(Dr. Riyaz Punjabi, 63, was born in Srinagar. He is a distinguished academician and an expert on International Peace and Conflict Studies. He started his career from Kashmir University and holds a Doctorate in Law. He has headed the Department of Distance Education and Dean Faculty of Non-Formal Education. He has also taught Law in this University and Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU) New Delhi. He is a visiting Professor and fellow in Jamia Millia Islamia, Indian Institute of Advance Study and Centre for South Asian Studies Switzerland. Before taking over as Vice Chancellor of the University of the University of Kashmir, he was the Professor at Centre for Study of Social Systems at JNU. He is the first Asian awardee of the European Socrates Award and is the Honorary Professor, University of Vienna. He brings with him a treasure of knowledge and experience he has gained over past four decades.)
A Paean For My Pir Dastgir
The magnificent Dargah of Pir Dastgir (RA) has been reduced to shambles in a devastating mysterious fire. As we mourn the devastation of this bastion of our spiritual and ethno-cultural heritage, many of our friends from without are unable to comprehend the significance of this multi-dimensional edifice of our spiritual and cultural ethos. Dargah it was, but it was equally an institution, which epitomized our historical, composite social and cultural value system.
Heritage conservationists would describe the shrine as a great architectural marvel incorporating ancient Buddhist, Central Asian particularly Uzbek, Tajik, Turkmen and local architectural style and traditions. The craftsmanship exhibited in the decoration of the interiors of the Dargah prominently projected the local and indigenous traditions with an Iranian imprint, which developed in Kashmir in 15th century during Zain-ul-Abidin Budshah’s time. In sum, this great architectural heritage had been a great attraction for the visiting tourists from within the country and abroad. From another perspective, it was a sacred shrine, which housed the relics of great Sufi, Sayyed Abdul Qadir Jeelani(RA). He lived in Baghdad in Iraq in 12th century and was tied to the chain (silsila) of most revered Sufi order of Junaid Baghdadi. This order of Sufis is known as Qadiriya order of the Sufis. The Dargah of Pir Dastgir was built in the center of old Srinagar city at Khanyar about two hundred and fifty years ago in the year 1767 A.D. It gradually acquired the estimation of a renowned place of worship (Ibada) where devotees would pray five times a day and special congregations would be held on Fridays and on other auspicious occasions. The relics of the revered Sufi Sayyed Abdul Qadir Jeelani would be displayed on some special occasions in a year. Thus, the Dargah served as a version of a bigger mosque where devotees would come and pray. This profile of the shrine would be a routine description of Dargah of Sayyed Abdul Qadir Jeelani popularly known as Pir Dastgir. Be that as it may, the issue is how did the shrine become the abode of a ‘Pir’ (Guide, a spiritual being who envelops you in his blessings) and ‘ Dastgir ‘ (the one who holds your hand when you are in distress)? It is equally pertinent to comprehend as to how did the shrine become a part of our ethno-cultural identity and entered our primordial consciousness. The answers to these issues would provide a clue to the grief, pain and anguish on the devastation of this sacred shrine. In this behalf, the four distinctive dimensions of the shrine are noteworthy.
First, the shrine would reverberate with the recitations from the holy Quran from very early morning post Namaz-i-Fajar and continued intermittently for the entire day and concluded with the last prayer of Isha. On some special occasions the recitations and devotional verses specially composed in veneration of Pir Dastgir Sayyed Abdul Qadir Jeelani were rendered by the devotees in unison (a classic cultural tradition specific to Kashmir), which would continue past midnight. The entire area would resonate with these loud renderings instilling a sense of bliss among the people particularly the common folk. The shrine would be thronged by people from different areas across the valley and even from other parts of the state seeking the blessings of the Pir Dastgir. This pattern continued throughout the year. It is customary in Kashmir that a student leaving home for attending school or college, an official leaving for office and a businessman proceeding to attend his work, a bride leaving her home with the groom – all are seen off with the prayer ‘ I entrust you to Pir Dastgir’ or ‘ May Dastgir protect you ‘. Thus, the perception of Pir Dastgir as a protector and a savior has entered the recesses of our minds and has become an inalienable part of our collective psyche. No wonder our relatives and friends, doctors, engineers, scientists and academics settled in far off lands of the world would request us to visit the Dargah on their behalf and seek the blessings for them.
Second, on specific occasions the relics preserved in the shrine would be displayed to the spiritual delight of the masses. This practice of preserving and displaying the relics of holy men is rooted in the ancient history of Kashmir, which at times is enigmatic to our west Asian friends. This practice attracted non-Muslims to the shrine and gradually they too became ardent devotees of Pir Dastgir and would visit the place with veneration and reverence seeking the blessing of the revered Pir. This bestowed the shrine with an aura of a pan religious institution transcending the religious barriers.
Third, the specific celebrations of the Dargah prescribed well in advance, which the common folk described as urs, would be a season of festivities which would run for several days. In the backdrop of illuminated Dargah, magnifying its grandeur, the people from urban and rural settings, men and women, children and adults would enjoy this season making the occasion a great social event. The small time vendors would decorate their makeshift stalls and hawkers would be seen around selling their goods which were an attraction for visiting devotees particularly women and children.
The shrine was an ideal locale for the average people, particularly the women, to meet and interact. They would firstly beseech the Pir Dastgir to alleviate their sufferings and then discuss their personal or domestic problems and seek each others advice in dealing with them. Thus, the shrine was a convenient venue for social interaction.
Fourth, the people would flock to Dargah, during the natural adversities of a famine, epidemic or excessive rains seeking the divine intervention with the blessings of the Pir Dastgir to relieve them from their suffering. However, the shrine equally provided a platform for the people to challenge the despotic and autocratic rulers to end their oppression and suppression of the average common people of Kashmir.
The Dargah Pir Dastgir and the traditions and practices associated with it provided a solid block to the edifice of our ethnicity and identity. This is how, as social anthropologists aver, that ethnicities and identities are formed and sustained in societies.
We are suffering from the agony of the devastation of this spiritual-social-cultural symbol of our heritage. Let us seek the divine intervention to forbear the loss. We seek the blessing of our Pir Dastgir to help us and as Faiz Ahmad Faiz wrote in his noted poem ‘Mori Araj Suno’ (Listen to my Appeal):
“ Mori Araj Suno – Pir Dastgir
Maye Ri, Kahoon Kaa Sey Mein
Apney Jiya Ki Peed
Naya Bandhoo Rey
Bandhoo rey Kinarey Darya…”
(Listen to my appeal, O’ Pir Dastgir
Whom shall I narrate my tale of woes
Take my boat to the shore and
Tie it down there).