His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visit to India: For His Ismaili Followers and Volunteers, “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

A young girl presents Mawlana Hazar Imam with flowers on the occasion of the inauguration of the Aga Khan Academy,  Hyderabad. Photo: The Ismaili/Gary Otte.

A young girl presents Mawlana Hazar Imam with flowers on the occasion of the inauguration of the Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad. Photo: The Ismaili/Gary Otte.

I. 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.

Mawlana Hazar Imam arrives in New Delhi and is received by leaders of the Jamat and the Aga Khan Development Network. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

Mawlana Hazar Imam arrives in New Delhi and is received by leaders of the Jamat and the Aga Khan Development Network. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

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.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, accompanied by Prince Hussain and officials from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, including its General Manager, Luis Monreal, front left, walks down the central axis of the Sundar Nursery — once known as Azim Bagh (great garden) —after visiting  the Sundar Burj, a 16th century tomb restored by the AKTC. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

Mawlana Hazar Imam, accompanied by Prince Hussain and officials from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, including its General Manager, Luis Monreal, front left, walks down the central axis of the Sundar Nursery — once known as Azim Bagh (great garden) —after visiting the Sundar Burj, a 16th century tomb restored by the AKTC. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

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.

 The Humayun Tomb, the resting place of the second Mughal emperor and a precursor to the Taj Mahal,forms a backdrop in this picture taken during the inauguration ceremony on September 18, 2013 which was attended by the Chief Guest, the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, His Highness the Aga Khan, the Minister of Culture, Chandresh Kumari Katoch, Chairman Ratan Tata of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Prince Hussain Aga Khan. Photo: The website of the Prime Minister of India.


The Humayun Tomb, the resting place of the second Mughal emperor and a precursor to the Taj Mahal, forms a backdrop in this picture taken during the inauguration ceremony on September 18, 2013 which was attended by the Chief Guest, the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, His Highness the Aga Khan, the Minister of Culture, Chandresh Kumari Katoch, Chairman Ratan Tata of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Prince Hussain Aga Khan. Photo: The website of the Prime Minister of India.

His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan meeting the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on September 18, 2013. P D Photo by Hansraj

His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan meeting the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on September 18, 2013. P D Photo by Hansraj

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.

His Highness the Aga Khan with Indian leaders during his visit to the country in September 2013. Clockwise (from top left) the Honourable Vice President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari; Shrimati Chandresh Kumari Katoch, India's Minister of Culture; His Excellency the Honourable Pranab Mukherjee, President of India; The Honourable Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) of India; Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance; the Honourable Salman Khurshid, External Affairs Minister of India, Photos: AKDN/Gary Otte

His Highness the Aga Khan with Indian leaders during his visit to the country in September 2013. Clockwise (from top left) the Honourable Vice President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari; Shrimati Chandresh Kumari Katoch, India’s Minister of Culture; His Excellency the Honourable Pranab Mukherjee, President of India; The Honourable Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) of India; Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance; the Honourable Salman Khurshid, External Affairs Minister of India, Image: Simerg – a collage of photos taken by AKDN/Gary Otte

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.

A budding artist at the Aga Khan Academy presents her work to His Highness the Aga Khan, the Chief Minister of Andhra  Pradesh, and the Minister for Human Resources Development. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

A budding artist at the Aga Khan Academy presents her work to His Highness the Aga Khan, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, and the Minister for Human Resources Development. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

His Highness the Aga Khan asks a student at the Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad about his work. - Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

His Highness the Aga Khan asks a student at the Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad about his work. – Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

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.

His Highness the Aga Khan was interviewed by NDTV's Shekar Gupta during his visit to Hyderabad for the inauguration of the Aga Khan Academy. See link below for interview.

His Highness the Aga Khan was interviewed by NDTV’s Shekar Gupta during his visit to Hyderabad for the inauguration of the Aga Khan Academy. See link below for interview.

Hazar Imam’s meetings with dignitaries and interviews, were telecast on various Indian channels such as DD-Bharti, NDTV Walk the Talk, [1] 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. MULAQAT WITH THE ISMAILI JAMATS

Mawlana Hazar Imam poses for a photograph with the performers at the conclusion of the institutional dinner. Photo: The Ismaili/Aziz Ajaney.

Mawlana Hazar Imam poses for a photograph with the performers at the conclusion of the institutional dinner. Photo: The Ismaili/Aziz Ajaney.

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. THE PREPARATIONS

Historic Hasanabad - venue for Jamati mulaqats. Photo: Toral Pradhan Collection.

Historic Hasanabad – venue for Jamati mulaqats. Photo: Toral Pradhan Collection.

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.

A group photo of a few of the thousands of volunteers who contributed to making Mawlana Hazar Imam's visit to India a truly memorable one. Photo: Toral Pradhan Collection.

A group photo of a few of the thousands of volunteers who contributed to making Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to India a truly memorable one. Photo: Toral Pradhan Collection.

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.

Author of this piece, Toral Pradhan, left, pictured with Shamshad, Anisha and Shahbanu at Hasanabad where they all served as volunteers during Mawlana Hazar Imam's visit to India. Photo: Toral Pradhan Collection.

Author of this piece, Toral Pradhan, left, pictured with Shamshad, Anisha and Shahbanu at Hasanabad where they all served as volunteers during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to India. Photo: Toral Pradhan Collection.

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 VOLUNTEERS

Mawlana Hazar Imam inspects Ismaili Bulbuls and Cubs standing at attention in the compound of Hasanabad in Mazagaon — the burial place of the 46th Ismaili Imam, Hazrat Aga Hasan Ali Shah, Aga Khan I. Photo: Ahmed Charania

Mawlana Hazar Imam inspects Ismaili Bulbuls and Cubs standing at attention in the compound of Hasanabad in Mazagaon, the burial-place of the 46th Ismaili Imam, Hazrat Aga Hasan Ali Shah, Aga Khan I. Photo: The Ismaili/Ahmed Charania

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.

Ashish Merchant, Vice-President of the Ismaili Council for India, and other Jamati leaders, bid farewell to Mawlana Hazar Imam as he prepares to depart the country. Photo: The Ismaili/Ahmed Charania

Ashish Merchant, Vice-President of the Ismaili Council for India, and other Jamati leaders, bid farewell to Mawlana Hazar Imam as he prepares to depart the country. Photo: The Ismaili/Ahmed Charania

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.

Celebrations

Celebrations

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”, [2] 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: Saturday, October 26, 2013.
Last updated: October 26, 2013 (link to rendition of ginan “Sahebji tun more man bhave” by E N O O, see below).

Copyright: Toral Pradhan/Simerg.

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Were you a volunteer during the visit? Do you have stories or photographs that you would like to share with our readers? Please email them to simerg@aol.com, subject India Visit, or submit your feedback at the bottom of this page.

Simerg also welcomes article feedback/letters from readers. Please use the LEAVE A REPLY box which appears below or send your comment to simerg@aol.com if you run into problems with the submission box.

Toral Pradhan at Hasanabad.
Toral Pradhan at Hasanabad.

About the author: 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 the past several years has craved for service to the Imam of the Time. Her wish was finally granted during the recent visit of Mawlana Hazar Imam to India when she served as a volunteer in Mumbai. She described the service as an opportunity of a lifetime and a dream come true.

Please also read Toral’s recent fascinating piece A Brief History of the Khoja Ismaili Community in Daman, India, from the Portuguese Period to the Present (includes author’s complete profile).

___________

[1] Watch NDTV’s Walk the Talk interview with His Highness the Aga Khan.

[2] Please click on the following image for a rendition of the ginan by E N O O.

15 thoughts on “His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visit to India: For His Ismaili Followers and Volunteers, “A Dream Come True” and “An Experience of Being Lifted Away to Another World”

  1. Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp — the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star — lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, whose oil almost lights up, though fire should not touch it. Light upon light. Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes. Allah draws parables for mankind, and Allah has knowledge of all things. – Holy Qur’an 24:35

    Say: Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none comparable unto Him. – Holy Qur’an 112:1-4

  2. This piece is beautiful and I thank the writer for sharing her experiences.
    Shodikhon Mirzohasanov from Tajikistan – Badakhshan

  3. Ilm se hume aayenga jyaada Iman Ali pe momino
    Dua giryazari se milenge jyaada rehmet Ali ki momino
    Aashisque aur khidmat se milanga khud hume Ali saara

    With knowledge you gain more faith on Ali
    With prayers and seeking favours you get more grace from Ali
    With love and khidmat for him, you get all of Ali within you.

  4. Thank you for sharing your most memorable experience during Hazar Imam’s recent visit to India. Mubaraki to the Indian Jamat! Remember us in your prayers.

  5. Thanks for the comprehensive report and the beautiful pictures of Montana Hazar Imam’s recent visit to India and congratulations to whole jamat and all the volunteers.

  6. Congratulations to all our Indian Jamat.. and I wish I and my family members and our Jamat are also given Deedari by Noor Mawlana Shah Karim-ul Hussaini Hazar Imam. Please do pray for our Pakistan Jamat to get the Imam-e-Noor Deedari in our country and our Jamat.. Aameen.

  7. “Excellent” the report was superbly drafted with complete information & pictures. Keep up the good work & art of writing. Regards.

  8. Thank you for sharing your most memorable experience during Hazar Imam’s recent visit to India. Always wonderful to read about the volunteerism around the world. Congtatulations to the Indian Jamat! Mubaraki to Toral for sharing your personal story. God bless.

    Rashida Kanji
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  9. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece about the India visit, and the hard work performed by the volunteers. Very inspiring, and it is wonderful to see that this spirit of volunteerism is to be found all around the world due to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s constant encouragement and blessings. Congratulations to the Jamat and Indian leadership for making this visit such a wonderful one, as is evident from the piece you have written.

  10. Toral, your personal story would be enlightening to read. They way you portary this visit reminds me of the feeling one may experience during such a visit. Thank you for sharing. Want to read again and again and imagine being there…Mubarak and keep it always in the forefront of your heart and mind

    • Banu, what a last line you have written. I overall like you comment but the last one the very most. Mubarak and keep it always in the forefront of your heart and mind.

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