Sufism, Kashmir’s Unshakable Legacy of Coexistence
By SHEIKH QAYOOM
SRINAGAR (IANS) – For centuries the common bond of tolerance, coexistence, compassion and brotherhood has sustained the cohesion of Kashmir’s society. The binding cement of this cohesion and amity between the local Muslims and the Pandits has been their deep and unshaken belief in Sufism.
The patron saint, who preached and propagated this eclectic culture, was Sheikh Nooruddin Wali called ‘Alamdar-e-Kashmir‘ and ‘Sheikh ul-Alam’ by local Muslims and ‘Nund Rishi’ or ‘Nund Laal’ by the local Pandits. Nund Rishi was born in 1377 in Qaimoh village of Kulgam district.
Legend says he refused to be breastfed by his mother and it was Lalleshwari, the Pandit mystic, who breastfed Nund Rishi. Revered equally by both the communities of Kashmir, he was a mystic, poet and spiritual teacher who influenced the vast majority of people across the communities.
It is because of Sheikh Nooruddin Wali’s universal acceptance that he continues to be known as the patron saint of Kashmir. He renounced Worldly life at the age of 30 and retired to a cave for meditation in Qaimoh village.
He spread his teachings through poems known locally as ‘Shruks’. Each such poem has six lines and evolves around religious themes, morality and peace. Interestingly, Lalleshwari, known popularly as ‘Lal Ded’ who was the saint’s foster mother, was also a poetess.
Many scholars argue that Nund Rishi was the spiritual disciple of his foster mother Lal Ded. Whether the saint imbibed spirituality and tolerance through the milk of his foster mother or not, the undeniable fact is that in their message for mutual coexistence, peace, compassion and enlightenment, the poems of the two are indistinguishable.
The influence of Sheikh Nooruddin Wali has been so strong that the most benevolent Sultan of Kashmir, Zainul Abidin known as ‘Badshah’ (The Great King) commissioned a tomb for the saint’s body in 1438 when the saint passed away.
In 2005, the Government of India renamed Srinagar airport as Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport and granted it international status.
That the saint was far ahead of the times is proved by just one of his couplets in which he said ‘Ann Poshe Teli Yeli Wan Pashe’ (Food will last only as long as the forests last).
Members of the two communities have thronged the Chrar-e-Sharief shrine in central Budgam district where the saint is buried. Pandits till their exodus from the Valley would invoke the saint’s blessings on the birth of the newborn. The Muslims would carry children to the shrine to return with the saint’s blessings for the future.
The shrine at Chrar-e-Sharief was burnt down during a gunfight between the Pakistani militant commander Mast Gul and the security forces on May 11, 1995. Mast Gul along with 150 associate militants had converted the shrine into a fortified bunker, the security forces said.
For the followers of the ‘Wahabi’ school of thought, who believe in strait-laced concept of Islam, veneration for saints and visiting their tombs and shrines is a practice that needs to be purged.
To the common Kashmiri, the Wahabi interpretation has remained unacceptable for centuries and it is precisely for this reason that Kashmir has been called ‘Peer Waar’ (The abide of saints and Sufis).
The essence of the teachings of Sheikh ul-Alam and Lal Ded has best been summed up in an Urdu couplet by poet, Sarshar Sailani: “Chaman mein Ikhtilat-e-rang-o-bu se baat banti hai/ Ham hi ham hein, to Kya ham hein, tum hi tum ho, to kya tum ho (It is the variance of colour and fragrance that imparts majesty to the garden/ If you and I exist in isolation that would make wilderness not a riot of colour and fragrance)”.