No Urs for a Sufi poet in grieving Kashmir

Management of Wahab Khar’s shrine fears anti-government protests

Every April, for more than a century, devotees of the mystic poet WahabKhar have travelled from all corners of the Kashmir valley to his mausoleum on a hill, in a village, in Pampore. For the first time though they couldn’t make the pilgrimage because the shrine management took the drastic step of cancelling the annual spiritual event, fearing there would an outbreak of protest against army in the area. 

A few hundred meters from the tomb of the great mystic poet is a huge fortified camp of the army and every year whether one likes it or not they would set up a stall doling out refreshment to the devotees. This year though given the high anti-army sentiment the management felt the presence of army men at the stall might provoke people to protest against the army and thus rather than asking the army not to set up the stall the management took the measure to completely terminate the Urs celebrations.

Not far away from the tomb, the people of Pulwama, Kulgam, and Shopian, and many other areas of Kashmir are still mourning the loss of civilians in the last few weeks, and the shrine management calculated to play it safe by calling off the annual Urs celebration on April 12 and 13. 

“Situation was not feasible for mega celebrations this year due to the volatile situation,” said Abdul Hameed Bhat, a senior care taker at the shrine.  “There were apprehensions of law and order problem on the occasion as army would set up free food, drinking water and other refreshment stalls for the devotees.”

Another care taker at the shrine said that the shrine management thought the youth may resort to stone pelting on the army men and the “situation may deteriorate.” “We thought better to call off the celebrations this year. We know sentiments of hundreds of people including female stand hurt,” he said.

Those who make the pilgrimage every so often were taken aback by the decision and sorely missed being there to observe the annual event and pray and contemplate at the tomb of the mystic. Every April the sound of music and poetry bring the area alive as folk singers from all part of Kashmir assemble at the tomb to sing the poems of the mystic saint. 

Apart from the congregational prayers on the Urs days, the care takers of the shrine would display the lute like musical instrument called Rabab, used by the saint throughout his life.  Rabab has originated from Central Afghanistan and is one of the national musical instruments of the country.

For Fatima Begum, a resident of the Khanyar area of the old city, not being able to visit the tomb filled her with deep sorrow.  “Whenever I went to the shrine, I did not only find solace there, but my wishes got always fulfilled. I have a great faith with the shrine,” she said. Begum, who claims to be 59-year-old, said saints like WahabKhar are alive. “They are the ones who plead on behalf of us before the Almighty Allah. My all wishes that I made at the shrine were answered.” Though Begum visits the shrine every week, she believes spending the time there on the eve of Urs has its own significance.

Muhammad Mukaram, who is an admirer of the saint, said the shrine management should not have cancelled the celebrations of Urs. “Displaying the sacred things attributed to saint has its own spiritual effect,” he said. “They could have cancelled the folk musical program but not the overall celebrations.”

Deputy Commissioner Pulwama, Ghulam Muhammad Dar, however, downplayed the development saying there was no pressure on the shrine management to cancel the annual Urs celebrations. “We didn’t ask them not to observe the Urs,” he said.