The entire Kulyab countryside seemed to have gathered on the roadside as President Pratibha Patil arrived here on Tuesday to pay her respects at the mausoleum of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani — the Iranian Sufi saint credited with propagation and spread of Islam in the Kashmir Valley.

Togged out in colourful local costumes — flowing robes, intricately embroidered head dresses and multiple plaits — thousands of schoolchildren and young girls waved and danced as the Presidential cavalcade wound its way from the airport to the shrine.

The throng was impressive by any yardstick, and more so given that Ms. Patil’s visit coincided with the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Like the rest of the Muslim population in Tajikistan, most of Kylab’s residents too were on Roza. Indeed, many among the waiting children had endured long hours in the sun without food or water, but few could have guessed this fact seeing their broad smiles, and cheerful shouts of “shalom.”

The presiding priest at the Pir’s Mausoleum recited the Fatiha, following which Ms. Patil presented a chadar of exquisite beauty, specially made to order and flown all the way from Delhi.

The President’s visit to the mausoleum is the first by an Indian dignitary, and the Indian side said that it had been drawn up to emphasise the close civilisational ties between the Tajiks and Indians, especially Kashmiris.

Sayyid Hamadani was born in Hamadan in Iran in 1314 but moved to Kashmir with 700 followers to escape persecution at the hands of Timur. In Kashmir, Hamadani and his followers set up a large number of mosques, and, according to author Sadia Dehlvi, they hugely influenced the “religious, social, economic and cultural aspects of Kashmiri society.”

Some of Hamadani’s teachings are considered controversial because of the distinction he made between Muslims and non-Muslims. Yet as Ms. Dehlvi points out, he also wrote that a Muslim ruler, being the shadow of God, should render equitable justice and beneficence to both believers and non-believers.

Even today thousands congregate at the Shah-e-Hamdan mosque in Srinagar to commemorate the saint’s death anniversary. Also known as the Khanqah-e-Muala, the mosque, which stands on the banks of river Jhelum, was built by Sultan Sikander.

Deeply revered

In her speech, the President brought out the Pir’s Kashmir connection saying, “I feel privileged to be visiting the tomb of Sayyid Hamadani. He is deeply revered in my country, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. He is a symbol of enlightenment and knowledge and has contributed greatly in shaping the religious character of Kashmiri society. Hamadani is one of the abiding links between India and Tajikistan.”

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