It would be hard to locate any village in both the parts of the historic land of Kashmir where there is not a popular Sufi shrine or a relic associated with one of the many Sufi saints who lived in this land. In fact, it would be difficult to differentiate between visitors intending to feast their eyes upon the landscape of Kashmir and devotees of Sufi saints visiting the holy shrines to reap the spiritual benefits that they seek.
Dr. Sayar Muhammad Syed Shah Qadiri in his book “Kashmir Main Tasawuf Reshayat Kay Tanazure Main” mentions that from the ancient times, Kashmir has been a place of shelter and meditation for the saints: Sufis, Rishis and other devoted worshipers of God. These saints belonged to the various religious traditions –Shaivism, other forms of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam – which were to be found here after the arrival of the Sufis from Central Asia.
The spread of Islam in Kashmir through Sufi saints has always been discussed by various writers, academics and historians but arguably, far too many people are still woefully ignorant of the role of Sufism in promoting a pluralistic culture in Kashmir. In fact, in the context of interfaith dialogue, the lessons which Kashmiri Sufism has on offer for the world could prove most valuable.
Today, some centuries-old shrines in Kashmir are a great architectural treasure of the region. People of the state pour all their love and devotion into maintaining and beautifying these shrines. In fact, it is precisely from these shrines that Kashmir earned the name of “Pir Waer”, the garden of saints.
The first great and influential Sufi saint who visited Kashmir with the message of Islam was Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, popularly known as Shah-i-Hamadan and Amir-i-Kabir or Ali-i-Sani. He belonged to the Kubrawi order of Sufis founded by Shaikh Najm-ud-Din Kubra of Khwarezm. Shah-i-Hamadan came to Kashmir along with his 700 hundred followers, who settled in various parts of the valley and played a significant role in spreading the message of worldly and spiritual peace – one which was accepted by the people at large. Shah-i-Hamadan was the author of several books and was also a poet. Two of his works are very well known, Zakhiratul Muluk and Muwwadatul Quraba.
Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, aside from his work in the spiritual domain, also introduced many different handicrafts in Kashmir and because of his ideas the handicraft industry received a great boost in Kashmir. Allama Iqbal, in fact, held the opinion that because of Shah-i-Hamadan and the wonderful arts and crafts that he brought with him, Kashmir was turned into a mini Iran – and that this brought about a revolution in the thought process of the people.
The room where he stayed for the first time is a part of a great building, named Khanqah-e-Moula by Sultan Sikandar, who reigned from 1394 to 1417 AD. The building is a beautiful exemplar of the wooden architecture of Kashmir, with exquisite engravings on the walls.
The most popular and world famous shrines include the Aishmuqam shrine dedicated to Baba Zain-ud-Din Wali, Baba Reshi, Chrar-e-Sharif dedicated to Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani Wali, Muqdoom Sahib, the Dastagir Sahib shrine dedicated to Syed Abdul Qadir Gilani, Khanqah Srinagar dedicated to Shah-i-Hamadan. These are to be found in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Allama Iqbal believed that because of Shah-i-Hamadan and the arts and crafts that he brought with him, Kashmir was turned into a mini Iran
The cave shrine at Aishmuqam is particularly popular amongst tourists because of its location and the fact that it falls on the Srinagar-Pahalgam road.
Above all, the shrine of Dargah Sharif Hazratbal, Kabamarg and Khiram share the distinction of possessing the holy relic popularly associated with the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The devotees of the district and other places visit these shrines particularly on days when festivals connected with the shrines are celebrated.
Abid Hussain, a young journalist from Indian-administered Kashmir observes: “Kashmir has a rich legacy of spirituality that remains always flamboyantly ubiquitous in every sphere and epoch.” He adds, “Their contribution in socio-cultural and religious history is inimitable and praiseworthy.”
Like in other parts of the Kashmir valley, AJK also lives up to the region’s reputation as the land of saints – hundreds of notable figures who devoted their lives to spreading the message of peace and harmony visited this part of the land. Among them is Syed Zulifqar Hussain Shah known as Sain Sakhi Saheli Sarkar (R.A). His annual urs commemoration was, in fact, just completed in the capital city, being observed every year from January13 to 21 with great zeal. The urs is generally attended by thousands of his followers, particularly from the region of Hazara in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and AJK.
Historically, we find that a number of spiritual figures, such as Shah Inayat Wali (RA), Shah Hussain Bukhari (RA), Pir Chanasi, Pir Alam Shah Bukhari (RA), Hazrat Syed Muhammad Ali Shah (R.A), Hazrat Hafiz Muhammad Younis (R.A), Mitha Baji Sarkar and many others decided to stay in Muzaffarabad, which is today the capital city of AJK. Their shrines are a centre of attention for many of their followers – who come from all over Pakistan.
Moving beyond Muzaffarabad, we find in the Neelum Valley shrines dedicated to Hazrat Al-Haj Mian Barkat Ullah (R.A), Hazrat Mian Nizam-ud-Din (R.A) Kayyan Shareef; in Bagh Hazrat Pir Syed Bohala Shah (R.A), Hazrat Sain Syed Ali Bahadar Khan (R.A); in Poonch Hazrat Syed Junaid Shah (R.A); in Kotli Hazrat Baji Alaf Din (R.A), Hazrat Mai Toti Sahiba (R.A) and many others.
In Mirpur, the Hazrat Pir Shah Ghazi. (R.A), Hazrat Mian Muhammad Baksh. (R.A) Khari Sharif and some other prominent shrines are to be found.
Ali Hamza, 32, from Lahore tells me that he is visiting all the famous shrines all around the country and I find him at present in AJK: at Hazrat Sain Sakhi Saheli Sarkar (R.A) shrine located at the District Headquarters office complex in Muzaffarabad. Ali tells me that his presence at these holy places strengthens his spiritual side and he finds himself nearer to his Creator and further away from worldly desires.
“I have heard the popular narrative that over 100,000 Sufis visited Multan and Kashmir and because of this, I love to visit both places. I’m on a short trip here, but I may visit Pir Chanasi too – even though someone told me that there is heavy snowfall there,” Ali adds.
We in Kashmir are in no doubt about the matter: it is the great good fortune of our land that the remains of some very famous and pious Sufi saints are resting here.
As a parting thought, I wish to leave the reader with a beautiful couplet from Saif-ul-Malook of Mian Muhammad Baksh, often known as the Rumi of Kashmir: