Born in Afghanistan in 1156, Khwaja Muin-ud-Din Chishti, India’s most revered Muslim saint, began his religious career at the age of 13, when he distributed his inheritance among the poor and adopted the simple life of an itinerant Sufi fakir (the equivalent of the Hindu sadhu). On his travels, he soaked up the teachings of the great Central Asian Sufis, whose emphasis on mysticism, ecstatic states and pure devotion as a path to God were revolutionizing Islam during this period. Khwaja Sahib and his disciples settled in Ajmer at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Withdrawing into a life of meditation and fasting, he preached a message of renunciation, affirming that personal experience of God was attainable to anyone who relinquished their ties to the world. More radically, he also insisted on the fundamental unity of all religions: mosques and temples, he asserted, were merely material manifestations of a single divinity. Khwaja Sahib thus became one of the first religious figures to bridge the gap between India’s two great faiths. After he died at the age of 97, his followers lauded the Bhagavad Gita as a sacred text, and even encouraged Hindu devotees to pray using names of God familiar to them, equating Ram with “Rahman”, the Merciful Aspect of Allah – a spirit of acceptance which explains why Khwaja Sahib’s shrine in Ajmer continues to be loved by adherents of all faiths.

The anniversary of Khwaja Sahib’s death is celebrated with the Urs Mela, one of Rajasthan’s most important religious festivals, held on the sixth day of the Islamic month of Rajab (approximately May 5, 2014, April 26, 2015 and April 13, 2016). Pilgrims flock to the town to honour the saint with qawwali (Sufi devotional) chanting, while kheer (rice pudding) is cooked in huge vats at the dargah and distributed to visitors. At night religious gatherings called mehfils are held. It isn’t really an affair for non-religious tourists, but the city does take on a festive air, with devotees from across the Subcontinent and beyond converging on Ajmer for the week leading up to it.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

India features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

25 years and 10 editions: The Rough Guide to India over the years

25 years and 10 editions: The Rough Guide to India over the years

It's 25 years since an adventurous quartet of Rough Guides authors set off for the Subcontinent to begin work on researching the inaugural instalment of The Rou…

30 Nov 2016 • Edward Aves insert_drive_file Article
The most romantic places in India

The most romantic places in India

India has to be one of the world's most romantic destinations. Its beguiling mix of ancient forts, pretty palaces, shimmering lakes and gorgeous beaches is boun…

25 Nov 2016 • Freya Godfrey camera_alt Gallery
13 tips for backpacking India

13 tips for backpacking India

Whether you’re hurtling along in a rickshaw, eating fantastic curries, kicking back on the backwaters or hiking in the mountains, backpacking India will alwa…

23 Nov 2016 • Helen Abramson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month