The disputed legacy of Madin Sahib

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One of the Budshah-era heritage marvels of Kashmir is out of public reach since 2002 when competing cries for its custodianship sparked off tensions. 17 years later, locked-down Madin sahib shrine is still caught in sectarian loggerheadedness.

By Sadaf Shabir, Mashkoora Khan

Beyond the enchanting trappings of Old City—dotted with its fading and frequently-restricted medieval bazaars and bustling life, a heritage signpost lies shut with a rusting padlock dangling on its entrance. In this hushed neighbourhood of Srinagar’s Zadibal area, the 600-year-old monument has been left out-of-the-way for public since 2002. In the heart of its dispute, lies the sectarian tug-of-war.

But if there’s one phrase that defines the present plight of the shut shrine, with its rundown walls and mossy-grassy appearance, it would be lost in legends.

Some revere the sacred sanctorum for its miraculous powerhouse credence, with special mention of the staggering event of eighties when the “shrine walls dripped blood”. It was a sign of bloody times ahead, many reckon, as the fag-end of that decade saw armed uprising erupting in Kashmir and facing a ruthless military offensive in retaliation.

Many locals, however, term such ‘supernatural’ attributes of the shrine as an Irish bull, “to claim the custody of the shrine”.

It’s this perceptive battle which has been locking down Madin Sahib Shrine, one of the most historic monuments of Kashmir, from 17 years now.

Entrance of Madin Sahib.

Built by Kashmir’s benevolent king Zain-ul-Abideen in 1448, the shrine was named after Syed Mohammad Madani, Budshah’s teacher. Popularly known as Madin Saeb, Syed Madani is buried to the left of the shrine.

For centuries, the monument attracted natives, sightseers, travellers and tourists. Its unique architecture was even praised by foreign writers in their books and travelogues. But a communal dispute on custodianship of this shrine between the local Shias and Sunnis got it locked for public in 2002.

“I’m witness of miracles of the shrine,” claimed Sajad Ahmad Naqash, member of Mohalla Committee Zadibal. “In today’s era, people have little or no faith on such things.”

This ‘miracle theory’, said a local, is responsible for creating the shrine dispute.

“No miracle ever happened in the shrine,” said Bilal Bhat, a local Sunni. “It was all planned by some people to get the ownership of the shrine. So in order to thwart their designs, we went to Divisional Commissioner and told him to give its custody to Archaeology Department. Since then, it’s locked down and under their protection.”

Tensions first erupted during 2002 Muharram—when the flag on the shrine tomb started changing its colour, Sajad Naqash added. “We tried to hide it initially, but Sunnis blamed Shias for creating the scene for getting custody of the monument. It led to sectarian clashes in the area.” Later, the flag was removed from the shrine.

The 2002 clashes were reportedly third of its kind in more than 100 years.

In an article titled ‘Why is Madin Sahib locked?’, Vinayak Razdan, a Kashmiri Pandit writer, says that on 19 September 1872, on the Urs (death anniversary) of Madin Sahib, a wave of violence was unleashed over the claims of ownership of the place that lasted about three days.

“In the madness, the ancient monument was damaged in a fire that raged all over Zadibal,” Razdan claims. “The violence of 1872 is recorded in a report published in a Munich-based paper, where it is titled ‘The Grauel in Kashmir’ (The horror in Kashmir).”

Old image of Madin Sahib.

With its locked down status now, researchers and reporters aren’t able to undertake new documentation works about the monument. For locals, however, the shrine remains a fading signpost of nostalgia.

“I still remember how I would find a solace in the shrine when I used to go and recite holy Quran there as a schoolboy,” said Raashid Maqbool, a well-known editor/professor, who lives nearby the shrine. “Both the sects used to offer Namaz individually in absolute communal harmony.”

Prof. Maqbool described the “changing colour” of the flag during 2002 Muharram as a mischief of two local Shia boys, who pointed a razor light on it, in a bid to incite violence between the two sects.

“Later those boys were beaten by locals and were handed over to police,” he said. “After that incident, Sunnis decided to offer Friday congregational prayers inside the shrine, but Shias didn’t allow them. With the result, massive clashes broke out in the area. Later, the shrine was handed over to Archaeology Department.”

However, before the dispute, both the community members would together take care of the shrine. “I know how one Ghulam Hassan Khan from Shia community and Ghulam Mohammad Khan from Sunni community would together act as caretakers of the shrine,” said Fayaz Bhat, a local in his late fifties. “We used to celebrate Urs on 11 Rajab every year. But now, I don’t think the shrine will be reopened for public ever again.”

And this is where, many believe, the heritage marvel will eventually fade away from Kashmir’s collective memory, until, some sanity prevails and breaks its padlock, to restore what Prof. Maqbool called the “solace” of the good old days.

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