(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.)
Preserving the Sufi Shrines
One more glorious Sufi shrine has been lost to the devastating fire and one more historical and architectural monument has been raised to ashes. It was not the tomb of any Sufi saint and yet the most revered popular spiritual and architectural site of Kashmir which, besides other few sacred relics, enshrined the sacred hair of the Sardar Awliya (Head Saint) Peer Dastgeer Sahib (R.A) revered and respected in the entire Asian continent . He is also known by his other titles including Gousul Azam Dastgeer, Peer Peeran, Shah-i-Jeeelan etc while his actual name was Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. He was born in the year 1077AD in the Mazandar province of Iran.
In the Asian subcontinent, the Sufi saints are held in high esteem and their tombs have become the great Sufi centers to which the people are spiritually associated. The devotees offer special prayers, charity and it was with the help of these donations that such wonderful tombs had been raised over the sacred graves of saints and sufi’s. These tombs are named after the names of the saints buried there.
In Kashmir the Sufi traditions are much popular and, like other Asian countries, Sufi saints and their respective tombs are revered and respected. People usually visit the shrines and attain spiritual pursuits. The tombs and shrines associated with the Syed Saints are the most significant sipiritual centers here , but when it comes to Shah-i-Jilan, his Sufi order remains the most popular among all the other spiritual schools. His shrines and relics are held in high esteem and people cannot afford to lose them at any cost.
Sufis, here, are broadly classified into two major categories differentiating the saints of local origin and the saints of external origin. The local saints are usually referred to as Reshi’s, those born here and belonging to this land. Their order (Selsella) was founded here by the Patron saint of Kashmir Nund reshi or better known as Shiekh Noor ud Din Noorani (R.A).
Also titled as Alamdar-e-Kashmir (The torch bearer of Kashmir), Sheikh Noor-u-Din (R.A) was born in a small village at Qaimoh in south Kashmir District of Kulgam during the early 15th century AD. His tomb is located at Chari Shrief, in the central District of Budgam. It is the major Sufi centre of Kashmir while hundreds of Sufi saints belonged to this School are located in almost every village and town of the valley.
Syed saints, those wise men, the preachers of Islam who arrived here along with the Grand Sufi saint, Mir Syed Amir Kabir Ali Hamadan better known here as Shah Hamden . Those are mostly Syeds who are held in high esteem for their vision and religious knowledge and also for the fact that they are among the progeny of the last prophet, prophet Mohammad (SDA) because of being the descendants of Prophet Mohammad’s (SAW) family.
The Sufi tombs are formed as wooden shrines and are called as ‘Astan’ in the local language. These shrines have been raised over the graves of these saints and most of such sites are found in rural and forest areas of the valley as such locations allowed ample time and peace for meditations.
The wooden shrine architecture is known as Reshi order of architecture. It is purely Kashmiri and is hardly seen beyond the borders of the state. It is most significant architecture of this land, which are almost uniform in plan, material and style. These are square in plan and mostly self contained buildings with plinths of Devri Stones while chambers mostly constructed by bricks and mortar or, sometimes, of logs laid across each other. The spaces between logs is seen filled with brick work, chambers are square with a Cenotaph (char) of latticework at its centre.
The entrance to the chamber is usually from the south. Bays of the chamber are decorated with fine types of Jali (Screens) of wood; the interior of the central chamber is sometimes covered with papier machine paints or lime Plaster. The columns around the central chamber (Noor khana) or within the chamber, are elaborately carved while the low pyramidal roof projecting over the whole super structure is built in several tiers with size diminishing in each successive tier. The roof is usually surmount by a rising steeple, the final of which is molded, the largest molding in the shape of umbrella, usually covered with metal object.
Unfortunately these tombs have lost most of their traditional materials and stand renovated with cement plasters, marble floors and glazed windows besides, the brick bark roofs have been replaced by metal sheeted roofs, but the plans, designs and style has remained, more or less, unchanged.
Kashmir is a living museum by virtue of these Sufi shrines and sites. One can hardly find a village across the length and breadth of the valley where there is not a Sufi shrine or any sacred relic associated with a Sufi. These glorious wooden monuments are more impressive in their wonderful architectural style, without the modern manipulations which appear a mismatch.
The tragedy is that such wonderful architectural monuments and traditional sites of sufi practices are not being maintained on modern scientific lines. These shrines are in neglect and are not properly conserved as several glorious shrines, included the major olden shrine of Nundreshi at Charar-e-Sharief, Khanqah-e-Sheikh and Khanqah-e-Faizpana at Tral are utterly neglected.
The condition of all other wooden shrines scattered all along this valley is also not satisfactory as these need to be provided the safety equipments and preserved on modern scientific lines, keeping in view the fragile material these are constructed from. The wakf board, local shrine committees and care takers of these sites should ensure proper safety and security of these sites, for which government is also bound to provide the necessary security and conservation.
People say we have already lost many such spiritual and cultural heritage buildings and would not afford to lose any more.