Seven hundred years ago
the Saints came marching in

to this valley, from Delhi,

seven hundred Sufi Saints,

and then another seven hundred,

at the request of the great

Master Nizamuddin.


Only God 

knows why.

They lived here,

and the valley 

still breathes

their Light.


Their heirs 

have erected

sublime shrines

to honor 

some of them.


It is all 

a Song of Love; 

and in the hills

and valley at this

green time of year, 

Nature sings along. 

1. Arti At the Shrine of Zarzari Zarbaksh

Great clouds of incense smoke
waft from the bier room,
in which someone
is chanting loudly.

Bright lights 
shockingly illumine
vast swaths of
green and white marble.
Brown faces, caps, dhotis,
beards. Kind eyes.

“Time for a Sufi song,”
my guide says.
A man with full beard,
long robe and cap
and stands before
the open crypt room.

I remember
having greeted him 
earlier in the courtyard,
his hand’s touch 
like that of a bird 
scarcely lighting
on the ground.

Now, as he begins singing,
standing here like 
a great eagle, somehow,
even angels fall silent.

We stand behind him, 
a line of men,
repeating his chants
in a strong male chorus
that becomes another 
mighty voice.

Later I ask my guide,
“What is the title 
of that magnificent 
leader of the Sufi singing?”
and he replies, “Beggar.
He just came and asked 
if he could do odd jobs.”

New world of sharp angles.
Everything impossibly brilliant!
Arches outlined green and gold.
The domes, perfect; 
ice cream scoops for God.

My senses
are sharpened 
beyond measure.
In the little room
where we paid respects.
I felt a rush of the heart,
a lightening. 

Now my host goes 
and prays with 
the Moslem men
I sit where I am
offering my own
silent prayers,
surveying the room 
of brown faces—
Islamic mystics
chanting Allahu Akbar.

Briefly I wonder,:
“Is an American safe here?”
Everyone so far
has been friendly, though,
and I relax.
I speak to one or two
who inquire of me:
“I came to India for Meher Baba.” 
“Ah, Meher Baba,” one says.
“My uncle has a shop in Ahmednagar!”
“Ah,” says another.
“My father saw Meher Baba here!”

Coming down the steps 
afterward, my guide and I
pass the little flower bazaar. 
Across the lane
some of his friends 
sit drinking
at a chai shop,
and we join them.

2. Sai Baba's Cave

I've long heard of

Sai Baba’s cave,
where he received
Realization from Zarzari,
who'd lived seven hundred
years before.

It is said that Sai 
had served him
so perfectly back then
that he earned Godhood.
Only God knows why 
it was not given then.

My guide and I trudge 
up the steep hill
on the winding path.
I slip. He helps
to steady me.

We stop a moment
to rest.

Finally, we reach
a green iron gate,
Imtiyaj pulls it open,
and we carefully
climb up into the cave.

We sit upon
the earthen floor,

facing a prayer rug
and a wall hanging.
I close my eyes
in this spot

where God reached down
and turned Sai Baba into Light
so that he could become
Qutub-e-Irshad of his age,
the age when the Five
undertook their Great Work 
of bringing down the Avatar.

Meditating, I see
Zarzari as a great Eye
reaching down
Sai holding out
an open palm
with an ॐ 
inscribed upon it,
emanating blinding Light,

and Merwan in that Light
approaching Sai, 
whose recognition is
his cry: “Parvardigar!”

In this very cave once,
a human being
became God.

3. Bowing

Will I ever understand?

God is One
yet we go round 
from shrine to shrine
bowing before
Sufi Saints and Mogul Emperors,
each with a magnificent domed shrine.

At each, we buy offerings 
of flowers and perfume.
At each, a welcomer reminds us
of the donations box,
and I put in rupees.
I’ve run out of small notes,
have only 50s and 100s left.

I give to beggars
outside, as well:
a man 
with stumps for feet,
a woman whose desperately
beseeching face
I simply can't ignore.

And in each shrine there is 
another man, often a blind man, 
who tells about yet another Saint
the main Saint’s brother,
mother-in-law or son,
buried in a separate little place.
The speaker ends with, 
“I am a poor man.”
I give him 100 rupees, too.

I’m beginning to feel
I don’t know what I’m doing.
I came to pay respects
to someone who was
Master to a Master
of my Master,

but he came to this valley
with so many others
A lineage of the great
Chistis, among others.
At each place I’m told names
that seem to run 
to sentence length.

How can I comprehend
that seven hundred years ago
these men were truly
God’s Light on Earth?
I don’t recognize
of the names.
I bow and bow,
each time bowing
to Meher Baba,
saying His Name.

I don’t want
to insult my guide,
who has been kind.
He’s only 23, but
his care 
for me is that 
of a mature man.

I’m overwhelmed
with impressions
here in Khuldabad 
“City of Paradise”
where the last 
of the shrines are.
Upthrust minarets
surround a miniature
Haggia Sofia. 

Shrines are everywhere.
Each one is striking.
women in burkas
walk down the street
amid the usual Indian hubbub
shops, pedestrians, motorbikes.
An old, turbaned man
comes toward me, 
hand out. How
can I refuse?

is setting in.
We pay respects
at one last shrine,
and finally finish up
our rounds.

Now we'll drive over
to the bazaar at Ellora, 
near the caves, look for gifts
and feed the monkeys.

I have so much
to contemplate!

Poem and photos © 2017 by Max Reif