Nund Rishi also known as Sheikh Noor ud-Din Noorani and popularly as Sheikh ul-Alam (RA) was the descendant of a Hindu Rajput family of Kishtawar, one of whose scions had migrated to Kashmir valley because of a family feud and settled down here for good. The Sheikh’s father accepted Islam at the hands of Yasman Reshi, son of Palasma Reshi and his Hindu name Salar Sanz was changed to Sheikh Salar. Once Sheikh Salar and his wife, Sadr Mouj, were attending upon their spiritual guide when the well-known mystic, Lal Arifa, walked that way with a bunch of flowers in her hand. Yasman got it from her and handed it to Sadr Mouj, praying at the same time for the birth of a pious son to her. Traditions say that when Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) was born he refused to suck milk from his mother’s breast. Lal Arifa once again appeared upon the scene and spoke to the new-born in a mystic language. “Thou wert not ashamed of being born, then how art Thou ashamed of sucking in the milk.” Thereupon the saint put her own breast into the child’s mouth and he avidly sucked it. When the Sheikh (RA) gained maturity, he found himself in a complex religious atmosphere. Islam had entered Kashmir valley long before his birth but the mode of life of the new entrants to its fold was not yet purely Islamic. No doubt, its simple teaching had a great appeal for people wearied of the futile metaphysical discussions and theological hair-spletting yet its spirit was not fully imbibed by the new converts.
In fact their life was a queer mixture of the new faith and the local religious traditions smacking of asceticism. The age-old tradition of reshism continued to inspire people even when they accepted Islam. The achievement of Mir Ali Hamdani (RA), who introduced Islam on a wide scale shortly before the birth of the Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) was yet to be consolidated. The Sheikh (RA) grew up in this complex religious atmosphere. Born with a religious temperament, his childhood and boyhood were characterized by extraordinary purity of mind and character. At the age of thirteen Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) was married to a lady, Zai Ded, who bore him two children, a daughter Zooni and a son Hayder. He (RA) was then apprenticed to a couple of traders, one after the other, There, he felt disgusted with the ways of the world. He lost interest in life as normally lived. He decided upon renunciation, retired to caves for meditation at the age of thirty. After spending about twelve years in renunciation, retiring to a cave in Kaymuh (in Kulgam, Kashmir Valley), for meditation, he returned to a life which Islam considers ideal in nature. He then started giving attention to his wife, Zai Ded and two children, Hayder and Zooni. He expressed his displeasure with his renunciation of the world in the following verses:
Nasar Baba Jangal gachum gayam khaemi
Doup ye chhe baed ibadat
Ye aes patus baed badnaemi sarea aes Karen kuni kath
But what he saw going on around him made him intensely sad, after a short period, he finally threw over the cloak of worldliness and divorced his wife. The reason behind this was not that he got fed up with normal life but it was actually because of his being unable to provide for his wife, children and mother sustenance as he would always remain engrossed in the thought of his creator and the other life. He thought it was quite un-Islamic to keep them without fulfilling their rights. His mother persuaded him, requested him, reminded him of her milk, and finally frightened him; the wife beseeched him with tearful eyes, but nothing worked with him.
Upon the demand of milk from his mother, Allah so willed that it flowed out of a stone. When the wife so insisted, he (RA) laid the baboon thorns on the floor of the cave and rested on them and asked his wife to do the same. She left her two children who were found dead on the following morning. On the death of the children, Zai Ded also renounced the world, and became a hermitess. Sadra Ded (mother), Zai Ded (wife), Hyder (son) and Zooni, the daughter of Sheikh Noor-ud-din are buried at Kaimuh (Kulgam) where there is now a famous shrine. Salar-ud-din’s turban is preserved at this shrine. Being removed of all marital connections he spend all his time to strengthen the spiritual powers.
Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) was never educated or trained at a seminary or a monastery but whatever he attained was the result of his sincere prayers, although he was not literate, yet he was a poet and a philosopher. Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) was a simple man,once when invited to a feast, He went in ragged dress, earlier than the appointed time. The servants, not recognizing him, would not permit him to enter, and he had to go back to take his food at home. When all had sat for the sumptuous dinner, the Sheikh was specially sent for. He came, this time in a flowing Chugha (cloak) and was given the seat of honour. But the Sheikh (RA) instead of partaking of the food stretched forth his sleeves and put them on to the plates. The people were astonished at the sight and asked him the reason. He replied, the feast was not really for Nur-ud-din (RA) but for the long sleeves. During his time, since Islam was still spreading in Kashmir, a multitude of self-styled mullahs had cropped up from the converted Brahmin moneylenders who used their newly acquired status in the Islamic state, to exploit the common people. Kashmir valley witnessed the worst type of religious persecution in the time of Sultan Sikander (1389-1413 A.C.) and his successor, Ali. Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) lived during this period when the identity of a true Kashmiri was at stake and in danger of being destroyed.
You have acquired knowledge for selfish ends, Your endeavour is to see each other fall, You consider yourself to be the favourites of the lord Here, But There not one per thousand can escape the doom.
After twelve years of meditation when he came out of the cave, he was a zealous missionary of his cult of purity, purity, love and and brotherhood. He (RA) believes in universal brotherhood. He calls upon the people, especially those who came from outside and Zealots among the new reverts, to live together in unison, so that Allah himself would rejoice. Kashmiri Hindus respect Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) in the same way as Kashmiri Muslims. Infact, He (RA) was a preacher as well as a social reformer. While believing that Nafs (lust) is the main hurdle in achieving righteous path, the Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) chose to be strictly vegetarian and did not touch any sumptuous dish. He lived on wild vegetables, wore ragged garments (Janda), strictly abstained from sex and had no earthly attachments. It is important to note that Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) did not ignore society altogether. He contacted all men of intelligence, power and character and impressed them with his spiritual powers, revelations, miracles, and discussions and won them by heart for the mission. Nund Reshi’s (RA) pithy saying ‘Food will last as long as forests last” is a clear indication of his innate foresight and intuitive knowledge. He uttered these words six centuries ago even before the present concept of ecological balance. He is believed to have pointed out that plants are living things which are born, grow and die in due course. He says: “Let us avoid harming plants in any way as far as possible. Let us not unnecessarily trample over green grass. For, each plant has a purpose in life and use for others.” He (RA) criticized the scholars, the mullahs and the religious preachers and warns them to give up playing the game of hypocrisy. He says, mere knowledge is misleading and fatal to an individual who does not translate it into action. You have acquired knowledge for selfish ends, Your endeavour is to see each other fall, You consider yourself to be the favourites of the lord Here, But There not one per thousand can escape the doom.
Sheikh Noor-ud-din’s (RA) life was filled with love and compassion for people of all religion and contempt of this world, other-worldiness and his life was based on purity of thoughts and action. He traveled village to village, preached his message against nifaq (hypocrisy), nafs (lust), hasad (jealousy), riya (show), hirs (greed) and akl-i-haram (unlawful eating). The Sheikh Noor-ud-din’s (RA) spiritual eminence and his humanistic philosophy made him the idol of the people of Kashmir. They flocked to him and some of them modeled their very lives on his pattern. Sheikh Noor-ud-din’s (RA) efforts reached far and wide and benefited a large number of people in Kashmir. The number of his followers was very large. Some of them were: Baba Bam-ud-Din (Bhuma Saad or Sahi), Baba Zain-ud-Din (Ziya Singh or Jaya Singh) etc. The details of the life of Sheikh-Ul-Alam (RA) are preserved in the Nur-nama written by Baba Nasib-ud-din Ghazi. He (RA) told one of his chief disciples, Baba Nasru, “He shall win the world who serves others.” Elsewhere, addressing Hindus and Muslims alike, he said: Oh Hindus and Muslims! How will you attain salvation if you don’t take good deeds with you? Prayers and ritual performances, if not accompanied by good deeds, not only do not please Allah, Rather, they condemn one to damnation in Hell. Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) had a very deep insight into the future and there are plenty of his verses which point to the future events that have proved correct. Nearly six hundred years ago, he wrote:
Bronth Kali Asan Tithee Keran\, Tung Tsunth Papan Tseran Seeth
Maje Koreh Ath Was Kerith Neram, Doh Deen Baran Gearan Seeth
(A time will come in the future, when Apples and Pears will ripen at the same time as apricots and mothers and daughters will move out , hand in hand, and will spend their days with strangers).
In an another verse, again telling the mullahs how exalted and sacred the holy Quran is (which they used to help their nefarious exploitation of the masses), he wrote:
Quran Paran Kono Moodukh, Quran Paran Goi No Soor
Quran Paran Zindeh Kot Roodukh, Quran Paran Dodh Mansoor
Quran Paran Be Gam Roodukh, Tamath Phoroi Akith Tsoor
(How are you still living after treating the holy Quran so lightly and reciting it without your heart in it? You may benefit in your worldly gains for a while, but, be ready now for the wrath of Allah).
Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) left this world at the age of 63,in the reign of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly known as Budshah, a great king of Kashmir. The Sultan accompanied his bier alongwith thousands of people to the grave. The burial prayer of Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) were led by a great divine or Alim of the age, Makhdum Baba Usman Uchchap Ganai. Sheikh Noor-ud-Din is one of those outstanding personalities who had the greatest and most lasting influence on the culture of Kashmir. He (RA) had a multi-dimensional personality and left an impression on every aspect of Kashmiri life and culture. As a saint, a dedicated servant of the common man, a poet, a great caliber and above all as a messenger of love, purification and piety his achievement is unparalleled. Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) was the first Kashmiri saint who was given official recognition when Ata-ul-lah Khan (1223-1225 A.H), the Afghan Governor of Kashmir, issued coins in his name. This popular love and devotion continues unabated upto this day. The tomb of Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA) at Charar Sharief, a small town perched on a dry bare hill, 20 miles south west of Srinagar, is visited by thousands of people-high and low, literate and illiterate, Muslims and non-Muslims to the present day. His poetry and his pithy and wise sayings have, to a large extent, determined the genius of the Kashmir language and are remembered by heart by the people. Sheikh Noor-ud-din (RA)’s message of kindness and selflessness needs to be emulated in every aspect of life and his legacy will continue to form the bedrock of our rich cultural and spiritual inheritance.
(The author a teacher at S K University of Agriculture Sciences & Technology- SKUAST Srinagar regularly contributes for the edit page of “Kashmir Horizon”. His views are personal)