Exploring Spiritual Tourism

The rush of devotees to the Sufi shrines has been increasing day by day
Exploring Spiritual Tourism
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The Jammu and Kashmir Government looks all set to promote and enhance the spiritual tourism . It is learnt that the UT administration has earmarked another 75 tourist destinations to enhance religious tourism in the region.

Since the year 2022-23 had shown an unexpected rise in the tourist flow of this land and so far over one crore tourists are believed to have visited this land. In the wake of this abrupt rise in the tourist flow, the UT administration is now searching for the religious and cultural sectors which could be used to keep this momentum alive. In this context, let us explore the Reshi and Sufi heritage of this land, and its scope and important for our heritage tourism sector .

The Urs of Sufi saint, Syed Rasool Mashadi popularly known as Nanga Baji recently concluded with great religious fervor at Malangam village of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district. During the Urs, religious supplications were held and thousands of devotees of this Sufi order, which had come from more distant lands paid obscene and their respects at the shrine.

Earlier similar Sufi congregations were witnessed at the famous Sufi shrine of Baba Nizam ud Din Kiyanvi at Baba Nagri Kangan where thousands of devotees from both sides of Pir Panchal arrived to pay their respects. Similarly, a spurt in the number of devotees of other famous shrines of Mukhdoom Sahib, Chari Shrief, Baba Reshi and Zain Ud din Reshi was also witnessed.

In fact, despite expansion in modern science and education, the glorious Sufi traditions and its practices have not declined. Instead, the rush of devotees to the Sufi shrines has been increasing day by day, leading towards exploration of the spiritual tourism. Kashmir is known as Peervier, the garden of the mysticism, because of its rich spiritual legacy, cultivated here by grand Reshi and Sufi Saints. The evidences of this wonderful heritage are still showcased by this mountain locked land in the shape of Sufi and Reshi shrines, tombs, caves and their relics and various practices, associated with the grand saints.

Indeed Kashmiris have got close association with the doctrines of its local Rishism and Sufism but surprisingly they are not so serious in exploring this distinctive spiritual legacy for its spiritual tourism. The spiritual heritage sites which consist of the Rishi, Sufi shrines, and their relics are not been taken due care of. They are still handling this heritage in their traditional way while as the modern scientific conservation technologies have not been adopted to preserve and maintain this heritage. The wooden Sufi shrines, their sacred relics and artifacts in most of Sufi shrines of Kashmir are decaying as there is no proper mechanism even for their preventive preservation and conservation. Unscientific storage, non professional handling and lack of conservation facilities within these shrines have posed a threat to the historic relics and artifacts. The threat is felt more in those Sufi shrines which are located in distant villages and maintained by local shrine management committees.

In fact Kashmir is a living museum for the Sufi shrines and sites. You would hardly find any such village where there is not a Sufi shrine or any sacred relic associated with a Sufi. These are glorious monuments which in architectural designs are no less impressive than any heritage buildings. In spiritual legacy they symbolize a very close spiritual association and relationship between these shrines and local people.

Architecturally, these are wooden shrines basically associated with the tombs of Sufi and Reshi saints of this land. These are called as Astans and are raised over the graves of these saints. Most of these sites are found in rural and forest areas of the valley, because these were the places where these Rishes could find peaceful and calm environment for their meditation.

The Kashmir architecture formed a uniform type of local style. It is known as Reshi order of architecture, which consists of these Sufi tombs which is quite indigenous and is hardly seen beyond its borders. It is uniform in plan, material and style, and mostly pertains to the tombs of Muslim saints, either Rishi or Syed saints. These are originally built as memorials of great Reshi and Syed saints, mostly over their graves. These are square in plan and mostly are self contained buildings; plinths are of Devri Stones while chambers constructed sometimes of bricks and mortar and sometimes of logs laid across each other, the spaces between logs filled with brick work, chambers are square with a Cenotaph (char) of latticework in its centre. The entrance to the chamber is usually from the south. Bays of the chamber are decorated with fine types of Jali screens of wood, the interior of the central chamber is sometimes covered with paper machine paints or some times of lime plaster. The columns around the central chamber are elaborately carved. The low pyramidal roof projecting over the whole super structure is built in several tiers with size diminishing at each successive tier.

The roof is usually surmounted by a rising steeple, the final of which is molded, the largest molding being sometimes in the shape of umbrella, usually covered with metal object.

However, these wonderful shrines locally called Astana are still to be explored for the tourism. Besides most of these shrines are in neglect and are not properly conserved. Still there are hundreds of Sufi shrines which are well-intact and symbolize the classical grace of Sufi order of architecture, these included the scores of Reshi shrines of Shiekh Noor Ud Din Reshi, the grand shrine of Zain Ud Din Reshi at Ashmuqam, Baba Hardi Reshi at Antnang, Baba Naseeb Ub Din Gazi Bijbehera, Baba Reshi, Baba Shakur ud Din Reshi Sopore, scores of Sufi shrines of Shiekh Humza makhdoomi including his grand shrine at Kohi Maraan. Similarly there are hundreds of Syed Sufi shrines which include the shrines of Amir Kabir Mir Ali Hamadani, Mir Syed Husain Semnani, Mir Syed Ali Balkhi etc.

Kashmiris have given different name to these sufi shrines; they call them Astana and hold them in high regard. (This Astana should not be confused with Sanskrit word Asthaphan. This is basically a Persian word which has been often used there and has travelled here with the Persian saints. Although I am myself not certain about its basic meaning but it has no relationship with the Sanskrit word Asthaphan,)

In architectural legacy these sites are no less attractive than the great pyramids of Egypt but unfortunately most of these sites are still unconserved and unprotected. These are mostly wooden shrines which if not protected on modern conservations lines can easily fall prey to accidental fires; many sites have already lost their glorious style to these fires.

Most of the shrines particularly in rural areas have either been repaired or renovated with irrelevant materials and in rough designs, which has badly defaced original character of many of these shrines. These wooden pyramids of Kashmir need to be preserved on modern scientific lines and brought under the purview of heritage tourism. The Wakaf Board, cultural and tourism departments should jointly come forward and conserve these shrines; these glorious sites should be well equipped with basic tourist infrastructure and transport connectivity. The spiritual package tours can also be operated. The distantly located sites shall be identified and brought under the local tourist map. The basic transport facilities shall be provided to these distant Sufi sites to connect them with general public.

The requisite guide lines shall be followed in conservation of these sites so that the necessary repairs and conservations are undertaken on its original lines, the local shrine committees and care takers of these sites should ensure that no such renovations are undertaken at these sites which are feared would destroy the originality of the historic shrine.

Iqbal Ahmad is a senior archaeologist.

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