Devotees reclaim Hazratbal

Devotees reclaim Hazratbal

Peace returns to the Valleys most revered shrine

Doves fly over Hazratbal in Srinagar

Hazratbal is a holy shrine visited by lakhs of devotees year after year. The holy shrine has gone through several vicissitudes and now slowly becoming a purely a religious place. Now, winds of change are blowing and presence of a large number of white doves - symbol of peace - indicate that peace has returned to stay.

  The Hazratbal is the holiest shrine of Muslims in Kashmir and it houses the holy relic (hair) of the beard of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). A large number of devotees throng this shrine during the Eid-e-Milad, related to the birthday of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and Meraj-UN-Nabi religious occasions. The holy relic is displayed five times a day for a week on those two occasions.

Hazratbal is located near the Kashmir University campus. It is said that in the early 17th century, Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s Subedar, Sadiq Khan, laid out a garden and constructed a palatial building in 1623. However, during his visit in 1634, the emperor ordered the building to be converted into a prayer house.

According to some historians, the holy relic was brought to India by Syed Abdullah. He left Medina and settled in Bijapur, presently in Karnataka. When Syed Abdullah died, his son, Syed Hamid, inherited the relic. After the Mughal conquest of the region, Syed Hamid lost his family estates. As he was unable to care for the relic, he sold it to a Kashmiri businessman, Khwaja Nur-ud-Din Eshai.

On learning about it, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had the relic seized and sent to the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer, and had Eshai imprisoned in
Lahore for possessing the relic. After some time, Aurangzeb relented and decided to restore the relic to the Kashmiri businessman, who by then had died in jail.

The holy relic finally reached the Hazratbal shrine in 1699. The construction of the present marble structure was started by the Muslim Auqaf Trust headed by Sheikh Abdullah in 1968 and completed in 1979.

The holy relic of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is also displayed at other shrines of Kashmir, including Pinjurah in Shopian, Jenab Sahib Soura and Khiram. However, the congregations at Hazratbal are always massive.

Devotees come from all corners of the Valley. They include men, women, children and elderly persons. Apart from its religious importance, Hazratbal continues to be at the centrestage of Kashmir politics. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's grand father, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, established a very strong bond with common masses visiting the shrine. He would address the people from there during the freedom movement against the autocratic rule of Dogras of Jammu. Even after 1947, Sheikh continued to stay connected with Kashmiris through the shrine.

“Besides offering prayers at the shrine, people used to keenly listen to the speeches of Sheikh Abdullah,” recalls 89-year-old Abdul Karim.

After Sheikh’s death, his son, Dr Farooq Abdullah, too, wanted to have control over the affairs of the holy shrine. But after the eruption of militancy in 1990, the Abdullahs lost control and the separatists managed to take over the shrine. At the peak of militancy, the armed men controlled the shrine complex. The tussle among militant groups for control of the shrine led to infighting and this resulted in the killings.

 On October 15, 1993, security forces laid siege to the shrine following reports that militants were inside. The security operation led to a general strike for weeks together in Kashmir. No prayers were held in the shrine during the crises. Fortunately, the security forces did not storm the shrine and the matter was resolved as the holed up militants came out of the shrine on November 16, 1993. They were taken into custody.

Subsequently, police were deployed for the security of the shrine. Later, the separatists tried again to take control of the shrine but the state government foiled their attempts. A faction of JKLF was allowed to gain entry into the shrine. Nazir Ahmad, a police official, says: “The group was a friendly to the state government. The move was also aimed at frustrating the separatists’ moves to take over the shrine.”

However, the friendly relations between  the JKLF faction and the government strained as Basharat, a senior member of the group, killed a police officer after an heated  argument just outside the shrine in March 1996. Basharat was also killed in the return fire by the security guards of the slain  official. This led to tension in the shrine.

The police official said finally the entire group was shifted from the shrine and was taken to an adjacent building. “During the search of the shrine, the authorities found that an attempt was made to steal the holy relic and create crises in Kashmir. All the 22 activists of the JKLF were killed by police and security forces on March 30, 1996,” said Nazir. The state government claimed that they were killed in an encounter but locals alleged that the militants were shot dead in a fake encounter.

After the incident, the separatists too condemned the killing of the JKLF activists and denied the government claim that any attempt was made by the dead men to steal the holy relic.

Later, the state government avoided patronising any group at Hazratbal and did not also allow the separatists to gain a foothold. Despite the tussle between separatists, militants and government over gaining control of the shrine, the number of people visiting the shrine during Eid-e-Milad and Meraj-u-Nabi occasions increased with every passing year.

The visitors from different parts of country also pay a visit to the shrine. In the past, even the political delegations, including from the BJP, also made it a point in the past to pay obeisance at the shrine. Former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Presidents Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and APJ Kalam had also visited the shrine.