There are no burials here anymore. No one comes to lay their dead ones to rest here now. The last person buried was 30 years ago, in 1985. With time, even the number of people coming to pay respect to their dead has gone down. With the last burial, it would seem that even the graveyard took its last breath. There is silence all around and the silence is deafening. Even the sound of traffic from the nearby Aurobindo Road and Jor Bagh Road fails to break the silence. Every time you hear a vehicle honking or the accelerating sound of an engine, it only makes you feel even lonelier. The ambiance of solitude is both peaceful and scary at the same time.
This is the Karbala graveyard, a place that once received royal treatment but now seems to have been long forgotten. The ground is still here, the graves are still here but the memories are now fading away. Once Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (1759-1806) stood here, burying his beloved wife Maha Khanum and cried his heart out but the only cries that can be heard now are of birds as they fly across the sky, returning to their nests. Some of the graves are still marked, cemented and tiled but most of the rest are leveled. There is no way of telling that how many people have been buried here over centuries, how many graves have been dug but the remains are still there underneath the sand. It’s the memories that are long gone.
Karbala is the name of a city in Iraq located about 100 kilometers southwest of Baghdad. It a major city in terms of both administration and religious importance. Housing about 572,300 people, Karbala is the capital of Karbala Governorate of Iraq but more than, it is one of the holiest cities in the Muslim world. Home to the Imam Hussein Shrine, Karbala is remembered as the site of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali in “Battle of Karbala” in 680 A.D. It is this city that the Karbala Graveyard in Delhi is named after. No one can tell why or who named it Karbala but it also points to how important this graveyard must have been centuries ago. There is a queen buried here, the wall around was built by Shah Alam himself, the last person buried was Syed Murtaza Fazal Ali, a retired Supreme Court Justice. Yes, this was a graveyard of high importance but all that is forgotten now. However there is a day of the year when a lot of people want to go to Karbala. It is the 10th day of Muharram when Shiite mourners from Shahjahanabad, Mehrauli and Nizamuddin gather here to commemorate the martyrdom of Husain. It is the Tazias that this graveyard is exclusively reserved for now, the last bit of the royal treatment it once used to receive.
Burial grounds, cremation grounds, cemeteries are naturally creepy places. It is that final destination which we all know we are heading towards yet try to ignore it as if it doesn’t exist. Is a reminder of how petty our lives are, how delicate that thread is that is holding us alive. It is a warning that the thread may break anytime, anyway. Or maybe it is just a hope that death is not final. That our last breaths will not be the end of us. As it happens with most of the cemeteries and graveyards, even Karbala is believed to be the home to supernatural. It is said that this graveyard is now abode to Jinns that have now settled here. According to Muslim mythology, Jinns live in what can be called a parallel world to that of humans. God created humans out of sand and Jinns out of fire. Just like our world, they have a world of their own where they go through their routine lives. Some of them are good and some are criminal-minded. While humans cannot see them, Jinns on the other hand have the power to cross over worlds. Sometimes a Jinn steps into human world and decides to stay here, primarily in abandoned places. This same phenomenon is applied to Karbala graveyard.
But there are no Jinns here, no ghosts, and no evil spirits. The boisterous life in the graveyard is that of peacocks. They run across the ground, perch on the graves, stand by the trees and frequently call out to each other. Another sign of life here are the trees, lots of them. No one ever got hurt in this graveyard by an unknown or unseen force. People were always brought dead here but no one died here. The only thing that haunts this graveyard is the silence. The sound of wind, rustling of leaves, cries of birds, sound of traffic and voices of children shouting far away is enough to depress anyone. If a person came here in dampened spirits, the silence would definitely result in tears. It is so peaceful here that it in fact seems an insult to this place to consider it home to any sort of supernatural evil.
I looked at my watch. It was late evening and I should actually have been headed back home but decided to stay a little while longer. I sat down with a tree and lifted my gaze up towards the skies, watching the twilight and birds flying across the sky. There was absolutely no one around and after a long time I actually felt alone, all by myself. But it wasn’t the physical presence of another human being that I felt myself away from but also from all materialistic things. Strange as it may sound, all the worries seemed to have melted away and a feeling of peace crept over me. Resting my head against the tree, I closed my eyes as if in a frail attempt to soak in the peace and calm around me. The distant cries of peacocks started to sound like music to my ears and I felt as if I could fall asleep here. At that one moment, nothing mattered. Absolutely nothing.
“You cannot sleep here” I was jolted out of my thoughts and opened my eyes, only to realize that I was in fact already half asleep. There was a man standing next to me, eying me with curiosity.
“I am not,” I stood up, “I am leaving”
I do not know who that man was and did not bother to ask. His sentence however kept repeating itself in my head as I started to walk away, thinking to myself,
“But is this not where we all eventually come to sleep, for all eternity?”
And that is the legend of Karbala, a graveyard right in middle of the city, cosidered among India’s most haunted places.