Friday, March 2, 2007
Prof Rashid Nazki, a Sahitya Akademi award winner and one of Kashmir’s finest Sufi poets, is accompanied by Muzamil Jaleel on the scenic journey from Bandipore to Chrar-e-Sharif, a shrine that has reflected the essence of Kashmir for centuries.
It is nearly night. The sky is still blue but it is dark down here. Although the market place in Bandipore town, 90 kms north of Srinagar, is full of people, a fog of unease hangs heavy over this empty narrow lane. At the edge of it is a small brickhouse where I will meet Prof Rashid Nazki, one of Kashmir’s finest Sufi poets.
The greying, bearded professor will take me to the shrine of Kashmir’s patron saint, Sheikh Noor Din at Chrar-e-Sharief.
The shrine is a pillar of the philosophy of synthesis and religious tolerance that has been the essence of Kashmir for centuries. Sheikh Noor Din was Sheikh-ul-Aalam and Alam Daar-e-Kashmir for Muslims while the Hindus called him Sahajanand. Both remember him as Nund Reshi. Both revere him. Both claim him. Both listen and frequently quote his shruks (shlokas), a poetic expression of his humanist philosophy, which enshrine in themselves a subtle but fierce struggle to save the ethos of Kashmir.
All through his life, Prof Nazki has written poetry, taught Kashmiri and Persian, and researched and practiced mysticism in the villages of Bandipore. His work Wahraath received the Sahitya Academy award in 2000 and his poems are an essential part of Kashmir’s folklore.
As he welcomes me, I can understand the reasons for the unease that shrouds the door itself. It is March 15: exactly 10 years ago, Nazki had lost most of his family in a violent grenade blast in the street outside. His wife, two sons — 32-year-old Taha and 25-year-old Sajjad — and a cousin were killed, while another son and daughter-in-law were crippled for life.
I stay with him for the night. As the family mourns its personal loss, Nazki talks about the tragedy of Chrar-e-Sharief (on May 11, 1995, the shrine was gutted in a devastating fire after a weeklong standoff between militants and security forces). ‘‘When I last visited Chrar as a pilgrim, I had gone with my wife. I didn’t dare to go there alone and peel off the scab of my wounds’’, he says today.
When we finally start the 115-km journey early next morning, I already know it will be a story of the tragedy of a man and a shrine closely woven together.
It is a cool morning and the air is like smoke. We stop at a hilltop near Watlab, where a narrow pass leaves the Wular valley. The snow-clad Harmukh peaks stands with all its grandeur in the backdrop. ‘‘Kashmir had been a peer vaar (abode of saints and rishis)’’, Nazki says. ‘‘This mountain holds a very scared place in Hindu mythology. It is dotted with holy caves and as legend goes, Shiv and Parvati still live in those rugged peaks.’’
He talks about the ‘‘good old days’’ when life was like a big party. What happened to Kashmir?, I ask. Suddenly the bright smile disappears from his face. ‘‘Keyah gous. Aech lugi saani Kusheri (What happened. Some bad omen has struck our Kashmir),’’ he replies.
We start again. The sun is out and it is bright and pleasant. We drive past Sopore. There was a time when this northern Kashmiri apple-town was so affluent that people used to call it Chotta London. Today, it mirrors Kashmir’s death and destruction. In the last 12 years of violence, it has been burned down 21 times.
Soon we are on the Srinagar-Baramullah national highway. Once called the Jhelum Valley Road, it connects Srinagar with Rawalpindi and was the only artery of Kashmir’s communication and trade with the rest of the world. As we approach the Chrar-e-Sharief road, south of Srinagar city, Nazki is overcome with nostalgia. It is after 15 years he was making the pilgrimage again.
Prof Nazki fills me with the legends that surround Chrar-e-Sharief, like the one about Nund Reshi. ‘‘Salar Sunz, Nund Rishi’s father, was a Hindu Rajput from Kishtwar across the Pir Panjal range. Salar Sunz had converted to Islam after meeting a Sufi saint Yasman Reshi. Legend goes that one evening, as he was passing by the home of a famous Hindu astrologer, he overheard him telling his wife that on a particular night, three flowers would appear in the spring at Gotamnag and the woman who picked one of those flowers and inhaled its fragrance, would be blessed with a saint son’’, Nazki informs me. ‘‘The couple set out for the spring and found the three flowers. Sodarmoji picked one of the flowers and smelt it. Later, when a boy was born, he was named Nund Reshi.
‘‘It was a great period. The famous Shaivite saint Lala was wandering across Kashmir with her wakhs (mystic poetry), a blend of Shaivism and Sufism. She was Laleshwari to Hindus and Lala Arifa to Muslims, and Kashmir was becoming a melting pot of the two great philosophies,’’ Nazki tells me.
Recollecting yet another legend which has become an essential part of Kashmiri folklore, Nazki tells me about the time when the newborn Nunda Reshi refused to drink his mother’s milk, which worried the family. ‘‘This is when Lala arrived unexpectedly. She went straight to the child, put him to her breast and suckled him. Nund Reshi later carried Lala Arifa’s message through his Reshi Mission’’, he says.
We are lost in the past and the conversation has literally taken both of us to the era of the Reshi movement, when people were open to dialogue between communities and when religions were a bridge, a binding force, rather than a wedge. ‘‘Ati hath ta vuh jora vopanu: Akh zani ta akh marad avu; Tahanz hekamats timan bolanu; kvalas hamkvalkya; hedivu’’ (Hundred and twenty pairs were born of them, Of each (pair), one was male and the other, female; God’s wisdom made them walk; How can members of the same family jeer at one another?) Nazki quotes from one of Nund Reshi’s shruks.
We are already in the outskirts of Chrar-e-Sharief and are passing Nagam village. ‘‘This used to be a resting place for pilgrims from across Kashmir valley, who would flood Chrar round the year,’’ Nazki says. ‘‘People from both communities would carry their newborns to the shrine to have their first haircut. It was regarded a very good omen for the child. The women would sing as the barber shaved the child’s head. Chrar was both a place of pilgrimage as well as an excursion for the villagers.’’
The road leading to Chrar-e-Sharief now courses through almond orchards. The almond blossoms are in full bloom and have turned the sandy ridge into a vast colourful canvas. We stop at the entrance of the township to visit a small shrine called Chatti Korean Hund Aastan. It is the shrine of Dahat Ded and Bohut Ded, two woman disciples of Nund Reshi.
From here, the new building of the Chrar, built after the 1995 devastation, rises above in the sky. It is a replica of the old shrine but when we arrive there Nazki is sad again. ‘‘It is not what it used to be. The rustic grandeur of the old structure is missing,’’ he comments.
‘‘There was a sanctity attached to that old structure.’’ He cheers up when we arrive at shrine and he surveys the architecture. ‘‘See, this shrine has a pagoda which imbibes the Buddhist influence,’’ he says.
Suddenly feeling alone, Prof Nazki remembers the time when the area resounded with the chants of pilgrims. ‘‘There was a time when Kashmiri Hindu scholars and their Muslim colleagues studied side by side. I hope to see them soon again.’’
[picture: Javeed Shah]
[About Prof. Rashid Nazki see also: http://sufinews.blogspot.com/search?q=nazki]