The Muslim Rishis of Kashmir: Crusaders for Love and Justice

(Read part I: Muslim Rishis of Kashmir)

Yoginder Sikand

The Kashmiri Muslim Rishis after Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani

Hazrat Baba Bamuddin Rishi

Hazrat Baba Zainuddin Rishi

Hazrat Baba Latifuddin Rishi

Hazrat Baba Nasruddin Rishi

Other Khulafa of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani

Hazrat Baba Tajuddin Rishi

Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad 'Ali 'Ala Balkhi

Hazrat Baba Payamuddin alias Baba Rishi

Some Other Kashmiri Muslim Rishis

Women in the Muslim Rishi Tradition

Lal Ded or Lalleshwari: Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's First Teacher

Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's Women Disciples

Dahat Bibi and Bahat Bibi

Sham Bibi

Sanga Bibi

Hazrat Makhdum Shaikh Hamza Sahib and His Disciples

Makhdum Sahib

Hazrat Baba Daud Khaki

Hazrat Baba Nasibuddin Ghazi Sahib

Hazrat Yaqub Sarfi

Hazrat Shaikh Haider alias Baba Harde Rishi

Hazrat Baba Daud Rishi alias Batamaloo Sahib

Bibliography

 

The Kashmiri Muslim Rishis after Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani

Among Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's khulafa, four stand out as his principal followers. These are Baba Bamuddin Rishi, Baba Zainuddin Rishi, Baba Nasruddin Rishi and Baba Latifuddin Rishi. It was about these that Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani once remarked, " Buma, Nasar, Zaina and Latif, these four are pure and beautiful. God has given me a necklace to string these four jewels together. They are from me and I am from them".

Hazrat Baba Bamuddin Rishi

Hazrat Baba Bamuddin Rishi was Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's first and principal khalifa, and he succeeded his master after his demise as the head of the Muslim Rishis of Kashmir. Baba Bamuddin Rishi was born in a Hindu Pundit priestly family in the village of Bamzu, near Matan in the present-day district of Anantnag (Islamabad) in southern Kashmir, and was named Bama Sad or Bhima Sadhi by his parents. He is said to have been a famous Hindu priest of a temple containing three hundred and sixty idols, and is credited with numerous supernatural feats (istidraj).

Once, when Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani visited Bamzu, the two men met and had a long discussion about spiritual matters. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani managed to convince Bama Sad of the folly of worshipping idols, saying, "O brother! You worship stones, pour milk and ghee on them and read mantras for them, and yet they do not answer you". "To worship God in this way is wrong", he said, "for God cannot be represented in the form of idols". " Why waste precious ghee pouring it into the fire and making sacrifices?", he asked him, adding that, " It is better if you should consume the ghee yourself and gain strength for your body or else give it to those in need and thereby earn merit". Chiding him for his pride in being a Brahmin, he said to him, " To enquire about someone's caste is the height of foolishness, for he who discriminates against others because of their caste is the most despicable. O Brahmin! All human beings have the same primal father and mother, so how can you consider some to be high and others to be low?". " The Creator of all souls (khaliq-e-arwah)", he said, "made all human beings from a mere drop of water. Although they look different, their reality is the same, just as ice, steam and water are made of the same substance but appear in different forms".

At the end of their meeting, which is said to have carried on for a week, Bama Sad, visibly impressed with Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's teachings and character, requested him to let him join the Rishi order and to take him as his disciple. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani then renamed him as Baba Bamuddin, and placed him in charge of the work of the Rishis in the area. Along with Bama Sad, it is said, several other Pundits of the area also converted to Islam and joined the Rishi fold.

Baba Bamuddin Rishi is said to have led a life of great simplicity, surviving, according to one hagiographic account, on a frugal diet of water and crushed stones. Like the other Muslim Rishis, Baba Bamuddin Rishi steered clear from courting the rich and the powerful. It is said that once when the king of Kashmir, Sultan 'Ali Shah, expressed a desire to meet him, Baba Bamuddin Rishi said that he could come provided he did not appear in his royal robes. The Sultan then came to the Baba's khanqah wearing the dress of a peasant. When the Sultan asked him for his advice, the Baba replied that although he had taken off his royal dress, he had not shed the desire for wealth and power, and so his advice would be of no use to him. The Sultan then asked him if he could do anything for him, to which the Baba replied, "Do not come to see me again, and do not mention my name in your court'. When the Sultan left his khanqah, Baba Bamuddin Rishi threw the mat on which he had sat into the river.

Baba Bamuddin Rishi had a number of disciples whom he initiated into the Muslim Rishi movement. One of these was Hazrat Shamsuddin from the village of Maru Wardwan, who, after training under him, settled at a village in the Kuthar pargana. He is said to have starved himself to a skeleton. Baba Hanifuddin Haider of Akhal and Baba Rajabuddin Mir of Martand were two wealthy disciples of Baba Bamuddin Rishi, who gave up their worldly possessions when they joined the Rishi order. Baba Rajabuddin would earn his livelihood by preparing copies of the Holy Qur'an.

Hazrat Baba Zainuddin Rishi

Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's second khalifa, Hazrat Baba Zainuddin Rishi, lies buried in a cave in a picturesque valley at the village of Aishmuqam in the Anantnag (Islamabad) district of southern Kashmir. Little is known about the details of his life. As Majeed points out, despite being a 'highly revered folk hero', there is 'no factual account of his biography available'. According to local lore, Baba Zainuddin Rishi was the son of Jan Singh, the Hindu Rajput ruler of Rukan, a principality near Bandarkot in Kishtwar, and was given the name of Zia Singh or Zaina Singh at birth. His father died when he was still a child in a skirmish with some enemies, and so he was brought up by his mother.

It is said that Zia Singh once fell grievously ill, and no doctor could cure him. His mother was greatly distraught and she cried out to God for help. Soon after, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, who was then travelling through Kishtwar, met her. When she told him about her son's condition, he told her that he would be cured soon, but that after that she should bring him along with her to Chrar-e-Sharif. Zia's mother agreed, and the son soon recovered. His mother, in her joy at her son's recovery, however, forgot her promise to Hazrat Nuruddin, because of which Zia fell ill once again. At last his mother realised her mistake, and so travelled to Chrar-e-Sharif with her son.

Meanwhile, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani had come to know that the two had entered Kashmir. He instructed Baba Bamuddin that he should welcome them and keep them at his khanqah at Bamzu for a few days. Shortly after, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani visited Bamzu and met Zia and his mother. On seeing Zia playing with a bow and arrow, he remarked, "This child is truly blessed. God will raise him to a high station. His arrow will travel very far and he shall be the leader of the Rishis" Zia's mother left the child in Hazrat Nurani's care and returned to Kishtwar. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani renamed the young lad as Zainuddin, who now formally took the oath of allegiance to him in the Rishi order, and was left in the care of Baba Bamuddin Rishi in Bamzu for spiritual instruction. Soon, Baba Zainuddin Rishi acquired such an exalted spiritual status that once Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani was moved to remark, " My Zaina is a stream of the water of life (ab-e-hayat). He served God so much that he has gone even ahead of his teacher. Oh God! Grant me such blessings, too!".

After having spent many years in the company of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani and Hazrat Bamuddin Rishi, Baba Zainuddin Rishi was instructed to settle at a cave in a mountain near the village of Aishmuqam. This cave is said to have been inhabited by a cannibal dev, which Baba Zainuddin Rishi is believed to have killed. Cleansing the cave of a large number of serpents and scorpions which lived inside the cave, he spent many years here in stern meditation, surviving only on dry walnut kernels, so strict was he in avoiding eating any living thing, animal or plant. He is said to have tied a stick around his stomach for thirteen years to control his hunger and reduce his diet. When asked why he had subjected himself to such stern austerities he answered that he was simply following in the path of the Prophet Muhammad, who, during the Battle of the Ditch (jang-e-khadaq) had tied two large stones on his stomach to bear the pangs of hunger and to serve as an example for his followers. The story is told of how one day Baba Zainuddin Rishi asked a disciple of his to give him something bitter to eat. The disciple handed him some pepper. The Baba asked him what the price of the pepper was, and the disciple told him that it was very expensive. Thereupon, the Baba spat out the pepper, and picked up a walnut shell. He asked the disciple how much the shell cost, and was told it was free. From then onwards, Baba Zainuddin survived only on walnut shells, grinding them into a fine powder.

Baba Zainuddin Rishi's great spiritual stature can be gauged from the fact that when Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani breathed his last at Chrar-e-Sharif, Hazrat Baba Nasibuddin Rishi announced that his funeral prayers could be led only by one who had never missed even a single congregational asar (afternoon) prayer, and the only one to qualify for this was Baba Zainuddin Rishi. Hence, he had the honour of leading the funeral prayers of his master.

Like the other Muslim Rishis, Baba Zainuddin Rishi led a life of great simplicity, which brought upon him the wrath of those who felt the message of radical social equality that the Rishis preached a threat to their own interests. The story is thus told of how once, when Sultan Zain-ul 'Abidin came to Aishmuqam, Baba Zainuddin Rishi treated him just as he treated all other visitors to his khanqah, not showing him any special respect. When Zain-ul 'Abidin entered the khanqah, the Baba was engrossed in meditation. The king sat on the Baba's prayer-mat and waited for him, but the Baba did not appear. Disappointed, the king left the khanqah. When Baba Zainuddin Rishi later learnt that the king had sat on his prayer-mat, he said that it had been polluted by the touch of a worldly ruler, and so asked his disciples to wash it. This news reached Zain-ul 'Abidin, who, enraged by what he took to be an insult and a defiance of his authority, issued an edict ordering that Baba Zainuddin Rishi should be sent into exile to the icy wastes of Tibet. Accordingly, the Baba left for Tibet, along with his disciples, and is said to have made numerous converts to Islam there. Meanwhile, Zain-ul 'Abdin developed a serious illness, which none of his royal doctors could cure. Realising that this was a punishment for the disrespect that he had shown the Baba, he sent his son Haider Khan to Tibet to beg him for mercy and to bring him back to Kashmir. Baba Zainuddin Rishi relented, came back to Kashmir, and forgave the king, who soon recovered.

Like most other Rishis, Baba Zainuddin Rishi did not have a formal education, but yet he had been bestowed with what the Sufis call 'divine knowledge' ('ilm-e-luddni). It is said that one of the Baba's disciples, Maulana Shamsuddin, was a great scholar of the Qur'an, its commentaries (tafasir), Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and the Traditions of the Prophet (hadith). He took great pride in his knowledge and desired to have a spiritual master who was at least his equivalent. The Maulana travelled to Mecca on the Haj, hoping to find a suitable master there. In Mecca he met with a famous Sufi and scholar ('alim), Shaikh Khurram Shah, and, finding that he was an accomplished scholar, he asked him if he could take him as his disciple. The Shaikh asked him if he had already become a disciple of a pir in Kashmir. The Maulana replied that he had, but that although his pir had attained a high spiritual status, he lacked 'external knowledge' (zahiri 'ilm). The Shaikh answered that those who take pride in their worldly knowledge are actually blind, and that Baba Zainuddin was actually a great Sufi and that the Maulana should go back to Kashmir and remain in his service. Accordingly, the Maulana returned to Kashmir, begged Baba Zainuddin for his forgiveness, and remained in his service till the Baba's death.

Baba Zainuddin Rishi spent most of his life at Aishmuqam, which, under him, had emerged as the major centre for the propagation of Islam and the teachings of the Rishis in the area. At his khanqah he maintained a free kitchen for the poor, which earned him the title of 'Sakhi' or 'the generous one'. Forty days before his death in 1440/41 C.E., he ordered his disciples to go out of the cave in Aishmuqam in which he used to meditate. The cave, it is said, closed up on its own. Some days later, the wall at the entrance of the cave gave way, and the Baba's disciples discovered that he had breathed his last. He was buried deep inside this cave, and in the vicinity are the graves of twenty-four of his closest khulafa. His impressive shrine complex was built in traditional Kashmiri style by Sultan Zain-ul 'Abidin, who held the Baba in great respect.

Hazrat Baba Latifuddin Rishi

Hazrat Baba Latifuddin Rishi, whose shrine at the village of Poshkar in the Biruh tehsil is a major pilgrimage centre, was the third khalifa of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani. His earlier name, prior to his conversion to Islam, was Laddi Raina, and he is said to have been the Hindu Rajput chieftain of a small principality of Marovadvan in the Kishtwar region of Jammu. Once, when he had come to Kashmir to pay tribute to the ruler of Kashmir, whose suzerainty he had accepted, he happened to meet Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani. So impressed was he by him, that when Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani asked him why he had come to meet him he answered, " Your love has drawn me here". Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani then said to him, "True friendship is only possible between two people when their views meet". Ladi Raina, in reply, remarked, "I love you from my heart. Command me anything and I shall do it". Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani then said to him, "I ask only that you should worship only the One God and give up worshipping idols". Ladi Raina did as Hazrat Nuruddin suggested, and embraced Islam at his hands, being given the name of Baba Latifuddin. After staying in his company and ascending the Sufi path, he was appointed by Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani as one of his chief khulafa.

The story is told that in this first meeting, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani asked him what he had achieved in his life till then. Laddi Raina answered that he had earned a great deal of wealth. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani then asked him if his father, too, had earned much money, to which he answered in the affirmative. But, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani pointed out, his father had not taken any of his wealth with him after his death, and had thus wasted his life. A wise man, he said, strives, while in this world, to acquire treasures that he can take with him after his death, spiritual wealth and good deeds. Hearing this, Laddi Raina begged Hazrat Nuruddin to accept him as his disciple. He then renounced his throne and devoted the rest of his life in the Sufi path. Latifuddin is said to have led an austere life, and like the other Muslim Rishis, survived on a meagre diet of dry wild grasses, for, to him, even to eat fresh vegetables was to take the life of a sentient being. The medieval chronicles give two dates for his demise, 855 A.H. and 860 A.H..

Hazrat Baba Nasruddin Rishi

Hazrat Baba Nasruddin Rishi, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's fourth principal khalifa, is buried alongside his master at the shrine complex at Chrar-e-Sharif. He is said to have been from a rich Hindu Rather Rajput family of Sazipur in the Yech pargana, and to have been named, according to various accounts, as Vitar, Nusar, or Avtar prior to his conversion to Islam. One day, while in his youth, he fell seriously ill. His parents consulted all the leading doctors but none could suggest a cure. Then, one night in a dream he saw Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani along with several saints, who suggested to him that if he wished to be cured he should go to Chrar-e-Sharif. The next morning he related the dream to his parents, and then, along with them, he set off to meet Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani. When they got to Chrar-e-Sharif, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani gave him some food to eat, and he recovered immediately after. So impressed was he by Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani that he accepted him as his spiritual master, and bade his parents to return to their village. Thereafter, he gave up a life of luxury and took to the Rishi path.

Baba Nasruddin Rishi was appointed by Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani to manage the free community kitchen (langar) at Chrar-e-Sharif, where the poor and the needy, in addition to itinerant Rishis and Sufis, were fed. One day, some people complained to Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani that while Baba Nasruddin Rishi gave them wild grasses and vegetables to eat, he himself drank milk. That evening, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani took them along with him to the langar. Picking up Baba Nasruddin's cup, he passed it to them to drink from. They each took one sip and spat it out, discovering, to their surprise, that what they had thought to be milk was actually white mud mixed with water. Thereafter, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani advised Hazrat Nasruddin Rishi not to be too harsh with himself and to break his fast with eighteen (three, according to one source) grains of rice instead.

Another story has it that Hazrat Baba Nasruddin Rishi fasted continuously throughout his life, breaking his fast with a handful of ashes mixed with water. When Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani learnt of the stern austerities of his disciple, he asked him not to torment himself thus and to eat rice instead of ashes. Accordingly, Baba Nasruddin then took to breaking his fast with a hundred grains of rice every evening. Gradually, he reduced even this meagre amount to just twenty grains a day. Once, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani instructed him to spend a period of forty days in solitary meditation, surviving only on four walnuts. After ten days had passed, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani passed by his cell, and heard the sound of a walnut being cracked. He asked Baba Nasruddin Rishi what the sound was, and when he was told that it was the sound of a walnut that he was breaking, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani remarked, "I thought you were breaking your nafs (ego) and here you are cracking a walnut!". When Baba Nasruddin Rishi finally finished his forty day retreat, he presented all the four walnuts, uneaten, to his master.

Baba Nasruddin Rishi remained constantly in the service of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, and breathed his last in 1451 C.E.. A few days before his demise, he saw Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani in a dream, who told him that he had done much good work and had also undergone great hardships in his life, and so it was time for him to join him in the next world. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani then told him that he should entrust the charge of the Rishis of Chrar-e-Sharif to Malik Jogi Raina of Narapora, a Rajput noble in the court of Sultan Zain-ul 'Abidin. Accordingly, Baba Nasruddin met Malik Jogi Raina and told him what he had been instructed. The Malik refused to accept the offer, for that would mean renouncing a life of luxury and pomp. However, that night a sudden change came about him and he rushed to Chrar to meet Baba Nasruddin, who was then on his death-bed. He accepted the Baba's offer to become his successor and to carry on the work of the Rishis after his death. Baba Nasrudin Rishi then breathed his last and was buried in the shrine complex of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani at Chrar-e-Sharif.

On becoming a Rishi, Malik Jogi Raina's life underwent a dramatic transformation. One day he went to his own home and requested his wife for food to break his fast. His family is said to have made fun of him for having reduced himself to poverty. This had a great effect on him, and he ordered his disciples that they must henceforth never ask others for food, but, rather, must earn their bread through their own hard work. It was his practice to earn his livelihood through agriculture, and from this he would eat only as much as was needed to break his fast and would give all the rest to the poor.

Other Khulafa of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani

Hazrat Baba Tajuddin Rishi

Hazrat Baba Tajuddin Rishi was the administrator (thanedar) of the district of Anantnag (Islamabad) during the reign of Sultan Sikander. He was a Hindu Rajput and his name, prior to his conversion to Islam, was Tazi Pyada. One day, some people, jealous of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's popularity, levelled a false charge against him in the court of the Sultan. The Sultan sent Tazi Pyada to the cave at Kaimuh, where Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani then was, to investigate the matter. When he approached the cave he shouted out for Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani to come out. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani gently replied, saying, " O Tazi Pyada! Donít lose your temper. Don't pride yourself in being the servant of your king, Sikander. Stop being rude and harsh, because I myself am not without a King [God] who protects me'. When Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani emerged from the cave, Tazi Pyada was so impressed that on seeing him that he accepted Islam, being given the name of Baba Tajuddin. He left his job in the service of the Sultan, joined the Rishi order, and stayed in Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's company till his master's death. After that, he played an important role in spreading the Rishi order. His grave is at the village of Vitarhal, and is a major place for pilgrimage today.

Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad 'Ali 'Ala Balkhi

Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad 'Ali 'Ala Balkhi was one of the few non-Kashmiri disciples of Hazrat Nuruddin. According to local tradition, he was descended from the Prophet Muhammad, and was the ruler of the town of Millah in Balkh, in present-day Afghanistan. He is said to have ascended the throne of this principality in 1417 C.E. at the age of nineteen on his father's death, and went on to rule for thirteen years. According to Hakim 'Ali Shah's Rishi Namah-e-Kashmir, one day his heart was 'filled with the love of God ('ishq-e-ilahi)', and he set about 'searching for the true path (rah-e-haq)'. That night, in his sleep, he had a vision of the Prophet Muhammad and his 'four friends' (chahar yar), the four pious khulafa of the Prophet, who were sitting in a beautiful garden. The garden itself was surrounded on all sides by a massive river, the leaping waves of which were transforming themselves into tongues of fire, because of which people standing on the other side of the river, who wanted to cross it in order to enter the garden, dared not do so. Just then a 'man shining with light' (nurani shaks) appeared, and, one by one, he helped the stranded people cross the river on a bridge. This mysterious person also lent a helping hand to Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad to ford the river and come into the garden.

Entering the garden, Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad appeared before the Prophet Muhammad and his four khulafa and offered them his respects. Just then, the man who had helped him to cross the river appeared once again, dressed in a cloak (khirqa). The Prophet Muhammad introduced him to Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad as Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, the 'head of the Rishis of Kashmir', saying that he had been appointed as the Sultan's spiritual guide. Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad then clasped Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's hands, taking the oath of allegiance (bayt) to him, accepting him as his pir.

The next morning, Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad narrated the details of the dream that he had seen the night before to his courtiers. One of them, who knew the art of interpreting dreams, told him that he should set off at once for Kashmir in search of the man who had appeared in his vision. The Sultan, accordingly, descended from his throne, removed his regal garb and crown and distributed all his wealth to the poor, widows and orphans. For, in accordance with the instruction that he had received from the Prophet in the vision, he had 'turned his back to the world but had acquired the nearness of his Master'. Then, with his wife and two sons he set off on the long and arduous journey to Kashmir. On the way they had to face great difficulties and trials. First, the Sultan's wife died, and then, after that, he and his sons had to go without food for many days, as a result of which the children fell grievously ill. Thereupon, Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad cried out to God, exclaiming, "O Allah! I was once a king but now am a helpless faqir. I am nothing, and my hands are now empty!". He then went into solitary meditation (muraqba), where he saw a vision in which the Prophet Muhammad and his four khulafa appeared. They told him that he had been instructed to go to Kashmir alone, and that he should now go back to Balkh, leave his sons there and then travel to Kashmir on foot.

Accordingly, Sultan Sayyed Muhammad returned to Balkh and appointed his elder son as the ruler of Millah in his own place. To his younger son he gave his prayer-mat (jai namaz) and entrusted him with the responsibility of 'delivering sermons and propagating religion' (va'az-o-tabligh). That over, he left the same day for Kashmir. After a journey of more than seven months, walking through towering ice-clad mountains, he arrived at the borders of Kashmir. Passing through Thana Bhavan in Rajouri he arrived at the village of Pakharpora (in the present-day district of Budgam). Just then, it is said, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, who was then at Chrar-e-Sharif, received a premonition about Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad's arrival. He, along with his khalifa, Hazrat Baba Nasruddin Rishi, then set off to Pakharpora to receive him. This is said to have taken place in the winter of 1430 C.E..

Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani and Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad spent the day discussing various spiritual matters. Sultan Sayyed Muhammad was visibly impressed with Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's wisdom, but a doubt crept into his mind as to whether or not he was educated. Since he could not directly ask Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani this question, he put his query rather diplomatically. "Oh Hazrat!", he said, "I remember a tradition (hadith) of the Holy Prophet, but I do not know if it is genuine (sahih) or fabricated (mauzu)". To this Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani replied:

" Oh Shah 'Ali! I am illiterate (ummi). I don't know how to read and write. I know only that letter (huruf) which God has taught me. However, your doubt will be cleared and your heart shall find rest. When we appear before the Holy Prophet, you should place your question before him, and he will answer you."

Then, the story goes, Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad caught hold of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's hand and, closing his eyes, found himself in a beautiful garden in which the Prophet Muhammad was seated. After offering his respects to the Prophet, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani instructed Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammaad to speak out. Sultan Sayyed Muhammad began by reciting some verses of the Holy Qur'an, after which he recited some hadiths. Some of these hadiths were fabricated, and Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani corrected these in the presence of the Prophet Muhammad. According to another version of the story, these were corrected by the Prophet himself. Thereupon, it dawned on Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad that Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani was indeed the 'standard-bearer of Kashmir' ('alamdar-e-kashmir) and that, although he had no formal education, he had been given 'the wealth of esoteric knowledge' ('ilm-e-luddni) directly from the Prophet Muhammad.

Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad then asked Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani to enrol him as his disciple. Later, the two built a mosque at Pakharpora, where Hazrat Sultan Muhammad was appointed to organise missionary efforts in the area around. The two would often meet after that. The then king of Kashmir, Zain-ul 'Abdin, is said to have been greatly impressed by Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad's spiritual greatness. Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad is also remembered for having saved the people of the area from the menace of three devils, Kacch Deo, Mom Shah and Khoon Shah, who used to burn their standing crops and consume all their water. He is said to have exercised an enormous influence on the people living in Pakharpora and its vicinity by his simplicity and his dedication to God. Once, some people approached him and asked him whose slave (banda) he was. No sooner had they asked this question than he fell on the ground unconscious. When he recovered he declared, 'All creatures in the skies and on the earth are slaves of the Merciful One'. When the people around him told him that he had said that before and had not directly answered their question, he replied, "I am scared that if I say I am the slave of God, then He shall demand the rights that I owe Him as His slave (haqq-e-bandagi), but then, on the other hand, I cannot say that I am not His slave".

Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad is said to have led a pious and simple life, strictly observing the shari'at. His diet consisted, in the manner of the Rishis, of wild vegetables and water. Once a prince, he abandoned a life of luxury to devote himself to preaching Islam to the people of Pakharpora and its neighbourhood by his own personal example. As the anonymous biographer of Hazrat Sultan Sayyed Muhammad describes him, he was, 'A king indeed, but a faqir in reality. He had thrown away his crown, yet his feet were on the throne'. According to the Rishi Nama of Baba Kamaluddin, he breathed his last in 860 A.H., and was buried at his khanqah at Pakharpora. The then king of Kashmir, Zain-ul 'Abidin participated in his burial ceremony and later built a large tomb complex for him, set in a valley at the foothills of the snow-clad Pir Panjal range, which continues to attract scores of devotees till this very day.

Hazrat Baba Payamuddin alias Baba Rishi

The dargah of Hazrat Baba Payamuddin, more popularly known as Baba Rishi, near Tangmarg in the Baramulla district, is one of the major Sufi shrines of Kashmir. Baba Payamuddin Rishi is said to have been born in 1411 C.E. and to have been the son of a nobleman in the court of the ruler of the principality of Chander Naugaon in Lar in Ganderbal, in northern Kashmir. As a young man he joined the court of the prince as a minister. One day, while riding a horse, he came across an army of ants busily carrying tiny specks of grain in their mouths to their home to store for the oncoming winter months. The scene struck the Baba most forcefully, suggesting to him that while these little creatures were making such preparations and were taking such pains for their future, he himself had not given the life to come after death any thought. So moved was he by the sight of the ants that he gave up his post in the prince's court and came to Baba Shukruddin's khanqah at Wular, staying in his company for two years, training on the Sufi path. Later, in 845/6 A.H., Baba Shukruddin sent him to Baba Zainuddin Rishi at Aishmuqam.

As Baba Zainuddin Rishi's disciple, Baba Payamuddin Rishi underwent a long period of training in the Rishi-Sufi path, after which his master instructed him to travel to the village of Ranbuh, in the Bangal pargana. This area is said to have been thickly populated by devils and ghouls who would harass the local people. Baba Payamuddin Rishi, it is said, drove them all away and spread Islam in the area. After staying here for many years, he shifted to the village of Haji Bal near Tangmarg to propagate Islam there. Baba Payamuddin Rishi spent the rest of his life in the thickly forested area of Tangmarg, dying there at the ripe old age of seventy-seven in 1472 C.E..

Some Other Kashmiri Muslim Rishis

Hazrat Baba Shukruddin was a disciple of Hazrat Sakhi Baba Zainuddin Rishi. After training in the Sufi path under Baba Zainuddin Rishi, he was sent to Sherkot to preach among and serve the people of the area. One of his principal disciples was Shaikh Baba Nang Rishi, who was guided to him by the female Rishi, Sanka Bibi. After Sanka Bibi's death, Nang Rishi sat on her gaddi at the village of Bahto. He renounced all his wealth, giving up even the cloak (khirqa) that he used to wear. He is said to have been so fond of the company of wild birds and animals that twice every day he would spread out a table with food for them to eat from. Baba Luda Mal was another disciple of Sakhi Baba Zainuddin Rishi. He is said to have encouraged his followers to earn their livelihood through cultivation and to spend their earnings on the poor. Shaikh 'Abdul Latif was a renowned Sufi of this period who had taken to the Rishi path. Among his chief disciples were Baba Ladi Rishi and Shaikh Nuri Rishi. Baba Ladi is said to have fasted continuously for twelve years, breaking his fast every evening with a handful of hot ashes and bitter salt. Nuri Rishi is said to have earned his livelihood by working in the fields, spending his earnings on the poor and the faqirs and in constructing bridges and inns for travellers. Ladi Katur, a disciple of Baba Latifuddin Rishi, maintained a free community kitchen for the poor.

Women in the Muslim Rishi Tradition

Under Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, Rishism, as a powerful social movement, also seems to have played a crucial role in challenging received notions of women's status and roles, affording them new spaces to articulate their protest against their subordination. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani is credited with having made numerous female disciples, some of whom went on to become accomplished mystics and spiritual teachers. What is even more fascinating about the involvement of women in the Muslim Rishi movement is the fact that, according to local lore, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's first teacher is said to have been a woman, whose religious identity is disputed but who is looked upon with great respect by Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims alike.

Lal Ded or Lalleshwari: Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's First Teacher

Any account of the role of women in the movement started by Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani must begin with Lal Ded or Lalleshwari, for she is believed to have exercised a seminal influence on his own spiritual development. Lal Ded's life is shrouded in mystery and legend, the first references to her being made in Farsi Muslim chronicles many years after her death. It is believed that she was born in the village of Sampora, near Srinagar, in 1335 C.E. in a Kashmiri Pundit family. As was the then prevalent custom, she was married off at a very young age to a Brahmin temple priest from the village of Padmanpora, the present-day Pampore. Her mother-in-law is said to have cruelly mistreated her, and her husband, jealous of her spiritual attainments and her growing popularity among the people, forced her out of his house. She then took to the jungles, roaming about completely naked, performing stern austerities and meditational practices.

About Lal Ded's spiritual master we have no firm evidence, but local lore has it that she was deeply influenced by several Sufi saints who had, by this time, settled down in Kashmir to preach Islam. According to one account, she met the renowned Sufi Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari Makhdum Jahaniyan Jahangasht (d. 1308 C.E.) and embraced Islam at his hands, after which she 'ascended the stages of suluk (the Sufi path)', and thereafter travelled widely with him all over Kashmir. Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari was a leading Suhrwardi Sufi, a native of Bukhara, whose family had settled down at Bhakkar, in western Punjab. He was a disciple of the famous Suhrwardi saint, Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya of Multan, and was a great Islamic scholar as well as accomplished Sufi. Lal Ded is also said to have come under the influence of Hazrat Mir Sayyed Hussain Simnani, and to have met with his cousin, Hazrat Mir Sayyed 'Ali Hamdani, on numerous occasions and to have been deeply influenced by him.

The story of Lal Ded's first meeting with Hazrat Mir Sayyed 'Ali Hamdani has been mentioned in several medieval Persian chronicles and records of the Sufis of Kashmir. According to this story, until her encounter with him, she used to roam the streets completely naked. One day, while walking through the market, she saw Hazrat Mir Sayyed Ali Hamdani from afar, and, finding no other place to hide from him, she jumped into a burning clay-oven (tandur). The baker, afraid that he would be arrested for her murder, quickly shut the oven with a heavy iron lid. However, the story goes, Lal Ded miraculously emerged completely unscathed and fully clothed from the oven when Hazrat Mir Sayyed Ali Hamdani lifted its lid. When asked to explain her behaviour, she answered that till then she had seen not a single 'real man' [of God] in all of Kashmir, and so had not felt the need to wear clothes, but now, seeing the Sayyed, a true man of God, she was forced to change her ways. The veracity of this story may indeed be doubtful, but it must certainly suggest a radical change in Lal Ded's religious practices and beliefs on coming in contact with Hazrat Mir Sayyed Ali Hamdani and other Iranian and Central Asian Sufis who had settled down in Kashmir at this time. Kaul writes that after this initial meeting, Lal Ded met with Hazrat Mir Sayyed Ali Hamdani on several more occasions.

The medieval Persian Sufi records tell us that Lal Ded played a central role in the spiritual development of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, and that she can, in a sense, be regarded as his first teacher. According to Gauhar, Lal Ded appointed Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani as her 'spiritual heir'. Baba Ali Raina, in his Tazkirat-ul 'Arifin (970 A.H.), writes that Lal Ded was instructed by Hazrat Mir Sayyed Hussain Simnani, whom she had taken as her spiritual master (murshid-e-khas), to go to the village of Kaimuh, to be with Sadra Mauj, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's mother, while she was pregnant so that she could take care of the would-be mother, who, by this time, had become a disciple of Hazrat Simnani. Lal Ded is said to have regularly visited Sadra Mauj to inquire after her health and to talk with the baby Nuruddin while he was still in his mother's womb. According to another account, Hazrat Mir Sayyed 'Ali Hamdani received a vision of the Prophet Muhammad while in Medina, who instructed him to return to Kashmir and meet with Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, who was soon to be born. When he came to Kashmir, he met Lal Ded at Anantnag (Islamabad), and went with her to Kaimuh to see Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani. After giving the baby his blessings, he instructed Lal Ded to take care of him.

Local legend has it that Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani refused to drink his mother's milk for the first three days after his birth. Lal Ded, who was present then, lovingly scolded him for this, saying, "Oh Nuruddin! You were not ashamed to come into this world, then why are you ashamed to drink your mother's milk?". Hearing this, the child put his lips on Lal Ded's breast and drank her milk. According to another story, she said to him, "Oh Nuruddin! Drink milk, for without drinking the gnostic wisdom (ma'rifat) there is no joy! Have you forgotten that when the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) was building the Ka'aba, you helped him and I would bring mud loaded on my head?". After this, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani relented and drank her milk. Lal Ded's milk was, for Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, a spiritual treasure, and, as Nazki tells us, it was through her that he 'opened his [spiritual] eyes'. Wani writes that by feeding him her milk, Lal Ded transferred to him 'the wealth of gnostic knowledge ('ilm-e-'irfan).

Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani was twenty-two when, in 1400 C.E., Lal Ded breathed her last, having spent much of his youth in her company. In such great reverence did he hold her that in one of his mystical verses (shruk) he says:

That Lalla of Padmanpore

Who had drunk to her full the nectar

She was an avatar of ours

Oh God , grant me the same spiritual power.

 

An alternate rendering of the verse reads as follows:

Lalla drank fully at the fountain of immortality

She has witnessed the omnipotent glory of Shiva

Hence, we treasure utmost adoration for her in the innermost recesses of our hearts

She carved for herself that seraphic stature of an incarnation

O Divine Transcendence, grant that very boon to me.

Lal Ded preached a simple ethical monotheism, bitterly critiquing social inequalities, meaningless superstitions and rituals and challenging the oppression of the Brahmins. She stressed the oneness of all human beings, transcending caste and religious differences, thus:

Shiva is All-Pervading

Do not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim

If you have understanding, then realise your own self

In truth, this is the means to realise God.

There can be no doubt that Lal Ded's teachings exercised a seminal influence on Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's own thinking and spiritual development. Indeed, so closely related are their thoughts that one can easily mistake her poetry (vakh) for his, and in many medieval chronicles they appear together, randomly mixed up. Although Lal Ded employed Shaivite concepts in her poetry while Hazrat Nuruddin's verses are replete with Sufistic terms, 'as regards austerities, mediation and the love of God ('ishq-e-haqiqi)', they both shared the same goal. Their path was the same, and this is why both the Hindus as well as Muslims of Kashmir hold them in high esteem .

Scholars are divided as to Lal Ded's own religious beliefs. Some writers have sought to portray her as a Hindu Shaivite mystic, and mention her connections with the Sufis only in passing, if at all. This, however, seems a modern-day reconstruction, for the early medieval Kashmiri Pandit accounts are curiously silent about her, indicating that she may have actually been considered outside the pale of Brahminical society for her outspoken views against the Brahmins. The fact that the early Hindu writers completely ignored her till as late as the nineteenth century Birbal Kachru (1819-46), and that she was first mentioned by medieval Kashmiri Muslim writers, who referred to her by such exalted titles as Lalla 'Arifa ('Lalla, the Gnostic'), Lalla Madjzuba ('Lalla, the Ecstatic') and Rabi'a-e-Sani ('The Second Rabi'a), and the numerous references to her having accepted Hazrat Sayyed Hussain Simnani, Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari Makhdum Jahaniyan Jahangasht or Hazrat Mir Sayyed Ali Hamdani as her spiritual guide, may actually indicate, as many Kashmiri Muslims believe, that she had come under deep Sufi influence. Whatever be the case, Lal Ded is held in great regard by both Kashmiri Hindus as well as Muslims till this day, for whom her confessional identity seems of little importance.

As intriguing as the story of her life is the account of her death, a pointed reminder of the cause of inter-communal harmony that was so dear to her. According to local lore, Lal Ded died in 1400 C.E. just outside the Jami'a mosque at the town of Bijbehara. Her body was not to be found, and in its place her followers discovered a pile of flowers. Her Hindu disciples consigned them to the flames, while her Muslim followers buried them, each in accordance with their own religious customs.

Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's Women Disciples

If in accepting a woman as his teacher Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani marked a radical departure from tradition, in taking on several female disciples, too, he was charting a new course, opening new and hitherto closed spaces for women. Classical Brahminism had barred the doors of sanyas to women, and it is probable that Lal Ded's being a woman, rather than just her message of social and religious reform, had much to do with the persecution that she suffered at the hands of the priestly class, who could not countenance a woman as a spiritual adept.

The medieval chronicles tell us of several women whom Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani enrolled as his disciples, describing them as 'accomplished Sufis' in their own right. Among these were Shama Bibi, Bahat Bibi, Dahat Bibi, Data Bibi, Ganga Bibi and the elder and younger Sala Bibi. There were probably several more women in his circle of disciples, but their names have been lost to posterity over the centuries.

Dahat Bibi and Bahat Bibi

Dahat Bibi and Bahat Bibi are said to have been the daughters of a Hindu official, variously described as a patwari (village accountant) or a zaildar (district chief). They hailed from the village of Dariyagam, where Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani spent twelve years of his life. They are believed to have converted to Islam at his hands. Wani tells us that they were 'very intelligent and pious' and that they earned their own livelihood by manual labour. That they occupied an equal place with men in the early Muslim Rishi order is strongly suggested in the accounts contained in the medieval chronicles of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's meeting with Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani, son of the illustrious Sufi, Hazrat Mir Sayyed 'Ali Hamdani, and an accomplished mystic and scholar in his own right. Having been instructed by his father in his will that he must either accept Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani as his disciple or his master, Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani travelled to Chrar-e-Sharif, where Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani had settled down, in order to meet him. Hazrat Nuruddin came to the nearby village of Zalusa to receive him, in the company of Dahat and Bahat Bibi and his four closest male disciples and khulafa, Baba Bamuddin, Baba Zainuddin, Baba Nasruddin and Baba Latifuddin.

What is particularly striking about the records that we have about this meeting between the two Sufis is the central role played by the two sisters, Bahat and Dahat Bibi. The ensuing conversation between Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani and Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani is presented as having been largely conducted and shaped by the young women. When Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani, seeing Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's frail condition caused by stern austerities, asked him why he had subjected his 'horse' [body] to such torture, he replied that the 'rider' [self] was 'unruly' and 'difficult to control' and so had to be 'reigned in'. At once, so the chronicles report, Dahat Bibi intervened and said, "The rider who has reached his destination does not worry about the horse". Intrigued, Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani asked her who these accomplished 'riders' were, and she replied, saying that it was those who had 'become indifferent to themselves'. Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani asked her if she were one of them, to which she answered, saying that had she not been so she would not have dared to be present in the august assembly. Visibly impressed, and amazed at the woman's spiritual accomplishments, Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani asked her, "Are you a son or a daughter?". Dahat Bibi cryptically replied, "If am truly nothing then I am neither a son nor a daughter, and if I consider myself anything then I am actually nothing, and even then I am neither male nor female". This conversation continued for a long time, and Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani, we are told, was 'very happy' with her spirited replies. Rishi writes that after this long discussion, Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani turned to his own disciples and told them that he was now sure that Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani was indeed a 'true friend of God'.

Dahat Bibi and Bahat Bibi lie buried at the spot in Zalusa where this meeting between Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani and Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani took place.

Sham Bibi

Sham Bibi was another leading woman disciple of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani. Legend has it that once, while walking through a village, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani spotted her and another girl cutting fresh grass in the fields. He scolded them for destroying living creatures, upon which the girls retorted that he himself must have killed innumerable small insects with his walking-stick . 'Oh old man of God!', they are said to have told him, 'We are simply searching for and reaping the fruits of our own deeds, while with your stick you are taking the lives of thousands of insects and are still mouthing sugary slogans'. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani is said to have taken this reply to be 'an indication from the Invisible' (ishara-i-ghaybi'), and from that day gave up using his staff, so deeply affected was he by the girls' remarks. Another version of the story has it that Sham Bibi and her companion once rebuked Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani for eating fresh wild plants after he scolded them for cutting grass for their cattle, thus taking the life of living plants. Thereafter, we are told, Hazrat Nuruddin completely gave up eating fresh plants and, instead, survived on an austere diet of dried wild vegetables and grasses and water for the rest of his life. So touched were the girls by his piety that they became his disciples and converted to Islam at his hands.

Another story is told of Sham Bibi's acceptance of Islam and joining the Rishi order as a disciple of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani. Wani writes that while travelling in a palanquin to her father's home soon after her marriage, Sham Bibi spotted Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani from afar. Jumping out of the palanquin, she fell at his feet, crying profusely. Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani pleaded with her to 'go back into purdah, serve her husband and preserve the honour of her parents', but she refused. Thereupon, she renounced the world and became a disciple of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani. Sham Bibi has the distinction of having composed the first elegy (marsiya) in the Kashmiri language. On hearing of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's death, she cried out thus:

Nunda Sanz [Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani] has gone to heaven.

Our very own Sanz has gone to heaven.

O Nunda Sanz, you have attained the supreme bliss,

How shall I weep for you?

In your absence all seems empty.

Our Sanz has gone to heaven.

Sanga Bibi

Like the men who became his disciples, many women experienced a radical transformation in their lives on joining Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's order. The story is told of Sanga Bibi, who, before she converted to Islam at Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's hands, was known as Yavan Matcchi ('the Young Mad Beauty') and as Nunda Nachni ('the Beautiful Dancer'). She is said to have been a young and stunningly beautiful courtesan, who had earlier been employed by some jealous priests to wreck the forty year-old stern meditation of the Brahmin Sozan Rishi. Envious of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's growing popularity, some men, described in different accounts variously as Hindu pundits, Muslim mullahs or royal courtiers, sent her to tempt him so as to give him a bad name. The story goes that the moment Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani cast one glance at her, she turned into an ugly old woman. When she saw her face in the mirror, she fainted out of shock. On regaining consciousness, she fell at his feet, begged him for mercy, and, repenting for her past misdeeds, became his disciple. She is said to have spent the rest of her life in prayer and service. She would distribute all that she received by way of gifts to the poor and the needy (Sikand, 1999: 34). After Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's death, she became a mujawir or care-taker of his grave, and when she died she was buried near her master, at Chrar-e-Sharif.

What is particularly striking about the social dimension of the early Muslim Rishi movement in Kashmir was its openness to women's participation, affording them new opportunities for expression and articulation. The very fact that Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani accepted a roving female mystic as his first teacher points to the radical social transformation the Rishis attempted to bring about. Classical Brahminism brooked no possibility for women as teachers and spiritual masters of men, and although Islam did allow for the possibility, Hazrat Ayesha, one of the wives of the Prophet, being an important transmitter of knowledge of the Prophet's life, the medieval Muslim mullahs, too, could not envisage such a prospect.

Although Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani was not literate, he is believed to have received divine wisdom directly from the Prophet Muhammad, as well as through Lal Ded and Hazrat Sayyed Hussain Simnani, before taking formal admission in the Kubrawi Sufi order by accepting Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani as his shaykh or spiritual preceptor. His education was thus non-formal, not acquired from years of study in a school or madrasa, but from interacting with and learning from people in everyday situations. In this regard, an interesting story is told of how he was deeply affected by the example of a humble peasant girl. Touched by the kindness of a Hindu girl named Bhawan, who earned her livelihood by carrying water to a village perched on a hill-top and spent all her earnings on feeding her birds while she herself would starve, he wrote in one of his verses thus:

That little girl in a small village,

Who quenched the thirst of the thirsty,

Flew in the high heavens with her pet birds.

Bestow on me, my Lord, the same grace.

This earnestness in Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's plea to God to grant him the same 'grace' as Bhawan, like the verse referred to earlier, where he entreats God to give him the wisdom that He had given Lal Ded, indicates a striking willingness to learn from women, no matter what their station in life, this representing a radical challenge to patriarchal notions of masculinity and normative male behaviour. Equally significant were the new spaces and mobility that entry into the Rishi movement afforded women. Thus, we hear of Lal Ded travelling all around Kashmir preaching, and of Dahat and Bahat Bibi going in the company of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani and his four khulafa from Chrar-e-Sharif to Zalusa to welcome Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani, clearly indicating that these women were not confined to their homes or banned from access to the public sphere. The confidence with which Dahat and Bahat Bibi could discuss spiritual matters with such an accomplished Sufi as Hazrat Mir Muhammad Hamdani gives us a sense of the strength and empowerment that membership in the Rishi order provided these women and others like them.

Many of the women Rishis associated with the early Muslim Rishi order probably remained unmarried. This, too, was a sharp departure from tradition. Lal Ded and Sham Bibi, we are told, chose to repudiate married life rather than suffer the oppression of their husbands and in-laws in silence. That many of these women engaged in labour to earn their daily bread and spent their earnings in helping the poor is significant, too, this being seen as part of their spiritual discipline. Sanga Bibi, as we have seen, looked after Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's grave at Chrar-e-Sharif after his death, and whatever gifts she received by way of nazrana or donations she would distribute to the poor and the needy. Ganga Bibi, another woman Rishi, is said to have earned her livelihood through manual work, and is remembered for having sponsored the construction of several mosques and public bridges.

Hazrat Makhdum Shaikh Hamza Sahib and His Disciples

Makhdum Sahib

Perched on the top of the Koh-e-Maran (Hari Parbat), commanding a majestic view of Srinagar town below, is the shrine of Hazrat Makhdum Shaikh Hamza Sahib, one of the greatest Sufis of Kashmir. Makhdum Sahib was born in around 1494 C.E. at the village of Tijar, near Sopore. He belonged to a family of Rajput Lone Rainas associated with the court of the Shah Miri kings of Kashmir. The family traced its descent to the Chandrabansi Rajput rulers of Kangra, through Ramchandra, commander-in-chief of the army of Raja Suhadev, the last Hindu ruler of Kashmir (Khan, 1973: 140), and minister in the court of Rinchen Shah, the first Muslim king of Kashmir. One of Makhdum Sahib's ancestors, Mulchandra, ruler of Kangra, had fled to Kashmir following a revolt against him and was welcomed by the then Kashmiri ruler, Raja Jai Singh, who appointed him as commander of his army and gave him the title of 'Raina' (Bashir, 1979: 48-52). Ramchandra, one of his descendants, son of Rawanchandra, who had ruled Kashmir for a short period, had converted to Islam at the hands of Hazrat Bulbul Shah, said to be the first Sufi in Kashmir about whom we possess definite historical information, and was given the name of Shamsuddin.

Makhdum Sahib's family was noted for its scholarship and piety. His father, Shaikh Usman Raina, was a scholar in his own right, and a disciple of the Sufi Ismail Zahid. As a child, Makhdum Sahib was sent to the village maktab to learn the Holy Qur'an, after which his grandfather, Reti Raina, took him to Srinagar, where he joined the Dar-us Shifa madrasa of Baba Ismail Zahid Kubrawi (d.916 A.H.), who had been appointed by Sultan Hasan Shah as the Shaikh-ul Islam of all Kashmir. Here he studied Sufism, the Qur'an, the Traditions of the Prophet, Islamic jurisprudence, Arabic and Farsi. He later became a disciple of the famous Suhrawardi Sufi, Hazrat Sayyed Jalaluddin Bukhari (d. 775 A.H.), son of Hazrat Makhdum Jahaniyan Jahangasht. Although he took initiation in fourteen different Sufi orders, he is best remembered as a Suhrawardi. The branch of the Suhrawardis that emerge from him is known as the Sultaniyya or Mahbubiyya, so named because of his exalted titles of sultan-ul awliya ('king of the friends of God') and mahbub-ul 'alam ('beloved of the world'). Such spiritual heights is Shaikh Hamza credited with having achieved on the Sufi path that he is popularly remembered as sultan ul-'arifin or 'the king of the gnostics'. At the young age of thirty-five, it is said, he lost all his teeth and all his hairs turned white, because, as he would say, 'the pain of love [gam-e-'ishq] has turned me old' (Maqbul, n.d. : 13-47).

Makhdum Sahib spent twenty long years in meditation and austerities, but when the noted Sufi Mir Sayyed Ahmad Kirmani suggested that he should abandon his life as a recluse, he began to travel widely throughout Kashmir, spreading Islam and making a large number of disciples. Among these were some whom he had freed from slavery, such as Sufi Allahdad, Nur Muhammad, Mulla Yusuf, Miyan Mahdi, Miyan Ali and Shan Muhammad. He has several female disciples as well (Bashir, 1979: 70). He is credited with having opposed several popular superstitious practices and to have insisted that Muslims abide by the shari'at. Thus, for instance, the story is told of his having put an end to the custom of revering the spirits of streams (mutawakkils) which was widely prevalent in Kashmir in his days (Kardar (b), 1996: 67). He is also said to have forcefully opposed the consumption of intoxicating drugs by wandering Qalandars (Bashri, 1979: 71). He is said to have built several mosques all over Kashmir and to have played a key role in the spread of Islam in the region. One of his many achievements was his initiation of Baba Harde Rishi, the last of the major Kashmiri Muslim Rishis, as his disciple, admitting him into the Suhrawardi order. In this way, the Rishi order as an independent spiritual lineage came to an end, being absorbed into the broader stream of Sufism. However, although this caused the end of the Rishi order as a separate entity, it also meant that henceforth many Sufis were to be influenced by Rishi practices. Thus, for instance, Makhdum Sahib himself remained celibate, and Baba Nasibuddin Ghazi, disciple of his principal khalifa, Baba Daud Khaki, refrained from eating meat throughout his life.

Because of his great popularity among the masses, Makhdum Sahib was ordered to go into exile by Sultan Ghazi Khan Chak, who felt that he might threaten his rule. Accordingly, it is said, he settled at Biruh, and returned to Srinagar only after the Sultan, falling prey to leprosy, died (Bashir, 1979: 63-64). Shaikh Hamza breathed his last in 1576 C.E., at the age of eighty-four, and was buried in his khanqah at the Koh-e-Maran.

Hazrat Baba Daud Khaki

Hazrat Baba Daud Khaki was born in Srinagar in 908 A.H. in a Ganai family associated with the royal court, and which, according to one account, traced its descent from the second Caliph of the Sunni Muslims, Hazrat Umar. According to another version, he was from the same Rajput family as Makhdum Shaikh Hamza (Aasdullah, 1979: 38-39). He was given the name of Daulat Daud at birth. His father died when he was still a child, and he was brought up by his mother. For his education, he was sent to the leading Islamic scholars of the day, such as Akhund Mulla Basir, Akhund Mulla Shamsuddin Pal, Mir Raziuddin and Mir Afzal, where he was taught the various Islamic sciences, emerging as a brilliant scholar and poet. In recognition of his scholarship, Sultan Ali Shah Chak appointed him as tutor to his son Yusuf Shah, and then as chief justice (sadr-us-sadr) of all Kashmir. Occupying such a high post, he is said to have prided himself on his scholarship and to have lived a life of great luxury.

The story is told that one day Daulat Daud was travelling in his boat down the river Jhelum, and Hazrat Makhdum Shaikh Hamza Sahib happened to see him pass by. He asked his disciple Baba Allahdad to convey his regards to him and tell him that he wanted to urgently ask him a question concerning religion. Baba Allahdad did as he had been instructed, and Daulat Daud agreed to Makhdum Sahib's request. Daulat Daud entered Makhdum Sahib's khanqah and was asked to sit on a simple mat on the floor. In the course of their conversation Makhdum Sahib asked him what the shari'at had to say about the person who takes even one breath without remembering God (yad-e-ilahi). Daulat Daud opened his book to find out the answer, but, it is said, discovered, to his horror, that all the pages in the book had miraculously turned blank. He turned, visibly embarrassed, to Shaikh Makhdum, who told him that all along he had been falsely priding himself on his scholarship and that he had been wrongly pursuing wealth, fame and luxury. This incident had a great impact on Daulat Daud, whose pride and desire for the world, it is said, was reduced at once to dust (khak, from which is derived his title of Khaki). He gave up his royal position and took to the Sufi path, becoming a disciple of Makhdum Sahib, and earning the name of Baba Daud Khaki.

As part of his training as a Sufi, Baba Daud Khaki was given the responsibility of collecting little pieces of mud (dhela) to be used by the Sufis at Makhdum Sahib's khanqah to cleanse themselves before prayer. The story goes that, one day, it struck him that he had earlier been a rich nobleman with a large retinue of servants, but that now he had been reduced to such a low state, collecting balls of mud for others. Yet, in accordance with the command of his master, he set out to the Koh-e-Maran, where Makhdum Sahib's khanqah was located, to collect the mud. To his surprise, he discovered that the entire mountain had been turned into gold. He came back and told this to Makhdum Sahib. Makhdum Sahib then told him that if he could not find any mud, he should bring him a piece of gold, but, thereupon, Baba Daud Khaki replied that to use gold for cleansing one's body was not allowed in the shari'at. "Of what use is gold, then, if it cannot be used even for cleaning the body?", Makhdum Sahib replied. And with this, Baba Daud Khaki's earlier misgivings all vanished. Then, Makhdum Sahib, to further test his disciple, ordered him to wear a cap and cloak made of leather and shoes made of grass and run after his horse through the streets of Srinagar. The people who witnessed this sight were shocked to see the great Mulla Daulat Daud having thus 'reduced himself to dust' (Asadullah, 1979: 44-46). Makhdum Sahib subjected the Baba to several other such tests, and only after he managed to pass all these and to give up all his worldly desires was he allowed to give him the oath of allegiance (bayt) in the Suhrawardi Sufi order (Tasir, n.d. :76-91), being appointed as Makhdum Sahib's khalifa, in 970 A.H..

After spending many years training in the Sufi path under Makhdum Sahib, Baba Daud Khaki was instructed to travel throughout Kashmir, preaching Islam and establishing centres of the Suhrawardi order. According to some accounts, Baba Daud Khaki was a member of the delegation of the group who went to the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, complaining to him about the oppression of the Sunnis under Yaqub Shah Chak. This, however, has been denied by Asadullah, who writes that Baba Daud Khaki had actually died before Yusuf Shah Chak ascended the throne of Kashmir (Asadullah, 1979: 55). He breathed his last in 994 A.H., and was buried in the shrine complex of Shaikh Hamza on the Koh-e-Maran.

Baba Daud Khaki was a prolific writer, leaving behind several valuable works on Sufism and the Rishis of Kashmir. Among these are the Qasida Wird-ul Muridin (on the life of Hazrat Makhdum Shaikh Hamza Sahib) and a commentary on it, the Dastur-us Salikin, the Qasida Jalaliya (on the life of Hazrat Makhdum Jahaniyan Jahangasht Sahib, the pioneer of the Suhrawardi order in Kashmir), the Qasida Lamiya (on the life of Baba Harde Rishi Sahib) and several small tracts on religious matters such as the Majmu'at-ul Fawa'id, the Zaruri Kalan and the Zaruri Khurd.

Hazrat Baba Nasibuddin Ghazi Sahib

Hazrat Baba Nasibuddin Ghazi Sahib was one of the principal disciples of Hazrat Baba Daud Khaki. He was born in 1569 C.E. in a Pathan family from Rawalpindi and is said to have been spiritually inclined from childhood itself. At the age of seven, his father, Mir Hussain Rai, took him to Shaikh Makhdum Hamza Sahib, who, recognising the child's spiritual qualities, entrusted him to the care of Baba Daud Khaki. His principal biographer and close disciple, Baba Daud Mishkati, writes in his Asrar-ul Abrar that 'his eyes never stopped shedding tears' and that he constantly fasted. He travelled widely throughout Kashmir, spreading Islam and the teachings of the Sufis. He adopted the Rishi path, remained celibate and completely abstained from eating meat. When asked why he had not married, he answered, " How can a heart which has no space even for a needle accommodate a wife and children?".

Baba Nasibuddin Ghazi is said to have been particularly helpful towards the poor, because of which he earned the title of abul fuqara ('father of the poor'). Whatever he received from his followers and admirers in the form of donations (nazr-o-niyaz) he would give away the same day to the needy. He is said to have declined to accept a large sum of money that the king of Kashmir once offered him. Like the other Rishis, he abstained completely from relations with the royalty, refusing to accept the Mughal Emperor Jahangir's invitation to appear in his court. On the other hand, he showed a great deal of tolerance towards the non-Muslims, even visiting the cremation-grounds of the Hindus and praying there for the departed souls (Khan, 1997: 156).

Baba Nasibuddin Ghazi was a great scholar, and authored some fourteen books. To him we owe the first Farsi treatise on the Muslim Rishis of Kashmir, the Nur Namah. This text contains a biography of Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani and a collection of his poetry, along with a Farsi commentary (Niyazmand, 1996: 50-64). He died in 1047 A.H., leaving behind some 1400 khulafa. He is buried in a shrine at the town of Bijbehara.

Hazrat Yaqub Sarfi

Hazrat Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi, cousin of Baba Daud Khaki, was born in 1521 C.E.. His father, Shaikh Mir Hasan Ganai, was a nobleman in the court of the Sultan of Kashmir. He learnt the Qur'an at home, memorising the entire book by the age of six. By eight, he had begun composing poetry, and was then put under the care of a famous scholar, Maulana Muhammad Ani, who taught him Farsi and Arabic. After that, he studied Islamic jurisprudence, Arabic and Sufism from Maulana Mir Raziuddin and Hafiz Basir Khandabhawani. In search of a spiritual master, he set off on a long and arduous journey to Samarqand in Central Asia (modern-day Uzbekistan), where he accepted the noted Sufi Hazrat Shaikh Hussain Khwarizmi as his pir. After training on the Sufi path under him, he returned to Kashmir, settling down at the khanqah of Shaikh Sultan Kashmiri in Srinagar, making this the centre for his missionary work.

In 1557, when Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi was thirty-five, the Shah Miri dynasty was overthrown by the Chaks. The Chaks traced their origins to Baltistan. Being from outside Kashmir, they were not particularly concerned, writes Siddiqui, about the welfare of the people of Kashmir. At this time, a noted Shi'a missionary, Mir Shamsuddin 'Iraqi, entered Kashmir and made many disciples, including several members of then Chak royal family. A passionate Shi'a, the Chak king Yaqub Shah is said to have set about persecuting his Sunni subjects. This caused several Sunni scholars to leave Kashmir and seek shelter elsewhere (Siddiqui, 1383 A.H. : 20-22). As an important Sunni leader and scholar, Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi is said to have been a thorn in the Sultan's flesh, and therefore, the Sultan plotted to have him killed. When the Shaikh heard about the conspiracy, he left Kashmir, and went on a long journey that took him to Samarqand, Iran and then finally to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, where he spent several months in the company of accomplished Islamic scholars, studying various Qur'anic commentaries (tafasir) and the Traditions of the Prophet (hadith). He returned to India later, stopping at Fatehpur Sikri, where he took initiation in the Chishti order from the renowned Sufi, Hazrat Salim Chishti, and then going on to Sirhind, in Punjab, where he instructed the Naqshbandi Sufi, Hazrat Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, in the hadith and Sufism and initiated him into the Kubrawi order. When he finally returned to Kashmir, the political situation was grim, with the Sunnis labouring under considerable oppression under Yaqub Shah Chak. The Sultan issued a royal decree ordering that Yaqub Sarfi should be killed for not reading the call to prayer (azan) in the Shi'a manner, and that his body should be tied to the tail of an elephant and dragged through the streets of Srinagar. This provoked the Sunnis of the town, who rose up in protest. In order to put an end to the persecution of the Sunnis, Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi and a group of his companions went to the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar at Agra, requesting him to send an army to Kashmir and overthrow the Chak ruler.

In their audience with Akbar, Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi and his companions insisted that after Akbar took over the administration of Kashmir, he should ensure full freedom of religion to all its people; that there should be no interference with local commerce and trade; that no Kashmiri should be enslaved; that the practise of begar or compulsory labour be abolished; and that those who had been associated with the Chak regime should be divested of their powers. Akbar gave his consent to these conditions, and then despatched an army under Mirza Shah Rukh against Yaqub Shah Chak. The Chaks fought valiantly and defeated the Mughals. Then, in 1586, Akbar sent a larger army to Kashmir, under Mirza Qasim Khan, which inflicted a decisive defeat on the Chaks, and Yaqub Shah was forced to flee to Kishtwar, where he died in 1592. In this way, the last independent Kashmiri dynasty came to an end, and Kashmir was made a part of the Mughal Empire ( Khayal (b), 1998: 139-159. Also, Haideri, 1987: 5-11).

With the Mughal take-over of Kashmir, some Sunnis are said to have launched stern reprisals against the Shi'as. Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi is said to have bitterly protested against this, and is credited with having made efforts to restore peace and inter-community harmony. After conditions had settled down somewhat, he left for the Haj, and returned a year later with a large number of books, setting up a magnificent library in Srinagar. It is said that the library contained some fifteen thousand books. Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi is credited with having written several books, both in prose as well as in poetry form, on Sufism, the Traditions of the Prophet, Islamic rituals and on the lives of various saints. He was regarded as one of the leading Islamic scholars of his time, earning the title of Ishan Sahib, or 'guide' or 'master'. His Sufi poetry is considered to be among the gems of Kashmiri mystical writings. A pious Muslim, he saw the light of God as pervading every little particle in the world thus:

I see that lonely face manifest

In whatever I regard.

Though I look at a hundred thousand mirrors,

In all that One Face is manifest

(A.Q. Rafiqi, 1996: 124).

Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi breathed his last in 1594 at the age of seventy-five, and is buried at a shrine at Mohalla Ishan Sahib in Srinagar.

Hazrat Shaikh Haider alias Baba Harde Rishi

Hazrat Baba Harde Rishi, whose real name was Haider, is buried at Anantnag (Islamabad) town in southern Kashmir and is held in great respect by both the local Muslims as well as the Pundits. He was born in a village near Anantnag in 909 A.H. in a poor family of hereditary iron-smiths (lohars). He is said to have received direct spiritual instruction from the Prophet Muhammad. He earned his own livelihood by razing sheep and tilling the land. Later, he came under the influence of Makhdum Shaikh Hamza and joined the Suhrawardi Sufi order. The story is told that when Makhdum Shaikh Hamza went to Anantnag to meet him, Baba Harde Rishi offered him a cup full of milk, to suggest that his own heart was full with divine wisdom (ma'rifat-e-ilahi). Makhdum Shaikh Hamza responded by placing a rose petal in the cup, suggesting that although his spiritual training was complete, yet, according to the shari'at, he had to take initiation (bayt) from a spiritual master. Thereupon, Baba Harde Rishi gave Makhdum Shaikh Hamza the oath of allegiance and joined the Suhrawardi Sufi order. Although in this way, Rishism came to an end as an independent mystical order in Kashmir, it was able to exercise a powerful influence on Sufis of other orders, particularly the Suhrawardis. Several leading Sufis are said to have become Baba Harde's disciples, and many of them adopted Rishi practices thereafter. In recognition of his high spiritual stature, Baba Haider Tulmuli, a leading disciple of Makhdum Sahib, referred to Baba Harde Rishi as the sultan-ul auliya, the 'king of the friends of God' (Khan, 1997: 148). Baba Daud Khaki, despite being a khalifa of Makhdum Sahib, sought allegiance in the Rishi order, and became a disciple of Baba Harde Rishi after Makhdum Sahib's death (Khan, 1997: 155).

As a Rishi, Baba Harde strictly abstained from eating meat and garlic, but he did so only once, after becoming a disciple of Makhdum Shaikh Hamza, in order to abide by the sunnat (practice) of the Prophet Muhammad. The Baba is said to have played a principal role in the spread of Islam in the Anantnag area and also to have constructed numerous mosques, rest-houses and ponds and to have planted several fruit-bearing trees (Rishi, n.d.: 169-82). He earned his own livelihood by tilling fields, and instructed his disciples that if they did not have the strength to do much they should at least cultivate the area the size of his prayer-carpet every day. He breathed his last on 1 Zul Qada, 982 A.H.. His annual festival or 'urs is held on this day every year, and for several days before and after this day both the Hindus as well as the Muslims of Anantnag abstain from eating meat.

Hazrat Baba Daud Rishi alias Batamaloo Sahib

In the heart of Srinagar city, in a locality named after him, is the shrine of another principal Rishi of Kashmir, Hazrat Baba Daud Rishi, more popularly known as Batamaloo Sahib. He is said to have been the son of one Shaikh Shangli Butt, a Pandit convert to Islam. Like most other Kashmiri Rishis, Batamaloo Sahib did not receive any formal education, but yet, he is said to have been directly inspired and taught by the Prophet Muhammad and to have thus been an Uwaisi. Later, he became the disciple of a noted Sufi of his day, Khwaja Yusuf Katju, who sent him to be in the service of Hazrat Allah Dad Rishi, one of the several khulafa of Baba Harde Rishi, and also a disciple of another acclaimed Sufi, Khwaja Masud Pampori (d.1612 C.E.).

Two interesting stories are told of how Baba Daud Rishi earned the title of 'Batamaloo Sahib', and both point to the central role that the Rishis seem to have played in helping the poor, irrespective of religion. According to one story, as related in the Tarikh-e-Hasan, a medieval chronicle of Kashmiri history, he was particularly popular among the Butt sub-caste of the Kashmiri Pundits, who considered him to be their 'father' (moul)'. According to the other story, as related in the Tarikh-e-Kabir, the Baba would distribute cooked rice (bata) to the poor and the needy, just as a father (moul) feeds his own children. He would, it is said, also share his spiritual grace just as a father cares for his own children (Quraishi, 1991: 44-53. Also Ibrahim, n.d. : 195).

Like the other Muslim Rishis of Kashmir, Baba Daud Rishi earned his livelihood through his own hard work. This he had learnt from his spiritual masters, Baba Harde Rishi and Khwaja Masud Pampori, both of whom used to cultivate fields. To begin with, Baba Daud Rishi would travel all the way to Thana Mandi in Rajouri, and return to Kashmir with sacks of salt, a rare and precious commodity in Kashmir in those days, laden on his back, which he would distribute to the poor. Later, he took to cultivating land, sharing the produce with the needy. With his earnings he also constructed several mosques and khanqahs (Quraishi, 1991: 44). He himself would abstain from food throughout the day, and eat only a few morsels at night in order to break his fast. He would stay awake late into the night in deep mediation and reflection.

Hazrat Baba Daud Rishi had numerous disciples, and they were drawn from various sections of society. These included Mulla Zainuddin Pal, a famous Kashmiri poet, Mulla Mohsin, a noted calligrapher, and Mir Afzal, who used to earn his livelihood by making copies of the Holy Qur'an. After Baba Daud Rishi's death, he was succeeded by his principal khalifa, Hazrat Shaikh Nur Muhammad Parwana (Quraishi, 1991: 120-134).

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