Haji Ali is one of the most popular landmarks in Mumbai. It is located 500 meters from Mumbai’s coast, on the sea off Worli, opposite the Mahalaxmi racecourse. The oldest structure here goes back nearly six hundred years and predates the Mughals by almost a hundred years.
Haji Ali’s story goes back to the year 1431 , when it was built as a tomb to an Uzbek traveler and merchant named Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. It is believed that prior to his passing, Bukhari asked that his followers not mark grave but drop his kafan or shroud in the ocean so that he is buried where the shroud fell. The dargah was built at the spot where his shroud came to rest in – on a small mound of rocks rising above the sea.
The islet that houses Haji Ali is connected by a 500-metre long causeway that is submerged during high tide giving the impression that the dargah is afloat on the sea. The walk along the causeway, with the dark, muddy waters of the Arabian Sea breaking against the sides of the causeway on both sides, is quite an experience by itself. Haji Ali is visited by tourists as well as by people of diverse faiths who come here to pray for good health, marriage, prosperity, children etc., especially on Thursdays and Fridays.
Beside the tomb is a mosque that was designed in the elegant Indo-Saracenic style, with the familiar central dome and minarets. Haji Ali’s white structure stands out in beautiful contrast against the hot weather and blue skies of Mumbai’s coastline. The dargah looks particularly stunning at dusk, a multi-hued contrast of white marble, blue sea and sky and the orange sun.
Be advised that Haji Ali is not accessible during high tide.
Haji Ali is a tomb dedicated to a merchant Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, from Bukhara in Uzbekistan, who renounced the material world to meditate at location near present day Worli in Mumbai. The story goes that back in his home town, he had helped a woman who had spilt oil on the ground. She feared tat her husband would punish her, so Bukhari pressed his finger on the very spot she spilt the oil and it came gushing out. But that day onwards, Bukhari felt he had injured the earth and set out to right his wrongs. He found solace on the west coast of India, in what is now Mumbai and eventually became a saint.
Before his death, he advised his followers he was not to be buried just anywhere. He instructed them to drop his kafan, or shroud that is used to wrap a corpse, in the ocean. Where the kafan came to rest is where his remains were to be interred. The shroud rested on the spot where the dargah is situated today.
The causeway leading to Haji Ali was constructed in 1944, then renovated to raise its height during the late 1980s. A quaint legend is one reason the causeway has no railings. According to the trust that maintains the sargah, “safeguarding the pathway from the waves and from any other damage was a matter to be left to Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.”
Haji Ali is made of white makrana marble, the same type of marble used to construct the Taj Mahal. The mausoleum’s tallest point is the 85 foot high minaret and the entire premises covers an area of 4500 square feet.
The shrine is in the middle of the courtyard. The dargah sharief has three halls on the side of the main hall and the main hall holds the tomb of Haji Ali. The tomb lies covered with a red and green chaddar or sheet and rests within in a white marble enclosure. The main entrance leads to the southern hall, the ceiling of which is decorated with intricate art on mirrors listing the 99 names of Prophet Mohamed.
Following Islamic tradition, Haji Ali has separate prayer rooms for men and women to pay their respects to the saint.
Conservation and Restoration:
Haji Ali is a centuries old structure and parts of it are in various states of disrepair. The saline air and rainstorms have eroded the structure and restoration work was taken up multiple times since the 1960s. The first was between 1960 and 1964. Major restoration work started again in a big way in 2009.
Cover Image Courtesy: Travel Way of Life , License