The saltwater splashing, shimmering under the setting sun draws the attention to an endless expanse of the sea. A plunge into the rough eastern shores of the Arabian Sea provides a glimpse of the flora, fauna and even the deep-seated sedimentary rocks holding the viscous oil within. Yet, one might not come across the intangible plethora of beliefs that have accumulated over the centuries right there, finally culminating in the Haji Ali dargah (tomb).
At a time when the Mumbai archipelago was administered by the Gujarat governors appointed by the Delhi Sultanate, the first construction of the dargah began in 1431 CE approximately 500 metres off the Mumbai coastline. This was also the peak of the Sufi movement in medieval India. The story goes that Iranian Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari created a stream of oil flow by a touch of his finger on the seashore in order to help a woman in need. Struck by remorse for injuring the earth, he later requested his followers to lay his coffin in the sea without harming the earth. The flow of waves is said to have lodged his coffin at a point where eventually the Haji Ali dargah was constructed. Is this folklore merely a figment of man’s imagination or truly a miracle in the sea where around 500 years later, India’s only offshore oil field–Bombay High was explored in 1974?
The mausoleum is revered as a site of fulfilment of desires, with none returning empty-handed. The touch of Bukhari, who had meditated at the spot for years, is believed to have transformed the aura of the tomb from being a mere spot of beauty into an atmosphere of spirituality. The soothing melodies of Sufi hymns appear to dance to the tunes of gentle, whistling winds merging with the splatter of tides. The narrow road leading to the tomb, often drenched in seawater, is submerged during high tides making the place inaccessible. Nevertheless, the dargah remains dry throughout the year.
Believers say, time and again the site has witnessed miracles. But what do these miracles refer to? For some, they may be coincidences or occurrences devoid of scientific explanations, while some others may call them acts of the divine power. With varied perspectives, miracles are what you believe them to be.
A severe storm in 1949 had struck the Mumbai coastline, washing away several buildings, including those located away from the shore. The Haji Ali dargah remained unscathed. The survivors inside the mausoleum believed it was the power of the saint which abated the turbulent waves. Atheists called it a coincidence of nature. Years later, a cloud burst in 2005 brought Mumbai to a standstill. The dargah remained unaffected yet again. The devotees considered it a celestial act of the saint who prevented the water from collecting within the tomb.
So, how can the Haji Ali dargah’s inexplicable strength be interpreted? As a geological factor yet to be comprehended, as the belief of millions of devotees or as simply a miracle?