By Zeeshan Rasool Khan
Since time immemorial, Kashmir has been abode of saints, seers and savants of high spiritual splendor, intensity and grace. This sacred land has produced Saints, Reshis and Sufis par excellence. Because of this, Kashmir enjoys a global recognition as “Peer Waer”, that is, “The garden of spiritual personage(s)”. The valley has been an alcove of holy men and women, who after attaining heights of spiritual stature, taught religious principles to the masses of Kashmir. They gained high repute for their spiritual excellence and exercised their influence on the people. Consequentially; numerous shrines of Muslims can be seen in every nook and corner of the valley with a persistent following of pilgrims and devotees thronging these places which are held in high esteem by people of all faiths. One among them is the famous and venerated shrine of “Sheikh Zain ud din Wali (RA)” at Aishmuqam , about 70 Kms away from summer capital Srinagar.
Hazrat Sheikh Zain-ud-din Reshi (RA), a great spiritual luminary, was born at the village Rakna (Bhandarkoot), a small village 12 kms away from Kishtwar, in a non –Muslim ruling Rajput family. Before the family embraced Islam under the influence of Sheikh Noor-u-Din Noorani (Sheikhul Aalam), Zain ud din was known by the name Zia Singh but later became Zain-ud-din with Sheikhul Aalam (RA) being his spiritual mentor.
During the early days of his becoming the disciple of Sheikh ul Aalam, Zain ud din absorbed himself in deep meditation in a small cave on the bank of Chenab at Bhandarkoot. Legend has it that Zain ud din mediated for a long time in the village Mandjan of tehsil, Sopore also but later on the instruction of Sheikh ul Aalam, he migrated to perform devotional exercises in a cave at Aishmuqam for the rest of his life and attained spiritual perfection. On the nature of his spiritual status , Zain ud din’s mentor Sheikh ul Aalam said, “My dear Zain-ud-din is chaste. He did so well that the disciple surpassed his master. O Allah, bless me with the similar status”. After touring different parts of state including Tibet and Ladakh to propound the message of Islam and converting a big chunk of population to the Islamic faith in the remotest areas of the valley like Chhatroo, Dachhan, Marwah and Warwan, it was the site at Aishmuqam which finally turned out to be mausoleum of this spiritual luminary and became famous in all parts of Kashmir as “Zairat e Zain ud din Wali’’ (Shrine of Zain u din Wali (RA).
The shrine of Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali is located on a hillock in the Aishmuqam town. It is inside a deep cave atop the hill. The mausoleum can be reached by a flight of stone steps and attracts thousands of people from all parts of the valley every year. Presently, there are two mosques attached to the shrine. The Khanqah is preserved in the mausoleum which is not only used for prayers but also is a repository of the relics of the saint consisting of a bow, wooden bread, a rosary, a wooden club and a copy of the Quran. What amazes most and speaks volumes about degree of abstinence of Zain ud din from material world is the ‘wooden bread’, which the great saint used to tie on his belly in order to console his hunger after the long periods of fast which would last even for a month. These holy relics are displayed on special occasions related to this saint.
The death anniversary (Urs) of the saint is observed on the 12th of April corresponding to Islamic month of Rajab. Congregational prayers are held which are attended by thousands of devotees followed by traditional “Zool” in which people light a bonfire a bundle of leush (piece of timber with rich content of resin or turpentine) at night as a mark of jubilation commemorating the vanquishing of a demon by Zain ud din Wali (RA) at the time of his arrival to the cave. This is observed as a victory of good over evil.
The shrine plays significant role in the socio-cultural, religious and economic life of Kashmir. Devotees have internalized Zain ud Din’s message of peace and unity. People from different faiths come from far and near throughout the year to pay homage to the great saint. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others from all over the country unite there.
People visit this shrine for spiritual benefits and it plays a pivotal role in spreading light of Divine guidance among the believers, as Zain ud din’s message is crystal clear, based upon Divine principles. People’s faith is attached to this shrine to an extent, they believe, owing to adoration of this Holy man; the entire area is under protection. During droughts, famines or epidemics, people (particularly Muslims) from remote areas rush to this shrine and prostrate before Almighty Allah and pray for protection from such calamities. During drought spells or unseasonal down pours, people in Kashmir take out procession with hymns on their lips, locally known as ‘Nafl” to this shrine, believing that immediate and required rainfall or its cessation by seeking closeness to Allah through this saint. In Kashmir, a large section of people have their Child’s first head shave (Aqeeqah) at this shrine which is considered as a blessing.
This shrine has given new face to economy of people also. The large gatherings and congregations on Thursdays, Fridays and festive occasions at this shrine has promoted and intensified commercial activities .The covered streets are swarming with shops; selling colorful and attractive items and purchases of any stuff from the premises of the shrine is considered as sacrament (Tabarruk) by the people.
However, with growing materialism, the shrine is being mishandled, resulting into sacrilege. Just like most other shrines, the spiritual foundation of this shrine has been demolished colossally .People mostly visit the shrine for mundane purposes contradictory to the actual motive and premises. The centre of spirituality is now a solely business hub for most. For some, pilgrimage to this place is source of recreation where people especially women showcase their best clothing and jewellery, additionally visiting shops ,making frugal purchases infelicitously become part of it, which is not less than belittling the purport of this site. Moreover, allowing Bollywood stars to make movies or movie shots at this place no doubt, adds to its recognition, but it does not go down well with believers, devotees and common masses, believing it to be an antagonistic practice. Furthermore, some people resort to activities opposite to Islamic doctrine and teachings of this Holy saint, which somehow creates disbelief among the general masses and invites the verbal onslaughts from other ideologues.
Fortunately, though lately, some sense has prevailed among the administrators and custodians and they are doing their best to safeguard the sanctity of this Holy place by every possible means but ultimate responsibility lies on the public to understand the veneration and sanctity of these places in general and this shrine in particular. Additionally, religious scholars have important role to play in creating awareness among the people about holiness of these places to uphold their significance.
—The author writes on socio-political issues. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org