Monday, December 8, 2014

Why is Madin Sahib locked?


On way to the place I was narrated the old tale. Somewhere in 1980s, news spread in Srinagar that a miracle had been witnessed at the shrine of Madeen Sahib. People were saying a lot of things. It was heard that the mausoleum's outer wall was dripping blood. Shias as well as Sunnis started gathering at the place. They did see something. Some said, the spot on the wall seemed liked someone had focused the beam from a laser pointer, a device which were in vogue back then as a source of amusement and harassment. Soon the rioting and violence started. When the violence was over, the mausoleum had been shut for public access.

Near But Kadal in Zadibal, Srinagar, is a 15th century monument known as 'Madin Sahib' named after the tomb and mosque of Sayyid Muhammad Madani who came to India with Timur in 1398 and moved to Kashmir during the reign of Sultan Sikandar Butshikan (1389–1413 CE). The monument comprises of a Mosque and a Tomb, with the mosque dating back to around 1444 which first came up during the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin, incorporating elements, pillar and base, from an older Hindu monument.

In 1905, archaeological surveyor W. H. Nicholls (1865-1949), during his pioneering study of Muslim architecture in Kashmir, was the first to notice the uniqueness of the art of this building among all the Muslim monuments in India. The mosque had glazed tiles of a kind unlike any other building in India and some tiles was painted a mystical beast not seen anywhere on any other mosque in India. [Read: Beast at Madin Sahib]


Madin Sahib 1905. From the report by Nicholls for 'Archaeological Survey of India Report 1906-7'

Although the architecture and its beauty was documented only in 1905, the place Zadibal is in fact mentioned in one of the earliest western travelogues. Godfrey Thomas Vigne who visited Kashmir in 1835, mentioned in his book 'Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo, the Countries Adjoining the Mountain-Course of the Indus, and the Himalaya, north of the Panjab with Map' (1844), that Zadibal witnessed rioting in the year 1830 when the place was inhabited by Persian traders. The trigger was Muharram procession (something still now allowed in Srinagar. And the note by Englishman Vigne places the blame on Shias. A piece of writing that still can be used to incite violence). In the aftermath of the rioting, the Persians who were mainly into Shawl trade and numbered about 200-300, left Kashmir for Iran.

The place again witnessed rioting in 1872. In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war between France and Germany lead to the decline in Shawl business. The Shia of Srinagar were primarily into paper mache and shawl business. In fact, one of the richest man in the city back then was a Shia named Mirza Muhammad Ali.  The Shias in Kashmir follow either of the two influential families, Moulvi or Aga. Most also falling into two contrasting income brackets: rich and poor. It in not hard to follow that in this part of the world, economic disturbances eventually lead to sectarian and religious violence . All it needs is a trigger. Shia at the time were about 6000 in the city and for every 1 Shia there were 10 Sunnis. On 19th September 1872, on the Urs (death anniversary) of Madin Sahib, Sunnis gathered at the place, and so did Shias. Claims over the right to own the place were exchanged. Soon, a wave of violence was unleashed that lasted about three days. In the madness, the ancient monument was damaged in fire that raged all over Zadibal.  In fact much of Srinagar was in flames. 

The violence of 1872 is recorded in report published in a Munich based paper, where it is titled 'The Grauel in Kajhmir' (The horror in Kashmir). In an interesting observation, the report also mentions that Shia women and children were given refuge in Pandit households.  [Read: Allgemeine Zeitung Munich]

Madin Shib in around 1979. Before renovation that started in 1983.
Raghubir Singh.

More than hundred years later, in 1983, just when the work on renovation of the shrine had started, the place again suffered rioting. June 1983 was going to be the year for state assembly election.  It in not hard to follow that in this part of the world, political rivalries eventually lead to sectarian and religious violence. Zadibal, the Shia majority area was considered a stronghold of Congress I, the party headed by Pandit Indira Gandhi. The violence started around June 14th, and after raging for around three days, left around 700 injured and many shops and houses, and a mosque - burnt. [News Report]

Madin Sahib in 1983 when the renovation started.
 Prataap Patrose, Aga Khan Visual Archive, MIT

source

A more lasting impact of the riot was that the Astaan of Madin Sahib went behind locks, out of bound of common man who might be just interested in art and architecture. And it has been like that ever since.

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The light was falling fast. Bilal climbed atop the high iron railing that now forms an ugly fence around the monument and asked me to follow him.  Across the monument, sitting on the window was an old man enjoying the last hours of the day. There was hardly anyone of the street. We could have climbed in. If I didn't know the history of the place, I would have climbed on and broken into the monument. Knowledge of history and not just history, creates our sense of boundaries. I told him I can't climb over the wall. In addition, there was one more major concern, I didn't want to impale my precious organ just trying to get into an ancient forgotten monument.

Just then a young guy walking along stopped and asked what were we doing. Bilal explained. The guy said there was no need to climb, there were men inside the shrine on guard duty. To get in, all we had to do was knock on the iron padlocks. Bilal asked the man why the placed was locked. The man didn't know. Bilal asked him where was he from. He was a local of the area. In Kashmir such questions aren't asked directly. If you are Sunni, you don't ask the other person directly if he is Shia.

We banged on the railing. But there was no response. The guards were probably watching television somewhere inside. Finally, after about half an hour of knocking, two men appeared sleep walking from behind the shrine. As they approached, Bilal in an insidious tone asked me to keep my mouth shut and just follow his lead. Bilal had a stratagem up his sleeves for getting me in. The conversation that followed is one of the weirdest and most comic I have had in Kashmir.

The men asked Bilal about nature of the visit. Bilal's explanation, 'This here with me is a Sahib who has come from very far to see the monument.'

One of the men asked, 'Where has he come from?'

'He has come all the way from Germany.'

A hysterical laugh almost escaped from my throat, a smile that on reaching my lips converted into an awkward smile.

The man stared at me.

'Germany?'

'Yes, from Germany. To write a book. Like the angreez do.'

I tried to look as German as I could and hide what I thought my obvious Kashmiriness. My smile disappeared and I looked glum and serious, like a man ashamed of past. That should have done it. But the next query from the man foiled Bilal's plot and had me stumped.

'Is he a Christian or a Jew?'

I burst out laughing when I heard the question. I exclaimed, 'But, I was a local'.

The man looking terribly confused and turing to Bilal asked, 'You said he is foreign.'

In a last-ditch attempt, Bilal tried to explain it away, 'He is foreign. But living here. Like lot of angreez do. Please let us in. Just for five minutes.'

Stratagem fell apart.

'You need to get written permission from the trust that runs this place.'

The plot was obviously flawed from the beginning. Even Bilal with his copper hair had a higher chance for passing off as a German.  But apparently, this is the most obvious method that tourists try at this place to get inside. I was told you had a higher chance of getting in if you are not a Kashmiri. You may get in if you are foreigner, or even if you are from some other part of India, but not if you are from Kashmir.

I looked at the iron railings more carefully. Some of them had their lower ends bent to create sort of a holes in the wall. The holes had obviously been made by random tourists so one could stick a camera lens in and get a clear shot of the shrine. Walls that history creates is often accompanied by holes that people create to subvert the walls

I too took my camera, stuck it into one of the holes and let it see Madin Sahib as it is.


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15th November, 2014










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3 comments:

  1. Trath. You could have told him you are a Kashmiri settled in Germany since generations and have come to search for a clue to a buried treasure you ancestor is supposed to have left there.
    Tsk Tsk. Where's you imagination man? :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, 'Winyak Joo Rozdan from Munich'. It was more about bad acting by me. I couldn't pretend I wasn't understanding what they were talking about.

      Delete
    2. Great piece Mr Razdan. I had the opportunity of visiting the shrine during my school days. I was a kid. Basically the incident happened somewhere between the late 1990s and early 2000s . Then it was closed once for all. I still remember it's so beautiful and different inside. Dark as if so many mysteries are hidden. The shrine inside it's totally different from the ones we see in the heart of Srinagar. They say the flat rock that lies outside the shrine on the right side of the door has come on its own flying. Legend or reality I do not know. But it seems that there are a lot of secrets . The place does make you feel like that.

      Delete

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