A Different Jammu that I Know

Yoginder Sikand

Posted Aug 18, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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A Different Jammu that I Know

By Yoginder Sikand

The agitation over the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir has now threatened
to snowball into a full-fledged communal conflict. The violence and
the passions that have erupted in its wake are reminiscent, although
on a much smaller scale, of the terror and mayhem that tore apart
Jammu in 1947 in the wake of the Partition. Some two lakh Muslims,
according to some accounts, are said to have been slaughtered in the
Jammu region, and many more forced to flee across to Pakistan, while,
at the same time, the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley remained almost
entirely peaceful. Communal forces have long had a strong presence in
Jammu (and in the Valley as well) and the current agitation in Jammu
and the economic blockade of the Kashmir Valley has provided them with
a chance to rear their ugly heads once again.

Jammu is burning. Slogan-raising irate mobs. Vehicles and offices on
fire. Roads blocked. Long spells of curfew. Dozens of houses of Gujjar
Muslims, who have consistently opposed the on-going violence in
Kashmir, burnt to ashes. A Jammu different from the one that I like to

For the past almost two decades I have been visiting the Jammu
province almost every year without fail, to meet friends, visit places
and trek in the mountains. Jammu advertises itself as the ‘City of
Temples’, but I find the scores of dargahs, gracefully-domed shrines
built over the graves of Sufi saints or Pirs that are scattered across
the town, more interesting. Unlike temples and mosques, people of all
faiths and castes flock to the dargahs. They provide the only arena
where people of different communities participate together in common
worship and devotion. They have a message for us in these times of
hatred and violence in the name of religion and community, one that
few care to hear, as the seemingly endless war in Kashmir and the
on-going agitation in Jammu so tragically illustrate.

The stories that are told about several of the shrines in the
town—their foundational myths, one could call them—reflect a
fascinating historical process of negotiation of inter-community
relations in a harmonious way. These stories are often invoked to
stress the point that people of different religions should live
together in peace, that God is one, that all humans, at a certain
level, are basically the same, and so on.

The first major Sufi to come to the Jammu region was Pir Raushan Ali
Shah, whose dargah is located near the famous Raghunath Mandir, in the
heart of Jammu town. He is said to have performed many miracles,
which, so it is claimed, so impressed the Hindu Raja of Jammu that he
became his devotee and requested him to settle in his city. When the
Pir died, the Raja had a grave constructed for him, which today is a
popular place of pilgrimage for Hindus and Muslims alike. Tucked away
in an obscure corner of the market named after him in Jammu’s busy
commercial district is the dargah of Pir Lakhdata. After his death, it
is said, half his body was taken by his Muslim disciples and buried
according to Muslim rites. To his Muslim followers he is known as
Zahir Pir. The other half of his body was cremated by his Hindu
followers, who revere him as Pir Lakhdata. Another such shared shrine,
skirting the boundary walls of the Jammu airport, is the sprawling
dargah of Baba Budhan Ali Shah, which is particularly popular among
the local Sikhs, for the Baba is said to have been a close friend of
Guru Nanak.

At Ramnagar, on the outskirts of Jammu on the road to Srinagar, is the
popular Sufi shrine of the Panj Pirs, the five Muslim saints. Legend
has it that five brothers of a Muslim family spent many years at the
spot where the shrine stands in meditation and then left to go their
own ways. One day the five Pirs appeared in a dream to the Maharaja
and admonished him for sleeping with his feet pointing to their
chillah, the place where they used to meditate. The next morning, the
Maharaja ordered the spot to be excavated, and an umbrella and five
kettledrums were found. Believing this to be a holy place, he ordered
the construction of a dargah there. He then appointed his royal
charioteer, Alif Shah, and a Muslim woman, Khurshid Begum, as
custodians of the shrine. The last time I visited the shrine it was
looked after by a Hindu Rajput, husband of Khurshid Begum’s daughter.

And then there is the shrine of Pir Mitha, located on a promontory on
the banks of the Tawi, and connected, through myth and ritual to a
Shaivite shrine on the other side of the river. The Pir is said to
have come to Jammu in the reign of Raja Ajab Dev in the 15th century.
One day, the story goes, the Raja’s wife fell seriously ill. The Pir
cured the queen by performing a miracle, as a result of which the king
and many of his subjects became his disciples. Because of this, he had
to face stiff opposition from some Hindu priests. His most vehement
opponent was Siddh Garib Nath, a Shaivite yogi. However, the two soon
became friends. Indeed, so close did they become that they decided to
settle down together in the cave where the Pir lived. This cave is
known as Pir Khoh or the ‘Cave of the Pir’. Legend has it that the
yogi entered the cave and travelled all the way to Mattan in Kashmir,
never to return again. After he disappeared, his disciples came to Pir
Mitha, requesting him to accept them as his followers. The Pir
declined, instructing them to be faithful to their own guru. When this
failed to satisfy them, the Pir relented somewhat and told them that
they could, if they wanted, take his title of ‘Pir’, associated with
Muslim mystics. That is why the cave is today called as Pir Khoh and
the heads of the Nath yogis who still reside there are known as Pirs.

As I read and hear about Jammu going up in flames, my mind travels to
the shrine of Baba Jiwan Shah, in the heart of Jammu town, where I
have spent numerous quiet evenings simply watching people—Muslims,
Hindus, Sikhs and others—pray and distribute food to itinerant
mendicants. The Baba, born in the mid-nineteenth century, took to the
Sufi path at a young age, traveling from his native Punjab and finally
settling in a Muslim graveyard in Jammu, preaching and making
disciples, who included Hindus as well as Muslims. Among these were
Pratap Singh, ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, and his brother Amar Singh.
The Maharaja fixed a regular monthly stipend for him and would often
invite him to his palace. But, true to his Sufi tradition, he seemed
to have cared nothing for power and pelf. One of his chief disciples
was an impoverished man from the Chamar or leather-working caste,
considered as ‘untouchable’ by caste Hindus, who now rests in a dargah
of his own adjacent to that of the Baba.

Shrines of men who trod the mystical path, who transcended narrow
barriers of caste and creed. Shrines that speak of a different Jammu.
Of the possibility of a different way of looking at, dealing with and
going beyond with communal differences. As I pen these lines, I wonder
what the men who lie buried below their domes would have to say about
the mayhem that is tearing apart their town and beyond in the name of
religion and community.