Kashmir is resplendent with tales of folklore and mythology. One of them is regarding a famous poetess, the likes of which Kashmir did not see for another two generations.
The name that will come up the most when you search for a list of tourist attractions in the Gurez Valley is that of the peak of Habba Khatoon. But when you visit Gurez, you realize that it is not actually a tourist attraction at all but just another among the thousands of Himalayan peaks all around.
Known as ‘The Nightingale of Kashmir’, Habba Khatoon, the poetess was born around 1551 in the village of Chandhara near Pampore; and in her childhood was named as Zoon (the Moon) because of her immense beauty. Although a peasant, she learnt how to read and write from the village Moulvi.
Known as ‘The Nightingale of Kashmir’, Habba Khatoon, the poetess was born around 1551 in the village of Chandhara near Pampore; and in her childhood was named as Zoon (the Moon) because of her immense beauty.
It is said that Yusuf Shah Chak, who later went to become the ruler of Kashmir, was out hunting one day when he heard Zoon singing under a Chinar tree. Upon hearing her melancholic melodies, he stopped and went looking for the woman singing in such beautiful voice. He found Zoon sitting under a tree and was stunned by her beauty. It was love at first sight for both of them and they decided to get married soon. After marriage, she changed her name to Habba Khatoon. One day,
the Mughal emperor Akbar summoned Yusuf Shah to Delhi. Akbar had failed to conquer Kashmir militarily and now resorted to tactics of cozenage. Upon reaching the Mughal court, Yusuf Shah was flung into prison, never to see the light of day again, and never to see his beloved Habba again. For the rest of her years, Habba pined away in an abode next to the Jhelum, where she finally lay to rest. There exists little documentation and fewer records of the story of Habba Khatoon and Yusuf Shah Chak, yet this story has been passed down for generations and it slowly, yet inevitably, found its way into historical records and books of lore. It is not only her tale but also her verse that has travelled across time to be alive and loud.
Passed down orally in songs that have been sung by women across centuries, it is likely that Habba’s words have been modified, reinterpreted and reimagined by many other unnamed voices. And there is no doubt that all these voices have eventually contributed to the myth and legend of Habba Khatoon.
So what is it that makes the peak in Gurez so special?
It is not the mountain that is famous, but the person that it has been named after that is an important part of Kashmiri history. It is Habba Khatoon, the woman that people know and talk about, not Habba Khatoon the mountain. She is the one that people of Kashmir so fondly remember. The mountain is just their way of making sure that she remains planted firm in their memories; that she remains spoken of. And that the name has not been forgotten over a period of time, for she is the sound and song of many gatherings even today.