Poets and Saints: A Monsoon Heritage Walk in Hyderabad

A rainy monsoon day seems to be an excellent day to visit the final resting places of poets and saints.

We started with the famous Yousufain dargah, where the mortal remains of the twin Sufi saints, Yousuf and Shareef, lie buried. Being early in the day, there was no crush of devotees, and we were able to make our way at a sedate pace. 

The entrance to Yousufian Dargah with the structure completely obscured by political posters

These two Sufis were part of Aurangzeb Alamgir and his besieging army, and their tale is told reverently whenever a Hyderabadi speaks of the siege of Golconda. One September day, an unseasonal thunderstorm knocked down all the tents of the Mughal camp, and yet one tent stood untouched in the gusting winds. The lamp which burned within was steady and unflickering even in the strong winds. It turned out that it was the tent of Yousuf and Shareef. Alamgir, who prided himself on knowing a holy man when he saw one, immediately hailed the two as saints and sought their help in bringing the eight-month-long siege to an end. They took a piece of a broken clay pot, wrote some words on it, and asked that it be given to a cobbler who plied his trade just outside one of the gates of the outer wall of Golconda. On receiving the message, the cobbler leaves the place. The tale goes on that the cobbler was another Sufi holy man, and it was under his protection that Golconda was impregnable, and with his departure, the fall of the walled city became inevitable and came about in quick time.

Calligraphy carved on wooden doors – the names of the saints Yousuf and Shareef

We trooped silently into the tomb of the saints, who are buried side by side. The interior of the tomb – which is a high dome on top of a square base, is entirely covered in mirrorwork in dizzying designs. The graves are within a silver-covered canopy, and all around the perimeter wall, there stood or sat devotees in various poses, praying out loudly or silently within themselves. We made a solemn circumambulation, stood awhile to one side and took in the details and the atmosphere, before filing out silently and stepping out walking backwards so that we did not disrespect the saints by turning our backs on them.

The dome of Yousufain dargah seen from near the hauz at the back

Outside, we gathered at the tomb of Daagh Dehlvi, a step-grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal, and a highly respected Urdu poet. The man himself lead a poet’s life in trying times and finally found a place at the court of the sixth Nizam, who gave him his due and made him his court poet and became his principal patron. Amongst all the different titles that were bestowed on the poet, my favourite has to be Bulbul-e-Hindustan.

The graves of Daag Dehlvi and his wife
Daag Dehlvi’s poetry on the headstone of his grave

I am a Philistine when it comes to poetry and an ignoramus when it comes to Urdu. Yet, even I was able to appreciate this couplet by Daag Dehlvi:

Ranj Ki Jab Guftagu Hone Lagi
Aap Se Tum, Tum Se Tu Hone Lagi

Translated, it says:

When the conversation turns to grief
Aap becomes tum and tum becomes tu
(Aap, tum and tu are all the word ‘you’ in decreasing order of respect and formality)

A side entrance to the Yousifain dargah. The chains are to force horsemen to dismount before entering, to stop thieves on horseback from stealing the offerings of devotees from the dargah, or to make djinns dismount – depending on whom you ask.

Leaving the Yousufain dargah through a decorated gateway, we walked along a bazaar and through narrow lanes till we came to the Dargah of Sha Khamosh. Built in the mid-1800s, it’s an architectural mishmash – with church-like Gothic arches. It is a peaceful enough place, and we sat awhile listening to stories about saints and poets while above us the susurrus of a peepal and neem tree provided a soothing background. The tale of Shah Khamosh is itself quite interesting – when he was growing up in the khanka (Sufi monastery where boys grew up learning Sufism), he was horsing around when one of his elders told him to be silent (‘khamosh ho jao’). In abject obedience, he proceeded to be silent for the next 25 years and came to be known as Shah Khamosh.

The Dargah of Shah Khamosh and its church-like arches

We also saw the graves of two more poets. Makhdoom Mohiuddin was a revolutionary poet whose political activism earned the ire of royalist loyalists. Sadly, his grave lies neglected and surrounded by garbage. Amjad Hyderabadi was a composer of rubaais whose poetry was steeped in his grief at losing his family in the Musi flood of 1908 when he was a mere 20 years old. His grave was within a newly-built gated enclosure that is faintly reminiscent of a boys’ toilet in a school run by Roman Catholic priests.

Onwards we marched to Khitte Saleheen, another collection of graves that included the grandfather of El Edroos, the Hyderabadi general who signed the surrender with invading Indian troops in 1948, and Mir Ahmed Ali, Nawab Ali Nawaz Jung Bahadur was Hyderabad’s chief engineer during the last years of the Asaf Jahi period.

This is an account of a heritage walk led by Sibghat of the Deccan Archive, in association with indefatigable heritage warrior Anuradha Reddy of INTACH Hyderabad. Any errors are inadvertent and are obviously because of my unrealiable memory.