(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 51, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numastics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)
Remembering Baba Zain-ud-Din Wali
Not only in indigenous records, Kashmir Rishism is also well documented in foreign literatures as well. The travelers, who happened to be in this glorious valley during their respective times, had been impressed by the teachings and traditions of the Rishi saints. Abul Fazal, a traveler during the Mughal period, writes about Sufis: “The most respectable people of Kashmir are the Rishis who do not suffer themselves for being fettered by traditions. They are doubtlessly true worshippers of God. They revile not any other sect and ask nothing of anyone. They plant fruit trees along the roads to furnish the traveler with refreshments. They abstain from consuming meat and have no intercourse with other sex. There are two thousand of these Rishis in Kashmir.”
Jehangir, the Mughal emperor, was also impressed by their piety and other self abnegations. In his memoirs, he speaks of these Rishis as possessing simplicity and without pretence. They restrain their tongues of foul talk and the feet of leading them to vices. Eat no meat, have no wives and always plant fruit bearing trees.”
Baba is the second friend of Nund Rishi. He was born at Bounderkote Kishtwar as a Rajput Hindu named Zai Singh. He also entered into Rishi fold at the hands of Nund Rishi. He was asked to report at the cave of Aishmuqam where he could meditate for search of the truth. When he reached the cave, he saw it filled with snakes. Baba told them that this cave had now been allotted to the saint so please leave the spot. Snakes left the cave for the Baba where he meditated for years and attained the enlightenment. He then came to be known as Sakhi Zain-ud-Din Rishi.
Sufi devotees believe that no one goes empty handed from Baba’s shrine. Baba’s shrine is located midway in the lap of Aishmuqam hill. He is learnt to have left for heavenly abode at the site, however, details about his funeral rites are shadowed in mystery. Historians say that when his body was put into the coffin, it disappeared. Later Baba came into dream of one of his friends and told him that dig the grave where the coffin lies and later same was done.
It is one of the leading Sufi sites of south Kashmir where Sufis of contemporary ages gather on Thursdays and Fridays to perform their respective Sufi practices. A big congregation is held during the Urs days of the saint when devotees gather at the shrine holding torches in their hands. This Sufi festival is called as “Phrov” that means lightening of traditional torches. The torches are lit up in the corners of south Kashmir as well but the most outstanding celebration takes place at Aishmuqam.
Candles are also lit at every Sufi shrine during their respective Urs days. These candles are specially made by potters, and are called “Kashur Choong” or Kashmiri candle. It looks like a small cup with no handle; instead having an opening towards the front. It burns not by Kerosene oil but by mustard oil. A cotton piece put into the candle catches the flame near its opening. Such earthen candles are already preserved in shrines and during the celebrations, the attendants of the shrine clean these candles, and devotees bring mustard oil for them. They consider it as the offering to the shrine. The shrine attendants would sit on the corners of the respective shrines (verandah) in evenings and would light these candles, which are laid in various queues all around the shrine. The shrine looks like a light house. These days, attendants are also helped by other lighting arrangements like electric bulbs etc.
The festival at Aishmuqam is held every year in the month of April. During this festival, the shrine of Zain-ud-Din Wali is beautifully decorated with superb lights. People from nearest villages and localities throng the shrine, holding torches of wood and straw. It is locally called a Phrov. It is not only observed at the shrine, but entire south-Kashmir celebrates it with great honour and gaiety. Mostly children are fond of celebrating this festival.
The shrine attendants at Aishmuqam shrine wear different type of turbans locally called Tasir. It is made up of lined cloth and these lines are embroidered over a piece of cloth, later cut to a desired length of a turban. Tradition reveals that the Zain-ud-Din Rishi has used such type of turban.
Baba abstained from other things and worshiped Allah only. He searched for the truth and attained the favours of the Creator in the blue forests and in the cave. He did not eat meat thus followed his Peer (spiritual guide) who took forest vegetation Vopalhak. It was the most favourite diet of the saint and he took very less quantity, sometimes nothing for days together. At the shrine of Zain-ud-Din Rishi is preserved a relic, called wooden-bread. It is recorded that the saint used to tie it with his belly when he had nothing to eat.
Another cave is seen at a plateau at Aishmuqam which has been hewn out of a massive rock. It is known as the cave of Zain-ud-Din Rishi. The Rishi is learnt to have meditated here. The saint's mortal remains are also buried inside the cave. How old this cave is, there is no proper record of that.
A mysterious rod known as Asa Sharief of the Rishi is also learnt to have been preserved inside the shrine which is hardly shown to anybody. But one of the local residents told me that he has seen it about thirty years back. He says it is like a magic rod and when you hold it, it would pull you upwards. According to him it is exhibited at rare occasions. When it was exhibited thirty years ago, the area was experiencing a major draught, said the local resident. At that occasion a big congregation was held at the shrine and during special prayers, this rod was exhibited to get rid of that natural calamity.
The Aishmuqam shrine not only houses the rod, it also has several other relics of Zain-ud-Din Rishi that include a bow and arrow, wooden bread, coffin and skull of the lamb.