An account of a spiritual journey to the tomb of Bibi Baria- the daughter-in-law of Ameer e Kabeer Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA)
/ By Saima Bhat / Pictures & Content Credit: Kashmir Sufis’ Blog
Shrines in Kashmir are regarded by many as places of worship, hope, and promise. But in most of these shrines, women are kept at a distance. Saima Bhat travels to a unique shrine, that defies the norm.
Bibi Baria’s Tomb
The shrine of Bibi Baria is located on the outskirts of Srinagar in Kralpora. The entry to the shrine is exclusively reserved for women. The structure of the tomb is made of concrete with the main door leading the way to another door near Bibi Baria’s grave.
The grave is surrounded by three windows and a door that usually remains closed. It hides behind green and black glittering curtains on which the names of Allah and some verses from the Quran are inscribed.
A place where wishes come true
Between the two doors, there is a space which women use to circle around the grave, some with their eyes closed as tears roll down their cheeks while they narrate their ordeals to Bibi Baria. Wishes of conceiving a child and curing different ailments are common in this shrine.
Bibi Baria – The daughter of Governor of Kashmir
Bibi Baria’s shrine is believed to be of the 14th century. She was the daughter of Saif-ullah, the then governor of Kashmir (in the era of Sikander). Saifullah was actually Seeh Bhatta, a non-Muslim who was always discriminated against for being from a lower cast in the era of Budshah.
“He converted to Islam and became very strict towards Brahmins who later left the valley and shifted to Punjab. ‘Kashir ruz kahai ghare’ (Kashmir is left with only 11 houses) is a phrase of that time and it is believed that Saif-ullah was the reason,” says poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef.
Bibi Baria’s marriage
After seeing the dedication of Saif-ullah, Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (popularly known as Shah-i-Hamadan, accompanied by 700 Sayyids spread Islam all over Kashmir) decided to marry his son, Mir Mohammad Hamadani to the lone daughter of Saif-ullah.
Bibi Baria’s death
Bibi Baria died shortly after her marriage. Women who come to visit this shrine are now long-time visitors. These women devotees believe that all of their wishes eventually become true. People, especially women, come to this shrine throughout the week, but on Fridays, women come in the hundreds to offer their prayers in separate halls, specifically meant for prayers following the Imam in the nearby Masjid.
Mosque near Bibi Bari’s mazar
The shrine and the Masjid are separated by a wall, and both have their separate entrance. Young girls who haven’t even entered their teenage years also come here and strongly believe their wishes might come true one day.
Only a few women are allowed to offer their prayers on the separate surface of the shrine, on the sides where Bibi’s grave doesn’t come between them and God.
Knots of cloths hanging on the doors and window
The handles of the doors and windows of the shrine are not visible. They are covered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of cloth. For people visiting this shrine, these knots are their wishes that God will fulfill anytime.
Zoon Malik the caretaker of Bibi Baria’s tomb
All these knots have been tied by Zoon Malik and before her, by her mother-in-law. Zoon is a volunteer caretaker of this shrine who believes it has been her dedication towards Bibi Baria that her mother-in-law acknowledged her to take care of the shrine after she passed away.
Zoon is an elderly lady, weak and without teeth, but she still prefers to come on the shrine every day. Earlier she would be here five times a day but now, as her health declines, she comes only once a day. She says her past; her memories; are slowly fading away because of old age, but she still recalls that no wish has remained unanswered.
The thing that she says bothers her most is the changes in rules of the shrine by the representatives of Masjid. As she speaks of her concern, the wrinkles of her face silently speak of her unease, the same wrinkles that have been witness to the countless number of prayers, wishes, tears, politics, and knots of promises that float through the shrine.
“First they rebuild the shrine into a concrete structure and now they have thrown open this shrine for men- I believe these things have affected the power of the shrine,” shares Zoon Malik in a distressed voice.
The archaeological importance of shrines in Kashmir
The shrines in Kashmir are not only religiously significant but have immense archaeological and historical importance attached to them. But now, most of the previous shrines have been changed to concrete structures.
Every resident of this area shares that during the entire era of turmoil, not even a single militant was ever martyred in the area nor did any clashes between Indian forces and militants ever happen here. They credit this to the power of Bibi’s shrine.
Bibi Baria’s spiritual powers
Shakeela, a local who lives near the shrine is a witness of the day when some militants were walking on the main road and an army came from somewhere.
“Those militants entered the shrine of Bibi, not inside the area where she is buried, and we were getting ready for a shootout between the two.
We were so frightened that we had already dived on the floor but luckily those army men had not seen the militants and those militants were saved,” she says. She believes this village is living on the mercy of this noble lady who is resting inside.
Haji Ali Mohammad Bhat, 75, caretaker of the Masjid which is near the shrine is witness to the old structure of shrine. He remembers how flowers used to blossom from the roof of Bibi Baria’s shrine. He names it as the shrine of ‘Deead Mouj’.
Ded Mouj, Charar e Sharif shrine and Khanqah Mosque Srinagar
This place of Ded Mouj has been the centre for people visiting the shrines of Sheikh- ul- Alam in Chrare-i- Shareef and Khanqah in Srinagar. This central place has been on a vast area but now it is limited to three Kanals only and the rest of the land is given to the Masjid, to the graveyard and some has also been sold off.
Lion visiting the shrine of Ded Mouj
Haji Ali shares that in times of drought the stream that flows in front of the shrine had never dried up. It always had water, no matter what. Locals used to call it the river of Ded Mouj but now it is just like any other stream carrying drainage water.
“In the past, a lion would visit the shrine at night. That lion had never harmed any local,” says Haji Ali blissfully.
Why faithful come to visit shrines?
For all people mostly from the upper reaches of this area, this shrine has always helped them in fulfilling their wishes. Mumtaz was married three years ago but she hasn’t been bestowed with a child yet. She has visited almost every shrine in the valley and now she is a regular visitor of this shrine also. She believes this shrine will definitely help in fulfilling her wish.
Mumtaz accompanied by another lady tells her to visit very frequently. The lady says she is the mother of Mumtaz and expresses her trust by recalling her own mother-in-law who has been a devotee of Ded Mouj.
“One day while coming out of the shrine after prayers, she saw a crowd on the main road. She went to check what really was happening there. It turned out to be a circus performance. Being close to the circus people she decided to enjoy it for some time and when she decided to return home, she lost her eyesight on the way back. My mother-in-law has passed away now,” says Mumtaz’s mother. She also adds, “I have a faith, I come here that is why I keep telling Mumtaz to be a regular visitor.”
1111 Shrines in Kashmir valley
According to some government figures, there are around 1111 shrines in the valley. In all shrines, women are not allowed to pray outside or go near to the holy spot, but there are two shrines where women are allowed to go inside the periphery and men are barred from entering. In these shrines, women are the caretakers.
Kreeri Baramulla shrine of four women
Another shrine in Kreeri, Baramulla holds four graves of women. This shrine is beside the shrine of Syed Haji Mohammad Muraad Bukhari and the four women are believed to be the wife of Syed Haji Mohammad Muraad Bukhari, his brother’s wife (who was martyred during the war in Balakh) and his two daughters. And there are two more graveyards in Bul Bul Lanker and in Malarate’ but they are not used as shrines.
The shrine of Syed Ali Aali Balki
The shrine of Syed Ali Aali Balki in Pakharpora also has a separate cemetery where Syed Ali Aali Balki’s wife is buried. But the grave is not decorated like the other shrines in the valley. It is bound with a roof tin, not in any concrete structure. This shrine is not open for women either.
The myth is that once a man accidentally took a glimpse of that side of the grave after which he had lost his eyesight. The same is said about the shrine in Kreeri Baramulla. Besides these shrines, there is a Masjid, Pather Masjid which was built by a female- Mughal Queen, Noor Jahan in 1623.
Another report by Nafeesa Syed from the guardian 2011. At the shrine of Bibi Baria in Kralpora, a few miles outside of Indian Kashmir’s capital of Srinagar, men are barred from entering the tomb of the 14th-century saint.
It’s a rare chance for Muslim women here to engage in a spiritual space that is all their own. It also feels far removed from unrelenting political tensions in the region that have included occasional strikes and protests this summer.
Mir Sayed Ali Hamdani (RA)
In downtown Srinagar stands a shrine dedicated to Baria’s father-in-law Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, a Persian saint who locals credit with spreading the Sufi-oriented Islam that took hold in the valley of Kashmir. (He’s buried in Tajikistan.) Women are allowed to pray outside the sanctuary, but if they try to step inside they are immediately reprimanded.
Bibi Baria’s tomb -men are not allowed to visit
Here, however, the opposite holds true. Men are permitted in the tiled courtyard of Baria’s shrine, but Zoona Malik, an elderly voluntary caretaker, shoos them away if they want to enter. In the past, Malik says, men who went inside became blind.
Atop the brown-brick shrine sits the pagoda-like layered roof and pointed pillar characteristic of Kashmiri architecture. Devotees lower their heads to the steps at the entrance, and some then kiss the ground.
New exterior 2020 of shrineThe wrinkly and bespectacled Malik, who doesn’t know her exact age but is a long-time visitor to the shrine, says women often come to ask from God – through the saint – with help conceiving a child or curing an illness.
“I come here to serve her,” Malik says of the saint.
In addition to the well-maintained tomb, there are two large structures the religious organisations responsible for the complex have built exclusively as women’s prayer halls.
At midday in early August, in the first week of Ramadan, about 10 women line up in a row for the congregational prayer service.
Women’s prayer hall
They follow the imam, or prayer leader, whose voice is carried through a loudspeaker from an adjacent mosque, which is separated from the Baria compound by a brick wall. The setup runs counter to most mosques in south Asia that usually do not have accommodations for women or even allow them to enter the worship site.
Although women can pray on the grounds of some other holy spots and mosques in Srinagar, here women aren’t sidelined to the periphery, but rather act like they own the place.
There are at least a few other shrines scattered in the valley where ladies are buried.
Traditionally women can be a spiritual leaders in Kashmir
The tradition of having a female religious guide also is not foreign to Kashmir, where some living women pirs, who act as spiritual advisers to individual disciples, still exist.
Inside Bibi Baria’s resting place, women sit barefoot on green carpets, raising their hands and crying their woes and wishes, with the refrain, “Ay maeni khudaya!” (Oh, my Lord!) to punctuate their orations. Dozens of multi-coloured threads and ribbons are tied to the door handle, representing the prayers they hope are answered.
If they attain what they seek, then they will have to return, unknot the amulet and offer thanks.
In the recent past, the Alam Sharief (which is preserved in khanqahe moalla of amir e kabeer mir syed ali hamdani srinagar) used to be taken to Chrar Sharief whenever a natural calamity or any disaster would hit Kashmir.
“It was taken from Khan Qahi Muallaa to Charar-i-Sharief by thousands of people on foot. The devotees used to rest only at Kralpora, at the tomb of Bibi Bariya, one of the wives of Mir Muhammad Hamdani,” Syed Aslam says Andrabi.