Some 42 kilometers from Srinagar, a remote hill hamlet has become a major devotional attraction for people of Kashmir. Legend has it that the local crowd-pulling cave is related to Kashmir’s legendary saint. If true, it might help understand the deep-seated cave mystery in Kashmir.
By Sadaf Shabir, Mashkoora Khan
Perched on a Budgam highland, Kanuera comes across as an untarnished, postcard hamlet. Otherwise sleepy and serene, this countryside zone is witnessing hundreds of devotees these days. Faithful from every nook and corner of the valley arrive here, to see the cave of the revered sufi saint Sheikh ul Alam aka Nund Reshi.
As patron saint of Kashmiris, Nund Reshi founded the Rishi order of saints in Kashmir. He deeply influenced many great mystics of Kashmir, like Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom, Resh Mir Sàeb, Shamas Faqir, among others.
But despite his shrine and final resting place lying in Chrar-e-Sharief town, the legendary saint—famous for predicting the times ahead of him through his mystic verses—is now creating a buzz in a different part of Budgam.
Kanuera’s hilly and woody landscape makes it an ideal meditative spot for mystics like Nund Reshi. To seek higher spiritual powers, many people in past would isolate themselves and meditate inside caves atop mountains or deep inside jungles — like the one at Kanuera.
Nestled in dense forests, some 22 kilometres from the district headquarters, the cave is frequented by devotees who travel by foot from the neighbouring Dreygam Kashipora village. Absence of transport facilities still makes it a primeval place.
But the cave mystery deepens here due to the absence of fact-finding exercise. As nobody knows much about the fabled cave — its length, origin and historical significance, it’s now mainly being explained through legends. That the cave leads to Chrar-e-Sharief is the widely-believed legend.
Some other legends even trace its winding and secret route all the way to Madina!
Such claims, however, appear far-fetched. They’ve, apparently, become part of oral legends, on style of the lately busted Russian myth associated with the Kalaros caves.
But while only a fact-finding exercise will unearth its reality, as of now, the cave has become a new relic in Kashmir, amid the mounting footfall at Kanuera.
“From last two years, several people have been coming here on daily basis and during special occasions to pay their obeisance at the cave,” said Syed Afzal, a cave warden employed by Floriculture Department, currently guarding the site. “Even schools in neighbouring villagers bring children here to make them aware about the cave and its legends.”
Undoubtedly, the grandeur of Nund Reshi is so high in the neighbouring villages that the kids of Draygam will leave you astonished by narrating tales of the cave miracles. But absence of security is only tarnishing this revered piece of marvel.
After one of its gates was stolen, the cave has now become den of druggists and drunkards. “We’ve found many alcohol bottles inside the cave,” said Gulam Mohideen Bhat, a local poet. “It’s a high time Archaeology Department take it under their custody and save this pious place from further erosion.”
In past, however, some attempts were made to safeguard it and end its obscurity. Some people even undertook a cave trip to measure its length. “But they had to return from halfway after running short of supplies,” said Gulam Ahmad Beigh, the caretaker of Draygam shrine.
The oldest and the most popular priest of the region has, however, an entirely different cave tale to tell.
At 98, Ahmad Shah wore teary eyes to recall “his” Nund Reshi’s cave connection.
After his Draygam visit, Nund Reshi was invited by a local Sangram Sahib to his home, Shah narrated the legend, as passed to him by his forefathers.
“So he lived there for around 12 years,” Shah said, “before Sangram Sahib’s wife asked him to leave.”
The saint collected his belongings and left towards the big river which divides Draygam and Kanuera village. “He planted a tree on the bank of the river, which is still located there despite of so many floods,” Shah said.
But as the news of Nund Reshi’s leaving spread in town, people rushed to stop him.
“They thought it would be impossible for him to cross the lofty mountain,” the priest said. “But Nund Reshi dashed his walking stick on the mountain and a cave was formed. As he began crossing the mountain, the villagers begged him to stay back. He promised to visit Draygam on Monday and Thursday.”
Even today, people of Draygam don’t arrange marriage ceremonies on these two days, as they consider it as “bad luck”.
But while legends like these only make the cave as part of some fabled folklore, many historians we tried to contact had no clue about its existence.
Meanwhile, as faithful continues to frequent Kanuera, the cave has now become Nund Reshi’s another address in Kashmir. But with reverence, the cave also demands some research, for unravelling its mystery.