Eid ul Azha Prayers at Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid

Recently, I’ve spent way too much time sitting at my desk writing about Old Delhi, and not nearly enough time doing what I love most – actually being in Old Delhi.  But yesterday, a couple of friends and I decided to try and catch the Eid ul Azha prayers at Jama Masjid .

Thinking the prayers would be the first  of the day, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 4, only to find the mosque closed.   A policeman suggested we come back at about 8.  A difficult moment.  I’m not going to lie – at this point, still half asleep, staring at the locked gates of the Jama Masjid, the temptation to head straight back to bed  was enormous.  It was a very close call but  somehow we forced ourselves to stay, and I’m so glad we did.

Of course every walk in Old Delhi is an adventure but there’s something particularly special about watching the city wake up. First, though, we needed to wake up properly ourselves.  We wandered down into a very dark and  almost deserted Matya Mahal and found a tea shop.  Several sweet chais and omelettes later,  and after quizzing every Muslim customer about the exact time of prayers, we were ready to take a stroll.

We found many stalls starting to set up including this splendid young man taking care of the pre-dawn Kachori business

The beautiful emerging light showed off the dazzling sweet displays which people would later give as Eid gifts.

At the junction of Chitli Qabar lines of prayer mats were being laid out for early prayers, stretching back along the lane from a mosque in Churiwalan

The soft, barely audible sounds of the mosque and  gentle rhythms of the prayers were mesmerising.  As the line grew and we were pushed further and further down the street, we realised we couldn’t get back to the Jama Masjid without disrupting the men’s prayers so we looped back through the tiny back alleys, where  we joined hundreds of men in  fresh white kurtas all heading in the same direction.

Eid ul Azha, which is also known as ‘Bakra’ (‘goat’) Eid is one of the most important dates in the Muslim calendar.  It commemorates   the moment the Prophet Ibrahim’s faith was tested when Allah asked him to sacrifice his son Ismail.  Allah replaced Ismail with a goat at the last moment hence the tradition of sacrificing  a goat immediately after the Eid prayers.  The meat is then distributed among family, friends and the poor.

At the mosque we were shown into the ‘press gallery’ a raised platform with the best view in the house.

The mosque was full (it can hold up to 25,000) and even beyond the walls, every bazaar and piece of open ground was filled with neat rows  of worshippers.

When the prayers started, everyone, inside and out, moved in a single wave.  Sitting high above the bazaars, it felt as if  the soft prayers had the power to silence the city.

At the end of prayers, everyone turned to their neighbour and embraced. Eid Mubarak!

As everyone exchanged Eid greetings, I looked  out over the Meena Bazaar side of the mosque. The early morning mist  seemed to blot out everything beyond the Old City.  It felt as if, for a few moments, there was, again, nothing but ‘Sheher’.*

A good feeling.

* ‘Sheher’ means ‘city’ and is the name for Old Delhi used by residents and former residents.  It refers back to time when Shahjahanabad was the only city and everything beyond the city walls (where New Delhi now lies) was wild jungle and primitive villages.


Music To Feed the Soul During Ramzan

If the holy month of Ramzan, which started last week, is a time to feed the soul rather than the stomach then this wonderful clip of a lost generation of Pakistani musicians more than hits the spot.

The Sachal Studios Orchestra is made up of retired musicians who were forced out of work under the dictatorship of General Zia.  One had been selling fruit and veg, another had become a chai walla.  Then London-based philanthropist Izzat Majeed offered to build a studio in Lahore and finance a jazz album.

The music, including covers of The Girl From Ipanema and Take Five,  has rightly gone viral;  the album is topping the western music charts and the orchestra is  being hailed as the new Buena Vista Club.  I do hope so.


There’s a full account of these wonderful musicians here by Declan Walsh in The Guardian

Eid Mubarak!

Close Up Sweet

Ramadan came to an end yesterday and I didn’t have to move an inch to be swept up in the celebrations.  At about 9 last night, one of our landlord’s emissaries arrived bearing gifts from Old Delhi:  namkeen and sweets from the wonderful Chaina Ram. Mr Zahoor is definitely my kind of landlord:  whenever there’s a Muslim festival,  we pay the rent, or have guests to stay, he sends over an enormous tiffin tin full of Biryiani, Korma and Shahi Tukda, enough to keep  us going for about 3 days.
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Iftar and Qawwalis with the Sufi Saints of Nizamuddin

Iftar Niz1

No apologies for the fact that this post contains no recipes, no slurping or drooling, in fact not a bite passed my lips to bring you this post; sometimes, very occasionally, something other than the food distracts me and I forget to eat.  Obviously, it has to be a pretty big distraction…..this is about one of those times.

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