ISLAM in Kashmir emanated and spread by the endeavours and efforts of great Sufi Masters. While the precise datum of the emergence of Islam in Kashmir is contended but it may be safe to assume that seven to eight centuries have elapsed since then. The apogee of Sufi endeavour and practice is ‘ma’rifat or attaining Irfan or interior knowledge and knowledge of the divine, roughly and loosely translated as ‘gnosis’ in English. A rich, copious literary and poetic tradition emanated from the Sufi tradition of Kashmir ranging from the great Shaykh Noor Uddin Wali to Lalla Arifa to Soche Kraal sahib to Nyaame Sahib and other great doyens (all defined by a certain pecking order and hierarchy in their stages of ma’arifa). Over time, the folk aspects of culture in Kashmir got incorporated into Islam and some of the more profound insights and practices of Sufism were subsumed (and even lost) under this folksy aspect.
One curious and peculiar personage to emerge from the folksy aspect of religion in Kashmir is the’ Kaeshur Mot’/ Kashmiri Fakir, a man believed to be inspired by the rich tradition of Sufism in Kashmir and revered for this reason.
Who and what is the Kaeshur Mot?
In folklore, he (it is usually a he), is a wanderer, has no real habitat or home, is oblivious to his self. He wears tattered clothes or at times, no clothes at all. When he speaks, he mumbles and at times even becomes aggressive. On account of his spiritual prowess The Kaeshur Mot is also believed to have powers to heal, bless, plead and so on. (These powers or alleged powers are not held to be real by adherents of orthodox Islam who basically do not believe in the phenomenon of the Mot). This is a description of the Kaeshur Mot.
What, the question is, explains him?
It , to repeat, appears that the phenomenon of the Kaeshur Mot accrues and emanates from the legacy of Sufism in Kashmir and its iterated interaction with folk aspects of culture here. Because the Mot is unconventional in terms of dress, behaviour, comportment and , in a way, defies all the conventions of both polite and rude society, a persona and personality is imputed to him. Why does the Kaeshur Mot defy convention? This takes us into the domain of psychology and even para psychology. It is a distinct possibility that the Mot is either a schizophrenic which untreated gets aggravated and the person in contention becomes oblivious to the self, social mores, conventions and expectations. Or, the person is sensitive plus rebellious that is either not understood by society or society disapproves of this rebellion which makes this person get estranged , sullen and withdrawn-traits that over time get heightened. There then is an element of psychology and personality type in the nature and rationale for the phenomenon of the Kaeshur Mot.
This, however, is not to deny the genuine spiritual or mystical element in some of these people. As the Kashmiri saying, ‘ Aadam bastan manz chhu sir’( secrets lie buried under the human skin), some of the Kaeshur Mots might be genuine , in terms of their spirituality. However, the very folksy aspect of religion in Kashmir married to elements of Sufism has created an ecology to which the Mot is central. Many people in Kashmir seek the blessings of the Kaeshur Mot, and seek their help with quotidian issues like unemployment, childlessness, illnesses and other life issues. Because some of these mots are not sincere(or are even plain fraudsters), many people get exploited, even sexually, as has been observed.
So, is then the Kaeshur Mot phenomenon , real? It is because of the projection of people’s beliefs onto them. But is this phenomenon a fact of Islam, even Sufi Islam? No. It is not. Sufism is real, has a rich and variegated history, a rich corpus of traditions and practices that are so exacting that the practice of Sufism calls for self -abnegation, self- deprivation, self- transcendence and even suffering that most people (except the extraordinary)would falter on the Sufi path. The ultimate goal of ilm al ma’arifat can be achieved by a select few; not all. But when married to folk culture, among other phenomena, is begotten the Kaeshur Mot, which, as has been averred, can(rarely and occasionally be real) but in the final analysis is a social and a cultural construct. And again, in the final analysis, best is to ask the Almighty for both prosaic and spiritual needs but if one is to cultivate the Sufi Way or path, the best is to seek initiation into a Sufi Order(Tareeqa). This can be a quest where one has not to be only very careful but also assiduous so that the ultimate goal is to seek the Almighty. The way is clear and known but the path can be illuminated only by sincerity, prayer, devotion and selflessness, not the Mot, Kaeshur or otherwise, genuine or not.
- The author is a fan of Bahlul, the 8th Century sufi mystic. He is a writer and columnist
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