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Peace Watch » Kashmir-Talk » My Memoir: My Uncle And His Spiritual Experiences Part V

My Memoir: My Uncle And His Spiritual Experiences Part V

My Memoir: My Uncle Part V


Z. G. Muhammad

In our part of the city, the ambience, architecture and spirituality were blended into a ‘soul-repairing whole.’  The glistening golden minarets of mosques, hospices and mausoleums dominating the skyline in sync with the hymns emanating from them played a role in shaping the downtowners’ faith, beliefs and attitude towards life. Even the most robust and sturdy with herculean sinews were tender as tendrils at their heart. Even the toughs, roughs and rugged in the society melted like icicles in sunrays on seeing the suffering fellow folks. They outpaced the “elite” in rescuing people in distress and disastrous situations- fires, floods, earthquakes and road accidents. When the “elite” watched from a distance and expressed their regrets, they risked their lives, plunged into raging flames, gushing and whirling waters to rescue those in distress. Images of many such persons are stamped on my mind, and times and tides have not erased them. Out of deep devotion and faith, they extended their hands to receive the Tahriee (rice cooked in turmeric water, garnished with fried shallots or onions shreds)” distributed on the premises of the Saint’s mausoleums. by devotees. I cannot say exactly about the genesis of the tradition of serving Tahrieeto the devotees or passers-by on the premises of Khanqahs and Astana. Since the practice was common among Kashmiri Brahmans and  Muslims, it might have been born during one or other famines- our land has had a long history of famines and floods. The Tahriee, Kehwa, and Kaandar tchot were the popular nayaaz (offering) people made in the name of God. In our family, it had been a practice perhaps since our grandfather’s time or when we started living at the turn of the 19th century at Khoja Bazar to carry a Samavar of Kehwa and a basket Kaandar tchot on every third of the Islamic calendar to the Khanaqah-i-Naqshbandi. A basket of sandwiches of Halwa and Kashmiri Ghaev tchot on the third of Rabi Ul Awal every year. My uncle was meticulously committed to continuing the tradition and often advised us we should also remain faithful to the practice. There was a philosophy behind him impressing upon the children to live steadfastly up to the family tradition: You don’t know who takes a cup of Kehawa at the Astana- there are Godly people or Darwish’s amongst them, who has supplications have an outcome.

My youngest sibling Hassan, who passed away in 2019, carried on the practice with more devotion and dedication even after every family member bade farewell to our birthplace and settled in different residential colonies after the road widening devoured our houses. He would hardly miss a religious occasion to keep the family tradition alive.

There was a big story behind the jinni of “development”, devouring our family’s nest almost for one and half-century that strengthened the faith of everyone in the family, including children:  supplications made to Allah at Khanqah-e-Naqshbandi being granted. The administration had a plan to widen the street outside our home since the early 1950s. Once it started, our houses on the roadside would first go – it was a bottleneck. For the reasons best known to the administration, the proposal was shelved. After 1962, the India-China war, the proposal was revived. Because the street was seen as a jugular vein for arms supplies to the Ladakh District, the authorities seemed determined to start the demolition drive. A Cross in red ink was put on the door of every house to be demolished. An ominous cross was put on the main entrance of our home also. The news had sent goosebumps not only in our family, but my uncle was distraught. His brother, my father, had died just a few months back, leaving behind his widow and five of us, with our youngest sister barely a few months old. His worry was once the house was dismantled, where would he move with his family and orphans left behind – he was a self-respecting man who always advised us to proceed with a stiff neck before the powers that be and bow just before Allah only. He hardly liked taking obligation from anyone and had absolute trust in God Almighty- somehow, he firmly believed supplication made in five hundred old Khanqah-i-Naqashbandi are granted. During those agonised days of fearing losing the nest, one fine morning called my elder and younger sibling and me and asked us to cook a cauldron of Halawa and get some Kandar Roti for taking to Naqashband Sahib. Without keeping the reason for cooking, Halawa buried his chest; he shared it with all the children, his elderly mother, our mother and his wife. He told us that Naqashband Sahib (Hazrat Muhammad Bahauddin Shah Naqshband, Bukhara) came into my dream. And he told me that your shelter would not be demolished; it is tied with a rope to our Astana and Khanaqah-i-Naqshbandi. And when we were returning from the Ziarat, one shopkeeper Mama Haji (Haji Ghulam Mohammad) at Khoja Bazar, whose house was also demolished, called my uncle after returning from Astana – and expressed his worry. Assuring him, my uncle told him God was with us; the plan of demolishing would die its death. The project of road widening from Khoja Bazar Chowk to Nowhtta roundabout mysteriously was shelved- no one talked about it. It further strengthened my uncle’s faith, and he got some couplets of Khawaja Sahib painted in silver in our Bhetak and would hardly miss a day when he would not be at the Astana. Many years after my uncle’s death, once every member of our generation had left the ancestral house and settled in different colonies, the government revived the road widening programme. And our old nest was demolished when it had no occupants more than fifty-three years after my uncle had seen the dream.

The dream and its realisation had redoubled my uncle’s faith in Allah and strengthened his love and respect for the Auliya. So was about every member of the family. No doubt my uncle had a commanding voice that had authority and got attention, but I hardly saw him talking in high pitch before a Godly man, a majzoob or mendicant. And whenever a Dervish – a saintly person or a majzoob visited our home, he always left the bolster and sat in humility in the Tashahhud position before them. His connection and sitting with Darveshies, friars and mendicants and search for the ultimate truth is a big story I will dwell upon in the next part.[1]

The City of Auliya, now popularly known as downtown Srinagar, attracted all sorts of people to visit the mausoleums of saints- some who had arrived from Arabia, Persia and Central Asia, settled in the city and were buried in various localities. The mausoleums of some of the pre-eminent native saints, whose teachings and miracles had passed on from generation to generation through oral tradition, Sufis and Waizins and the written works of their disciples were the biggest attraction. Some of the disciples who had earned a name in scholarship and piety are remembered all over Kashmir. It was not only the pious that, with watery eyes, bowed before Almighty Allah sanctified places,  the obdurate and the stand-offish also mellowed down. As I have written in a chapter on him, my father was a devout Muslim who rarely ever missed the obligatory Namaz- and often, he would say Fajar prayers and Khanqah-e-Mir Syed Ali Hamadani. And while ascending and descending the stairs at home, he always recited one or other Mankbat, so was true about my uncle his favourite Mankbats were of Naqasahband Sahib. I had not read Persian, but often he translated these into Urdu for me.

Like other Khanqahs and Astana, friars and Dervishes from far-flung areas visited  Khanaqah-I-Naqshbandi. A host of them made the  Khanaqah at Khoja Bazar their permanent abode. Some Majoobs that visited the place passed their nights in coffins. Hazrat  Baha’u -Din Naqshband (1318- 1389), the founder of the Naqshbandi order, did not visit Kashmir. His follower Khawaja Moin-Ud-Din Naqshbandi made Khawaja Bazar his permanent residence and introduced the Naqshbandi order in Kashmir. The locality ‘Khoja Siabun’ (Khawaja Bazar)   is also known after his name. Of the friars who in our childhood had made the Khanaqah as their permanent residence, Ghulam Hassan was one of them. He had also come from some distant hamlet on the premises of the Astana. Ostensibly he was no Darwish or a Sufi but an ordinary man who took a keen interest in the cleanliness of Astana. In the 1990’s he died in what the authorities described as cross-firing between militants and armed forces. My uncle respected him a lot, and he checked it personally whenever we sent him evening meals from our home. My elder sibling and I often carried tiffin to him. Once I asked him some questions about Ghulam Hassan and almost described him and others at Astana as parasites. My uncle did not reply to my questions directly but quoted Iqbal’s famed stanza,   

After this, I never asked him or anyone in the family this question.

Another ordinary person, not having any suffixes or prefixes indicating his ancestry or claim to be a descendent of one or other saints, native or otherwise buried in and around areas my uncle had great reverence, was a cobbler Shaban Sahib. Much before the birds started chirping; he cleaned the Presimes. His shop was near the Rangar Stop, some three hundred yards from the Astana. He opened it very early and close by Sun-Down. Interacting with Shaban Sahib was not the only mystic experience for my uncle. I remember seeing him reading and discussing   Ghulam Jilani Barq’s (26 October 1901, Basal, Attock District – 12 March 1985) thought-provoking works with Khawaja Ghulam Mohi-u-Din Naqash. He was distinct in the crowd with his green turban,  suit and necktie. His office, named “Rohani Majalis”, was at Amira Kadal Brides; it was a stopover for many people interested in mysticism. Besides his office and another place, a fur boot maker  Rehman Sahib’s Karakhana, were the places my uncle visited for spiritual solace.  (To be continues)


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