800 year old Indian Hospice in Jerusalem
Are you an Indian in Jerusalem looking for a place to stay for a few days? You do have an incredible choice of staying where the great Sufi saint Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar himself stayed during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem eight centuries ago. For centuries the Indian Hospice in Jerusalem has stood at the same place. The Ansari family from India currently manages the lodge. Over the centuries this humble Indian hospice in Jerusalem has seen terrible times. Yet it has survived the worst, and to this day keeps its doors open for Indian pilgrims. Even VVIPs from India spend a night or two in this holy abode. Of course, in keeping with Sufi tradition, it doesn’t segregate between the famous and the humble. The hospice is located near the Herod’s gate in Old Jerusalem.
The saint’s trip to Jerusalem
Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar was a late 12th – early 13th-century mystic saint from Punjab in India. Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs hold him in the highest reverence and go on pilgrimages to his shrine located in the Punjab province of present-day Pakistan. He lived between 1179 and 1266 CE.
About a decade after the armies of King Saladin had expelled the Christian crusaders from Jerusalem, Baba Farid arrived in Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. According to accounts of his life, he spent many days sweeping the floor of the Al-Aqsa mosque. He also spent days fasting and meditating in a cave within the city walls. It is not clear how many days did he spend in Jerusalem. However, after his return to the Indian subcontinent, many of his disciples passing through Jerusalem for a pilgrimage to Mecca wished to stay exactly where the great saint had stayed. In time a lodge, the Indian Hospice, came at that exact place in memory of Baba Farid.
The Lodge Indian hospice in Jerusalem
Ever since the Indian Hospice in Jerusalem was built, Indian pilgrims began arriving at the lodge in great numbers. However, in more recent times, the place has had to withstand some severe rough weather. For example, the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 severely damaged the hospice. When Sheikh Muhammad Munir Ansari took over the charge of the lodge from his father in 1952 it was scarred by severe shelling. Rockets hit the lodge again in 1967 during the Six Days War. As the Israeli army moved into Jerusalem they heavily bombed the hospice. Sheikh Munir was terribly injured and his mother, his sister, and two-year-old nephew died in the attack.
Yet, Sheikh Munir told the BBC in an interview, the Ansari family was determined not to abandon the lodge. Thus, with the determined effort of the Ansaris, the lodge’s services were revived again from the rubble to which it was reduced. Thankfully, such horrific memories are now a distant past. And the Lodge is still alive and well, now spread over 7000 square metres. It still welcomes pilgrims with open arms, and only a few years ago, in 2018, Vijay Kumar Rupani, the chief minister of Gujarat, stayed in the Indian Hospice in Jerusalem.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)