Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dargah-e-Hakimi, Burhanpur - A Management Marvel

Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Apr 28, 2003

A management marvel
Rasheeda Bhagat
No formal training in management or the hospitality industry, and yet Dargah-e-Hakimi is run with an efficiency that is mind-boggling.

The three mausoleums at the dargah
Maano tau bhagwan, na maano tau paththar"(for a believer it's God, for a non-believer it's just a piece of stone), Jaya Bhaduri tells Amitabh Bachchan in the Bollywood blockbuster Abhiman . A simple expression of faith that has stuck in one's memory. Visiting Dargah-e-Hakimi in Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh, about 65 km from Bhusawar in Maharashtra, and listening to the innumerable legends associated with the Dawoodi bohra saint Saiyedi Abdul Kader Hakimuddin (1665-1730), brings back those words. Burhanpur, which is situated on the banks of the river Tapti, is a crowded, dirty city, which has allowed its monuments of historic importance to decay and crumble. Mumtaz Mahal lived and died here and Shah Jahan had originally planned to erect the Taj Mahal in Burhanpur. But the logistical difficulty in transporting huge quantities of marble to this town clinched the deal for Agra. The few monuments it does have in terms of Mumtaz Mahal's palace and her bathing chambers are in such a dilapidated state that it makes you wonder what right we have to protest against the war on Iraq having destroyed so many historic memories of Iraq. But move away three km from the centre of the town with open drains, swarming flies and filthy, pot-holed roads, to the little village of Lodhi and through the outer gates of the Dargah-e-Hakimi, and you feel you've been transported to another world. Spread over an area of 125 acre, the Dargah complex looks more like a five-star resort than a place of religious significance. The only difference is that you get to enjoy the lush green lawns, the well laid out gardens (maintained by a contractor at a monthly fee of Rs 90,000), immaculate service and delicious, mouth watering food, for a pittance, compared to five star rates. When we visited Dargah-e-Hakimi in the second week of April, the place was attracting about 1,000 pilgrims a day. The moment you land and complete the registration formalities at the plush, air-conditioned, computerised office, your entire group is invited for all the three meals for all the days of your stay. Oh yes, it's an invitation and you don't need to pay a dime for the food. How the 1,000-odd people are served piping hot, delicious, non-vegetarian food, complete with dessert, tender mutton and basmati rice, with a fruit thrown in sometimes, is mind-boggling. As the Bohra pilgrims come from all over India and overseas, and no prior bookings can be made here, it would require an F&B manager of exceptional skills to cater for an indefinite number of people. When you pose this question either to the man-in-charge of the kitchen, the people who serve you food with a smile or the accounts manager in the office, the reply is a smile with a finger pointed in the direction of the dargah. "Only he knows how everything works to everyone's satisfaction here," is the stock reply you get. "He", the 17th-century saint was known for his piety, humility and extreme eruditeness. A Hafiz-e-Koran (he could recite the entire Koran from memory), his recitation of the Koran could mesmerise any living being. Legend has it that one day while travelling through a forest, he was reciting the Koran when a tiger walked by. The animal sat before the scholar, and quietly walked away once the recitation was over. When Syedi Hakimudin died in 1730, his enemies exhumed his body on some pretext after 22 days, but found to their shock a fresh and fragrant body. Over the years, people's faith grew in Syedi Hakimuddin's miraculous powers. The word hakim denotes a healer and thousands of Bohras flock to his shrine, taking a mannat (wow) for shifa (cure) from disease and seeking restoration of the health of both the body and the soul. As in Ajmer, it is said that whoever comes here with a prayer on her/his lips, does not go away disappointed. Those who have their prayers answered, their sick loved ones cured, their sinking businesses nursed back to health, and their other problems solved, come back with a generous offering. Mind you, even if you land at the dargah at midnight or 2 a.m. and find the office closed, whoever is available to greet you will first of all invite you for a meal! You are asked to leave your luggage outside the office and it is later delivered to your room, which may cost you from Rs 200 (for four adults) to Rs 1,000 (for an air-conditioned room), and no tips please, you're told. One of our lunches — for 1,000 odd people — was taken care of by a group of five friends from Kolkata. At other meals, somebody donates the ice cream, somebody else takes care of the lamb chops, and the story goes on. Once again, legends abound on how thousands of people are fed at this dargah. Kutub Khan, the accounts manager at the dargah, says that on most of the days the food is just "sufficient to provide a wholesome meal to all the guests." But on days there is excess food, it is given away to its 250-odd employees. But he does recall the day, a couple of years ago, when all of a sudden five packed buses came in from a nearby town. "The man-in-charge of serving was worried that he might fall short of rice. But as he kept serving, his ladle never hit the bottom of the huge vessel!" He added, "You see how hot it is here already. The peak of summer is a month away, but despite the heat, nothing ever gets spoilt here; the milk never curdles, nor the meat gets spoilt." On a busy day, about 125 kg of rice, 80 kg of atta and five to six lambs go into the preparation of a meal. The complex has an automated laundry, where you are charged Rs 2.50 a piece for getting your clothes washed and ironed. And clothes rarely get mixed up or lost. The original simple brick-and-mortar resting place of this saint has been converted into a grand marble mausoleum, with lovely, ornate etchings. Etched on the inner walls are several verses from the Koran, some in letters of gold. Several thousand square feet of the courtyard surrounding this as well as two other smaller mausoleums, are covered with marble flooring. Hundreds of visitors converge on this space after dinner each evening, as the moon comes up, sitting on the cool marble floor, with hope in their hearts and prayers on their lips. Till the dargah is declared closed around 10 p.m. and you have to withdraw to your room. Immediately outside the mausoleum is a little pool of water with a fountain. This is said to contain healing and soothing properties and every visitor carries it home in a little plastic bottle. What is heartening is that a separate time is ear-marked for allowing non-Bohras (Muslims, Hindus and Christians) to offer prayers at this dargah. As the noon sun was at its strongest, one found Naresh and Manohar, college students from a nearby town, their heads covered with their handkerchiefs, braving the burning marble flooring to steal a few moments of prayer. They had come for a friend's wedding "and didn't want to miss the opportunity to have darshan of such a great peer (saint)."

The plush living quarters
So what did they pray for? "To get a first class in B.A.," is the spontaneous chorus! All the rooms in this complex have attached bath are neatly furnished and kept clean. Those who cannot afford to pay for individual rooms are accommodated in a huge dormitory, but when it comes to meal-time, no distinction is made between the different classes. One can stay at this complex up to a period of 21 days at a time, enjoying all the facilities on offer. But conditions do apply. For one, you have to strictly follow the dress code; women have to wear a two-piece burqa, which, mercifully, does not cover the face and men have to wear white kurta-pyjama and the typical Bohra cap. Also, before every meal, you have to attend the 30-minute majlis (recitation of religious verses). But with the verses being recited by a group of professionals, it is a pleasure to attend these sessions. So will the truckers' strike affect the procurement of grains for the guests? Mulla Shabbir, in charge of kitchen, laughs. "We have enough grains to feed guests for the next six months." While wheat is procured locally, Basmati rice is acquired from Delhi though truck loads and dhals from Mumbai and Gujarat." One cannot resist the temptation of asking one of the managers about yet another legend, that truck-loads of grains come with both the `sender' and `receiver' being `Hakimuddin.' He smiles, "They call this a miracle. But we know that several people who want to donate anonymously, resort to this way of providing food for the pilgrims." As simple as that. But what is not so simple, or easy to understand, is that the key people who run this place have no formal training in either management or running a hospitality venture. Once again, the answer to your puzzled question comes in the form of the finger pointed towards the mausoleum, "He has taught us everything." Pictures by Pervez Bhagat
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Anonymous said...

I ve never Missed A year Since my birth of visiting This Beautiful and Miraculous Shrine, Its such a peaceful break from the daily tensions of a metro life. And the cherry on the cake is Hakimuddin Moula Answers all my prayers and Calls me back the next year and Faith just keeps getting stronger in him day after day.

Anonymous said...

I ve never Missed A year Since my birth of visiting This Beautiful and Miraculous Shrine, Its such a peaceful break from the daily tensions of a metro life. And the cherry on the cake is Hakimuddin Moula Answers all my prayers and Calls me back the every month and Faith just keeps getting stronger in him day after day.

H said...

Congratulation, please do dua for us next time you visit.

Mustafa said...

very well written

Anonymous said...

Masha Allah, please make dua for me and my family especially for my children that they stay on seerate mustakkeen and Allah gives neik hidayat