In the land of Kashmir Sufi saints, women find devotion & healing

Aliya Bashir – WNN Religion & Belief

Threaded offerings tied at the shrine of Sufi saint Hamza Makhdum in the Kashmiri capital city of Srinagar.
Threaded offerings and pieces of cloth tied at the gate of the shrine of Sufi saint Hamza Makhdum in the Kashmiri capital city of Srinagar are left after a silent prayer has been said in hopes that the prayer may be fulfilled. Image: Rayan Naqash/Flickr

WNN – Women News Network correspondent for Kashmir, Aliya Bashir, shares her exploration into the value of a ‘spiritual life’ through religious diversity that still exists today inside the culture of Kashmir’s capital city of Srinagar

(WNN) Srinagar, Indian Administered Kashmir, South Asia: The fresh smell of Izband (Harmal/Wild Rue Seeds) adorns the mureeds (devotees) in a light-filled hall at a Sufi shrine. The harmonious blend of Quranic recitations and laying on and off of hands, claimed to implore divine intervention in initiating literal physical and mental healing, creates scintillating and soothing aura in these divine sanctuaries.

In one of the most renowned shrines of Srinagar, a boy in his early 20’s is lying on the main entrance of the Saint’s grave. His arms are open and eyes closed, just like a frail dead body. A number of houseflies are lying on his face to one’s utter surprise but still he won’t react.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I stepped in and stood a few steps away from the boy. As I approached him to talk and get my queries answered, a person nearby suggested to wait and not disturb his rhythm. Instead of waiting and interrupting this brief silence, I left the spot with unanswered questions…

I moved around and finally perched on the stairs of the shrine. Here I saw many traditional Tilla-pheran (traditional Kashmiri gown with famous handwork) clad ladies sat beside me. They lifted their hands up towards the shrine and yelled: “Hyo mayne dasteegiro kaasti saeri parayshaani, chae siwa koet gaech” (O my beloved saint! brush off all my worries, where should I go to plead instead of your Khanqah [place of respite]?)

A Kashmiri woman praying at the Makhdoom Sahib shrine in Srinagar, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

The fumes of burning Harmal are whirling and wobbling in a shaft with light coming from within the shrine premises where the Kashmiri Sufi saint had been laid to rest. All the devotees have stories to tell, their perturbed tranquility suggesting stories of faith and healing under the shade of the holy saint.

Mostly on Thursdays, the shrine of Kashmir’s famous Sufi saint Makhdoom Sahib or Hazrat Sultan is flocked with countless devotees. They throng the place for serenity. “A person’s belief in spiritual healing can be much more powerful than scientific cures,” yells a dervish.

The shrine is located on the southern side of Hari Parbat Hill in Srinagar; named after Sufi saint Makhdoom Sahib. Also known as Hazrat Sultan, the saint is believed to have divine powers, as scores of devotees from all faiths visit his place throughout the year.

“My son met a road accident in Qazigund. His leg got seriously injured. The incident shattered all our hopes,” says Rehati, a resident of Srinagar. “…Thanks to Allah, my son’s leg was healed,” the woman added.

Many devotees at Makdhoom Sahab’s shrine narrated miracles that happened as a result of the prayers of believers. Miraculous recoveries had been attributed to the saint by myriad of devotees commonly put together as faith and healing.

Rehati’s faith gained momentum when her son was able to walk again without any grievance within six months.

Shah-e-Hamadan (RA) is the Sufi saint who laid the foundations of Islam in Kashmir some 700 years ago.

‘‘Whenever I visit this shrine, I bow my head and feel that God will help me brave any eventuality of life and not to succumb,” says a wrinkly faced Abdul Rajab, 70, mustering his courage all the way from Ganderbal to visit the shrine. His daughter had lost interest in studies and household chores and fell prey to strange activities.

The shrine, situated on the banks of River Jhelum in Srinagar city, is revered and people throng daily to offer prayers. Thousands of devotees congregate on the 6th of Zilhaj, to celebrate the birth anniversary of Shah-e-Hamdan.

“We took our daughter to many doctors but nothing worked. They failed to treat her. One of our neighbours suggested us to visit this shrine and seek blessings of the Pir (saint) and I came here with many expectations,” Rajab said.

The devotees at various shrines seek the help of saints in dealing with their problems and beseech them to help facilitate the return of their lost happiness.

Rajab said: “We have been visiting the shrine on every Thursday from the past three months. After regularly taking part in recitation of hymns and prayers, my daughter finally recovered. Now she is back to normal and once again taking keen interest in studies.”

From kissing floors to filling of bottles and from revered spring to handing out of sweets called shereen and sweeping staircases, the devotees feel shrines as safe places to exorcise their pain, keeping in view two decades-old conflict.

I met a group of foreign tourists visiting another shrine in Srinagar. They seemed busy in trying different efforts to get their problems resolved. Reluctantly, a few of them took their shoes off, placed under a carpet, and entered the mausoleum. While imitating the rest of the devotees, they also kissed the surface as a mark of respect. They came here all the way from Europe to visit the shrine and get their wishes fulfilled. Faith-healing to them is that God will grant their every whim if advocated by the saint.

Nausheen Mushtaq, 22, is another person who firmly believes in faith and healing. She prays with her hands raised and tears roll down her cheeks. She walks bare-footed all the way from Hawal to the Makhdoom Sahib shrine every Thursday morning, to vent her emotions and to pray that she succeeds in her studies to become a doctor.

“I feel relieved as this helps me vent my feelings. I plead in the shrine. I believe he (my pir) [my spiritual guide] listens to me and will come to my rescue during hard times,” she says.

Cartier-Bresson 1948 photoimage of devout women praying in hills above Srinagar, Kashmir
A 1948 image taken in the hills above Srinagar, Kashmir by photographer Henri Carier-Breesson shows five devout Sufi women gathered together as one offer prayers facing the Hazratbal Mosque, situated north of the old city on the bank of Dal Lake. This mosque is considered one of the most important shrines in the region. Image: HCBF

For Nausheen, faith and healing enhances peace of mind, reduces stress, relieves pain and anxiety and strengthens the will to live.

There are people who have absolute faith that whatever worry strikes them is by the will of God, so they don’t give up, as their faith in God and deep-rooted Sufi traditions keep them going.

An elderly figure got up in the crowd and sat with me and proclaimed how she was healed from a disease and how God can heal everyone who has enough faith. She believes that praying at the shrine cures illness and brings prosperity.

“My family doesn’t allow me to visit the shrine as I have a weak eye-sight. Besides all scolding from my elder son, I keep on visiting the shrine apart from the month of Ramadhan,” says Mughli, 75, a resident of Lal Bazar, Srinagar. “I have a strong faith that the courage and strength to visit this shrine is only endowed for the devotion towards saint.”

Tears of mercy are like charity as they come forth from a living and sensitive soul, least they are shed in vain.

“He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more pain, for the phase of worries has passed away,” she murmurs.

The elderly figure was beseeching in low tune with her hands cuddled towards her face. “God does not pick people to cure, but he cures anyone who has strong faith,” she whispered while I closed my eyes during prayers.

Dressed in a white school uniform, a student is sitting on her knees and filling a disposable bottle from the shrine’s spring and smearing a handful of dust on her face and belly. Each time she visits the shrine, she takes home a container of water. She sprinkles water around her house and on cooking items.

The shrines attract devotees of all religions and sects, as many visit the place for mental peace.

Mohammed Rafiq and Shazia Qasim are two such devotees. Formerly known as Rajkumar and Sahdeep Kour respectively, they come from Poonch to untie their votive rag – Daesh in Kashmiri. They tied it after marriage to get their wish of a son fulfilled. Tying the knot three years ago, the couple was deeply inspired by faith healing. According to the young couple, the process evoked divine powers that solved their problems and changed their religion from Hindu Pundits to Muslims.

“After exodus, we moved to Jammu and my family was killed. I was living with my uncle but his tyranny was becoming so unbearable that I moved back to Kashmir,” Rafiq said with a chuckle.

He was so inspired by Islam that he embraced it and got married to Shazia.

“I was basically from a Sikh family and when I got married to Rafiq, I didn’t change my religion for about a year. There was no obligation either,” she said hesitantly.

Shazia too was inspired by her husband, and embraced Islam with open arms. The new Muslim couple is now blessed with a son which they craved for. “We have come today to untie the knot of our votive rag. All my small and big wishes have been fulfilled since I visited this shrine. We really want to express our devotion and say thanks to God,” said a cheerful mother with her few months old son in the lap.

It is pertinent to mention that shrines are endowed with splendor held in high esteem by people belonging to all faiths and communities. Due to centuries-old established practice of visiting a shrine for different reasons, these sacred places are in fact, symbols of human ability and brotherhood.

Zamrooda Begum, a resident of Budgam is another believer of faith and healing. Her lips are parted, echoing a deep wound in her soul. She sat silent with secrets burning in her heart. I looked sideways for some time and was surprised to find a woman sitting beside me, holding a pencil in her hand and drawing a graffiti on the marble walls of the shrine.

Puzzled, I asked: “What are you writing?” She leaned towards the wall and read out the graffiti. She was torn in pain and wandering in melancholic contemplation. After visiting the shrine, all the tension ebbed out of her body. She believed that the saint took her pain and reassured her.

“My son disappeared three years ago and is yet to be found. I moved from pillar to post but to no avail. I come here to address my plea in the court of this saint,” the grief-stricken mother said in a painful tone. Her watery and love-drenched eyes have the date of disappearance written in them. She is not sure whether her beloved son is dead or alive…

Shrines dotted at various places across Kashmir valley have stood as beacons of peace and religious humanism for centuries and have had a deep impact of Sufism on social, religious and cultural life of the people. The poor folk mostly gather, recite Fatiha (special prayers) and distribute ‘tabarruk’ (sacred sweets). Pigeons fly in the lawns after feasting on feed that visitors throw hoping their wishes will get fulfilled.

The great mystic saints and rishis preached the eternal message of universal humanism, compassion and peace. These spiritually uplifted souls carved out special places in the hearts of innumerable followers not only in Jammu and Kashmir region but across the Indian subcontinent.

Renown Sufi saints who have blessed the people with their eternal message of spiritualism in the region are Hazrat Bulbul Shah, Amir-e-Kabir Shah-e-Hamdan, Noor-uddin Wali, Lal Ded, Baba Rishi, Baba Budhan Shah, Roshan Ali Shah, Peer Mitha and Panj Peer. Their pristine life set a glowing example before Kashmiri society and helped people move on what many in the region call “the right spiritual track.”

Out of all the historic shrines in Kashmir the 245-year-old shrine to the Sufi saint Hazrat Peer Dastgeer Sahab, also called the Pir Dastgir Sahib, was considered one of the oldest shrine buildings in Srinagar. In an unfortunate event on June 25, 2012, much of this shrine was destroyed by fire after police noticed  a small bit of smoke rising from the building’s roof at 6:30am. Police did say at the time most of the relics inside the shrine were saved as firefighters rushed to save the building without luck. This is considered a tragic loss for many Kashmiris, who continue to morn one of their most beloved religious sites. This video tribute to the memory of this shrine was posted on Youtube by two nomadic adventuresome men from the U.S. and Germany, Tony and Thomas, who were traveling in Srinagar in 2008. Chronicling their amazement of the world as they go Tony and Thomas continue to document their travels today in their blog on Their hopes are that this 2008 video footage of the interior of the shrine can help save part of the wonder of Sufi shrines for future generations inside and outside Kashmir. To see a 360 degree view (by moving your cursor on the image) of the Pir Dastgir Sahib shrine interior in 2008 you can also link HERE


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News correspondent and journalist Aliya Bashir covers human rights, women’s rights, youth and education and other topics concerning civil society for WNN – Women News Network from her location in Kashmir. Her work has also been published in TIME magazine, The Guardian News and Global Press Institute, in addition to the Hindustan Times – one of the leading English dailies of India. Bashir has also written for the Kashmir Monitor and other publications. In 2012 Bashir was also chosen to be one of the Voice of the Future Correspondents (VOF) by World Pulse.


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