On the Sufi trail in Srinagar

31st Dec 2018
Photo of On the Sufi trail in Srinagar 1/14 by Mayank Soni
The prayer halls of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar

Srinagar for most is synonymous with houseboats, shikara rides and a visit to the Mughal Gardens. But few know of the Sufi shrines the old quarter holds in its folds. With its rich history and architectural heritage, the meandering course of the Jhelum houses some of the most serene shrines built by medieval rulers.

During the Sultanate period, many prominent Sufis from Central Asia escaped the persecution of the Mongol invaders and sought refuge in Kashmir. Here in the peaceful environs of the valley, they found a safe haven and earned patronage of the native kings. Over the years as their followers swelled, khanqahs were built and Sufism took root in the valley.

Photo of On the Sufi trail in Srinagar 2/14 by Mayank Soni
One of the most revered sufis of the valley, Sayyid Ali Hamadani is believed to have preached from a stone platform here around 700 years ago. Here a native of old town can be seen absorbed in prayer at one of the halls of Khanqah of Shah Hamadan

Today, centuries later, the mohallas along the Jhelum survive in more or less the same fashion, retaining a old-world charm about themselves. The traditional riverfront from Zero Bridge right up to Safa Kadal is lined with the most prominent shrines—the khanqah of Shah Hamadan being one of the oldest in the valley. On any given day here, you will find people tying sacred threads for a murad or distributing cooked rice for the speedy recovery of an ill family member. Even today the birth of the Hamadani calls for grand celebrations and people from across the valley pour in to pay their respects. Sufism in the streets of Kashmir remains a living faith.

Photo of On the Sufi trail in Srinagar 3/14 by Mayank Soni
Jamia Masjid was originally built during the Sultanate period by Kashmir’s most popular king Zain-ul-Abidin’s father. It is a spacious complex with lovely chinars and a tank in the courtyard for wazu. It remains the biggest mosque of the city, where everyone assembles for the Friday prayers

If you’re keen, you can actually trace back history at some of the oldest shrines on a leisurely heritage walk—namely the Khanqah of Shah Hamadan at Zaina Kadal, the Naqshband Sahib at Khanyar, the Jamia Masjid at Nowhatta and the hill top shrine of Makhdoom Sahib on Hari Parbat.

These shrines have retained a charm and serenity about themselves, despite the years of turmoil in the valley.

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Everyday after the ritual prayers, the devotees at the Khanqah-i-Mulla recite the compilation of verses by Shah Hamadan as a mark of remembrance of their beloved mystic
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A teenager runs towards the Makhdoom Sahib shrine to take cover from the rains. The Makhdoom Sahib is sacred not only for the Muslims but attracts people of other faiths as well. It is named after the popular sufi Hazrat Sultan of the Syed dynasty
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It is also believed that when the holy relic of the Prophet (Moi-i-Mubarak) was brought to the Kashmir, it was initially displayed at Khanqah-i-Naqshbandi. This was the first shrine of the Naqshbandi order in the valley and was constructed by Khwaja Mamud Naqshbandi
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A devotee holds the haankal (metal medallion) symbolic of seeking the blessings of the Hamadani. Many people who come to pray here tie a piece of cloth on the wooden carvings at the entrance. If their wish is fulfilled they back come to untie the cloth and express their gratitude
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The entrance wall of Khanqah-i-Mulla is covered in beautiful woodwork—just a brief introduction to the beautiful khatamband carvings in the shrine
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The stone platform of Naqshband Sahib doubles as a recreation space for kids from the neighbourhood. Summer afternoons here are cheerful with games of carrom and endless cups of nun chai
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In the old days, besides being places of worship, these shrines also served as spaces to administer justice, lodging areas for travellers and hamams for bathing
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The Naqshband Sahib shrine is a excellent example of traditional architecture of the region. Its double-storey prayer hall is covered in intricate woodwork with naqashi patterns
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People of the valley have great faith in the Hamadani and everyone comes here to pay their respects—be it students, newly weds or pilgrims
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The Khanqah-e-Moula with its multi-tiered pyramidical roof and tall spires is a testimony of the rich architectural history of the valley. The present structure is believed to have been built by Abul Barkat Khan in 1732 and has remained fairly unaltered
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Hazrat Sultan’s divine powers are said to have been legendary. Even today it is believed that whosoever visits the shrine does not return empty- handed

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