About the Book
Nuruddin Rishi, also known as Shaikh Nuruddin, founded the Sufi order of Rishis in Kashmir in the beginning of the fifteenth century. The present work is a translation of his selected kashmiri verses, a study of the
Ethical and ecological dimension of his thought, and an exploration of his relationship to his senior contemporary Lalla.
About the Author
Jaishree K. Odin is professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Hawai'i. She is the author of To the Other Shore: Lalla 's Life and Poetry and Mystical Verses of Lalla (2007, MLBD)
In the spring of 2007, I returned briefly to the land of my birth to do preliminary research on the Rishi Sufis of Kashmir. I was filled with apprehension about going back to the Valley from which all my near and dear relatives had left due to political disturbance in the 1990s. Although I got off from the airplane at Srinagar airport with some uneasiness, what transpired over the next twenty-four hours resolved all my apprehensions about this undertaking. I was taken from the airport to the outskirts of the city to visit an outstanding and highly respected Sufi-the result of an introduction over the phone by a relative in Delhi, who described me as a scholar on Lalla (14th century Kashmiri Saiva poet), now doing research on Nuruddin Rishi. As I entered the sitting room of the Sufi, I was amazed to see members of both communities, Hindus and Muslims. And later on I heard from the Sufi himself that it is the intellect that divides people into discrete communities and it is love that unites them. The whole family, three generations living under one roof, opened their hearts and home to me. My interaction with the local people over the next seven days convinced me that the Rishi Sufis might have ceased to be a distinct order centuries ago, but their spirit, embodied in the commonly used expression kashmiriyat, signifying the unique Kashmiri tradition of religious syncretism and communal harmony, associated with Nuruddin Rishi and his senior contemporary Saiva poet Lalla, is still alive and well in the twenty-first century in many sections of society in the Valley.
Nuruddin Rishi (1378-1439), also known as Nund Rishi or Shaikh Niiruddln, founded the indigenous Sufi order of Muslim Rishis in the beginning of the fifteenth century in the midst of intensified activities of the missionary Sufis from Central Asia and Persia. Rooted in the Islamic tradition, the Rishi Sufis integrated local customs and traditions into their teachings, which differentiated them from the immigrant Sufis and their Kashmiri followers. People were attracted to Rishi Sufis not only due to their elevated spiritual status, but also because their lives were based on ethical values of non-violence, religious tolerance, and compassion for the poor and the needy. They spread the message of peaceful coexistence of all people irrespective of their caste, class, or religious creed and they contributed to creating a tradition of communal harmony,' which became an integral part of the Kashmiri culture for centuries. The order was active with a distinct identity for. about two hundred years before becoming absorbed in the mainstream Sufism. Even though it has ceased to be a distinct order with its own identity, many Sufi mystics in the Valley continue to embody the spirit of the Rishi Sufis, as they too believe in religious tolerance, compassion, and peaceful coexistence. However, the Rishi Sufi worldview is "hidden" or "suppressed" due to increasingly orthodox elements in the Kashmiri society. We need to unearth this narrative and acknowledge its silent presence in some contemporary urban and rural spaces of the Valley. The present study and translation of Nuruddin Rishi's verses are an attempt to contribute in this direction.
I thank the University of Hawai'i's Research Relations Office that awarded me a grant to travel to India to do preliminary research on Rishi Sufis in the spring of 2007. I especially thank the Fulbright Association for the senior Fulbright Research Fellowship during the 2008-09 academic year that funded my sabbatical research on Rishi Sufis in India. I am also grateful to the Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi, and the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, which provided me the research facilities during my stay in India. For conversations that enriched my understanding of different perspectives on the Sufi traditions of India in general, and of Kashmir in particular, my many thanks go to Professors Akhtarul Wasey, Shafi Shauq, Majrooh Rashid, Lily Want, Latif Kazmi, and Sanaullah Mir, and my research assistant Naseem Gul. My special thanks go to Ajaz Anwar Pirzada, who in the summer of 2011 went over each single verse with me to check if I had translated it correctly. In addition, I wish to thank the Mir family, especially Tabassum Mir, whose hospitality during the multiple visits I made to Srinagar between 2007 and 2011 made me feel that I had indeed returned home. I must above all gratefully acknowledge Jawahar Wattal, who introduced me to the great Sufi mystic of Kashmir Rahman Sahib, without whose guidance this book would never have seen the light of the day. Rahman Sahib has been my mentor and guide as I grappled with the intricate maze of Sufi metaphysics to understand the moral and ecological vision of Rishi Sufis of Kashmir. It is through him that I have learned the true spirit of Rishi Sufism, which has been a part of Kashmiri culture for centuries. To Rahrnan Sahib I dedicate this book. for his love, compassion, and enormous generosity of spirit.
Kashmir became the home of foreign missionaries from Persia and Central Asia during the fourteenth century. The activities of foreign missionaries intensified after Muslim rule was solidified with the establishment of the Shah Mir dynasty in 1339 that ruled Kashmir for about two hundred years. As Suhrawardi and Kubravi Sufi missionaries and their Kashmiri followers preached the new faith to the local people, an indigenous Sufi movement emerged in the countryside in the first decades of the fifteenth century under the leadership of Nuruddin Rishi, who is also known as Nund Rishi or Shaikh Nuruddin. Rishi Sufis lived austere and devout lives and worked toward the betterment of humanity by spreading the message of love, peace, and simple living.
In A'in-i Akbari, a 16th century Mughal chronicle, AbulFazl describes Rishi Sufis as the "most respected class of people" in Kashmir who had not "abandoned the traditional and customary forms of worship," but they were "true in their worship." They did "not denounce men belonging to different faiths," and they observed celibacy, abstained from meat, and planted fruit bearing trees. The Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605-1627) in his memoirs corroborates Abu'lFazl's account and describes Muslim Rishis as simple, unpretentious people, who did not marry, who did not consume meat, and who planted fruit-bearing trees in uninhabited places so others may enjoy the fruit.? The hagiographical accounts from the medieval period further reveal the lifestyle and worldview of the Rishis. Baba Dawud Khaki, a Suhrawardi saint, comments in his Rishi Nama (1580-81) that "a Rishi is one who is an ascetic, is disciplined, and leads a life different from other saints. He is free from all worldly pleasures. Baba Nasib in his Rishi Nama (1631-32) describes Rishis as "men of pure heart," who withdrew completely from the worldly life, fasting incessantly during the day and devoting their nights to worship." Bahauddin Mattii (1832) in his account notes that Rishi Sufis were famous "for their devotion to Divine Unity and for killing their carnal desires. Although they retire[d] to caves, they illuminate[d] them with the light of their spiritual attainment.
Rishi Sufis lived in the countryside. They usually did not have any formal education and they refused to have anything to do with the royal court or the administration. They helped the needy and the sick and refrained from inflicting injury on any living beings. They believed in peaceful coexistence and tolerance of other religions. Hardi Rishi, a distinguished Rishi, is reported to have said: "We are not bigots and that Rishis do not cause pain.:" Rishi Sufis were thus unassuming and acted with humility, patience, and fortitude. They were anchored in the local traditions and customs and they lived exceedingly austere and devout lives. Many people converted to Islam under their influence because they saw commonality between their own worldview and those of Rishis.
Several historical studies on the role of Muslim Rishis in the spread of Islam in Kashmir have appeared in recent years. In Kashmir's Transition to Islam (1994), Ishaq Khan comments on the integration of local customs and traditions in Rishi thought, which was critical to Islam's appeal to the Kashmiri masses in medieval times. He, however, describes the syncretic religious worldview of Rishis only as a passing marker to the orthodox versions of Sharia-based Islam. In Islam in Kashmir (2004), Wani takes a diametrically opposite view in that he emphasizes the role of the missionary Sufi movements in medieval Kashmir in the spread of Islam, relegating the role of Muslim Rishis to the background. Wani describes Sufi missionaries as the representatives of the civilization-building cultures of Central Asia and Persia, thereby ignoring the historical fact that Kashmir was a region of sophisticated philosophical speculation (Buddhism and Saivism) and artistic expression until the twelfth century. In Sufism in Kashmir (2001), Rafiqi provides yet another perspective for understanding the role of Muslim Rishis. He sees the spread of Islam in medieval Kashmir in terms of two streams of thought: the Muslim Rishi movement and the immigrant Sufi movement. The primary aim of immigrant Sufis was to preach Islam. They were mostly attached to the royal court and worked to spread Islam from above unlike the Rishi Sufis, who were active in the countryside amongst the rural people and taught in the native tongue. Rishi Sufis were anchored in the local tradition and showed tolerance towards other religions. They were "sympathetic towards ail living creatures and condemned tyranny and violence of all kinds."?
Nuruddin and the Local Rishi Tradition
Life and Legends
Verses: The Text
Ethical and Ecological Vision
Four Eminent Disciples
Rishi Tradition and Kashmiri Sufi Poetry
Nuruddin Rishi's Verses
Key to Pronunciation of the Romanized Kashmiri Verses
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