Kashmir’s Leap of Faith: Meditative Musings at Khanqah-e-Moula

Strewn with shrines and sanctums, Kashmir’s faithful landscape revolves around the places being frequented for life musings besides meditations.

By Aayat Tramboo, Saniya Zahoor

BEYOND Khanqah-e-Moula’s fortified gate scrutinized by a stern sentry, pigeons are fluttering around the shimmering spire while the faithful in horde meditate near rows of sunlit stairs.

It’s a late fall day and the spiritual vibes of Kashmir’s revered sanctum looks signature in its spirit. An azan in the air uplifts the essence of the congregation, while a pack of paupers cooling their heels near the porch and portico summons the spirit of offerings.

In this mystic ambiance, some devotees are musing in the intricate wooden exterior of the sanctum. The syncretic architecture gives the faith center an unmatched elegance, with its interior adorned with Papier-mâché.

Cutting through the fog of faith, Haleema is making the misty banks of Jhelum melancholic with her dirges. She has come with a plea for her Pir: “Boethi laagtam pira/Winni keni ki waqtti ki paasi” (Help me reach my goals, my guide, for the sake of the times).

This tearful beseeching is nothing new at the sanctum swarmed by masses for some solace in their daily stressed/strife-stricken lives.

“My son developed a speech disorder when he was 7,” Haleema says. “I moved from shrine to shrine praying for his wellbeing. It was only after I prayed for his recovery in the abode of Amir-e-Kabir that my son got cured of it.”

This faith in the “Almighty’s own” is a deep-rooted ethos in Shehr-e-Khaas, where Khanqah-e-Moula is one of the oldest sanctums built by Sultan Sikander in 1389. Symbolic of spirituality and faith, the sanctified space is linked with Mir Syed Ali Hamdani [R.A] — the Persian saint who’s credited for the spread of Islam in Kashmir.

“This is where I arrive to seek help of my Allah,” Haleema, talking about the spiritual healing of Khanqah-e-Moula, says.

“Our Holy Quran has it that places graced by the Allah’s Awliya have showering blessings from Heavens. The place has never disappointed me.”

Even as the same faith is on the anvil now, Kaisar Wani is gladly sticking to his old guards.

“It took us one invisible bug like coronavirus to know how hollow we are without these sanctums,” Kaiser says, commenting on Pandemic’s padlocked period. “These places have always acted as stress-busters for the society and when the same spaces came under a lock and a key, masses in the valley became weary and woeful.”

When death and disappearance became an order of the day in Kashmir during nineties, Wani says, sanctums like Khanqah-e-Moula began hosting a growing rush of distressed lots.

“Suddenly, a sentimental swarm arrived to seek the saint’s intervention in order to locate their disappeared loved ones or seek some solace from the loss inflicted by the brutal situation,” the faithful continues. “Mothers who lost their sons, widows who lost their husbands and young lovers who lost their beloveds in the war became the shrine regular.”

Atiqa Amin became one such regular of Khanqah-e-Moula twenty five years ago.

She first came to nurse her “bleeding” heart in the summer of 1996 when her beloved was subjected to enforced disappearance. And since then, she has been weekly visiting the sanctum for some spiritual solace.

“During Covid that routine got disrupted and gave me a hard time, but thankfully the gates are open again,” Atiqa, who has transformed into a battered woman from a beaming girl in the last 25 years of her struggling life, says.

“I can’t explain the feeling of being closer to the sanctum and its spiritual healing.”

The sanctum’s serenity attracts visitors of different faiths who adore its aesthetics and aura, says Sakeena, a caretaker.

“The holy place sees endless number of hopeful devotees drawn to it every day,” she says. “But on 6th of every month, a holy ritual is held which holds great significance among the believers and is attended by people in hundreds seeking peace and fulfillment of their desires.”

With another azan, the prayers and pleadings surged the sanctum’s spiritual sentiments.

Haleema is done with her dirges, while pigeons have returned to rooftops. But the sentry is still alert and guarding the faith within horde.

In this freeze frame, each entreating arrival and departure spreads the spiritual vibes in the sanctum as well as in the settlement that has come to house the grand old address of Kashmir’s faithful transformation.

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