When Nauroz’s Syncretic Spirit Would Charm Everyone in Kashmir

People celebrating the arrival of spring in Badam Vaer. KO Photo by Abid Bhat.

“Nauroz wasn’t just an Iranian culture, it was a festival that had spread its shackles deep into our culture and tradition.”

FOUR decades back, Altaf Shora was one of those spirited persons in old Srinagar who would eagerly participate in the community level preparations for Nauroz.

Back then, he recalls, his birthplace would erupt with communal celebrations, as people of different beliefs came together to embrace a new year.

Deeply influenced by this ‘brethren-belief’, Altaf’s locality would add different colour and composition to spring.

“Kashmiri Pandits would ready their water-soaked walnuts for the occasion, while the Sunnis prepare Sharbat and the Shias cook special non-veg delicacies for their Kashmiri compatriots,” Altaf recalls the times when the Old City would erupt with the spring festivities.

“Those celebrations have died in the din of disturbances we have been facing since the turbulent eighties now.”

While the old and redefined neighbourhoods would erupt with festivities, Nauroz would see Hakeems setting up their open-air clinics at the corners of the seven bridges or mostly outside the six revered shrines of the Shehr-e-Khaas to treat patients with their popular Derkhe-Ilaaj (Leech Therapy).

On the same day, Altaf along with an amalgam of his Sunni, Shia and Pandit companions walked for several meters from their congested houses, before finally reaching the Naqshband Sahab shrine’s lawn.

Amid their moment of endurance, they watched hundreds of Muslims and Pandits turning up in hordes to offer a prayer outside the shrine, as a customary token of their faith.

For the next one hour, devotees would stand with a copper bucket, collecting the pouring rain water.

In the early 1980s or perhaps even before that, it was a common belief among Kashmiris that if one bathe with the collected rain water on the day of Nauroz, his whole year will pass on without any serious health problems.

“These perceptions may have been superficial in nature but they represented Kashmir’s non-sectarian ethnicity,” says Altaf, a balmy looking figure who has now migrated to the civil-lines of Srinagar.

“Nauroz wasn’t just a Shia festival but it belonged to everyone in Kashmir. But in past 40 years, Kashmir has changed a lot. Culture never subsided due to faith and vice versa, but now it does.”

Some of these diehard eighties celebrants now express concern over the new customs overlapping the century-old traditions that have now become a thing of the past.

“Before the 90s, it was everyone’s day but after our gardens became graveyards, Nauroz merely became a Shia celebration,” laments Ghulam Nabi Shahid, a noted Kashmiri writer.

“It’s unfortunate that Kashmiris have forgotten who they actually were and what their culture represented.”

The biggest reason for this drastic change in Kashmiri culture is the brutal migration of people from downtown to other parts, Shahid argues.

“Shias have mostly settled in Hassanabad, Nishat, Zadibal, Saida Kadal and some other parts and Sunnis have settled in civil lines. That Yakjut [togetherness] which was there some 50 years back was because of this reason that no one particular faith dominated any area.”

In those days, Shahid says, festivals were purely celebrated as a part of culture.

But now, when many brag about saving the Kashmiri culture by introducing a new flavor into the centuries old tradition, argues Zareef Ahmad Zareef, the festival has literally lost in interpretations.

“Nauroz used to charm people of different faiths and bring them together in Kashmir,” the celebrated Kashmir chronicler says. “Nauroz wasn’t just part of Iranian culture, it was a festival that had spread its roots deep into our culture and tradition.”

After the 1990s, Zareef rues, the Old Srinagar changed and its culture ended.

“What remained with us was something that had no roots in our culture,” he says.

“Back then, Shias used to invite Sunnis for a lunch on Nauroz but today because of the taboos created by us, that practice is no longer visible.”

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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