What a glow everywhere I see, Oh mother, what a brilliance!
I’ve found the Beloved, yes I found him,
In my courtyard.
I have found my pir Nizamuddin Auliya.
I roamed around the entire world,
looking for an ideal Beloved;
And finally this presence has awakened my spirit.

- Amir Khusro (1253 - 1325)

In the center of the crowded Delhi neighborhood that bears his name is the dargah or shrine of the Sufi master Hazrat Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya (1238 - 1325), a seminal figure widely known for his devotion to public service and determination to eradicate distinctions based on economic, social and religious status. Over six hundred years after his death, Nizamuddin Auliya continues to command considerable devotion in his followers, many of whom travel great distances to seek solace and spiritual comfort, receive alms and pay homage to this great Sufi master, often referred to as Mehboob e-Elahi, or Beloved of the World.

IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BELOVED is a cinematic portrait of the pilgrimage to and devotional practices of this dynamic place, which offers an artistic method of spiritual investigation and provides powerful clues both to the human need for religious fellowship and the specificity and universality of sacred practices. Beginning with imagery of the journey to the shrine by airplane, train, car, rickshaw and foot, the viewer is pulled into the physical space of the dargah; a unique nexus of marketplace, social space and spiritual haven, where devotees come to find peace, reflection and refuge from the din of Delhi traffic.

As the sun sets behind the dome, musicians begin the qawwali, a style of Sufi devotional music that ranges from contemplative religious elegy to raucous crescendo. The lyrics of many of these qawwalis originate in the poetry of Sufi masters such as Amir Khusro (1253 - 1325), a disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya’s who is also interred at the shrine and is himself a figure of considerable stature, credited with inventing the language that became Urdu as well as the tabla drum. The repeated lines of these ecstatic chants entreat the listener to become intoxicated with a love of God and to attain a state of surrender, and elucidates the connection, often described in the language of romantic love, between the two.

Eschewing a traditional documentary approach grounded in real time in favor of greater abstraction, IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BELOVED is a visual and aural collage made from over 18,000 still images and ambient sounds recorded on-site. Rapid-fire bursts of kaleidoscopic imagery assemble into fractured pictorial collages where a moment expands outwards and then converges back into itself, fleshing out a three-dimensional rendering of place and suggesting a canvas wider than the frame. This fractured reassembly of images evokes the dargah itself, an enigmatic cluster of shrines, mosques, markets, passageways, lattice barricades and ancillary tombs that exist and evolve in relation to one another, creating an emergent meta-space greater than the sum of its parts.

IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BELOVED explores the temporal and spatial seams between separate but related images and exists in the spaces between stillness and movement, heart and mind, pilgrim and guide, lover and beloved.

The 12-minute film first appeared as a gallery installation at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University from October 2009 to March 2010 as part of Samina Quraeshi's exhibition Sacred Spaces: Reflections of a Sufi Path. Read Meredith S. Steuer's review in the Harvard Crimson here.

IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BELOVED has screened at OuterIndia in London and will screen on April 3rd in Madison, WI at the 2011 Wisconsin Film Festival where it has received the Golden Badger Award. Info and tickets here.

The film was made by Andreas Burgess (Photographer / Editor) and Sadia Shepard (Producer) with the collaboration of Samina Quraeshi. Original tabla score by Suphala. Audio post production by Paul Bercovitch.

For more information, please email info@inthecourtyardofthebeloved.com.