the Esselworld which is one of India’s largest amusement parks. From rib tickling crazy cups and copper choppers to scary monsters in the mist as well as adrenaline charging rocking alleys and zipper drippers, you can spend an exciting day and spend quality time with the family.
Explore the Sanjay Gandhi National Park
On the periphery of Mumbai, this is a beautiful park where tranquility prevails and the flora and fauna are allowed to have a free hand. It offers to the tourists, naturalists, bird-watchers and environment researchers a fascinating treasure of wildlife and innumerable plants and trees. In fact, almost a quarter of India’s avifauna has made their home here, including many mammals such as the elusive leopard. The park also offers various activities like boating, trekking, safaris and even a toy train ride.
Explore the Mumbai caves
The Kanheri caves have the earliest images of the Buddha in South India and were made famous across the world because Chinese monk traveller Hiuen Tsang had visited the monastery in 7th century CE and is reported to have carried a wooden image of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara to China along with numerous Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts.
Known as Mandapeshvara, the caves at Borivali, are the final chapter in the history of cave architecture in Mumbai. Along with these, the caves at Mahakali, Magathne, Elephanta, Jogeshwari etc are the testimony of the city’s rich heritage.
Explore the Neighbourhood
Apart from the fact that there is the whole of Mumbai that you can enjoy during your visit to the Haji Ali Dargah, there are some places which are close by for a quick visit when you are in this area. One is the Mahalaxmi Temple dedicated to Mahalakshmi, the central deity of Devi Mahatmya. Built around 1785, the history of this temple is supposedly connected with the building of the Hornby Vellard. According to a legend, after portions of the sea wall of the Vellard collapsed twice, the chief engineer, Pathare Prabhu, dreamt of a goddess statue in the sea near Worli. A search recovered it, and he built a temple for it. The temple contains images of the goddesses Mahalakshmi, Mahakali and Mahasaraswati.
Also situated in this area is the Mahalaxmi Race Course which has been modelled on the Melbourne Race Course. The length of the track is 2,400 meters and it was built in 1883 on 225 acres of land facing the sea. And if your interest veers towards the skies and all that lies beyond earth, you must visit the Nehru Planetarium. Commissioned on March 3, 1977, it has grown into a centre for scientific study of astronomy and for meeting of scientists and scholars for discussions and lectures, arranged periodically on various stellar and astronomical events. The planetarium also has programmes aimed at inspiring students. These include special arrangements to watch, study, and photograph solar and lunar eclipses.
How to reach
Visitors can reach Haji Ali Dargah via the many modes of local transport available in Mumbai city – Metered taxies, B.E.S.T. city buses and Local trains are available. The nearest railway station is Mahalakshmi on the western line. Auto rickshaws ply in the suburbs of Mumbai only and will not come all the way to Haji Ali. One needs to take another mode of transport beyond Mahim / Sion when traveling into the city from the suburbs.
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