Saturday, October 21, 2000

The rebuilding of Chrar-e- Sharif
By Ehsan Fazili

THE mausoleum of the Sufi saint of Kashmir, Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, at Chrar-e-Sharif which was gutted in an encounter between the security forces and Hizbul Mujahideen militants five years ago, will be completed by the end of this month. Thousands of devotees attended the special ceremony of Taj Poshi on September 19 at Chrar-e-Sharif, 28 km from Srinagar. The shrine is visited by hundreds of devotees every day and by thousands of them on Thursdays and Fridays. Their number did not register any decline after the mausoleum was reduced to rubble in May 1995. The construction of the shrine will be completed by the annual Urs of the patron saint of Alamdar-e-Kashmir, which falls on October 25.

The ceiling of the shrine has been constructed in the traditional Khatamband design which, though exquisite, involves a lot of expense and is time-consuming. Nearly two dozen carpenters, including a few from Punjab, have been working daily to complete the task on schedule. The Khatamband work was assigned to Kashmiri professionals. The traditional Kashmiri architecture of a ziarat (shrine) with a pagoda-shaped top has been retained in the new structure, which has been constructed with brick and cement, unlike the previous wooden structure which was prone to fire.


The building under construction. Habib Ullah Mughal, secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Auqaf Trust (MAT is in charge of the upkeep of shrines and mosques), said about Rs 3 crore had been earmarked for the construction of the complex. The Centre provided Rs 1.5 crore, while the rest was made available by MAT. Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had, according to MAT officials, promised to grant Rs 6 crore for the project, but so far only Rs 1.5 crore had been provided.

The reconstruction of the gutted shrine was taken up on October 18, 1996, nine days after Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, who is also the chairman of MAT, joined office. The chief architect of the shrine, Muneer Ahmad Khan, visited Central Asia and Iran to study Muslim architecture. Later MAT floated different designs and sought public opinion. After arriving at a consensus, the present design was approved. According to MAT office-bearers, there was a delay of over a year in getting the model approved, so the work began in full swing only since last year.

A file photo of the 14th century shrine of Sheikh Nooruddin NooraniApart from the construction of the shrine complex, MAT has finalised the master plan for the reconstruction of the Khanquah, adjacent to the shrine, which was also gutted in the crossfire. The cost for its reconstruction is estimated at Rs 5 crore. Rohit Kansal, Deputy Commissioner, Budgam, said the area between the shrine and the bigger pond would be landscaped, the lanes and drains would get a facelift. In short, the overall look of the shrine area would be improved.

According to residents of the area, a sum of Rs 31 crore had been granted to those whose houses and shops had been damaged in the May 1995 blaze. Of this Rs 16 crore was granted by the Centre and Rs 15 crore by the state government. The residents claim that only Rs 22 crore has been disbursed as ex gratia, and there are no details of the remaining Rs 9 crore.

On May 11, 1995, the shrine was gutted in an exchange of fire between the security forces and Hizbul Mujahideen militants led by "Major" Mast Gul. More than five militants were killed in the operation, while "Major" Mast Gul and other militants managed to escape.


Story of the Shrine

THE land where the shrine is situated belonged to Sangram Dar, a disciple of the Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, who had constructed a mosque there. The Sheikh offered his Friday prayers in the mosque. It is believed that after the death of the Sheikh, his coffin flew for some distance and then descended on the site of the present shrine where he was laid to rest. The then ruler of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abideen (1420-7-AD), constructed a shrine at the burial site. The shrine was partly damaged during the period of the Chaks, whereupon Yaqoob Chak ordered its repair. The Afghan governor, Atta Mohammad Khan, reconstructed the shrine in the beginning of the 19th century. The extension work and levelling of the compound was done during the time of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad (1953-63). On the 600th birth anniversary of Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani in 1979, the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages installed a stone inscription at the mazar site.

Sheikh Nooruddin, who began the Rishi order in Kashmirs, was born in Koimoh village of Anantnag district in south Kashmir, in the 14th century. His ancestors belonged to Kishtwar. His father got converted to Islam by a renowned saint, Syed Hussain Simnani. Sheikh, a pious soul, meditated for 12 years in a cave. During his lifetime, he became a legend and a popular religious figure. Four centuries after the Sheikh’s death, Afghan governor Atta Mohammad Khan issued coins bearing his name. Sheikh’s poetry, commonly believed to be the Koran in Kashmiri verse, is popular among the locals. His poetry speaks of oneness of God, and of one’s transient status in the world.