Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Recalling a great Kashmiri Saint

The amazing life of a saint revered by both Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits and called Padshah by his followers

Rishi Peer Padshah

Dr. B. N. Sharga

Kashmir has been regarded as the land of gods and goddesses from times immemorial. Its rich natural resources of flora and fauna have always been a great attraction for different people since ages. In the golden period of its history it was considered to be an ideal place for meditation and for spiritual pursuits to become one with the supreme being. That is why it has produced a galaxy of saints, sages, savants, ascetics, mystics, Rishis, holymen, godmen, and Peers etc., in different periods to guide the people on the path of truth and self realisation to attain salvation. These spiritually enlightened persons with supernatural powers used to command a great respect among their followers. The Kashmiri Pandits call such holymen as Rishis whereas the converts whose ancestors embraced Islam and became Muslims for whatever reasons call them as Peers because worshipping any body is against the tennets of Islam. That is how this Rishi Peer tradition came into existence in Kashmir. One such holyman became popular as Rishi Peer in the 17th century among his very large number of both Hindu and Muslim disciples, who used to pay their obeisance to him with same respect and devotion.

Rishi Peer's ancestors were originally the residents of the commercial town Sopore in the Kashmir Valley and were rich shawl merchants. They were basically Sopori Pandits. One of his ancestors Pt. Madhav Joo Khoshoo after completing his education left his family trade and migrated to Srinagar for a government job. He subsequently became a mint officer during the reign of Mughal emperor Shahjahan (1627-1658) when Ali Mardan Khan was the governor of Kashmir. Some Shohda having some jealousy with this mint officer poisoned the ears of Ali Mardan Khan that the mint officer was minting under weight gold coins to earn quick buck. Ali Mardan Khan then summoned this mint officer to his court to find out the truth. Ali Mardan Khan ordered the mint officer to weigh the gold coins before him. He found the gold coins accurate in weight. Impressed by the honesty of the mint officer, he honoured the latter with a royal khilat and a jagir. Since this mint officer was a left hander and used to do every thing very quickly by his left hand so he was nick named as Khoshoo meaning a left hander in the Kashmiri language.

This mint officer Pt. Madhav Joo Khoshoo built a house in Batiyar mohalla near Ali Kadal for the living of his family members. His one son Pt. Govind Joo Khoshoo, who was born around 1595 was a highly orthodox and superstitious person like many Kashmiri Pandits of his era. He used to go to Hari Parbat daily in the morning to perform its Parikrama and then to pay his obeisance to goddess Sharika there. Due to his spiritual bent of mind and lack of interest in worldly affairs he had no inclination to get married. But after great pressure from his blood relations he agreed to tight the knot and got married in 1635 at the ripe age of 40 years with Siddhlakshmi. As to sire a son at such an advanced age generally becomes quite difficult biologically unless the use of modern fertility techniques is taken, which were naturally not available then So this matured couple took recourse to meditation to invoke cosmic power to get their wish fulfilled. The worship of Bhadrakali with full devotion and concentration brought the dividents and Siddhlakshmi at long last became pregnant, It was a practice among the Kashmiri Pandits in those days that the first child should be born in the Mata Maal i.e. in-laws place. So when the time to deliver the child came near Siddhlakshmi was taken to Srinagar her mother's place on a boat from Handwara according to the prevalent custom in the community. While Siddhlakshmi was in the boat on her way to Srinagar she started having delivery pains at Sopore and gave birth to a son in 1637 who was then named as Keshav after Lord Krishna who was also born somewhat under the same circumstances. The bank of the Jhelum river at Sopore where this little child Keshav was born in 1637 is still revered as the birth place of Rishi Peer and a shrine was built there in his memory. A large number of devotees pay their obeisance in this shrine.

This little Keshav was not an ordinary child. He was born after invoking cosmic power. So just after his birth it is said that a mystic yogi woke up and told his disciples that a second sun had risen on the horizon of Kashmir, to guide all of us. The mystic came out from his hermitage and went up to the Shikara and kissed the forehead of Keshav and placed two gold coins in his delicate hands.

Thus on the 6th day of dark fortnight of the Baisakh month of the Hindu calendar the great spiritual saint of Kashmir Rishi Peer was born as Keshav with divine powers to perform miracles. Initially he refused to suck the milk from the breasts of his mother but when another saint Sahib Kaul explained the laws of nature to him, Keshav started sucking the milk from the breasts of his mother without any hesitation in a natural way.

Keshav was a very bright and intelligent child. When he became 5 years old in 1642 his yagnopavit sanskar was performed as per social traditions in the community. He was then admitted in a school for his formal education. But he was more interested in spiritual pursuits. He used to go to Hari Parbat daily with his father, who was a deeply religious person. The ambience of the holy hill with abode of goddess Sharika had a great impact on the mind of young Keshav and sparked the fire of spiritualism in him. Here he came into close contact with two other enlightened persons Naan Shah and Atma Ram and thus his journey to be one with the ultimate divine power began. In the company of these two ascetics he built an Ashram in Devi Aangan in front of Hari Parbat. When his parents observed that their son was taking no interest in worldly affairs they married him with a beautiful girl to change his mind, but their all efforts could not distract young Keshav from the path of spiritualism. Meanwhile his father Pt. Govind Joo Khoshoo left for his heavenly abode and his mother Siddhlakshmi then sent him to his maternal uncle's village for studies. But he continued the same routine there without any change.

One day when his maternal uncle under whose care he was living went away for some work young Keshav left the Goshi village secretly and came to Hari Parbat straight from there to continue his spiritual pursuits. He then performed the circumbulation of Hari Parbat on naked knees for full forty days with great devotion and succeeded in getting darshan of goddess Sharika in flesh and blood, who blessed him and asked for a boon Keshav humbly said I simply want a Guru who can lead me to the ultimate truth to which the goddess Sharika replied that the first person who will come in your way will be your Guru and then disappeared.

The first person who came in front of Keshav was Kishan Joo Kar a shabbily dressed fakir. Keshav paid no attention to this fakir as he was looking for someone in the attire of a Brahmin to make him his Guru. Kishan Joo Kar then went to Keshav's residence and after taking a few puffs from the hubble bubble kept there told Keshav's mother that hence on no one would use this hubble bubble till the return of Keshav. When Keshav came back home his mother informed him about the visit of Kishan Joo Kar. Keshav then realised that Kishan Joo Kar came to his house on the command of goddess Sharika and made him his Guru. Keshav then took a few puffs from the same hubble bubble and soon he went into trance and felt the realization of the ultimate truth. He then expressed his desire to his mother to become a saint. But his mother was not prepared to partake the company of her only son. So to keep his mother happy Keshav then started doing deep meditation in his own house, with great devotion and concentration.

Keshav did tapasiya for 14½ years during which period he only took milk, honey and fruits as his diet. After this his body started radiating a glow like sun and became a great saint of very high spiritual order with supernatural powers to perform miracles. The people started coming to his house in hordes to pay their obeisance to him and he became famous as Rishi Peer all over the Valley among his large number of followers. He became a Rishi for the Hindus and a Peer for the Muslims of the Valley. It was then decided to offer him 14½ paise as Niyaz.

Rishi Peer had performed a number of miracles during his life span, but it will not be possible for me to write about all of them in this piece. In 1675 when Iftikhar Khan was the subedar of Kashmir a big fire broke out and engulfed the entire Ali Kadal area. When the leaping flames could not be controlled by all possible means then the people in utter panic approached Rishi Peer for his divine help who then threw his one wooden sandle into the fire and lo behold the fire was extinguised within no time.

Once his mother Siddhlakshmi expressed the desire to take her to Shadipore for a holy dip in the confluence of Sindh and Jhelum rivers there. But due to her poor health it was not possible for her to bear the strain of that arduous journey. To fulfill her wish Rishi Peer brought the Harmukh Ganga on her door step. This became famous as a shrine between the Ali Kadal bridge and Batiyar ghat.

One day a renowned Muslim seer requested Rishi Peer to pay a visit to the former's place for a dinner. Rishi Peer agreed on one condition that all the dishes should be prepared in pure ghee and without any part being missing. At the appointed time mouth watering Mughlai delicacies were served to Rishi Peer and his disciples. Rishi Peer before taking them recited a few mantras and sprinkled some water on them. To utter surprise of every one the cooked dishes came back to life in original form and a cock was found with one leg. Its another leg was eaten away by the Muslim cook while cooking. In anger Rishi Peer scolded the Muslim seer who had invited him for the dinner for breaking his promise which would only be compensated when he would give his own leg. Rishi Peer refused to take anything for not fulfilling the laid down conditions and went away cursing his host.

Due to all such miracles and Rishi Peer's various other acts of benevolence providing succour to the poor and needy his popularity among the masses started growing very fast. The people out of sheer reverence began to address him as Padshah or king. This development rang the alarm bells for the subedar Saif Khan who took it as a big challenge to his power and position. To cut Rishi Peer to size Saif Khan then wrote a nasty letter to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb at Delhi that a person here moves in a palanquin with thousands of his followers both Hindus and Muslims, who claims himself to be a king. He puts a mark of his ring like a royal seal on the orders he passes and accepts offerings according to his own sweet will. On reading this letter Aurangzeb became red with anger and issued a royal decree to arrest this man and to bring him to the former's court for awarding a suitable punishment to challenge the authority of the Mughal empire. When the sepoys went to Rishi Peer's house to arrest him for producing him before Aurangzeb at Delhi Rishi Peer told the sepoys about his inability and requested them to come the next morning.

The same night Aurangzeb while sleeping in his bedroom at Delhi observed a unique phenomenon. He saw a man approaching his bed room sitting on a lion. He became so much frightened that his whole body started trembling. With a choked voice he asked that man who are you. The man politely replied that I am Rishi Peer from Srinagar whome you have summoned by your firman. Aurangzeb became so much frightened with this awe inspiring sight that he begged for forgiveness for the foolish act of his subedar. He asked Risi Peer to sit on the throne and to issue a new firman in which the subedar was dictated to address Rishi Peer as Peer Pandit Padshah, Hardul Jahan Mushkil Asan with full respect to him. From hence on he became popular as Peer Pandit Padshah.

It is also said that Rishi Peer had a spiritual discourse with his contemporary saint poetes's Roopa Bhawani and some Sufis from Baghdad. When his mother Siddhlakshmi died he dedicated everything whatever he gained in her memory. He then performed tapasiya again for another 14 years taking only milk, honey and water to attain salvation. Due to all this he became very weak and it became impossible for him even to stand on his own feet. He left his mortal frame in 1697 at the age of 60 years. His Hindu disciples took his mortal frame for consigning it in fire, but when his Muslim disciples came to know about his death they insisted that his body should be buried as per Muslim customs. When the tussel was going on between these two groups over the issue of performing the last rites some body uncovered the bier carrying the dead body and found only 27 flowers in place of the dead body. The Muslims then went away and the Hindus consigned those flowers in a fire on the bank of river Jhelum in Batiyar mohalla. A temple was built at that site in his memory which still stands even today.

Rishi Peer had a son Rihanand who also developed spiritual bent of mind under the influence of his father. The death of Rishi Peer gave such a shock to his son Rihanand that he became an ascetic with no interest in this materialistic world. He too started living on a frugal diet and died around 1700 AD. He had two sons Kashi Pandit and Lal Pandit. Kashi Pandit did not marry and became a saint whereas Lal Pandit led a happy married life. Lal Pandit's descendants adopted the surname Peer. Why they preferred a Muslim term Peer over the Hindu term Rishi is not clear. May be under the influence of the majority community in the Valley they did so.
Rishi Peer and Lucknow.

The Kashmiri Pandits who settled down at Kashmiri Mohalla in Lucknow during the Nawabi period between 1775 and 1778 had a very great admiration for Rishi Peer as their ancestors were mostly his disciples. So when the British annexed Oudh in 1856, the Kashmiri Pandits of Lucknow started a caste festival Rishi Peer Ka jaag in memory of this great saint to keep their flock togather and to prevent their social customs and traditions from the onslaught of the western way of life.

This yearly caste festival was being organised in the Bagia of Pt. Bhola Nath Bakshi (Angoori Bagh) on a very large scale, but it had to be abandoned in 1906 when some serious differences cropped up in the community over its continuation. Some liberal and progressive Kashmiri Pandits with western ideas under the leadership of Pt. Brij Narain Chakbast dubbed this caste festival as dogmatic and emphasized the need for bringing reforms in the community to enable it to face the fast changing social scenario. Since then no caste festival could be organised at Lucknow on such a massive scale till date.

The famous Urdu poet of Lucknow Pt. Ratan Nath Dar Sarshar composed the following couplets in the honour of Rishi Peer as his tribute to that great saint.

Maddah-e-janab-e-Rishi Peer aiya hai
Darbar mein shahon ke fakir aiya hai
Khursheed ki aankh kyon na jhapke Sarshar
Ek zarra-e-khak-e-Kashmir aiya hai

After the mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in 1990 due to terrorist's violence a new trend has started of building replicas of various Kashmiri shrines in different parts of the country outside the Valley. A replica of Rishi Peer's shrine has been built at Palora Top, in Suraksha Vihar, Jammu, whose foundation was laid by Padma Shree Pt. Jagan Nath Kaul on 24th April, 2006. The white marble statue of Rishi Peer was installed in this shrine on 21st March, 2008. Rishi Peer's one wooden sandle was brought from Ali Kadal, Srinagar to be kept in this shrine as his relic.

Before the mass exodus every year on the birthday and nirvan divas of Rishi Peer a big Mela used to take place at Ali Kadal. A large number of devotees used to come at this shrine to pay their obeisance to the holy relic of Rishi Peer. Kulcha and black seeds of Ishband after touching them with the holy relic used to be served to the devotees as naveed. Rishi Peer left this world about three centuries back, but the fragrence of his aura still continues. A spoon does not know the taste of the soup, an ignorant does not know the pleasure of the supreme bliss.

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