The Haji Ali Story and it's makeover plans

About 500 years ago, the revered Iranian preacher, Sayed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, came to Mumbai to preach the message of Islam.The legend goes that he once saw a poor woman sobbing by the road, holding an empty can of oil. The pir asked her why she was crying. She replied that her husband would beat her up because she accidentally spilt the oil that she had bought. On hearing this, the saint hit the ground with his baton, and a spurt of oil erupted. The woman gathered all she could carry and went away happy.However, after that, the saint was troubled by dreams of having wounded the earth by striking it in this manner. He gradually became ill, and when he was on his deathbed, he declared that his ‘kafan’, or shroud, be floated on the sea. His wish was obeyed. The dargah is built at the very site where his shroud came to rest mid-sea.Over the years, the small shrine gradually expanded with newer additions such as the ‘qawwalkhana’ and elevated pathway. The main shrine was reconstructed in 1960 using cement and concrete but is now crumbling due to constant erosion and the salty air.The structure will be razed and rebuilt completely using Makrana marble, many grades better than the sort used to construct the Taj Mahal. The design of the monument will remain the same, although the height will be increased by 4 ft. It is mandatory for an Islamic religious structure that is rebuilt to stand taller than the previous one.The challenge lies in working midsea and also preserving the inner sanctum, which houses the relics of the saint, as work goes on above. The mazaar of Haji Ali will not be touched. It will cost Rs 9.2 crore. Part of the funds are being invested by the Sayed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari Trust, the rest are sought from public donations.The estimated duration of the project is two years. Work will be carried out in two phases, the first one involving the demolition of the ‘chhatri’ or resting place and the towering ‘minara’ or turret. The second phase will shift to the inner courtyard, where namaz is offered, and other structures, including the resthouse. Repairs started more than four years ago, but the trustees soon realised that it was impossible to restore a cement and concrete structure in a manner that could hold for generations. A decision was taken to tear it down and entirely rebuild it in pure marble so that it could withstand the sea air and the lashing waves. However, it has taken over four years for the various BMC and heritage committee permissions to come through. The commencement certificate itself took a year-and-a-half to come, during which time the marble that had been procured lay waiting in a godown.

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