World through my eyes
In the previous post on Kashmir, we travelled to Aishmuqam Dargah of Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali, who was principal disciple of Sufi saint Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani. Now we are talking about the shrine of the saint himself at Charar-e-Sharief. Well, name Charar-e-Sharief might not be as unknown as the Aismuqam, but its importance might be.
Also read: Kashmir we know less about: Aishmuqam Dargah
Actually, being a journalist, the first time I heard about Charar-e-Sharief was all because of negative reasons, way back in 1995. It was then, when the shrine as well as the town was in siege for 66 days because of a stand-off between army and terrorists lead by Mast Gul. It all ended even badly when the whole town as well as the shrine were put to flames and a glorious history turned to ashes. Isn’t it so ironical and unfortunate that place associated with a saint who preached peace and brotherhood, his shrine and the town became a battlefield for those seeking violent means.
Tough to say, whether wounds of that 24 year old incident have healed or not, but the town and the shrine are back to life and glory! Hence, having visited Aishmuqam, going to Charar-e-Sharief was the obvious one. It also helped that Charar was on way to Yusmarg from Srinagar, which was also one of my destinations on the trip. Thus it was a quick stopover at Charar-e-Sharief while returning from Yusmarg to Srinagar.
Charar-e-Sharief is probably one of the most historical shrines which stands tall in the Kashmir valley. Inheriting a 600 years old heritage, Charar-e-Sharief was built to pay homage to one of the holy saints of sufism – Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani (1377-1438), also referred as Hazrat Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali. Charar-e-Sharief has went through many a tumultuous times. During the war of Indian and Pakistani Army, the shrine was badly devastated. However, through efforts from various quarters Charar-e-sharief was again reconstructed. Then came the above mentioned incident. Even after, that it got reconstructed, literally rising from ashes to its lost glory. Charar got a new shrine built at a cost of Rs 3 crore on Oct 7, 2001. Shrine’s Khatamband ceiling was assigned to Kashmiri professionals. The new structure was the main shrine’s replica, retaining a pagoda-shaped top. Walnut wood interiors of the shrine give it a very regal look.
(Whatever I could extract on this saint from my research for this post.) The historic tales behind Charar-e-Sharief narrate an array of interesting anecdotes. Sheikh Nuruddin, endearingly called Baba Nuruddin, established the Rishi order of saints, a Sufi tradition associated with religious harmony, liberalism and service, which had a miraculous effect on a large number of his followers. Interestingly the word ‘rishi’ as well as ‘baba’ have all come from Hindu epithets and were widely used by Kashmiris. One of the fundamental concerns of the Rishi Order was to avoid violence between the two communities.
Baba Nuruddin himself had Hindu origins. He was said to descendant of a Hindu Rajput family of Kishtwar, one of whose scions had migrated to Kashmir valley because of a family feud and settled down here for good. The Sheikh’s father accepted Islam later. His earlier name was said to be Sahajanand and hence when he became saint later on, he was also called as Nund Rishi. During his entire life, Noor-ud-Din Noorani spread the message of tolerance, vegetarianism and communal peace among the local people of the valley. A great philosopher who had a mastery over poetry and verses, Noor-ud-Din Noorani was also known by several names such as Alamdar-e-Kashmir, Sheikh-ul-Alam and Sarkhel-e-Rishiya, among others.
After preaching in different parts of Kashmir,Baba Nuruddin finally settled down in Charar-e-Sharief in Budgam district of Kashmir. On the occasion of his death in 1438, it is believed that as much as nine lakh followers came to Charar-e-Sharief to pay their homage to Noor-ud-Din Noorani. Preserving the remains of Noor-ud-Din Noorani, Charar-e-Sharief today is regarded as one of the holiest of places of Islamic sufism. Nund Rishi’s was one of the few indigenous Sufi Orders of India because other Orders were not born in India but in Persia. Even though rishis of Kashmir have some thoughts in common with the Chistia Order, Chistis were originally from Afghanistan. Kashmiri Hindus respect Sheikh Noor-ud-din in the same way as Kashmiri Muslims. Infact, he was a preacher as well as a social reformer.
A professor at Jamia Millia Islamia Qazi Obaidur Rahman Hashmi had once said that Kashmiris are, by nature, inclined towards Sufism as its values are ingrained in their psyche.They revere Sufi saints and their aphoristically edifying quality of education. It is evident from the existence of numerous shrines, tombs and mausoleums that dot the region and are visited by a stream of pilgrims round the year.
The tomb of Sheikh Noor-ud-din at Charar-e-Sharief, a small town perched on a dry bare hill, 40 kms south west of Srinagar, is visited by thousands of people-high and low, literate and illiterate, muslims and non-muslims to the present day. His poetry and his pithy and wise sayings have, to a large extent, determined the genius of the Kashmir language and are remembered by heart by the people. His poetic compositions — Noor Nama and Rishi Nama — are testimony to his lofty ideas, wisdom and compassion. He openly ridiculed the pseudo- religionists and insisted on the resolution of conflicts through consensus, dialogue and reconciliation, in the true spirit of Kashmiriyat.
More on offbeat Kashmir? Read: Kashmir we know less about: Naranag
Young Kashmiri researcher Abir Bazaz revealed in a research paper some years back that Nund Rishi’s teachings were a serious critique of the society then. “His loyalty was with the Kashmiri peasantry, the poor lot. His shrueks (taken from the Sanskrit word shlokas) consistently attacked the caste system. Unlike Kabir, whose teachings were a criticism of Islam and Hinduism, Nund Rishi affirmed both. “His approach was unique because he affirmed his relations with both the Koran and Hindu-Buddhist thoughts. His structure of thought tried to look at a universal shared language, how one community can live together with another,”
Abir says, Nund Rishi also holds importance in the Valley’s history because he was the first to write in Kashmiri. Before him, the writings were either in Sanskrit or in Persian. Today though, he is more or less a forgotten name in Kashmir. Baba Nuruddin went straight to the people of Kashmir to offer them succour from superstitions and blind faith. In a short span, his indigenous roots, deep knowledge of the cultural ethos and captivating poetry in old Kashmiri language, endeared him to the people. Baba Nuruddin wanted to integrate different sections of society — with different faiths, rituals and beliefs — on the solid foundation and distinct identity of Kashmiriyat, which stood for human dignity, love for the motherland, liberalism and service. In a language that people understood, Rishi went on to institute Sufism in the Valley by successfully establishing an idiom that coupled Hindu and Buddhist thoughts with the real spirit of Islam. He used local idioms.
I still wonder, how relevant are all those things in the current fragile situation of Kashmir valley. But visiting the shrine was indeed an experience in itself.
How to reach
Charar-e-Sharief is 40 kilometres from Srinagar in Budgam district of Kashmir. You can take taxis, bus or private vehicles from Srinagar for a day visit to Charar. You can also do a visit to shrine while going or coming back from Yusmarg. Since, with tourism point of view, there is nothing else to do in town except for visiting the shrine, you can avoid staying here in night until you want to have a feel of the town. There are many guest houses and hotels in town.
Read more in this series: Kashmir we know less about: Kheer Bhawani at Tulmul
Have you ever been to Charar-e-Sharief to visit the shrine of Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani? How was the experience? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
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