Column Series: Building bridges with the past, memories as community history | Knowledge keepers of Kashmir

Throughout its intellectual history, Kashmiris have been a major centre of   acquiring and dissemination, both temporal and sacred knowledge systems. The advent of Islam gave  impetus and infused new life to these established ancient practices. The local traditions of seeking and furthering the zest for knowledge through the written word in the form of manuscripts and books were substantially supplemented by mystics and men of letters, local and immigrants, who made Kashmir their abode due to a friendly and supportive environment. As for most of the Sayids, our itinerant ancestors travelled from Iran/Central Asia in search of a secure and receptive setting for the pursuit of knowledge. My family history is dispersed if not lost in the struggle for survival  in  19th and early 20th century  when Kashmir fell on difficult and hostile phase of its history. In our living memory, the attributes of our ancestors were preserved and revealed to us by Pir Ahmad Shah Saheb, our Grandfather. He was a fervent protagonist of Islamic and Persian cultural traditions. Facing an unhelpful and hostile environment and unsettling living conditions in Srinagar that till then was the centre of religious cultural activity, the family shifted within the city for some years. His father Sayid Abdul Ghani Shah Suhrawardy Zoonimari was a known religious teacher and  preceptor. After acquiring knowledge from his father, Ahmad Shah Saheb migrated to Kalal Duri near his in-laws (Dedamari family) and built a house nearby and taught Quran besides leading prayers in the local masjid. He served as a teacher in a madrasa established by Shahdad family, the well known silk route  merchants of Srinagar, at Zaldagar. However, the family again fell on difficult times and had to migrate to  Midroo Tral. Keeping with the family tradition of imparting education, he established a madrasa near the shrine of Hazrat Baba Yousuf Jallali (RA).  He, however, maintained his association with the prominent religious families of the city. One of his three sisters was married to Mirwaiz  Molvi Rasool Shah Sahib ( the founder of Islamia High School)  and the father of Mirwaiz Molvi Yousuf Shah Sahib.

Pir Ahmad Sahib used to visit his home at Kalal Duri once a while and would correspond with  the  publishers out side State and order books after obtaining their catalogues. Some of these books were large like the one Masnavi Maulana Rum, Tafsir-i-Husaini, Tafsir-i Sura Fateha etc. The transportation and delivery of these books to the Awantipora post office and then   to Midroo, Tral was a feat by itself during early decades of 20th century when there was not even a proper road to such destinations. Among his diverse interests, Pir Ahmad Sahib had set up a dedicated book-binding facility with wooden clamps having wooden screws and a large knife. Though I have not seen him as I was an infant when he passed away, yet I hear from others that among other qualities, he was self sufficient in many things like weaving cloth for himself. I have seen his wooden qalamdan-pen holder with a sliding drawer, his wooden box to hold his spectacles with a sliding side and his wooden comb.

The family  had in their possession a  number of rare handwritten manuscripts in Arabic and Persian languages dating as far back as 655 AH/1257 AD, 666 AH/1267 AD, 691 AH/1291 AD etc. Besides some rare printed books pertaining to last about two centuries totalling about three hundred  were preserved by our ancestors against all odds and with a substantial effort to secure and preserve these. On finding these manuscripts/books getting damaged, I decided in December 2012 to deposit these with Allama Iqbal Library, Kashmir University. I did this and sought acknowledgement of  transfer of my cherished family possessions to them hoping that, as a preeminent academic institution, these will be preserved and made available for further research and study by scholars. However out of the 233 books/manuscripts sorted out only ninety one  were acknowledged and rest retained by the Library authorities for unknown reasons. My pleas in this behalf either to enlist or return the rest for the last eight years have got no response from the concerned institution.

The oldest and most prized handwritten manuscript dates a century earlier than the advent of Islam in Kashmir in eighth century Hijri, brought along  by our ancestors from Central Asia/ Iran and preserved for the last many centuries. Some of the manuscripts have names of their authors recorded on these. One of these, dated Zulhajja 691 AH/ 1291 AD written by Hazrat Sadr-ud-Din Mohammad ibni Abul Safa Al-Husaini is again older than the advent of Islam in Kashmir. The manuscript pertains to the explanation of Sura Fatah from Arabic to Arabic, with 20 pages of commentary in Arabic about prohibition of smoking. The authorship of this manuscript is attributed to Sayid Mohammad Husaini, the grand father of Hazrat Mir Sayid Ali Hamadani (RA). Another manuscript mentions  Hazrat Sayyid Husain Simnani (Suhrawardy) as our ancestor  who was the cousin brother of  Mir Sayid Ali Hamadani and  arrived in Kashmir in 760 AH/ 1358 AD     during the reign of Sultan Shahab-ud-din, 14 years before the arrival of  Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani in 774 AH. One more manuscript, about 300 pages, is named Awrad-i-Baha-ud-din Zakaria Suhrawardy Multani (RA) (d.666 AH/ 1267 AD). The preceptor of Sayid Husain Simnani Suhrawardy (RA) was Shah Rukn-ud-din Multani Suhrawardy (RA) the son  and Khalifa of Hazrat Baha-ud-din Zakaria Suhrawardy (RA). Sayid Simnani’s  biography “Introduction of Islam in Kashmir through Qalandar Sadat Hazrat Mir Sayid Muhammad Hussain Simnani”  was translated in English and  got  published by me through City Book Centre Srinagar.

One handwritten manuscript of “Yusuf Zulaikha Nama” of Maulana Jami (RA)  bears the  seals of two of our ancestors Shaikh Mohammad Moomin (d.1053AH/ 1643 AD ) (buried in Baghdad) and his son Shaikh Mohammad Alam.  Another handwritten manuscript of  Tarikh-i-Azami (Waqat-i-Kashmir of 586 pages ) records the name of writer as Pir Abdul Ghani Suhrawardy Zoonimari (d. 1335 AH/ 1916 AD), my great-grand father. One manuscript in beautiful calligraphy is about Tajweed-ul-Qirat by Hasan ibni Moulana Yaqoob Kashmiri written by Baba Khalil-ul-lah in 1274 AH/ 1857 AD. A few handwritten pamphlets of Hazrat Amir-i-Kabir, written by Maulana Darvesh Mohammad, Maulana Khwajagi and Maulana Zahid besides three  of his pamphlets written by Amir-ud-din Pakhliwal dated: 1135 AH & 1136 AH/1722 &1723 AD respectively are part of the collection delivered to Kashmir University. A handwritten travelogue of Central Asia in Persian language of about 300 pages, author unknown, contents reveal his association with Herat, now in Afghanistan, is now with the University library. The author of this manuscript mentions that he is contemporary of Hazrat Maulana Jami (RA) (d. 717 AH/1317 AD). I would like to mention here that some handwritten manuscripts do not carry the names of their writers.

The copies of some of these manuscripts and family and spiritual lineages have been reproduced by me in mY books “Tazkira Salikin-i-Kashmir” and “Sufi Saints and Sufi Orders of Kashmir” published by Gulshan Books Srinagar.

The rare and old Published books

The published books submitted to the Allama Iqbal Library University of Kashmir, were procured by my grandfather, late Pir Ahmad Shah (d.1352 AH/1943 AD) by post from the printing presses outside the valley like Lahore, Karachi, Luckhnow, Kanpur, Bombay, Hyderabad, Amritsar etc. As mentioned earlier he  established a madrasa at Midroo Tral where the villagers  offered the space and other material support. The madrasa seems to have attracted a good number of pupils, including a blind person who learnt the Masnavi Maulana Rum by heart and popularised it among the local inhabitants.

Most of the families engaged in promoting traditional education in the past have  treasures of age-old manuscripts and published books. These are getting damaged with the passage of time due to unscientific storage and lack of proper preservation. They somehow do not part with these, considering them to be their family heritage. While this is understandable, it would be immensely useful if these precious but  decaying objects are catalogued, put in public domain and arrangements made for their preservation considering that these are part of our heritage having  unexplored scholarly value.

The write is former Chief Engineer, J&K Government.