Floating in the middle of the Arabian Sea like a mirage, Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque and the tomb of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, is located on an islet off the coast of Worli in the southern Bombay alias Mumbai, in India. Constructed in 1431 and reckoned as an iconic landmark of the city, the edifice is a brilliant specimen of the Indo-Islamic style of architecture and visited by numerous people, irrespective of faith and religion, for its mesmerising location, architectural beauty and religious significance.
The Haji Ali Dargah is associated with Sayyed Ali Shah Bukhari, a wealthy merchant from Bukhara, now in Uzbekistan, who abandoned all his worldly possessions before heading out for the Mecca pilgrimage. After he became a Haji, a Muslim who visited Mecca as a pilgrim, Bukhari travelled around the world in the early to mid15th century and eventually settled in present-day Mumbai, intending to spread the knowledge of Islam among the natives.
There are quite a few legends associated with the life of the Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah. Legend says that once he came across a weeping poor woman on the road with an empty container in her hand. As he asked for the reason of her grief, she sobbingly replied that she would be thrashed by her husband as she stumbled and accidentally spilled the oil she was carrying.
The holy man felt pity for the woman and intended to help her. Eventually, as he poked his finger at the spot where she had spilled the oil from the container, oil oozed out of the soil to the surprising delight of the woman,who refilled her oil vessel and went home happily.
However, soon after the incident, he had a recurring and disturbing dream that his act had injured the earth. Consequently, the memory of the dream started to haunt him, filled him with remorse and eventually he started to have health hazards. Finally, in anticipation to get relief from the torturing thought and bring peace to his distressed soul, he took permission from his mother and travelled to India with his brother. After they reached Bombay, somewhere opposite the present edifice, his brother took his leave to return to their native place and Bukhari sent a letter with him to their mother informing her that he was keeping well. In the same letter, he also asked her mother to excuse him as he decided to reside at the new place permanently for the spread of Islam.
There are quite a few legends associated with his death as well. Legend says that Saint Haji Ali died abroad, when he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. But miraculously, the casket containing his body somehow floated across the sea and ended up on the shores of Mumbai. Subsequently, the iconic mosque and the saint’s tomb were built on the same spot.
However, in another version of the story, the saint instructed his followers not to bury him immediately after his death and throw his coffin in the sea. He also advised them to bury him on the spot where the coffin would be found. His followers obeyed his instruction, and as his coffin came to rest on a small mound off Worli, the mosque and the Dargah or the tomb of the holy saint were built subsequently on the same spot.
Situated on an islet around 1600 feet (500 m) from the coast, the magnificent mosque, housing the Dargah or the tomb of the saint, is connected to the mainland through a narrow causeway of about a kilometre long, which can be accessed only during low tide. During the high ride, the causeway gets submerged in water, making the Dargah inaccessible. The magnificent edifice covers an area of 48.437 square feet (4,500 sq. m) and a height of 85 feet (25.90 m). The main structure, along with the courtyard, is made of pure white Markana marble and is crowned with a massive central dome and four small spires in the four corners. Inside the shrine, the tomb is covered with a green and red brocade sheet and surrounded by silver frames from all sides, while the entire construction is encircled by eight pillars of marble. The main hall inside the building is bordered on three sides by three halls, among which, men are allowed to pray in the east hall, while the west hall is reserved for women. According to the ruling of the Bombay High Court on 26 August 2016, women are now allowed to enter the shrine, after a ban imposed on them in June 2012. While the marble ceiling of the central hall is decorated with mirror work and inscribed with 99 different names of Allah, the walls have verses from Quran Sharief, engraved on them.
After the onset of dusk, the image of the illuminated shine reflected in the water of the sea presents a dreamy picture for onlookers from the shore.