Monday, June 25, 2012

Who set our shrines aglow?

Only the curer whose love makes me drunk
Only that hand, if it wants can cure me!
Requirement is not a test of my tears
Eyes, not carriers of rain laden clouds!
~Shahi-Hamdan, Amir-Kabir

The Gilan province in Persia is lush green. It is called the city of rain. A beautiful river known as Haraz flows quietly nearby. Nearly a thousand years ago, one fine morning, an old poet who lived nearby decided to send his emissaries to Kashmir. It was the 11th century, most historians agree. And we were never ever the same. He made Sufis of us all.

Soon enough the old poet became our Dastageer. People started calling him Gaus Al Azam (the Supreme Helper). He travelled in the day, visiting hamlets and hillocks, and wrote at night in beautiful Persian, his elegant prose matching works of such eminences like Imam Ghazali. The mystical universe of Sufism had a new patron saint.

Historians trace Dastageer Sahib’s lineage directly to the last Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, the blessed. Folklore has it that when he was a young man in Gilan, he was sent to study in Baghdad. Since dacoity was common, his mom sewed up 40 gold coins in his jacket. When his caravan was ultimately intercepted by robbers, he was hauled up, like everyone else, and asked to declare what he had on him. Gaus Al Azam truthfully said ‘40 gold coins’.

The dacoits took his honest reply for a kid’s joke and dragged him to their chief, who repeated the same question with a more fearsome growl. Abdul Qadir Jilani said the only thing he ever knew: truth. The dacoits, lore has it, were so impressed by the bright sparkle in his eye that they decided to give up high-way robbery. Ordinary folks, by extension, were totally consumed by Jilani’s message of harmony.

In Srinagar, a grand structure was raised where Dastageer sahib's remarkable philosophy was preached. Two beautifully calligraphed handwritten copies of the Qur’an adorned the mosque, which was done up in grand trellis work. The blend of Persian and Kashmiri architecture created a splendid floral motif with exquisite calligraphy on the walls and carved pillars. Bohemian songs reverberated in this abode of love each year.

Born in a tiny Mazandaran village, Dastageer sahib is buried at a shrine in Baghdad. A poet, who wasn't born here, didn't come to Kashmir but somehow mystically helped us fathom love and tolerance. No wonder Kashmiris enmasse soaked up both his philosophy and message of fellowship.

Boatsmen in the Dal lake, when the winds are sometimes fast, and waves appear dangerous, hold their oars in air and holler: Ya Peer Dastageer.

And we just lost that token of love. The spiritual watering hole of millions. In Khanyar.

Like so many other memories, dear and profound to us, we lost another chunk of our heritage, our innocence, our past. We must indeed be a sad lot.

© Sameer
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