KASHMIRIYAT & SUFISM IN SLOW MOTION

When someone comes across the word ‘Kashmiriyat & Sufism’ what comes to their mind? Is it the religious belief that the residents of Kashmir follow or a way of life that has been developed over a period of time. The answer is no, Kashmiriyat, when experienced as a culture is so syncretic that it inspires and epitomizes the co-existence of the unity of nature and humanity. When Kashmiriyat is recognized as a belief is a fusion of four major traditions. aboriginal unification philosophy and popular wisdom of Kuran, Buddhist, and Sikhism. “Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat, Kashmiriyat” or “Humanism, Democracy, and Kashmirism” are terms that, India’s ex-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee used to explain his doctrine of maintaining and promoting the peace, progress, and prosperity of Kashmir. Kashmiriyat demanded religious and social harmony and brotherhood. Strongly influenced by Kashmir Shaivism, Buddhism, and Sufism, which has a long-standing belief that all religions lead to the same sacred goal.  Sufism is a path of spiritual progress which preaches that expanding consciousness leads to self and cosmic consciousness. The essence of Sufism is selfless experience and the realization of truth. Some Sufis believe in ‘wahdat-al-wujud’ (Unity of All Existence) and find God in everything, while some Sharia-centric believes in ‘wahdat-al-shuhud’ (Unity of All Witnesses) and observe everything as one creature. Some Sufis preach extreme passivity until they abandon the world, while others emphasize secular involvement. The most important religious orders in Kashmir are the Naqshbandi, Qadris, Suhrawardi, Kubrawi and Rishi cults. Rishi are said to have been born in Iran and Central Asia. Kashmiri people call their country “Pir Vaer” or “Rishi Vaer”. This means “Valley of Saints”.

In the 13th century, Sayed Sharfuddin Abdul Rahman, lovingly remembered as Hazrat Bulbul Shah, is said to have started Sufism in Kashmir. He is said to have changed the strictly casteral society of Brahmin-dominated Kashmir and arrived during the reign of King Suhadev (1312) and was instrumental in the conversion of Ladakh Buddhist prince Lhachan Gualbu Rinchana. Raja Suhadev fled to Tibet after being defeated by the Mongols who invaded Kashmir. His prime minister, Rama Chandra took the throne after the departure of the Mongols and appointed Rinchana as administrator. The administrator became the ruler of Kashmir after assassinating Rama Chandra. To gain local sympathy Rinchana married Rama Chandra’s daughter Kotarani. Shah Miri, one of Raja Suhadev’s ministers advised him to accept Islam after which he was named Sultan Sadruddin. One of his subjects including his brother-in-law Rabana Chandra converted along with him. After his conversion, he renamed Srinagar “Rinchanpora” and built a mosque called “Bud Masheed” on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. He built a monastery in honour of his spiritual leader, the BulBul Shah and attached a Langarkhana (public charity kitchen) to it which was known as the BulBul.

The origin of the Rishi order dates back to the pre-Islamic period, when the hermits abandoned worldly joy and retreated into forest and mountain caves to meditate and face difficulties during the Vedic period. However, in Kashmir, the Muslim Rishi movement was initiated by Nuruddin Nurani(1377-1440 ) to shape the existing Rishi tradition for the spread of Islam and to make it easier for the people of Kashmir to understand Islam locally. Hindus usually remember him as Nund Rishi or Sahazanand (The Blessed One). Nand Rishi’s teachings can be explained as a thoughtful critique of society, his loyalty to Kashmir’s peasants, the poor, and his Shruks (taken from the Sanskrit slokas) which consistently attacked the caste system. He emphasized yoga practice and breathing control for fellowship with God. He once said:

“There is one god, but with hundred names!”

“We belong to the same parents.

Then why is this difference?

Let Hindus and Muslims(together)

Worship God alone

Since Islam came to Kashmir, chronicles suggest that conversion has occurred, sometimes peacefully and sometimes violently. Kashmir has undergone several transitions in the transfer of control and authority from one administrator to another. However, neither conversion nor displacement could eliminate the mutual love and psychological bond shared by Muslims and Pandits. The Kashmiris once participated in ceremonies and celebrated the festival together. The Kashmiris took part in each other’s weddings seriously and helped with the household chores. After the forced conversion, the converted Muslims did not change their surnames. Kashmir is the only place on the subcontinent where it is difficult to distinguish between Hindus and Muslims by surname. The people of Kashmir are proud of their culture as society is strongly influenced by Sufi mysticism. The people of Kashmir chose not to deny their clear spiritual identity. This unique culture and spirit independent of individual religious beliefs can confuse non-Kashmiri people but the Kashmiris proudly call it “Kashmiriyat” or simply “Kashmirness”. Kashmiri is a term related to the deep emotions that Kashmiris have with each other, the harmony of the community, hospitality, behaviour, nonviolence, mutual adaptation, goodwill, and love. The syncretism tradition flourished through the mutual efforts of followers of both religions for coexistence.

With the onset of the Kashmir conflict, the spirit of Kashmir was largely taken away. The Islamic extremism began in 1989 with the escape of the Kashmiri Hindus and the violent attacks on the remaining religious minorities. What was known as the higher power that connects people of different beliefs, castes, and beliefs has long disappeared. Violence in the valley occurred during Operation Topaz, the idea of Pakistan’s President Zia-Ul-Haq to “liberate” the majority of Muslims in the Kashmir Valley and establish an independent Islamic state. In 1988, Kashmir’s separatist leaders and young people crossed the LoC and reached Pakistan-controlled Jammu and Kashmir were trained in weapons and returned to the valley in preparation for an armed uprising. Pakistani and Kashmir religious parties and their militants were used as front lines to launch armed attacks in Jammu and a malicious campaign against the Hindu minority Kashmir Pandit was carried out by extremist Islamic terrorist groups. As a result of this unfortunate episode in Kashmir’s history, the story of Kashmir has changed dramatically. Many Kashmiri leaders later called on the Pandits to return, arguing that Kashmir and Kashmiriyat would not be complete without them, but the reaction was almost always negative. For many experts, the concept of Kashmiriyat disappeared completely after their forced migration, leaving only a romantic memory of “agreed happiness”.

With the emergence of terrorism in the valley, the term Kashmiriyat not only lost its invisible meaning, but the tangible cultural elements associated with it also began to fade away. The increase in headscarves for women on behalf of militant groups has often been accompanied by extreme levels of violence against those who resist the order, including acid attacks on the face and guns in the legs. Previously, deeply respected and defended Sufi shrines were not spared by ongoing Muslim extremist. Many temples were burned down and completely destroyed by terrorists who called them “non-Muslim” for not following extreme Wahhabi or Salafist traditions. However, insidiously, it is the same terrorist groups that have vandalized these holy sites that often take refuge in these temples to avoid arrest by security forces. Entertainment facilities such as cinemas suffered the same fate, with terrorist groups calling them “non-Muslim”. In August 1989, a militant group called Allah Tigers began terrorizing the city of Srinagar, ordering the closure of liquor stores and bars, telling videotape vendors what to sell and women what to wear. Their first diktat was the immediate closure of cinemas, which was announced in newspapers and pamphlets, and those who disobeyed were threatened with death. By 1990, all 15 operating cinemas in Kashmir were closed and the violence reached its peak. Therefore, it is not surprising that when the basic entertainment is refused to ordinary people, their identity and their culture are gradually erased. According to an investigation of India’s trust in artistic and cultural heritage, 98% of young people are surveyed with important cultural disconnections.

Looking at all these horrors, one can conclude that Kashmiriyat & Sufism is under radical attack. The answer lies within us, whether we want to believe it or not. Kashmiriyat demands religious and social harmony and brotherhood. It is heavily influenced by Kashmir Shaivism, Buddhism and Sufism, carrying a long-held belief that all religions should lead to the same divine goal. Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs together celebrate the annual Sufi festival of the Urs in the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslim carpet weavers have designed rugs featuring the Hindu deities Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. Every year on July 16, the Jwalamukhi fair is held in Khrew city at the Jwala Ji Mandir, bringing together Hindus and Muslims from Kashmir. When celebrating Eid, Hindus often wish their Muslim neighbours, a practice that Pran Koul says is testament to “the whole culture of Kashmiriyat”. All these practices and examples give us hope that Kashmiri people still live in harmony with each other and we need to remind them of the common culture and roots, we have been accustomed to sharing since time immemorial. It is not something that will happen in days, it will take time and it is our soul responsibility to maintain our ancestral culture and practice and rise again.

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