Visiting Shrines, paying obeisance and tribute to saints is ingrained in the Kashmiri society. Although, different religious schools of thought disagree on this matter, yet majority of Muslims believe shrine visiting is a blessed and spiritually-boosting activity. Some people throng shrines not only for spiritual reasons but also to enlighten themselves with knowledge. Knowledge - regarding the saints, their lives, worship, struggles, contribution and miracles. Being the inhabitant of an area that is close to the shrines of two grandees, disciples of Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani (R.a) viz; Hazrat Zainuddin Reshi (R.a), and Hazrat Baba Bammudin Reshi (R.a), situated at Aishmuqam and Bumzoo Mattan respectively, I occasionally do pay a visit to these places.
At Zainuddin Wali's Shrine, which regularly witnesses a gargantuan influx of devotees and visitors, I encountered many devotees so far who wanted to know about the Saint to explore his life. But every time, I saw them being fed with disinformation, that too, by members of shrine management. Once a person tried to inquire from one of the custodians of the Shrine, where does grave of Hazrat Zainuddin Wali lies, in a cave or adjoining upper compartment of the shrine complex. He stuttered for a while, and then answered, but couldn't convince the questioner.
Similarly, years ago, I visited the shrine of Baba Bammudin and tried to get details about the history of the shrine from a person controlling affairs there. Much to my surprise, he completely denied responding. Due to his incompetency, I felt. Next time, I was again disappointed as another person occupying the post of caretaker could not fill me in.
These are not only the two places where such a problem exists. There are many other shrines where people holding managerial positions struggle to guide the seekers and fail to meet the expectations of visitors, researchers, and curious minds.
However, it is worth mentioning, that I also came to know about a few shrines of the valley, where management has taken special pains in disseminating facts about respective saints through publications. Nonetheless, this is not the case everywhere.
Moreover, it is not about biographical and historical information only. Some saints have put their heart into producing outstanding works through writing - effective enough to make a difference in people’s lives. But, most of those are now inaccessible. People in need feel compelled to visit libraries, and archaeological museums, or get connected to any erudite scholar to procure them. This proves to be a demanding exercise. They lose a substantial amount of time in searching. Rarely, does their search end gracefully and mostly, end up with nothing. In this way, the momentous role of saints’ remains unnoticed not just to inquirers but to the general public as well.
These problems need to be taken into consideration and addressed for the benefit of all. However, it is not a walk in the park that commoners will fiddle with this issue, as it requires meticulous planning. Yes, if state administration intervenes, it is a cinch.
In our valley, Waqf Board, a government-operated religious institution dealing with mosques and shrines, is operative. It seems to be in full swing for the last few years and has the power to regulate the issues. J&K Waqf Board is known to have taken some historical steps in the near past and appears to be concerned even now; it should consider the appointment of experts, well-versed in Islamic disciplines, Sufism and well-informed about the life of Sufi- saints, at every Shrine for public guidance. By doing so, the diffusion of relevant and authentic information is possible and will be useful in keeping visitors abreast of the life history and significance of Saint, Shrine etc.
The Board must also ruminate on the establishment of mini-libraries at every Shrine where besides biographies and good reads about spirituality, character-building and so on, a person can have access to written works of the saints. On one side this will encourage book-reading culture and on the other side, visitors, including historians, researchers, students, devotees, etc. will find answers to their queries and the research resources they look for. Also, after acquiring accurate and reliable information, people can serve as a medium to propagate the same, which can facilitate the preservation of our rich and spectacular legacy. Over and above that, this way Shrines will become knowledge hubs besides being religious and spiritual spots and this will open new vistas of learning.
(Author is an Independent researcher, Columnist and Co-author of book #55_Stories. He can be connected at: firstname.lastname@example.org)