Ajaz Ahmad Dar/ Role of Sufism and Rishism in Shaping Kashmiryat

Ajaz Ahmad Dar

Lecturer Department of English,

Lovely Professional University, G.T. Road,

Phagwara -144411, Punjab, India.


“Sufism, mythical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God, consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of humanity and of God, and to facilitate the experience of the presence of divine love and wisdom in the world”1. On the other hand, the word’ Rishi’ is of Sanskrit origin, and has been applied to wandering hermits and wandering ascetics, as well as to the authors of various Vedic hymns. According to some scholars, the word means a ‘seer’, and refers to one, “whose eyes tear down the walls of the exoteric (zahir) and the esoteric (batin), and, going beyond the material world, acquires the secrets of the Truth” 2 .The present paper focuses on the impact of Sufism and Rishism on the people of Kashmir in general and Kashmiri culture in particular. The role preachers of Islam and saviors of Hinduism are discussed in the current paper. Both the terms, Sufism and Rishism are mostly used as synonymous to each other by the people of Kashmir. Despite the religious differences between the two, they have been able to create a common social space transcending the religious barriers. Aim here is to examine the factors which contributed to strengthen the bond of humanity in hard times. Particularly, when subcontinent was in the grip of communal violence. The communal harmony exhibited by the two communities is brought in lime light. The loss suffered by both the communities due to erosion of Kashmiryat after 1989 shall find space in the discussion. Finally, examining the different efforts made by national and international communities to restore Kashmiryat in its true spirit will be examined in the paper.

Keywords: Sufism, Rishism, Kashmiryat, Kashmiri Culture, Communal Harmony.


“The word ‘Sufism’ has been derived from Arabic word ‘SUF’ which mean wool and is used for Muslim ascetics and mystics. This moment started in Central Asia initially and gradually found its way in other parts of Muslim world”3. Sufis are basically a pious minority in early Islamic fold who think more austere outlook of Prophets (SAW) are lost in the political expansion. It is a moment against the indulgence of worldly affairs and ultimate subjugation to God. Love for humanity and simple way of living is stressed. “Quietism, with its emphasis that God is all that matters and man is merely an instrument in His hands, provided fertile ground for the pantheistic beliefs that God is all there is, and man and the phenomenal world are merely shadows or apparitions of His being”4. The journey of Sufism in Kashmir started with Bulbul Shah. The people of Kashmir are still inspired by the Sufis’ by their mystical insights. The indigenous local version of Sufism was shaped logically by Sheikh Noor-U-Din popularly known as Nund Reshi. Sufis’ believe that God and man is one. One of the popular Sufi saints was Saiyid Amin who said,

“The world and the man of the world one endowed with the essence of the Eternal, if you look deeply (you) look deeply (you) will find everything in the human being”.

This is the belief of a Sufi they consider that everything is in human body one just need to have eyes to seek the truth. Sufis pay no homage to religious differences. Believing all humans beings as equal irrespective of religion. Saiyid Amin says,

“The differences between the mosque and temple are meaningless. Men endowed with spiritual eminence, find both good and evil identical.5

Kashmiri Shaivism similarly is different from the traditional forms of Hinduism practiced in other northern parts of India. Kahmiri Brahmins are not rigid like their counterparts in the sub-continent in following the religious dogmas. They align themselves with their Muslim brothers in many ways and tolerate the rigidity of religion. One such example is that though they are Brahmins and a Brahmin does not eat meat. When invited by a Muslim friend they enjoy the different cuisines made of meat. Similarly, though a Muslim is forbidden from eating whatever is offered except in the name of gods or goddesses, but to align themselves with Hindu brothers Muslims do away with the religious doctrines for the sake of their Hindu bothers

Sufism and Kashmiri version of Hinduism preach universal brotherhood. Sufi does not consider Hindu and Muslim different from each other. They treat everyone equally, showing difference is not only inhuman, but also irreligious. They attracted the Hindus and addressed the common problems with solution which was simple and within the reach of common man. Believing that serving humanity as the highest form of righteous deed (Ibadah), their deeds follow their words. This is the main reason that people from all walks of life held saints and sages in great regard and their way as the pious way to live the life. Following the teachings of Sufism, one forgets the barriers of religious differences, and loves the most beautiful creature of God.

History of the Kashmiri Pandits is the history of Kashmir, since last more than 11,000 years. They are associated with its society, culture, civilization, customs, traditions, myths and realities and Kashmir was then the fountainhead of all civilization, divine spirituality on this planet. Going back to the history of Kashmir, the valley has been named after its founder Rishi Kayshap. “It is he, who changed the Sati-Sar into a land of gardens”6. Valley has served as the seat of highest learning: the third Buddhist conference and discussion between Hindu and Buddhist scholars are a few examples to mention here. With the advent of Islam in the valley, which not only changed the outlook of the inhabitants but also brought new cultural treasure with it. Usually, this gives rise to cultural clash. But in Kashmir it had a different result. When Sufis arrived in the valley, Kashmir had its own ways of Buddhist renunciation and Hindu asceticism. The religious difference did not evolve into conflict, but gave a new way to live in harmony. The common reverence for the sacred places of both communities began to be observed. The Persian culture was dominant in other parts of Asia but it had a mild impact on Kashmiri culture. It did not change the fundamental fiber of the indigenous culture. The Sufi culture which came from central Asia has to change itself to fit in the new circumstances, which is quite unique in itself. In the process of doing so it impacted the indigenous Rishism of the Kashmir as well. The fusion of two cultures gave rise to one common culture and a sense of oneness i.e. Kashmiryat. Kashmiryat was given preference to above anything. It was not only nurtured and propagated by Sufis’ and Rishis’ but it also was patronized by the Kings of the time. This argument is further strengthened by the fact that Kashmiri people irrespective of religious differences visit and pay homage to the sacred places and saints of all the minorities. In addition to this, Kashmir had no orphanage prior to 1989. The need was never felt as such because whenever there was anyone orphaned the neighbor would readily take the responsibility of the same. But due to tremendous increase in such cases now NGOs have found their way in the valley. This trend still continues. This is a positive thing and if something seems to restore the lost glory that is the restoration of Kashmiryat.

Sultan Zainul Abidin-the Budshah (Great Monarch), governed Kashmir from AD 1420 to 1460. Zain-ul-Abidin held the Kashmiri Pandits in high regard, followed the policy of tolerance, endurance, patience, sympathy and broad mindedness. He recalled the Kashmiri Pandits who had left the Valley during the rule of Sikandar and Ali Shah. Jazia was abolished and the Brahmans were given their earlier positions in administration. Demolished temples were rebuilt and new ones constructed. Two temples were built by Zain-ul-Abidin at Ishbar, Srinagar. The Sultan also participated in the Hindu festivals. A large number of houses were built for the widows of the Brahmans who had suffered during the reign of terror. Zainul Abidin stopped the killing of cows, restricted the eating of beef and catching of fish in the sacred springs of the Hindus. Even the personal law as laid down in the Shastras was adopted for the Hindus. The legenday Kashmiri Pandits were revivified. Ferguson observes that-

“Indeed history has very few examples where the policy of a father was so completely reversed by the son. Even the Mughal monarch, Akbar – the great, capitalized on the religious policy of Zain-ul-Abidin. But the conservative and dogmatic Muslims reacted very sharply to this policy of toleration and mutual coexistence, which was not given any heed by the king. He laid solidified the shaking foundation of Kashmiryat in very critical time.7

This is evident from the above discussion that Kashmir in spite of having observed trouble times have stood always as a unique community among all the communities of the word in tolerance.

Now, it is evident that the biggest loss of the bad circles of time is the erosion of Kashmiryat. The immediate need of the hour is to restore the lost glory of the valley and rest of the things will be set next.

Taking about the loss- it has been unprecedented in last 20 years. Every walk of life has received set back. When Kashmiri Pandits were struggling in Jammu for shelter, their Muslim brothers were struggling in Kashmir for life. The death toll according to official records has crossed 100000 (India Times). The worst affected has been education sector in the valley. Another prey of insurgency has been health sector the mortality rate and disability has grown due to high frequent use of weapons. The number of orphans has grown tremendously. Women and children have suffered a lot. There are thousands of widows. The orphans who have no one for proper guidance and education, have become more vulnerable to militancy related incidents. The bund culture and daily strikes, fear and loss of control by police and corruption has taken its toll from the naïve people of the land. Be it Hindu or Muslim, both have suffered to intolerable extent. The downfall of indigenous industries like tourism, handicrafts, agriculture has its roots in unfavorable atmosphere prevailing in the valley. Of all these the most important being the Kashmiryat; the age old trust and faith in humanity and secular ideology have got affected to worst6.

“The insurgency that began in 1989 in the Valley involved hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris marching on the streets of Srinagar between January and May 1990. Under Jagmohan’s regime, India’s response to the protests was brutal with indiscriminate firings at unarmed protesters; The atrocities committed by Indian forces has been acknowledged by senior Indian officials including the Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekhar and P.V. Narasimha Rao during their tenure and the State Governor Girish Saxena.8

India and Pakistan have been in the battle field against each other three times so far and it is evident that if the Kashmir dispute is not solved soon the situation may get worse at any point of time resulting in unprecedented loss to both the countries. In the recent past the two nuclear powers have been face to face at line of control and international community have been a good role in bringing the situation to normalcy. Though timely this has proved to be helpful but, the root cause of the problem is still the same and is intensifying day by day. The role of international communities have failed so in solving the issue. It seems that there are no serious efforts being made by the UNO and US. Although US intervention would have made an impact but India denies the role of any third party in solving the issue.

Thus, from the above discussion it is clear that the turmoil of last 25 years has left the society crippled in many ways. There is no peace of mind, insecurity has engulfed the minds. Kashmiri society has lost faith in political freedom and institutional justice. Various incidents related to execution of militancy related issues, corruption, insecurity have shaken the faith of common Kashmiri of Kashmiryat. The rivalry between Pakistan and India has been the major cause in the erosion of innocence and loss of Kashmiryat. The politics of religion and region received the heat in recent past which is posing a serious threat to the remnants of secular fabric of state. The need of the hour is to make arrangements for creating the social syncretic space between Pandits and Muslims of the valley without playing cards of politics.

Works cited

  1. com. Online dictionary. (14-11-2015)
  2. Skind Yoginder. “Crusaders for Love and Justice.” http://www.svabhinava.org/abhinava/YoginderSikand/MuslimRishis.php
  3. Lings, Martin. What is Sufism? London: George Allen and Unwen Ltd., 1975
  4. Miller, Elliot. “Sufis the Mystical Muslims.” (part three in a series on Islam from forward magazine) Vol. 9.1. (1986) Web. http://www.equip.org/article/sufis-the-mystical-muslims/
  5. Sazval, Vijy. “The True Meaning of Kashmiryat.” Kashmir Forum, Web. 6-2-2009.
  6. K.Kaw. “Kashmir and Its People: Study in the Evolution of Kashmiri Sociey.” A.P.H Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. 245-250.(2004).
  7. Puri, Balraj. Kashmir: Towards Insurgency, New Delhi 1993, pp.72-3.
  8. Furguson, “A Trend Reversed in Early 20th” Journal of Communication. Vol.65.1 Web. 12-11-2015.

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