Doligam and the House of Khwaja Samad Joo

Last summer when I visited the place, there are newer roads inside the village. It can no longer promise the innocence that dwelled here in its folks

I WAS peering out the weather-beaten window at the moonless Pir Panchal forests when I thought of my belonging. When I had woken up, it was still dark and I thought I was in the bowels of a ghost. The Himalayan heat of mid-summer even at 5 in the morning, had settled over my limbs like moist candy floss. I could hear the call to prayer from loudspeaker in the mosque down the road, haunting and lovely Arabic words sounding brassy over an antiquated land.

I've had a love affair with Doligam always. In a place and time not known for self-invention, Doligam had always cast its spell on me. Yet lingering in small places is not in favor now; they no longer seem to fit the world. Yes, Doligam is fading, as it's been since decades. It can no longer promise the innocence that dwelled here in its folks. That life of its own, which settled along a water canal that traversed this quaint village of medieval grandeur. In the corner of the scene, row of women would wash clothes, children played with shards of stones, small stones, that shone under tall walnut trees, men went out for work -- their modest government jobs-- taking the same road along that canal, which ended on a curve, the macdamized road from where it took them to main Banihal town, four kilometers downhill.

Last summer when I visited the place, there are newer roads inside the village. Concrete replacing the sharp slate stones which were once strewn on its muddy alleys. In houses that I walked past after years, residents were glued to televisions. The sound produced by one of its main natural streams remained from old times. Perhaps, like an artefact. A remnant.

So being woken up early on that morning, what really made me think of was us. Us as people. Of memories. Of places where sense of belonging comes. It is said unless you have someone of your own buried in a land it doesn't belong to you.

The association between our families goes back a long way. My great grandmother belonged to the landlord family of Wanyee's of Doligam. Wanyee over the years, probably due to their association with urban Srinagar, turned to Wani. There are many far flung areas in valley, where a local dialect of surname prevails. My great grandmother is buried in Doligam, her village of birth, in the precincts of a shrine belonging to Pir Mehmood Shah, a disciple of Hazrat Sultan- Sheikh Hamza. It was Pir Mehmood Shah who brought the message of Islam to parts of Banihal. Back in the days there used to be a annual festival here, villagers from far-off places would throng the shrine and tie their prayer knots. Nothing of that remains now.

The etymology of 'Doligam' is very interesting as well. It is believed that a Hindu seer named 'Doli' had taken refuge here. The village came to be known after her. There is evidence of strong Brahmin footprints in the village.

One of my cousin, who lives in Jammu, told me once while digging at a cliff for new construction in Doligam, an idol was found. He took it to Jammu and showed to a archaeologist, who told him that this was a sculpture of Lord Shiva and probably belonged to Gupta period; that is around 1500 years ago. This period coincided with Kushan dynasty in Kashmir--preceding Avantivarman and Lalitaditya.

Built on a mountain, Doligam speaks of things Kashmir and of a way of life its elite aspired of. The old house that belongs to our relatives there, stands still. Dilapidated. The traditional Khatam-band work on its ceiling, pointed arches, emblematic of the style of the era, remnant of its past glory. One of its most famous son of soil is Khwaja Samad Joo. And it is with Samad Joo that the connection of my family began with Wanyee's of Doligam.

Samad Joo was a Vizier first in Ranbir Singh's era and then Pratap Singh's. His family held lot of weight in the Pir Panchal mountains. His father Khwaja Afzal Samad Joo was a Tehsildar and an estate owner. He owned swathes of land, right across from Doru in Islamabad to Banihal. Two of Samad Joo's daughters were married in our family; one being my great grandmother. His death in 1891 had created quite a ruckus in the city.

It is said Samad Joo was on an impromptus visit to Srinagar in the early summer of 1891. As was the ritual, he first paid obeisance at Hazrat Sultan at Makhdhoom sahib. He had brought with him an embellished veneered serape, lined with gold, as mark of respect, to be spread over the grave of his sufi master. However, just when he was to leave and he put his feet on the saddle of the horse, the knuckle broke off. The Vizier feared a bad omen.

After a trip to the Dal in the Doonga with noble men of Shawl family joining them-- a common practice back in the days, he died at our house in Khanyar that night. The omen had come true.

The following morning entire city was cordoned off by Maharaja's sepoys. Pratap Singh believed his Vizier was poisoned by his dogra contemporaries, who were jealous of Samad Joo's closeness to the Maharaja.

The matter was later resolved after Maharaja was visited by nobles of the city, explaining that the cause of the death was natural. Samad Joo's burial was attended by every who's who of the city. In a long procession that started from our house in Khanyar to Makhdhoom sahib shrine, where he is buried, entire city grieved at the loss of this noble man.

In addition to clear presence of gentry in Doligam and hobnobbing with the nobility of the times, Doligam also has a literary company. Abdul Rahim Amma, a poet who was blind by eyes since birth was a contemporary and comrade of Rasul Mir and has written a masnavi called 'Gulbadan' in Persian.

We've a whole litany of documents that prove all above incidents. It is no hearsay. It is remarkable to know how everything was documented in those times- right from the Persian lines written on the serape Khwaja Samad Joo laid at Sultan's shrine to hundreds of letters written to each other across the Banihal pass. Samad Joo owned a library-- being well versed in Persian and Urdu. Some of his books to the day are preserved in our house in Khanyar.

The houses that were inhabited by these learned men, in their shattered windows, its sills privy to what happened behind them, in the abandoned dark rooms, not just scarred or peeling walls or dusty floors, the lonely taaks perched in its walls, hollow to the eyes. The names hung over them like weights, each light enough to bear its own. Somewhere close a widely lit path of belonging exists. In these experiences, there are places to look back, the anchor and all that was there. Remembrance of who you are and in it your song of belonging.

  • Faheem Gundroo is a ICT Engineer based in Dubai, with interest in travel, history and culture. He can be reached at: [email protected]



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Faheem Gundroo

Faheem Jeelani Gundroo is an ICT Engineer based in Dubai, with interest in travel, history and current affairs. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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