BY TORAL PRADHAN
The recent announcement by the Ismaili Leaders International Forum confirming Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee visit to India sent waves of joy amongst the India Jamat. However, the uncertainty over the dates for several more days meant that time was once again playing a game of hide and seek with us, sending us teasers now and then. Finally, when the dates were declared, the jamat went into a frenzy of joy. Celebrations began all over India, with serving of sweets, playing the band and of course the traditional dandia-raas without which any celebration amongst the Indians goes incomplete. Mawlana Hazar Imam, we have learned, will be arriving in New Delhi on February 20, and will be staying in India for ten days during which he will perform religious work. He will grant the jamats in India with a darbar in Mumbai.
The rounds of preparations to be done for the visit began – mulaqat registrations, voluntary duties to be assigned, and transport facilities for the didars. Indeed, this is a tough task for the organizers and the volunteers with the jamat being so widely spread. Once more like the previous visit in 2013, it was a short time frame for all the physical and logistical preparations, but the spirit of the volunteers in the jamat makes the impossible things possible, due to their love and dedication towards their Imam.
Decorations are being done in many Jamatkhanas, with beautiful lightings, flower arrangements, and artistic displays as a welcoming gesture from all the jamats for their ever loving Spiritual Father.
Each day begins with a countdown of days, hours, minutes that are to be passed over, until the final moment arrives when each one of us will have a glimpse of our beloved Hazar Imam. I am short of words to describe that moment, that emotion, that connection. So we just wait, await, yearn and pray with peace and love in our hearts for that Divine Moment that Mawlana Hazar Imam will grant us.
As I personally await the momentous Diamond Jubilee didars, I reminisce over Mawlana Hazar Imam and his 2013 visit to India that I described on this blog’s sister website Simerg shortly after the visit. I am truly delighted that the editor has decided to include the piece here, below. I think readers will find the section about the volunteers particularly interesting and inspiring.
Reminiscences of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 2013 Visit to India: “A Dream Come True” and “An Experience of Being Lifted Away to Another World”
“The car door was left open waiting for him to sit in, but Hazar Imam was instead moving around the compound as if unwilling to leave the premises…..This is a sight that is difficult to erase from the mind, an unforgettable experience, appearing again and again in our vision, lifting us away from this world.”
By Toral Pradhan
I. Aga Khan’s arrival, public engagements and interviews
September 17, 2013: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, commenced his 11-day official visit to India. He was received at Airforce station, Palam, New Delhi by the Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, leaders of the Ismaili community and representatives of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Two major public functions planned for the visit were the inauguration in New Delhi of the restoration of the tomb of the Muslim Emperor, Humayun, and the official opening of the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad.
For the Indian Ismaili Jamats, the arrival of Mawlana Hazar Imam on Indian soil carried even deeper significance and meaning as thousands would be blessed with the didar (lit. a glimpse) of their beloved 49th Imam, the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.). Their preparations for the mulaqat with the Imam had begun a few weeks earlier when the visit was first announced.
Notwithstanding the short time frame for which to prepare the visit, the Indian Ismaili leadership knew that they would be able to count on the community and particularly its outstanding volunteers. The scope and logistics of the visit were complex as thousands of murids would gather in Mumbai from several parts of Western India. The Ismaili volunteers moto, “Work No Words”, as well as the Jamats’ immense love for their Imam has always enabled the community to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Before describing the Jamati aspect of the visit, I will provide an overview of the public engagements undertaken by Mawlana Hazar Imam.
Soon after his arrival, His Highnesss the Aga Khan, accompanied by his son Prince Hussain Aga Khan, first visited the Sunder Nursery, a part of the Humayun Tomb restoration project that also included the Batashwala Complex, Nizamuddin Basti development and the conservation of several other monuments.
September 18: The inaugural function of the completion of the restoration of 16th century garden tomb of the Mughal Emperor, Humayun, was held in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam, the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Minister for Culture, Chandresh Kumari Katoch, and Chairman of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Ratan Tata, reflecting a public-private partnership that was central to the success of the mega project.
Later during the day, His Highness met with the Prime Minister once again, and other government dignitaries including India’s Vice President, Mohamad Ansari, and Minister of External Affairs, Salman Khurshid. He stayed at the Taj Hotel, Delhi. A banquet was hosted by Vice President at Hyderabad House.
September 19: Hazar Imam met other Government dignitaries at Delhi including the President of India, Pranab Mukherji at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Urban development Minister Kamalnath and the Minister for Culture, Chandresh Kumara Katoch. He also visited Sonia Gandhi at her residence at 10 Janpath in New Delhi.
Prince Hussain departed from India on that day.
September 20: Hazar Imam arrived at Hyderabad and stayed at the Falaknuma Place — Taj Hotel. Together with the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy, and the Minister for Human Resources, Dr. Palam Raju, Mawlana Hazar Imam inaugurated the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad, part of a network project of eighteen academies of educational excellence worldwide. Dr. Reddy offered to give additional land to Hazar Imam for any other future projects.
In an interview with Ranjan Roya of the Times of India, Mawlana Hazar Imam was asked about what he qualified as ethical service in everyday life, and he replied:
“Ethical service, I would say, is a vehicle that is available to support civil society. Civil society has to be driven first by competence. Secondly, it has to be driven by ethical behaviour because otherwise it would leave itself vulnerable to attacks. I think because of an increased dependence on technology we are moving more and more towards being individualistic rather than becoming integrated with society.”
September 21: Hazar Imam met Andhra Pradesh Governor, ESL Narasimhan and the Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy at Falaknuma Palace. He later visited the historic 400 year old tombs of Quli Qutub Shah in Hyderabad, which is the site of the next renovation project.
In another interview featured in India Today when asked by deputy editor, Sandeep Unnithan, “What keeps Aga Khan on course with reviving Cultural Heritage in developing world?”, Mawlana Hazar Imam replied: “Essentially we are converting dormant assets into productive assets for a local economy or a national economy.”
Princess Zahra Aga Khan, daughter of His Highness, arrived in Mumbai on the same day.
September 23: His Highness met Maharashtra Chief Minister,Prithviraj Chavan and Governor, K. Sankaranarayan. Later accompanied by Princess Zahra, he visited the historic Darkhana Ismaili Jamatkhana at Dongri. A dinner was hosted by the governor at Raj Bhavan. Princess Zahra then departed from Mumbai.
Hazar Imam’s meetings with dignitaries and interviews, were telecast on various Indian channels such as DD-Bharti, NDTV’s Walk the Talk with the Aga Khan, Z-News, abp-news as well as Telugu channels. Various articles and pictures were published in the local newspapers highlighting Mawlana Hazar Imam and his contributions in the fields of education, healthcare, culture and rural development as well as the revival of heritage structures all over the world.
II. Aga Khan’s meeting with the Ismailis
On September 22, the murids of Vapi-Sanjan council had the first mulaqat with Hazar Imam in two sessions. This was the first of its kind in small groups. Then, from September 24th until September 27th, it was the turn of murids from Goa, Pune, North Mumbai, South Mumbai and the Mukhi-Kamadias of all the Headquarter Jamatkhanas of India to have their mulaqat with Hazar Imam.
An institutional dinner was hosted in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s honour at the Taj where the musician duo Salim-Suleiman Merchant performed for Hazar Imam.
On 28th September, Mawlana Hazar Imam departed from India.
III. Preparations for the Aga Khan’s visit
Just one month before the visit, the Ismaili Leaders International Forum (LIF) informed the Jamats in India and around the world about Hazar Imam’s wish to visit the India Jamat.
The preparation for the visit got underway at a very short notice under the auspices of the National Council for India, the Council for Western India as well as other Jamati institutions. It was decided that the historic Hasanabad Jamatkhana in Mazgaon would become the primary venue for the Imam’s mulaqat with the Jamat.
The visit had many new elements, unprecedented in previous mulaqats during the present Imam’s 56 years of Imamat. The entire Jamat was divided into six clusters so as to ensure easy and manageable mulaqats with the Imam. Small groups were arranged for religious services.
A special planning and event management team as well as focus teams were appointed to accommodate the jamat, comprising of approximately 42,000 Ismailis representing some sixty-four jamatkhanas from Western India. Arrangements were made to accommodate six-thousand people per event. There were a total of around 12,000 to 14,000 volunteers with about 2,500 volunteers on duty per day.
The volunteers were systematically divided into different groups on three stages L1, L2, L3, forming a complete network that worked in co-ordination. There was a command centre which was in charge of the entire network that included volunteers for security, volunteers overseeing the pandal (tent-like) arrangements, volunteers working for the social and health boards, and numerous other committees. The preparation process began with the completion of individual registration forms at the jamati level, under the co-ordination of the respective Mukhis-Kamadias of different jamatkhanas. About 61,200 i-cards were made and distributed within a ten-day period.
The pre-event committee worked on the site at the Hasanabad compound. The entire area was cordoned by traffic control and crowd control volunteers, as the traffic had to be controlled every time Hazar Imam arrived and departed from the premises. The Hasanabad area is busy and highly populated. This took place twice daily as when Hazar Imam came to Hasanabad during the morning and evening sessions.
For the entire period of visit, the Jamat was well received and attended to by the volunteers and various institutions at work. The in-house arrangements included security check, registration counters, mobile counters, childcare and health centres, wheel-chair holding areas, lost-and-found sections, house-keeping, shoe-counters, washrooms, drinking water, etc. Regular rounds of biscuit packets and drinking water were provided to the jamat sitting in the pandal.
The indoor services also included the facility of providing beds to patients under treatment, for example those who had cancer, were paralyzed from spinal injuries and were bedridden, as well as a few murids who were above 100 years old. Doctors continuously visited and monitored these patients.
The outdoor arrangements included traffic control, crowd control, ambulance services, emergency services, road security, transport and communication services. The boy scouts and girl guides were in charge of distributing food packets while the Cubs and Bulbuls in the Hasanabad grounds gave a warm salute to Mawlana Hazar Imam at every visit. The food packets were prepared and packed at the premises of Clare Road Jamatkhana and distributed from the food counters at Mafatlal Parking plot.
The volunteers stood on both the sides of the roads throughout the day, for 12 hours from 7am until 7pm, regardless of weather conditions. Nothing mattered to the volunteers as they carried out their duties with love and devotion to Mawlanan Hazar Imam . They tirelessly stood for their duty, and in return they were rewarded with the best opportunity to see Hazar Imam, as he passed in the car and waved at them during every visit.
For the Vapi-Sanjan council, 92 buses were hired, and buses were equipped with first-aid kits in case of any emergency. Two ambulances brought patients who were unable to travel under normal circumstances. Special stickers were provided for cars and ambulances carrying patients to ensure easy and convenient entry into the pandal from the designated gates. Hazar Imam visited these murids and gave special blessings to all on the beds and wheelchairs.
Moreover, during our duties at the senior citizen counter, murids who arrived were given bands with their names and telephone numbers tied at their wrists to ensure their safety in case they got separated or lost from their family. The older members were so happy with the assistance that we provided, that they continuously showered us with blessings, and affectionately kissed our foreheads to express their gratitude to us. We were immensely touched by their kind gesture, as it spread so much love amongst people we did not know, and whom we had never met before.
IV. The experience of the Ismaili volunteers
The Ismaili Volunteers had an overwhelming experience throughout the visit. They had the opportunity to have the glimpse of their beloved Imam several times during every visit that Hazar Imam made. One remarkable incident that is etched in everyone’s mind was on September 27th, the last day of Mawlana Hazar Hazar Imam’s visit to Hasanabad.
The volunteers were waiting on the compound for the last glimpse of their Imam. There was a steady drizzle for about thirty minutes and everyone was thoroughly drenched. Then the rain suddenly stopped. As Hazar Imam came out of the pandal he left the red carpet, and went around the entire compound area walking about hand’s distance from the cordoned volunteers, who respectfully stood by to get a departing glimpse of their beloved Imam. The Imam was smiling graciously and waving continuously. He met the Cubs and Bulbuls individually, and even talked to one of them. The volunteers’ joy was boundless. Huge rounds of applauds erupted in the entire area.
The ambience of the place at those particular moments was beautiful and memorable. The huge monument of Imam Hasan Ali Shah was beautifully illuminated, and the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam in such a joyful mood made the whole scene especially memorable for everyone who was present there. The ayat of Light Upon Light from the Holy Qur’an comes to my mind as I recount this moment!
Hazar Imam looked very happy. The car door was left open waiting for him to sit in, but Hazar Imam was instead moving around the compound as if unwilling to leave the premises. This was a sight to behold and a sight that is difficult to erase from the mind – it is an unforgettable experience, appearing again and again in our vision, lifting us away from this world.
When, later, I tried to speak to the volunteers to get a sense of their own experience, they were dumbfounded, with a gaze and a stare into my eyes that made me realize the limitation of words. As a writer, I cannot convey their feelings in words – their tears of joy said everything to me. Spiritual bliss cannot be expressed; each individual’s feeling is unique.
That was not all. After Hazar Imam and the jamat had departed, the volunteers had a blastful celebration of their own. After exchanging mubarakis and strong hugs, the garba number started on the speakers. The celebration was accompanied with loud cheers. The garba dancing took another meaning – it felt ecstatic as we counted Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings and the special last moments that he spent with us before his departure.
In ginan “Sahebji tu more man bhave”, the composer Sayyed Muhammad Shah categorically says that the Imam grants the murid whatever he or she wishes for. This visit has shown the munificence of the Imam by his granting to us much more than we could ever wish for.
It is my fervent hope that Hazar Imam will re-visit India soon to complete the mulaqats with the remaining jamats in India, and that he will in due course also visit other Jamats granting them their wishes as so poignantly implored in the verse “Je je mangu te tunhi deve.”
Date posted: February 12, 2018.
Copyright: Toral Pradhan/Barakah.
Toral Pradhan is a freelance writer, author, housewife and a part-time private tutor based in Daman, India.
Raised in a non-Ismaili family, she adopted the Ismaili faith after her marriage and for many years had craved for service to the Imam of the Time. Her wish was finally granted during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to India in 2013 when she served as a volunteer in Mumbai. She described the service as an opportunity of a lifetime and a dream come true. She now also serves in the faculty for senior citizen’s adult education programs where she has conducted motivational sessions for the jamat in India as well as senior’s clubs in London and Lisbon. She is also a translator of religious books into English and Gujarati.
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Note: This blog, Barakah, is a special project of http://www.Simerg.com and has been undertaken to celebrate 60 years or the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan.
For Links to comprehensive coverage of the visits highlighted above, click Table of Contents.