Kashmir region is a cradle of Sufism in the entire Indian Subcontinent. Sufism in Kashmir imbibed both Hindu and Buddhist influences equally. Tombs of Sufi saints have been drawing devotees of all faiths since ages. Sufi tradition has always been integral part of the people’s ethos and crucial part of people’s life in valley. Sufism teaches, how to purify one’s self, improve one’s morals and build up one’s character in order to attain perpetual bliss. Sufi saints of Kashmir are also known as Muslim Rishis.
Sufism appeared as a ray of hope against social injustice coupled with unsteady economic order prevalent in the Kashmir Valley during the 13th Century. Sufi saints preached love, compassion, humanity and an ideology above casteism and economic status. Sufism, an amalgamation of humanism, spirituality & tolerance promoted the doctrine of one God against the cast & class system which attracted low castes & peasants. Sufi saints deeply influenced the mind-sets of Kashmiris and led many to peaceful and willing conversion to Islam which further manifested by various Muslim invaders from Central Asia by employing forceful means. Despite being dominant religion, Kashmiri Islam never acquired a rigid/ dogmatic form. Sufism served to promote a common way of understanding the world, which was acceptable to Kashmiri Pandits & Muslims both, which in fact formed the cornerstone of the unique Kashmiri Culture which to date transcends religious boundaries.
Sayyed Sharfuddin Abdur Rahman of Turkistan, fondly remembered as Hazrat Bulbul Shah is believed to be the first saint who sowed seeds of Islam in Kashmir during the reigns of King Suhadiva (1301-20). Mir Sayyed Ali Hamadani of Iran, popularly known as “Shah-i-Hamadani”, “Amir-i-Kabir” (The Great Leader) & “Bani-i-Musalmani” (The Founder of Islam) arrived Kashmir in 14th century alongwith 700 of his disciples who settled down in various parts of Kashmir & spread ‘Kubrafi Sufi Order’ which was based on the pillars of ‘Tawheed’ (Oneness of God), ‘Taqwa’ (God-Fearing Piety), ‘Ikhlas’ (Purity) & unity.
Kubrafi Sufi order gave rise to local religious order, Rishism or Rishi order since Kashmiris used Hindu sobriquets (Rishi or Baba) to address these Sufi saints. Rishism was deeply rooted within the broader Islamic tradition of peace, love & fraternity among all creations of God irrespective of caste, creed & religion. Owing to universal acceptance, shrines of Sufi saints grew into places of pilgrimage for both Muslims & Hindus, bringing them together in performance of common rituals at shrine, thereby contributing to communal harmony.
Another, iconic saint instrumental in establishing Rishi Order or Muslim Rishi Movement was Nuruddin Nurani (1377-1440) who extended reach of Islam to local populace by following pre-existing Rishi traditions that is, renouncing worldly pleasures, subjecting one’s life to severities & devotion towards easing life of suppressed. He preached a disciplined life through Yogic practices & constantly attacked the caste system. The Hindu followers commonly remember him as “Nerd-Rishi”.
The six orders of Sufism which flourished in Kashmir were Qadina, Sahurwardia, Kibrawiya, Naqashbandia, Noorbakshia & Rishia. While the first five originated from Iran & Turkistan, the sixth one was originally from Kashmir and sought to combine the very best elements of other five Sufi orders. The Kashmiriyat portrays Rishi order of Sufism & manifests a tradition of syncretism which flourished in the region owing to mutual efforts of both Muslims & Hindus towards co-existence, communal harmony, hospitality, non-violence & mutual accommodation. Unique philosophy of Rishi order was prominently highlighted by Abv’l-Fazl Ibn Mubarak, the prominent chronicler who was the Grand Wazir of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. As per his writings, “The most respected class of people in this country (Kashmir) are the Rishis. Although, they have not abandoned the traditional & customary forms of worship (Taqlid), but they are true in their worship. They do not denounce men belonging to different faiths. They do not take the tongue of desire & do not seek to obtain worldly objects. They plant fruit bearing tress in order that people may obtain benefit from these. They abstain from Meat & do not Marry”.
The Sufi saints also brought an exceptional evolution in the domain of language & literature as well, since they spoke the language of the masses & gave impetus to the Kashmiri language. For instance, Lalleshwari, more famously known as Lal Ded (1320-1392), a female revolutionary Hindu saint born in the ancient city of Pandrethan (todays Pampore) spread the message of brotherhood through her poetic verses in Kashmiri language, referred to as ‘Lal-Vaakh’. She challenged rituals with a deeper faith & disdained the priestly Sanskrit. Almost 30% of Kashmiri proverbs & idioms are said to owe their origins to Lal Ded’s Vakyas. She synthesised mystical Shavism & Islamic Sufism which was adored by the masses. Muslim followers, fondly remember her as “Lalla Arifa”.
All the sufi saints of Kashmir affirmed their bonding with Hinduism, Islam & Buddhism. They respected & honoured that beliefs of Quran, Geeta & Buddhist thoughts, promoting the universal language of love & brotherhood among different faiths.
As rightly explored by some scholars, the Kashmiriyat cannot be described as an ideology, but rather a behavioral pattern, as a pluralistic culture of tolerance & sharing of
common practices, instead of simply amalgamation of religions. It is hard to differentiate between a Hindu & a Muslim by mere looking at their last names because people have retained their surnames which signifies their profession or craftsmanship of their forefathers not religion. Rishi is a common surname used by both Muslims & Hindus.
The teaching & preaching of Sufism & ethos of Kashmiriyat had seen a significant downfall with onset of Islamic Militancy in 1980s followed by exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. The tangible cultural elements associated with Sufism & Kashmiriyat had slowly eroded to levels that traditional Kashmiri Attire (Pheron) which was proudly worn by both Hindus & Muslims has been now influenced by Arab trends (Arabic Kaftan) to reflect dogmatic Islamic stance. Young generation of Kashmir need to be reminded of their harmonious past to bring about changes in present to shape better tomorrow. Cultured synthesis & communal harmony has always been a backbone of Kashmir. Revival of “Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat, Kashmiriyat” that is, Harmony, Democracy & Kashmiriness” is indispensable to foster peace, progress & prosperity in Kashmir Valley.
“We belong to the same parents.
Then why this difference?
Let Hindus & Muslims (together)
Worship God alone
We come to this world like partners
We should have shared our joys
And sorrows together” (Nuruddin Nurani (The Sheiqh & The Rishi))