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Apparition Attracts Thousands

March 29, 2002

JAIPUR, India (AP) _ Thousands of pilgrims thronged to the shrine of an Islamic saint in northwestern India on Friday after reports that an apparition had appeared on the dome of the 800-year-old building.

Police said more than 50,000 people have visited the shrine of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Rajasthan state since Thursday, when workers said they had seen images on its dome.

Additional police were being deployed to keep order at the shrine, said Saurab Shrivastav, police superintendent of Ajmer.

The shrine is in Ajmer, 80 miles southwest of Jaipur, the state capital. Shrine workers said they first saw the images of two bearded men on the central dome Wednesday evening.

Syed Irfan Usmani, a shrine worker, said one of the bearded men appeared to be Khwaja, ``who made his appearance to spread the message of goodwill and peace after the recent carnage in Gujarat.″

Hindu-Muslim riots in neighboring Gujarat state have claimed the lives of more than 720 people, mostly Muslims, in the last month.

A television station reported that the shrine’s dome had been painted recently and the vision was due to light reflecting off the shiny paint.

Some local residents dismissed the phenomenon as an invention of the shrine workers, known as ``khadims,″ to draw more pilgrims to the site.

``It appears to be a gimmick by the khadims to attract pilgrims whose numbers have fallen drastically after recent riots in Gujarat,″ said Vivek Munot, who owns a hardware store near the shrine.

Khadims make their money from pilgrims by acting as tour guides and getting the pilgrims to make donations.

Ajmer is a popular pilgrimage site for both Muslims and Hindus. According to legend, those who pray at the saint’s tomb and tie a red thread on its marble lattice screens will have their wishes granted.

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