The Muslim Rishis of
(Read part I: Muslim Rishis of Kashmir)
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 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
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
Baba Bamuddin Rishi had a number of disciples whom
he initiated into the Muslim Rishi movement. One of these was Hazrat Shamsuddin
Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani's second khalifa,
Hazrat Baba Zainuddin Rishi, lies buried in a cave in a picturesque valley at
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
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
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
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
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, whose shrine at the
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 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.
Hazrat Baba Tajuddin Rishi was the administrator (thanedar)
of the district of Anantnag (
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
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
Accordingly, Sultan Sayyed Muhammad returned to
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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 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.
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
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
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.
Perched on the top of the Koh-e-Maran (Hari
Parbat), commanding a majestic view of
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
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
Hazrat Baba Daud Khaki was born in
The story is told that one day Daulat Daud was
travelling in his boat down the river
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
After spending many years training in the Sufi
path under Makhdum Sahib, Baba Daud Khaki was instructed to travel throughout
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 was one of the
principal disciples of Hazrat Baba Daud Khaki. He was born in 1569 C.E. in a
Pathan family from
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
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
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
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
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
With the Mughal take-over of
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
Hazrat Baba Harde Rishi, whose real name was
Haider, is buried at Anantnag (
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.
In the heart of
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
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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