The road to Sheikh Noor-ud-Wali (RA)

A saint of immense foresight and knowledge, Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) used his poetry, known as Shruks, to propagate and reform the social order in Kashmir.
The road to Sheikh Noor-ud-Wali (RA)

This year, one of the Fridays, the Urs of revered Sufi saint, Sheikh-ul-Aalam Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali (RA) was the first in many years that I could not visit his shrine. We got intercepted by a group of youngsters just before Mochu, on way to Chaar-e-Sharief, and no pleading would make them relent and let us pass. Some hands, with stones were raised aiming at the windshields and we retreated. During decades of conflict, the Shrine or its periphery many a times became a flashpoint. Yet for many the shrine of Chaar-e-Sharief has remained an escape for seeking solace and soul healing.

My earlier tryst with Chaar-e-Sharief and Kashmir conflict came on a chilly winter day of February (25th), 1990, when an organization had given a call for a mass march to Chaar-e-Sharief, 'Chaar Chalo'. Militancy had just taken roots in Kashmir and daily newspapers (majorly Urdu) used to be full of front page statements of organizations, often calling for protests or 'Chalo'. On a cold February morning, I was traveling, along hordes of other people, towards the revered shrine. Just beyond the city limits, where in those days existed fields, and now lies spread concrete and ugly mortar, cropped up haphazardly, a sea of people were driving one-way, thousands of vehicles jostling and queuing to move beyond a snails pace. The enthusiasm of people was far stronger and warmer than the feeble winter sun, many of these crowds having started early. Such was the rush of people, that from Gopalpora to across Chadoora, a walkable distance, it must have taken more than three hours for vehicles to move. For us the final gridlock happened near Nagam, just around 2 PM, when people who had already reached Chraar-e-Sharief in the morning were reportedly attempting to move back against the huge tide that was still attempting to reach there. By evening we had been stuck in a neither land, exhausted and hungry. At odd stops along the gridlock local camaraderie was in full display, villagers offering 'Tehar' (yellow rice cooked in turmeric powder & salt with mustard oil or ghee) to travelers. Some other villagers had arranged tea or fruit for the marchers. Such huge was the number of people stuck on this stretch that soon these offerings fell short of feeding even a fraction of them, but what kept most of us going was the display of goodwill and enthusiasm. This seemingly endless trail of vehicles, stuck for miles, only started turning around dusk and homecoming did not happen before night. Even for us, who could not reach 'Chrar-e-Sharief' what lifted our spirits was a sense of oneness and commonality of a belief. 

The enthusiasm and spirit displayed by common folk on that day was a far cry from the faceless anger displayed against fellow commoners last Friday, when driving to Chrar-e-Sharief became like crossing a political barrier. We surely had come a long way from the days of early 90's, the seemingly unending conflict trauma having caused a deep wound in the psyche; a conflict stress that has erased our understanding. Or maybe the conflict has forced many among us to use physical force instead of a belief conviction. 

"Does wrath behave a Muslim?

Should you display anger, you'll

Jeopardize your purpose.

Wrath'll prove to be a robber

Of your treasures!

Does wrath become a Muslim?"

Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) also known as Nund Rishi, Alamdar-e-Kashmir (the Flag bearer of Kashmir) or Shiekh-ul-Aalam, is the founder of the Muslim Rishi order in Kashmir. Born in 1377 CE (779 Hijri) on Eid-ul-Adha, in Qaimoh village of south Kashmir of Sheikh Salar-ud-Din and Sadra Dedd (Dedd means elderly) who were known for their piety goodness, influenced by Hazrat Mir Syed Simnani (R.A). 

As a saint, preacher and poet Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) won huge following during his times and subsequent generations. His early life was directly influenced by saint and poetess Lala Ded, and in later stages by the arrival of famous saint and preacher Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (Amir-e-Kabir also known as Shah-e-Hamadan) (RA). Amir-e-Kabir (RA) came to Kashmir in the fall of 1372 CE, followed again by 1379 CE and 1383 CE. At that time Kashmir was going through a major cultural, religious and social transformation, with an old subjugating caste based system being torn away by mass conversions to Islam. 

The Rishi movement founded by Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) was so unique yet adaptive, that its preachings not only found wider acceptance, seen against the Brahamnical caste system, but its characteristics were also identified with spiritual transformation and interpretation of faith. A saint of immense foresight and knowledge, Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) used his poetry, known as Shruks, to propagate and reform the social order in Kashmir. Since the caste pyramid in Kashmir had been the foundation of an oligarch aristocratic system, that aligned with whatever power ascended to the throne, it would be always the working and lower classes, forming the majority of the population in Kashmir, who had been subjugated and persecuted. And it was this majority and some members of the upper classes, who found strength and identification with the 'Rishi movement' in Kashmir, taken as a crusade by Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA). 

(By) displaying the caste in the world,

What will thou gain?

Into dust will turn the bones,

When the earth envelopes the body;

To utter disgrace will he come,

Who forgetting himself jeers at others.

His social movement particularly addressed the subjugated, peasants, workers, artisans, the proletarian class hence Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) might have been seen as crossroads by the Brahminical or upper class aristocracy, That could be the reason that while Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) found confidence with many Sultans, he was still imprisoned by Pandit Suha Bhatta (Prime Minister under Sultan Sikander (1390-1413 AD)).  The saint later regained prominence during the reign of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1420-1470 A.D.) 

The 'Zhikr' of Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) (and his Rishi order) found such compatibility with the Islamic beliefs in Kashmir, that they were included in the Suharwardi, Naqshbandi, Qadriya tradition and practice here. I have observed how 'Shrukhs' of Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) have been recited alongside 'Khatmaat-ul-Moazmaat' in various places in Kashmir. 

'Awal reshi, Ahmad (PBUH) Reshi,

Doyum Hazrat Owais (RA) aav,

Treyim reshi Zulka Reshi,

Cho'urym Reshi Miraan aav,

Panchim Reshi Rum'e Reshi,

Sheyim Hazrat Pulass aav,

Satmi'ss korhum yeth'naav Reshi,

Be'kuss Reshi t'e me'h kya naav?'

(The first Rishi was the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The second in order was Hazrat Owais (RA), Third Rishi was Zulka Rishi (RA), Fourth was Hazrat Miran (RA), And fifth Rishi was Rum'e Rishi (RA). The sixth came Hazrat Pulaas (RA), The seventh (me) is miscalled a Rishi, Do I deserve to be called a Rishi and what is my name?)

No spiritual luminary or poet has had so much of influence or imprints on Kashmir, as did Sheikh Noor-ud-Wali (RA). His universal appeal came from the fact that he not only identified with almost all aspects of social, religious, political and institutional renaissance in Kashmir, using the local language to great articulation, but also extended his works and preaching to environmental and literary faculties. Almost four centuries after Sheikh Noor-ud-Wali's (RA) death, the Afghan governor Atta Mohammad Khan had coins issued in his name, being the only saint ever in Kashmir to inscribe on mint. 

The same oligarch aristocratic system that for centuries aligned with whatever power ascended to the throne was again in later years responsible for the continued subjugation of common Kashmiris. While kings changed, most of them alien, this aristocratic class continued thriving by suppressing the poor and working class. In many a ways, the origin of Kashmir uprisings pre 1947 lied in the serfdom, enslavement and depravity forced by this aristocratic class on the common proletarians.

Resting Place:

The present site of 'Chrar-e-Sharief' once had a mosque where Sheikh Noor-ud-Wali's (RA) offered his Friday prayers, on land donated by Sangam Dar, a disciple of the saint. Popular belief is that after Sheikh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) left this world, his coffin flew some distance, and then descending near the mosque, where he lays buried. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin participated in the saint's funeral prayers and had the shrine constructed here. 

A study of the works and life of Sheikh Noor-ud-Wali (RA) could provide us a way out of many issues facing contemporary Kashmir. 

'Zind'e yus mar'ea, roz'e tehanz ka'th"

(That human lives, who is dead in life).

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