Kashmir: The Alcove of Sufis and Saints

Under the Umayyad rule, when Muslim communities were rife with schisms, bloodshed, and fanaticism – a group of pious companions, such as Ahle Suffa, who used to sit on the benches (suffa) and were known for their ascetic life, decided to move out of this politicised atmosphere of the cities and go into rural areas to devote themselves to Allah and Islam. They were the early Sufis but they did not call themselves Sufis as yet. Among them are Hassan Al Basri, Rabis al Basri, Imam Jafar al Sadik, Imam AbuHanifa, Imam Shafi, Imam Malik, Imam Abu Hanifa. They were also the theoreticians of the Traditional Islam, as Avu Hanifa mentioned above.

Some of the more remarkable qualities of these people included loving and humanitarians attitudes towards fellow human beings irrespective of race or religion, humility, living an ascetic life – and spending most of their time in prayer, Zikr (reciting Quran, chanting the names of God) and contemplation. They also had a strong love for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his illustrious family, companions and the saints among them. They learned higher spirituality from and gave their loyalty to a Sufi Sheikh (or Pir in Persian/Indian languages). Thus, unlike the city people who wore silk, they would wear coarses woolen (Arabicsuf) clothes. Soon, from this humble dress, they got their got their distinctive name, Sufi, and their meditative and contemplative practice, Tasawwuf in Arabic or Sufism in English.”

According to author Sadia Delhvi, “the Sufi path provides the light necessary to illuminate the dark corners of our souls and facilitates the journey within. This self-knowledge pierces through the outer coverings that limit our ordinary consciousness and make one aware of his/her ultimate identity beyond the confines of time and space”.

Kashmir Sufism

“The most dominant influence on the Kashmiri Muslims, in terms of their Kashmiriyat, is that of that of the Rishi order of Suffi. While the Sufi orders like the Suharwardi, Kubravi, Naqshbandi and Quadri, arrived in Kashmir from Persia, Central Asia, and Central and North India, the Rishi order evolved in the valley was already permeated with the traditions of Hindu ascetism and Buddhist renunciation. The term ‘Rishi’ itself is clearly a derivation from Sanskrit and Indian traditions, though some medieval muslim scholars have tried to show that it is derived from the Persian word raish or rish meaning the feathers or wings of a bird”.

“The Kashmiri Muslims Rishi’s ascetic and unworldly life thus bears a close resemblance to the lifestyle of the Hindu Rishis and Munis as well as Buddhist and Jain monks. Baba Dawood Khaki describes a Rishi as one who is an ascetic and leads a disciplined life different from those of other saints. He is free from all worldly pleasures. Baba Nasib call them gracious to the pious and describes them as men of pure heart. Their presence has turned Kashmir into heaven, he says. Cutting themselves away from all worldly relationship, they neither marry nor bother themselves with a family life. Piety is their apparel (khirqa); their nights are devoted to worship and during the day they worship incessantly. Having abandoned all worldly desires, they have succeeded in controlling their carnal lusts.”

Hindu-Muslims Coexistence

Kashmir provides some of the clearest instance of shared religious identities, remnants of which are still to be found, in however attenuated forms, today. As numerous writers have noted, the Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits shared several customs and beliefs in common, and the numerous Sufi shrines that dot the Valley attracted Hindus as well as Muslims in large numbers. While Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims were undoubtedly aware of their differences, popular Sufism served to promote a common way of understanding the world. Belied in the powers of the Sufi saints and attendance at their shrined this helped promote what could be called a ‘dialogue of every-day life ‘between Muslims and Pandits. To the south, in Jammu, as in adjacent Punjab, Sufi saints had a large following among Hindus, Dalits, Muslims and Sikh. Although this shared popular tradition was not powerful enough to completely erases difference between the different groups, it was crucial in the promotion of organic ties and relationship across community boundaries. The Sufi tradition of Jammu and Kashmir stilt plays an important role in the lives of people in the region. These and certain theological resources contained in both scripturalist Islam and more ‘mainstream form of Hinduism ‘can play an important role in helping build bridges between people of different faith.”

For centuries the Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir have lived together. The Kashmiri Muslims have been influenced by the Hindus, and the Hindus have been influenced by the Muslims.

Kashmir is the only place in India where Muslims have surnames such as ‘pandit’ and ‘bhat’. The Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims have a distinctive culture and way of living. Even the sufis of Kashmir are of a special type.

How Sufism came to Kashmir is a long story. The famous sufis of Kashmir are Sayyid Bulbul Shah, Sayyid Ali Hamdani, and Mir Mohammad Hamdani. It is claimed that Hindu thought and religion greatly influenced Kashmiri sufis. The result was that Kashmir produced sufis with a different outlook. Some people call these sufis “Muslim risi:s”.

Among the “Muslim risihi’s”, the most famous rishi is Sheikh-nur-ud-din. Out of love and veneration, the Hindus and Muslims call him Nandirishi. The Kashmiri Pandits also call him Sahzanand.

The shrine of Nandrishi is located in Chrar-e-Sharief. This is a small village about five miles from Nagam. Both Hindus and Muslims go to this shrine to offer flowers.

In the current context; rise of Wahhabi theology, preserving Sufism has become an important issue. Greater understanding of Sufism would help ease communal tensions, aid global understanding of diverse cultures and help bring peace in Kashmir.

Kashmiriyat,  a beautiful blend of Shaivite and Islamic values or in other words, the Rishi-Sufi tradition needs to return to Kashmir.

08 Aug 19/Thursday          Written by Afsana