Revisiting the saint’s abode

Baba Zian ud Din Rishi led a life of simplicity, spreading the message of social equality
"It is a township about 75 kms from Srinagar as a detour from the Pahalgam road around 14 kms from the bustling town of Anantnag."
"It is a township about 75 kms from Srinagar as a detour from the Pahalgam road around 14 kms from the bustling town of Anantnag."Author

The Rishi order of Kashmir valley which started in the later part of the 14th century had a tremendous contribution from Sheikh Noor-ud-din (Nund Rishi), “Alamdar e Kashmir” who inspired several spiritual teachers and saints like: Hamza Makhdoom, Resh Mir Saeb and Shamas Faqir, who propagated his teachings of social equality.

This was the time when Kashmir was being ruled by Budshah Zain ul Abdeen, the 8th sultan of Kashmir. This period also saw the emergence of great Sufi Saints like Baba Zain ud Din and Baba Rishi, both disciples of Nund Rishi in 15th century.

Having visited and written about Charar i Sharief and Baba Rishi, my visits to the most revered Sufi shrines of the valley would have been incomplete without having gone to pay my reverence to Baba Zain ud Din Rishi at his shrine at Aishmuqam.

It is a township about 75 kms from Srinagar as a detour from the Pahalgam road around 14 kms from the bustling town of Anantnag. It can be seen by all the visitors going to the tourist spot of Pahalgam, as a structure with a pyramidal type of roofing in four tiers, finally culminating into the rising steeple of the pagoda order at the top of a hillock.

The childhood name of Baba Zain ud Din, who was the son of Jai Singh a Rajput ruler of Rukan near Bandakot in Kishtwar was Zia Singh or Zaina Singh. He was brought up by his mother because his father got killed by enemies. As the legend goes the child became very sick and doctors could not cure him, and left his mother crying and praying to the Almighty.

Nund Rishi is said to be travelling in Kishtwar that time and met her. Seeing the wailing mother, he cured the child with spiritual healing and asked her to bring him to Charar-i Sharief. The mother in the joy of seeing her child cured and playing around, forgot the advice of the Rishi.

The child again became very sick and mother remembered the words of Nund Rishi. This time she took him to Kashmir and finally got to meet him in Bamzu a place near Mattan (District Anantnag) in presence of Baba Bam ud Din Rishi. He received the blessings of Sheikh ul Alam and got a spiritual status, and started his meditations and preaching of Islam.

He led a life of simplicity spreading the messages of social equality. This was the time when he was instructed to settle in a cave at Aishmuqam, where he could meditate in search of the truth. When he reached the cave, he saw it full of snakes and pythons.

He told them in his spiritual language that the cave has to be vacated since it had been allotted to him. Snakes left the cave for the Baba who entered and meditated for years and attained the enlightenment. From then he became known as Baba Zain ud Din, Rishi.

Once Sultan Zain ul Abideen went to Aishmuqam to meet the Saint. There were however, no special arrangements made for his reception and he was made to wait. Feeling insulted the king left in a huff and issued an order evicting him from the cave and sent to Tibet.

While in Tibet Baba continued his preaching of Islam, making lot of people to join the Rishi order. Meanwhile the Sultan became very sick and the royal doctors could not cure him. The king thus realised his mistake and sent his son, Haidar Khan to go to Tibet, meet the Baba and plead for mercy. Baba returned and forgave the king who recovered soon.

Baba Zain ud Din while in the cave used to eat only small quantity of vegetables and walnut kernels, being a total vegetarian. He had made Aishmuqam a major centre for propagation of Islam and maintained a free Langar (Kitchen) for the poor, earning him the title of Sakhi – “the Generous”. Sufi devotees believe that no one goes empty handed from the Baba’s shrine.

One can see lot of devotees singing hymns and loudly asking for his blessings and even crying, while in a queue to enter the cave. At the entry of the main cave, they tie coloured threads (Dasshie) after asking for a wish. When the wish is fulfilled, it is expected that the devotees would return and untie the thread.

The priests of the Ziarat say that there is a wooden bread which is preserved in the shrine. It is believed that the Baba used to tie it around his belly when he had nothing to eat during the extremes of weather.

In addition, there are a few more relics - a wooden rod which is believed to pull you up if held in the hand, a bow and arrow, a coffin and skull of a lamb. All these are not shown to the pilgrims and their existence is written in some of the historic documents regarding the shrine.

Baba left his human body in 1440, when he ordered all his disciples to go out for ablutions for his last funeral prayers. When they returned, they were shocked to see that the coffin was empty. He was then given a symbolic burial in Rozabal Aishmuqam.

As the saying goes Baba came in a dream to one of his friends and told him to dig the grave, at the spot where the coffin was kept. This was done accordingly. There are several of his disciples who are also buried in designated areas around the entry to the cave.

The Aishmuqam shrine complex was built in a typical Kashmiri architecture by Sultan Zain ul Abideen. It has since been improved and redesigned first by Auqaf Trust and then Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Waqf Board along with different governments.

An annual Urs is held every year around middle of April when torch lights called “Zool” are lit and young people go around in a celebratory mood around the shrine. As per a legend during the rule of Asushah Badshah a few centuries back a ‘genie” (Ghost) had terrified Aishmuqam by consuming villagers one by one.

This horrible practice ended only when Bumisad, a Gujjar boy, fought with the Genie for one week and finally killed him. The villagers celebrate this victory by lighting torch lights and chanting “Zain Shah Chu Badshah” (Zain Shah is the King).

This picturesque hill and surroundings also invite people for a picnic combined with a pilgrimage of the Ziarat. A Bollywood hit movie “Bajrangi Bhaijan” starring Salman Khan had an important “Qawwali- Bhar de Jholi…” shot at this popular venue around the Ziarat in 2015.

Tail piece:

Baba Zian ud Din has been one of the legendary Sufi Saints of Kashmir in 15th century. He was a disciple of the legendary Sufi Saint Nund Rishi and preceded Baba Rishi, who before he went to his abode near Gulmarg spent several years learning meditation from the Baba.

Aishmuqam is the place where Baba Zia ud Din spent most of his time meditating in the search of truth in a cave on a hillock near Pahalgam. He believed in social equality and preached it. He left for his heavenly abode in the cave itself.

The place has become a very holy Ziarat in his memory which was initially built by Sultan Zainul Abideen in a typically Kashmiri architecture. A large number of devotees go there to pay their reverence and as the belief goes, their wishes are always fulfilled. An annual Urs is celebrated here with a hallmark of burning torch lights called “Zool”.

Prof Upendra Kaul, founder Director Gauri Kaul Foundation, is a recipient of Padma Shri and Dr B C Roy Award.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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