Haji Ali Dargah to rise again in Makrana marble

October 1st, 2008 - 11:25 am ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Oct 1 (IANS) There is good news this Eid for Mumbai’s most famous landmark in the Arabian Sea. Demolition and reconstruction work on the Haji Ali Dargah is finally starting. This time, it will be built in the same Makrana marble that was used for the Taj Mahal.The Rs.100-million (over $2 million) project for the shrine in south-central Mumbai’s Worli bay will start immediately after Eid, and will be completed within two years, Haji Ali Dargah chairman and managing trustee Abdul Sattar Merchant told IANS.

The Dargah, approachable by pedestrians from the mainland during low tide, has been crumbling away for several decades.

The renovation work was ceremonially started last Thursday by delivering the first blow of the hammer at the 26-metre-tall minaret adjacent to the mausoleum.

The existing mosque, mausoleum, the enclosure where qawwalis are sung and living areas for the caretakers - encompassing a 4,500-square metre area - came up over 100 years ago.

The Merchant family carried out major repairs to the existing structure in 1960, and again in 1985-90, but now it is declared beyond repair by experts.

“The main cause behind the dilapidation is the corrosion of the reinforced cement concrete structure by the constant lashing of the waves, saline humidity and the increasing pressure of pilgrims thronging there. On important days like Eid, the crowds have crossed over 500,000,” Merchant added.

As per the new design, there will be no concrete used. The shrine will be built on the lines of the Taj Mahal - with marble acquired from Makrana in Rajasthan, and joined together by a chemical process.

“The problem of corrosion will be solved permanently and the structure will be able to withstand nature’s onslaught for at least another five centuries,” Merchant hoped.

Bukhari’s tomb, within the small mosque, is covered by a brocaded red and green chaddar (tomb cover sheet), supported by an exquisitely designed silver frame. The 99 names of Allah are inscribed on the main hall pillars, which are decorated by multi-coloured mirror work.

The renovation work, assigned to Structwell Designers & Consultants Pvt Ltd, will not affect the sanctum sanctorum where the relics of Haji Ali are preserved, Merchant said. As per Islamic tradition, the new structure, including the minaret, will be slightly bigger than the existing one.

Merchant said that most of the Rs.100-million renovation cost would be borne by the trust, but it will appeal for public donations and even aid from the Maharashtra government.

He assured that after the reconstruction, the Haji Ali Dargah would resemble “a huge, glittering pearl in the Arabian Sea” and be catapulted into an even more popular tourist destination than it is now.

The mausoleum, to which over 150,000 worshippers from all religions flock each week, was built more than an estimated 550 years ago in memory of an Islamic preacher, Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.

Hailing from Bukhara, in the ancient Persian Empire and now in Uzbekistan, Bukhari travelled around the world in the early 1400s, and had come to Mumbai, Merchant said, citing the historical records available with the trust.

According to a legend surrounding his mystique, once Bukhari saw a poor woman crying on the road, holding an empty vessel. He asked her what the problem was. She sobbed that that her husband would thrash her since she had stumbled and accidentally spilled the oil she was carrying.

He asked her to take him to the spot where she lost the oil. There, he jabbed a finger into the soil and the oil gushed out. The overjoyed woman filled up the vessel and went home.

Later, Bukhari had a recurring - and disturbing - dream that he had injured Mother Earth by his act. Full of remorse, he soon fell ill and directed his followers to cast the coffin carrying his body into the Arabian Sea.

After his death, his followers fulfilled his last wish.

Drifting in the high seas for many days, the coffin finally came and rested on a tiny islet around half a kilometre in the bay off what is today known as Worli, south-central Mumbai.

Taking that as some kind of divine sign, his followers buried the coffin on that islet.
Gradually over the years, small additions were made to the shrine, which progressively became famous as the Haji Ali Dargah, Merchant said.

Regular visitor to mausoleum Shabbir Ajmanwalla said it is widely believed that praying at the Haji Ali Dargah helps fulfil a person’s wishes.

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