The Muslim Rishis, like their Hindu predecessors, refrained from eating flesh. So strict were they in their refusal to take the life of any sentient being that they survived simply on dry wild vegetables and grasses. The second cultural element that was taken by Sufis from Kashmir Rishi is the doctrine of immanence of God.
Although, Islam believes God is transcendental being, the Muslim Rishis like the other Hindu Rishis believed in both the transcendence and immanence of God. In this regard, many Muslim Rishis believed that God is everywhere, not confined to one place. Third cultural element that was adopted was the idea of respect for other religions. Kashmiri Sufism promoted respect for other religions, and even belief in reincarnation. In this regard, generally, Islam does not promote the idea of reincarnation as taught in Hinduism. Many Muslims in Kashmir who were influenced by the Rishi-Sufis believed in the theory of Karma and related rebirth. The fourth cultural element that was adopted was “eight-fold path” taught in the Buddhism.
Kashmiri Sufism emphasizes on following the right path as the “eight-fold path” taught in the Buddhism. In Islam, submission to God is considered as the means of salvation. However, for many Kashmiri Muslims’ wisdom, ethical conduct and mental development are also important for attaining salvation.
The fifth cultural element that the Sufis adopted was meditation. Sufis developed mind’s potential through meditation and absorption, using primarily a technique called paas-e-anfaas, like meditating the breathing in Hinduism, a form of “pranayama” (extension of the breath).
The sixth practice that Sufis incorporated in to Islam from Kashmir is belief in miracles. It is said that the Sufis promoted belief in miracles performed by the Sufi saints and his or her capacity to intercede with God on behalf of the followers. Muslims in Kashmir interceded to Rishi saints for miracles. Praying to Rishis to intercede with God on behalf of the followers was common thing in Kashmir.
Yet, despite these similarities with Hindu Rishism, there are differences in the Muslim Sufi Rishism. The Muslim Rishis saw themselves as Muslims. They were spreading Islam with mystical poetry (shruk), and adopting several practices associated with the pre-Islamic Rishis. Rishis were world-renouncing mendicants, concerned simply with their own salvation.
Under Muslim Sufis, the Rishism emerged as a powerful social movement that taught the rights of the downtrodden, bitterly critiquing social hierarchies and oppression. This accounted, in large measure, for the immense popularity of the Muslim Rishis.
It is striking to note in this regard that almost all the Rishi shrines are located in outlying villages, there being almost none in the towns. This suggests that the Rishis clearly sought to distance themselves from the political elite, cultivating close ties with the common people instead.
The Kashmir Rishism under Sufism rather than searching for liberation from the worldly existence, as in the Hindu Rishi tradition, insisted on a detached involvement in the affairs of the world. This corresponds to the Sufi concept of ‘solitude even while in an assembly.’
The Muslim Rishis earn their daily bread through their own labor. It is said that many of the Muslim Rishis helped the poor by providing them free food in community kitchens run in their lodges, as well as planting fruit-bearing tress and constructing bridges, inns and mosques for the general public.
This shift from concern with individual salvation to a concern with the welfare of ordinary people is one of the distinctive features of the Sufi-Rishi order. Hindu Rishsim, because of its concern with individual salvation, did not emerge as a social movement.
In Hindu tradition, the individual Rishis would retire into the forests to meditate and perform stern austerities for years, severing all ties with the world around them. In contrast, under Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, Rishism took the form of a regular spiritual order, with the candidate taking an oath of allegiance from his spiritual master. The local Hindus held these Muslim Rishis in great respect and reverence, for they preached a universal love and brotherhood transcending differences of caste and creed.
For many Kashmiri Hindus, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani was ‘the blissful one’ and until this day, many Sikhs and Hindus are regular visitors to his shrines found in the Kashmiri countryside. Thus, the Muslims and Hindus while keeping their religious faith, during the RishiSufi period simultaneously discovered eclectic and syncretic nature of their spiritual beliefs.
It also needs to be noted that it is natural that the Hindu converts to Islam did not feel obliged to distance themselves totally from their previous beliefs and practices in Islam at least to the extent these did not contravene their new Islamic beliefs.
Kashmiriyat represents the best fruit of the centuries of interaction between ancient ethno-religious traditions of Kashmir and Islam. It is a synthesis of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islamic teaching. It was thorough the cultural appropriation of Hindu Buddhist religious elements such as immanence of God, respect for other religions, belief in reincarnation, the right path developing mind’s potential through meditation and absorption, belief in miracles, and love of idols of gods and goddesses by the Sufis created the social religious space of Kashmiriyat.
Thus, Kashmiriyat could not have been possible without the Muslim interaction with the spiritual symbiosis that existed between ethnic communities, Buddhism, and Hinduism. It also needs to be remembered that though Kashmiriyat has evolved through influence of the religious teachings, in essence it remains primarily secular movement. Above all, meeting between Hinduism and Islam resulted in cultural and psychological change in both religions.
At the group level, these changes have been shown in the culture, customs, and religious rituals. Noticeable group level effects of Hindu-Muslim encounter included changes in the religious food, clothing, and prayers.
At the individual level, changes have been shown to be associated not just only with changes in daily behavior, but with numerous measures of psychological and physical well-being of Hindus and Muslims. Thus, the Kashmiriyat is essential for social unity and well-being of the Kashmiri people.
Author is a research scholar at University of Indore