Tucked up-away in the Zabarwan Mountains, near a gushing spring, Gopi Tirith, a small historic Shiv temple in Nishat area of Srinagar, has been looked after by Abdul Rashid, a devout 67-year-old Muslim man, for the past three years.
Since 2018, Abdul Rashid has carried out his duty with utmost care and great commitment. Though the visits to the temple by Hindu devotees are rare, the clean courtyard, the tidy inner sanctum, and the shining images of the Hindu deities reflect honest diligence on the part of Abdul Rashid.
The 67-year-old is quick to admit that though for a Muslim it is unheard of to touch the effigies of Hindu deities, but he says that he has never encountered any hesitance in touching the Shivling and the pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses while cleaning them. He has a great reverence for them all.
Abdul Rashid says he is a firm believer in the teachings of Islam, and says, “Our Prophet (PBUH) has asked us to respect the Gods and Goddesses of the other religions. The Prophet has also impressed upon us to protect the places of worship, whether be that ours or of somebody else.”
Though Abdul Rashid is not much educated, he is aware that it is against the Islamic principles to desecrate the places of worship. “If we do not respect other’s faith, they won’t respect ours. It is a mutual process,” he adds.
He says that the Islamic teachings are such that, “We are told not to harbour animosity against any religion or any person of a different faith.”
Besides maintenance, caretaking, and sweeping, Abdul Rashid’s job also entails keeping the intruders out and preventing vandalism and theft of the temple property.
Such is the trust that he has earned through his faithfulness that the keys to the temple safes that contain the donations have also been entrusted to him by the temple trustees.
There are no Hindu households in the nearby areas, and according to him no incident of theft, vandalism, or desecration has ever even taken place at the temple. With his family of seven, Abdul Rashid lives nearby.
Before joining as a caretaker at the temple, Abdul Rashid was an orchardist by profession. His small patch of land is also in the temple vicinity.
In the backyard of the temple premises, he has planted a vegetable garden that seems to overflow with produce, and in the courtyard, there are beautiful flowers that range from sunflowers to exotic chrysanthemums. He calls the chrysanthemums ‘Gul-e-Dawood’.
Abdul Rashid says that he takes care of the place like his child, which though seems hyperbolic in words, but a simple look around the temple testifies to his diligence and dedication.
While pointing towards a young grapevine that creeps over the temple railings in the courtyard, Abdul Rashid says that last year, during the COVID-19 lockdown, he went to Kulgam and brought the high-quality grapevine for five hundred rupees.
He says that he paid for the grapevine out of his own pocket as he simply loves to watch things grow.
For his services, he is paid a meager amount of Rs 7000 a month by Ishwar Ashram Trust, a religious body that overlooks the temple.
“It is irrelevant what amount I am paid, and who pays me. A job is a job and God has put barakah (prosperity) in hard-earned money,” Abdul Rashid adds further.
By his natural bearing, Abdul Rashid strikes as an optimist; a sage-like character. In his white skull cap, dusty grey khan-dress, and foam sandals, it is hard to believe that there is a man of wise words and incredible spirit.
Given the uncharitable and intolerant times that we live in, Abdul Rashid is no less than a hero. Though he is only a caretaker, he lives by Kashmir’s age-old custom of brotherhood, and communal harmony.
Indeed, through stories like his, our belief in human kinship, camaraderie, and social spirit is constantly reinforced.