Why politicians queue up at Afghan sufi saint’s shrine in Kashmir’s Bandipora

The Pashto-speaking Afghan saint has a trans-regional appeal among different linguistic and sub-regional groups.

Updated - August 12, 2022 04:05 pm IST

Published - August 12, 2022 01:50 pm IST - SRINAGAR

The shrine of Afghan sufi saint Syed Rasool Shah Mashadi.

The shrine of Afghan sufi saint Syed Rasool Shah Mashadi. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A small shrine in north Kashmir’s Bandipora built after an Afghan descent mystic saint, Syed Rasool Shah Mashadi, known as Naanga Baji Sahab among the followers, has become central to electoral politics of the region for decades now.

J&K Apni Party president Syed Altaf Bukhari, accompanied by top party leaders including Ghulam Hassan Mir, Usman Majid, Rafi Ahmad Mir and Mohammad Ashraf Mir, visited the shrine during the ‘urs’ or anniversary that concluded on August 10 at Bandipora’s Malangam this week. 

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Mr. Bukhari has joined the long list of politicians and the rulers who have visited the shrine for the blessings of the Pashto-speaking Afghan saint for his trans-regional appeal among different linguistic and sub-regional groups.   

“The last Dogra monarch Hari Singh accompanied Viceroy of India Lord Mountbatten to seek Baji Sahab’s blessing before 1947. Known for his predictions, he predicted to Mountbatten that the days of the Bristish Raj were coming to an end soon. He also predicted the fall of (former prime minister) Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and the rise of Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad,” Syed Wilayat Hussain Shah, the grandson of the saint, told The Hindu.

Bandipora is the only district in entire J&K to have two Afghan sufi shrines, which include that of Baaji Sahib and Kausar Ali Shah Afghani. 

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“Baaji Sahib left this world in 1957. Former J&K prime minister Bakshi was a regular visitor to the shrine. Baaji Sahib’s relevance and influence never depleted. Former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and Congress’ Kashmir in-charge Ambika Soni too visited us and sought blessings at the grave when the PDP-Congress coalition was ruling J&K between 2002-2008. BJP’s top leader and former deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh also visited us in 2018,” Mr. Shah said.

Besides being known for mysticism and foretelling of future among the locals, the influence of the caretakers among voting population in Kashmir valley’s Bandipora, Kupwara and Uri, the Pir Panjal valley’s Rajouri and Poonch and the Chenab valley’s Kishtwar and Bhaderwah, makes the saint’s shrine central to electoral politics of the region.  

The saint is greatly revered by the Pahari and Pashto-speaking population in J&K, which is spread across the topographical divide of J&K. 

During the ‘urs’ this year, tens of thousands of devotees from different parts of J&K paid obeisance at the shrine. “Even Sikhs and Hindus visit the shrine every year. The shrine has become a symbol of communal harmony,” Mr. Shah said. 

The Sufi saint of the Chishti order have influence in Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan. According to the caretakers, the saint, who migrated to Kashmir in 1929, practiced meditation of prophetic and spiritual sciences in the Pir Panjal range, the Ravi river in Punjab and many other places for over 12 years and later settled at Malangam, Bandipora. One of the saint’s grandsons resides in Kalakote in Rajouri. 

“The entire Pahari-Gujjar-Bakarwal tribe of J&K has been influenced by the teachings of Baaji Sahib,” the caretakers said.

J&K, with around 1.27 crore population, has over 14 lakh Gujjar-Bakarwal population. “Before the Partition, devotees used to come from Pakistan and Muzaffarabad to attend the annual ‘Urs’,” they added.

The shrine offers a free ‘langer’ (community kitchen) during the seven-day ‘urs’ to cater to the rush of devotees covering long distances to reach the shrine.

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