The Living Heritage of Nizamuddin Basti As Virsa Ae Nizamuddin

The Living Heritage of Nizamuddin Basti (Virsa Ae Nizamuddin)


This document is a product of a community research internship done on the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti with Anand Foundation. The objective is to develop a guiding map of the very unique and rich in heritage as well as very little known Nizamuddin Basti of New Delhi.


The Nizamuddin Basti is a settlement initiated by the Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in the 12th century. Ever since then the community has grown up and had abundance of followers visiting and settling in the community. With various monuments, wide market, food and very friendly involvement with the people, the community is nothing less than charming and captivating.


The sacred history and the urge to explore more about the tradition of the community has been my sole motivation to work on the same. It has been a very beautiful and enriching experience for me and while you read about my experience, I hope you are curious enough to visit the Basti and feel a supreme power existing above us all for yourself as well!


About Anand Foundation

Mapping the Intangible heritage of Delhi is the core objective of Anand Foundation. The idea is to create sensitivity and awareness of the living culture of the city and provide free database all along to inculcate the appreciation of diversity in young minds.

It’s a platform providing the exponents of cultural expressions and a chance for us all to know our culture and value where we come from!



The Nizamuddin Basti in the capital is an expression of living heritage. The community amidst the narrow lanes, attar and kebab shops not only hold the significant dargah and qawwalis evenings but it beholds in it the 700 year old heritage alive.

With monuments forgotten and tradition overshadowed by modernisation, this is an effort to revive the tangible as well as intangible heritage of the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.

Taking you back to the era of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and building an idea about the evolution of the community to every remarkable and hardly known gems of the Basti, to exploring the market and food and to getting to know the community and its lifestyle more closely- You are all set to get drenched into a world which is one of its own kind!



  1. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya
  2. History of the Nizamuddin Basti and its evolution
  3. The Current LIfestyles of the Nizamuddin Basti (The tradition and culture, Monuments, The Market, Food and much more!)
  4. Lifestyle Challenges of the Basti
  5. Interview with Mr. Samiur Rehman
  6. Meeting the Challenges of the Basti

Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya

After the message of God was passed down to the people by prophets and messengers of God, the process was not over. It was still carried out by Sufis and Auliyas (friends of Allah). They are the true heirs of prophets and messengers.

The shrines of the Sufis and Auliyas became holy their followers. Today millions of people visit these shrines every month. The shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in New Delhi has been spreading the light of guidance and satisfaction of soul and rejuvenating every spiritual mind.

Mohammed Nizamuddin Auliya also known as Hazrat Nizamuddin was born in 1238 in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh. A Sufi saint of the Chishti Order, Hazrat Nizamuddin is one of the most adored Sufi of India. His teaching always focussed love as a medium of realising God. Remarked by religious pluralism and kindness, his love of God was love of humanity. This strongly reflected in all his teachings.

The aura of mysticism, spirituality and the love for God attracts millions of devotees’ everday to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. However the shrine itself has evolved into a magnificent complex compound of market, lost in disguise monuments and a community of people living around in the same surrounding.

Well, you may have been to Nizamuddin Dargah but now prepare yourself to find out what else has this place got for you!

History of Nizamuddin Basti and its evolution

The shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya has existed for over seven centuries. It being the epicentre simultaneously exists with various hardly noticed monuments and a very dense community. The Nizamuddin Basti is a compactly populated neighbourhood that has been surrounding the Dargah for over many decades.

However before the Basti resembled a sprawl of narrow lanes, complex twists and turns, hardly regulated and congested housing have been blended with centuries old shrines, tombs and much more!

We found out that the Basti has only been existing in its present form for over 70 years. Prior to this establishment, the space was only a large graveyard

because of its proximity to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin. The Basti began its haphazard journey at the time of Partition in 1947.

The present picture is the result of refugees settling in the area. Apart from refugees finding a settlement over the graveyard, overtime a lot of families found peace in living near close to their beloved Sufi Saint. Many also established here in order to find remedy to their illness and livelihood.

The Current Lifestyle of Nizamuddin Basti

It was more than 700 years ago when Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya visited the part of Delhi then known as Ghiyaspur. When he settled here, Ghiyaspur was named after him. Naturally Sufi saints all around the world keep travelling and some when they used to settle in cities or towns, wherever they used to travel or settle, they preached humanity and love. Thus that never attracted followers from any specific kind of religion or sect people coming from various religions and backgrounds and followed the teachings of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

Soon the community started building up and just as expected various people started settling in the settlement that Hazrat Nizamuddin had built up around him. Dynasties came and finished, rulers ruled and died but they built monuments in this sacred area. The community is enriched with so many monuments which are hidden today but are a very significant part of our culture. The Nizamuddin community gradually became denser and more spiritual with every passing day.

The community holds a very Sufi environment of preaching humanity and the message of Allah, Qawwali and Sufi songs became a tradition which one experiences even today. The holy environment attracted people from all over Asia and soon various needs like that of Market and food stalls started arising. People also found a living in the same. And soon people built what we now experience at Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah.

The following section covers the forgotten monuments of the community as well as the market, food and various other remarkable places which not only one should visit but experience!

Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya

Hazrat Sheikh Khawaja Syed Muhammad Nizamuddin Auliya was called upon as the Sultan Al Mashayath or the Emperor of the Mystics.

Successor of Baba Farid in 1265, he became the provider of spiritual consolation to the people of Delhi. He died in 1325 and his shrine became one of the most visited spiritual get way for people of India and beyond. Hazrat Nizamuddin even after his demise of over 700 years is providing the path and relief to his followers.

It was Muhammad Bin Tughlaq who built a dome over the brave of Nizamuddin Auliya and futher was repaired by Feroz Shah. The present structure is nothing like it was 700 years ago. The present structure of the Dargah was constructed during the reign of Akbar in 1563 while the dome was later built by Mughal emperor Akbar Shah II in 1824.

Dargah of Amir Khusrau

At the age of 16 Ab’ul Hasan Yamin ud-Din Khusrau approached Nizamuddin at the doorsteps of Ghiyaspur Khanqah. Popularly known as Amir Khusrau, was the closest and most loved disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. The friendship between Hazrat Nizamuddin and Amir Khusrau was so deep that Hazrat Nizamuddin used to say that “if only the Islamic law would have permitted I would have willed Khusrau be buried in the same grave as me.”

Not only Khusrau was the keeper of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s secrets and made him smile the most but the most significant poet of the Indian Subcontinent. He was awarded the title of “NIghtangle of India” or “Toot e Hind”.  Khusrau laid down the Urdu poetry by his composition of local Brijbhasha (Khari Boli) along with Hindi literature with Arab, Turkish and Persian work. He is credited for the innovation of Sitar and Tabla and also the creation of Qawwali.

Khusrau is known as the father of Urdu Literature. He died exactly 6 months after Hazrat Nizamuddin in 1325. He is resting as the neighbour of his beloved Hazrat Nizamuddin. His shrine is highly spiritual and most visited one today.


Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah Baoli

It was around the 14th Century (1321-22) when Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya started digging up a stepwell or a Boali. It was around the same time that Emperor Ghiyas-ud-Din Tughlaq was building his own city of Tughlakabad. There was a spark of conflict and Tughlaq forbid the labourers to work at the Baoli. However, the labourers were devoted and started working at the Baoli during the night under the light of oil lamps. Soon the emperor banned the sale of oil in the city. The legends have it that Hazrat Nizamuddin used the Holy water of the Baoli and the lamps were lit. Thus the lamps the construction took place uninterrupted.

Ever since then the water of the Baoli has been considered sacred and attracts many devotees.

Rectangular in outward appearance, the Baoli has a stepped circular tank at its centre, with a depth of about 80 feet below the ground level. It measures 123 ft. by 53 ft. internally, and is enclosed by walls on two sides on which buildings are erected. Portions of the Baoli collapsed in 2008 calling out for immediate conservation.

Aga Khan Trust for Culture took up the charge and removed almost 700 year old debris from the Baoli which was also quite contaminated by the locals.

Today you can see the Baoli while entering the Dargah. While crossing the Baoli you will find yourself in an amusing corridor which full of little shops and beggars and a whole lot of sense of mysticism in the air.

Dargah of Hazrat Sufi Inayat Ali Khan

Amidst the hustle bustle of the Nizamuddin Basti, there exist a very calm and peaceful little garden along with the shrine of a mystic musician who was an explicitly one of the most extraordinary man.

Hazrat Inayat Khan Rehmat Khan Pathan also known as Sufi Inayat Ali Khan not only popularised Hindustani Music but is the one who spread the word about what he called “The Universal Sufism” in Europe and United States of America in the early 20th century.

Sufi Inayat Khan received the title of “Tansen” from the Nizam of Hyderabad. His message was of Tawhid which means unity. The passion for music and Sufi ideologies.You may visit the Dargah anytime you want to feel some tranquillity among chaos. With special Qawwali sessions every Friday evening after sunset, the dargah also holds a small library with various books based on the motif of mysticism, music and Sufi orders.

Kalaan Masjid

The Kalaan Masjid (large mosque) is the living heritage of 750 years and strongly exists among the extremely narrow lanes of the Nizamuddin Basti. It was built by Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah, Wazir to Sultan Firoz Shah. It is located on the Eastern fringe of Nizamuddin and is dated back to 1370-1371.

It’s maintained by Delhi Waqf Board. The mosque is painted white and green and is kept spick and span. During renovation work carried on in the beginning in the twentieth century, new columns were added to the structure due to which the old Tughlaq charm is now lost. The Kalaan Masjid is now used as a congregational mosque by the residents of Nizamuddin area.

You may only feel a sense of belongingness pulling you closer to the idea of God while offering prayer at the Kalaan Masjid.

Chausath Khamba

This majestic structure is located on the way to Nizamuddin Dargah between the chaotic market and restaurants. Chausath Khamba means ‘64pillars’. It was built during 1623-24 by Mirza Aziz Koka as a mausoleum for himself during the reign of Jahangir in Delhi.

It is a square structure constructed of white marble. The Chausath Khamba is often compared to a similar tomb built in marble in Sarkhej in Gujarat where he served many times as Jahangir’s Governor in Gujarat. The monument is part of Nizamuddin compound. Its courtyard was redesigned by Aga Khan Trust. The Chausath Khamba is surrounded by Urs Mahal, (where qawwali performance is held during festival days and during Urs of Nizamuddin Auliya) and The Tomb of Mirza Ghalib.

One must visit the Chausath Khamba during the time of Sunset to find them starring at the light getting darker with every passing minute and get totally amused.

Tomb of Mirza Ghalib

Mirza Sadullah Khan Ghalib was the last great Mughal-era philosopher-poet. He witnessed the defining moment in the Indian History of devastation of Mughal Era and the creation of the British Rule. Loved by millions of people Ghalib’s work still makes people wonder and wonder deep. His tomb is situated towards the northern end of Chausath Khamba enclosure. The tomb is made of marble and is surrounded by other anonymous graves. Visitors and tourists visit it through a narrow lane that stretches to Nizamuddin Basti. However, the tomb site remains locked, for which you need to contact the Ghalib Academy Administration Office. It is opened for all and for all days but the preferable time to visit the tomb is from sunrise to sunset.

At the Nizamuddin Dargah you will come across the Nizami Bandhu performing Qawwali, a genre of sufi music. Also known as the Nizami Brothers, they are holding up the 700 year old rich family legacy of Qawwali music. Nizami Bandhu hail from the Sikandra Gharana which has produced some of the finest Qawwals of all time.

Today the responsibility of carrying the legacy forward is on the shoulders of Ustad Chand Nizami, Shadab Faridi Nizami and Sohrab Faridi Nizami.

The Nizami Bandhu belong to a family that are progenies of court singer of Hazrat Niamuddin Auliya. They are known to perform Qawwalis written by Amir Khusrau in the honour of Hazrat NIzamuddin Auliya.

Nizami Bandhu has not only performed all around the world but have also appeared in various Bollywood movies like Rockstar singling Kun Faya Kun and Bajrangi Bhaijaan singing Aaj Rang Hai.

The Market of Nizamuddin Basti

Once you’ve set your foot in the Dargah lane you will hear shopkeepers constantly calling you out to their stalls. A large number of the Basti’s population has come from various states like Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. The men of the household moved to Nizamuddin in order of livelihood and soon their families settled here and today various such families have been living in the Basti from generations.

There are numerous little shops selling flowers, chaddars and other offerings that one traditionally makes on visiting holy shrines. These colourful chaddars and rose petal fragrances takes over the entire lane that somehow we may miss the sight of some very unique shops.

From unbelievably small to large attar shops at Nizamuddin would totally take away your attention. These stores have several hundred types of remarkable attars that one would very well fancy. For the bookworms there exists an exceptional Urdu literature collection and its translation at the bookstore named JMC India Publishers near Ghalib Academy.

While taking an exit route through the Barah Khamba park you may want to find out Rais Bhai Ki Dukaan. This shop has no name board and could be easily reached by asking the locals. Rais Bhai Ki Dukaan is a 35-40 year old antique shop. It’s a little clustered but is bound to leave you totally amazed! The beautiful Attar shops offer the options of gender specific to unisex fragrance of white Oud!  The Attar shops in the area offer inexpensive options for mix of synthetic Attars!

Ghalib Academy

Founded in 1969 by Hakeem Abdul Hameed, Ghalib Academy is an educational and cultural institution. The academy consists of a museum of the 19th century poet, a research library, art gallery, an auditorium and a computerised calligraphy and Urdu language training centres. From having a wide range of rich collection of books which are not available anywhere else the academy engages in the development and promotion of the Urdu language through literary and cultural programs. The Ghalib Academy is the hub for literature enthusiasts and should be visited definitely to feel the Urdu richness.  Moreover 1the tomb of Mirza Ghalib is just next to the Academy building.

The Food Trail

The main Dargah lane would not only lead you to Hazrat Nizamudiin Auliya but while you are on your way your senses would find irresistible aroma of mughlai and north indian delicacies that you might find yourself drooling.  Yes! That really happens!

Along the chaotic market Nizamuddin Basti has got to offer you the feast that will just make your day. Hotels and Restaurants here are 3 to 50 years old for you to choose.  Along with some traditional yet contemporary restaurants like Al Quresh and Karim’s would call you out but there are some quite old and most visited Hotels that are offering dishes since few generations and still hold the same quality and zeal. The Rehmani’s Muradabadi Biriyani to Monis Kada Ki Nihari is best of all. Yet Yaseen Kabab Corner and Akhlaque Nahari Waale is the oldest Hotel in the Basti for you to hog on your love for non-vegetarian food.

These food joints attract a lot of people to the Basti which encourages the owners to always do much and much better. While there are many Hotels you can pay certain amount that they would engage into feeding the poor and beggars of the Basti on your behalf. With the goodness of taste they expand the goodness of will.

Nizamuddin Markaz

Nizamuddin Markaz or Banglewali Masjid is a massive mosque located amidst the buzzing market of the Nizamuddin West. It’s the global centre and the birthplace of Tablighi Jammat which is an Islamic religious movement where the people along with the scholars come together to this pious place to pray and preach the teachings of Allah and follow the work of the Prophets.  The objective is to rejuvenate Islam among the Muslims.

The Markaz holds annual gathering of the Tabligh workers worldwide and its actions are spread around the entire world.

The lifestyle challenges of the Basti

When one visits the Nizamuddin Community, they will surely be thrown away with the crowd, the dirty lanes and the clear picture of low economic status of the people. One might wonder that how did a sacred place like this turned into an urban slum?

As the area was established holy, people from various places started migrating here which led to the growth in population. Poor folks came here in search of a living and followers of Nizamuddin Auliya came here so that they could be closer to his glory.  However with the rising market and other opportunities people started earning a livelihood and built their houses around the Basti.

But there still was a large part of the crowd which had no shelter, so they started living on the graveyard. That is how we now find a large part of the community living on the graveyard.

Soon the people of the community found shelter and a livelihood but with the world moving ahead in every sphere, the Nizamuddin Basti’s people were still found to be backward. In terms of education, health, hygiene and sanitation, the people of the Basti were vividly lacking behind. There existed a strong essence of gender inequalities and myths which were holding people back from moving ahead with time.

These issues and the loud call for conservation of the monuments of the Basti were beautifully met. Various NGOs and organisations are now working for the betterment of the people and trying to keep the heritage alive for better days.

Let’s get to know Nizamuddin Basti a little better

Mr Samiur Rehman, director of The Hope Project -an NGO running in the Nizamuddin Basti providing quality health and education facilities to the people of the community. Mr Rehman has been working in the Nizamuddin Basti for almost a decade. His understanding on the culture and challenges of the community are quite explicit.

Following is an interview with him in regard to understand more about the heritage of the Nizamuddin Basti-

Question- How would you describe the tradition of the Nizamuddin Basti and how do you think the people are holding up to it?

“Hazrat Nizamuddin lived during the period of Tughlaq and other dynasties. His teachings attracted a lot of people from all around south Asia and so migration increased as people wanted to live closer to Hazrat Nizamuddin. This Sufi Movement also brought a kind of National Integration at that particular time. The Sufi environment of Qawwali, Sufi songs and people listening to the teachings of Hazrat Nizamuddin holds the core culture of the place. It was an entirely a sacred place. Followers from various places came here to feel fresh and get a spiritual rejuvenation. However with time things changed and now you will find a different environment. The spiritual and sacred environment has now transformed itself into a market or a business environment. With more and more people migrating in the area and more followers visiting the Dargah each day, the need for the market arised on its own. More people moved here in search of livelihood and therefore it became crowded. Hut still the people are holding up the 700 year old tradition and are holding the culture of the Sufi environment intact”.

Question- What do you think about the evolution of the Basti and what are its challenges?

“It’s a known fact that when poor people migrate in search of livelihood, they settle around religious sites like mosques, temples, churches etc. because they are sure about the fact that they will be fed. People in India profoundly believe in charity and this is their most basic need. This brought a lot of crowd in Nizamuddin Basti and gradually evolution began along with the onset of market and more inclination towards business.. Since the area was also established with various monuments by emperors and other rulers, migrants started living in the same monuments. This became one major challenge to preserve the monuments as they are a very important part of our culture. Apart from that other problems of the community is lack of education, health facilities and cleanliness. However a lot of work is being done to overcome these issues. It’s a long way to go and we are not giving up anytime soon!”

Question What do you think is the significance of the Nizamuddin Basti Today?

“Nizamuddin Basti is highly significant as it’s a centre for liberal learning in Islam that is the Markaz. It’s still very significant because of the Sufi shrines of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and other saints like Sufi Inayat Ali Khan and is significant because it has always maintained a harmony among all religions. People from all over the world come here and never has anyone experienced any such incident which shows that there is hatred as far as religion is concerned or past or race is concerned. The human values are still very prevalent here and that I suppose is the strongest point under the significance of the Nizamuddin Basti.”


You may come across various women at the Dargah praying and tying up the Mannat ka Dhaga. Most of these women are followers from various places who have come to visit their beloved saint. They wish for health, success and wellness for their loved ones. Many come to seek relief from their illness. They often live at the Dargah until their treatment is completed.  Majority of these women are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and nearby villages. Their strong belief and love knows no distances and pain!


Meeting the challenges

When people understood the significance of the Nizamuddin Basti and its heritage, they came around with the initiative to preserve and fix its glitches. Today there are various running NGOs and other organisations both private and government, all working to create a holistic environment for community and its people.

Under the Aga Khan Trust for Culture runs an initiative called Hazrat Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative. Under this initiative they have taken up the charge to restore and renovate all the monuments of the Basti from Chausath Khamba, Ghalib’s Tomb, Hazrat Nizamuddin Baoli and more. The good gracious condition of the monuments today is the entire courtesy of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

Under the same initiative, they run a development centre where not only they run vocational courses for the children of the Basti but also run women self-help groups like Insha-e-Noor where women of the community come together and try their hands on making beautiful embroidery, Sanjhi art work and various other handicrafts. Another woman Self-help group under the same initiative called Zaika-e-Nizamuddin is running where the women of the Basti are cooking delicious Kebabs and Haleems using around 700 year old recipes. Not only they deliver food to people around but also feed the undernourished kids of the community.

These initiatives have not only provided the women of the community a platform to work but have also broken barrier of gender inequality prevalent in the Basti but have made them self-sufficient and financially strong.

Another excellent work done in the community is by The Hope Project which was founded by the Pir Vilayat Sufi Inayat Ali Khan. The Hope Project is a school providing the underprivileged children of the Basti with a wholesome education system. They also help children revive education who once opted out of education due to various reasons and circumstances.

Under the same foundation runs a health centre called Hazrat Inayat Khan Health Centre which provides free or very low cost health facilities for the people of the Nizamuddin Basti. The very friendly staff of the health entre creates a positive environment rather than an anxious aura that exists in health centres.

The problems of the people gave birth to the need to NGOs in the Nizamuddin community to overcome the faults. So far the problems are meeting their solution and the people are moving ahead to a better life. Therefore living the legacy of 700 year old heritage not in misery but in still getting better and happy lives!



The living heritage as we call it, The Nizamuddin Basti is an exceptional example of how our culture exists throughout time and how over time it has to deal with coming changes but still has to stand close to its roots.  This community only inspires us to value where we come from as well as overcome the challenges of life that keep arising with the changing time.  As for those who have never been to this sacred place before, you will now know where to go, what to see, how to see it and what to experience. The air breathes togetherness and binds us in it to the wholesome cultural involvement that we might have never thought existed in our fast and chaotic life.


About Me

Pursuing Masters in Development Communication from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia and a Psychology graduate , I love to explore the unknown and known places around. I enjoy tea, photography, writing and mostly everything which is aesthetically inclusive.

I have always been curious about places, people and their tradition and this research reciprocates the  same curiosity.

In this research work I have tried to explore and capture the essence of Nizamuddin Basti through its culture, people, monuments and more from various aspects and I hope it will make you want to visit this community soon!