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An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Nunda Reshi

"Subdue the five senses to attain the supreme Siva"

J. N. Ganhar
Koshur Samachar

SHEIKH NUR-UD-DIN, endearingly and in veneration called Nunda Rishi, has left an indelible mark on the thinking and culture of all Kashmiris. The great sage was one of the twin stars of medieval Kashmir along with Lalleshwari (Lal Ded) with whom he shared the intensity of mystic experience whose profundity remains unrivalled to this day.

Sheikh-Nur-ud-Din lived from 1378 to 1438 AD. His 600th anniversary celebrations understandably led to a welcome revival of interest in all that he said and stood for. Much useful light has already been shed on some hitheno little known facts of his life and work. But, in the absence of any contemporary records about him, there remain cenain important questions to which correct answers must be found to enable a balanced appraisal of his marvellous achievement which has left such a deep impress on the people of Kashmir and their behaviour and thinking. It is proposed to refer to some of these here in the hope that scholars and researchers, who have made this branch of investigation their chosen field, may address themselves to the task of finding answers to them.

Crucial Period

Nunda Riyosh lived in one of the most crucial periods of Kashmir's long and chequered history. But beyond a solitary line in a chronicle of his time, we have no contemporary record about his life or wadc. Cenain details in this behalf have come down to us in various Rishinamas or Nurnamas. But these, as Amin Kamil, an eminent poet and critic, points out, greatly differ from one another. In the profusion of miracles and magical deeds ascribed to him, some important details about his life and work have dropped out. And in the words of the eminent poet and literary historian, the late Abdul Ahad Azad, "greater reliance has been placed in them on imagination than on historical facts."His verses and Verse-sayings, known as Shruks in Sanskrit and what they regarded as Pandits' language, have been competely left out by authors of Rishinamas and Nurnamas, because they were beyond their comprehension.

Mixing of Facts

The first Rishinama or Nurnama that has come down to us was written about 200 years after his passing away. Inevitably, there has been a lot of mixing of facts and fresh light needs to be shed on many "unclear" events and episodes in the story of his life and the cobwebs that have gathered around many others need to be cleared.

Take, for instance, his name itself. His is the rare example of a person who is known by a number of names - Nunda Riyosh or Nund Rishi, Sheikh Nur-ud-Din and Sahazanand. The great Sheikh's spiritual eminence and moral rectitude have also justly won him the designation of Sheikh-ul-Alam from his compatriots, and even his one-time opponents ultimately felt constrained to acknowledge him as "The Light of the Faith" or Nur-ud-Din. But was he named as such, i.e. as Nur- ud-Din, at his birth, or did he come to be so known only after Mir Mohammad Hamadani, son of the great Mir Syed Ali Mamadani, recognised him as such?

In this connection it might at once be pointed out that the contemporary chronicler, Jonaraja, refers to him as Mala Nurdin, "the chiefest guru of Muslims". But the saint-poet always refers to himself only as Nanda. And this is the name by which he has most commonly been known till today. Could it be that Nurdin was an appellation conferred upon him later by vinue of his spiritual eminence?

Nund Rishi's parents were named Salar Sanz and Sadra Maji. While there is some difference of opinion about his father's name, Sadra is clearly derived from Samhdra Ha two sons, prior, to her marriage with Salar Sanz, bore the non-Muslim names of Shush and aandur. Was Sahazanand also born before her marriage. The Sheikh's wife 'Zai Ded' also bore a clearly Hindu name. She too might have been a Hindu originally.

Closest Disciples

Of the sage's four closest disciples two appear to have borne Hindu names originally, Baba Bam- ud-Din (Bhuma Saad or Sahi) and Baba Zain-ud- Din (Ziya Singh or Jaya Singh). Similarly, of the rishis mentioned by him before his time, two at least, Zankar and Palasman, might well be the illustrious Janaka and Palastaya.

There has been a galaxy of Muslim saints and sages and some great ones among them commanded the respect and allegiance of vast numbers of Hindus also. But they have notbeen known by Hindu names among their non-Muslim followers. Sheikh Nur-ud-Din alone enjoyed this rare distinction.

According to the known facts of his life, the sage started life normally; he married and had two issues. But what he saw going on around him made him intensely sad, and he lost interest in life as normally lived. So he took to caves and solitary places for severe penance and meditation. According to Dr. Sufi, "he felt disgusted with the ways of the world, and deciding upon renunciation, retired to caves for meditation at the age of thirty", and "lived for twelve years in wilderness." In his last days, Dr. Sufi adds, the saint sustained life on a cup of milk a day. Finally, he goes on to add, the sage "reduced himself to water alone."


Dr. Sufi quotes Baba Daud Khaki for the statement: "In addition to leading a retired life, he was one of those who continually fasted". Like the pious among the Hindus, "he had given up eating flesh, onions, milk and honey for many years," i.e., he had given up all animal food besides onions, as has been the wont with the Hindu saints and sages. Elsewhere, the eminent histarion remarks in passing that "Islam does not countenance the enervating type of Tasawwuf which Iqbal too condemned in the first edition of Asrar-i-Khudi..."

Of Yasman Rishi, at whose hands Nund Rishi's parents are stated to have been converted to Islam, Dr. Sufi has this to say: "He travelled far and wide. Later, he lived mastly in forests. His daily food was a cup of wild goat's milk...." Significantly, no one is mentioned in connection with the initiation of Sheikh Nur-ud-Din.

Kashmir witnessed the worst type of religious persecution in the time of Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413 A.D.) and his successor, Ali. Under the influence of outsiders and at the instigation of his minister, Suha Bhat, who had renounced the ancestral faith, the king, accarding to Jonaraja, "took delight, day and night, in breaking the sacred images" and temples. The Sheikh lived during this period when the very identity, the Kashmirian-ness of Kashmir, if one may use that expression, was at stake and in danger of being destroyed. Imbued as he was with the glarious traditions of his motherland, Sheikh Nur-ud-Din could not but be very unhappy about it.

One God

God is one, all religions are in their ultimate essence one. What is needed is a life of piety and purity, no matter what faith one follows. The prolonged course of penance and meditation, upon which he embarked, had convinced him, apart from his spiritual attainments, of the truth of this fundamental basis of a good life and this also provided a solution to the riddle of his time. He seems to have realised that Kashmiris' precious heritage, so dear to him, which was sought to be destroyed by outsiders, could be saved only by a happy "marriage" of the best in the old and the new, in the union of the Hindus and the Muslims into a common brotherhood, in their co-existence and cooperation and not in confrontation. That is why he again calls upon the people, especially those who came from outside and the zealots among the new converts, to live together in unison, so that God Himself would rejoice. He called upon them to subdue the five senses, and get over the evils of Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha and Ahankara to achieve the highest to make union with Shiva (as he puts it) reminding them that mere lowering of the fleshy body would not save them. He calls upon the people not to go to priests and Mullahs, not to shut themselves up in places of worship or forests but "to enter thine own body with breath controlled, in communion with God".

Again and again he stresses the need for unity among Hindus and Muslims; God Himself would rejoice, he adds, if this happy consummation came about. It was for views such as these that Sheikh- ul-Alam came to be designated Alamdar or standard-bearer of Kashmir.

But enlightened views such as the faregoing could not endear him to the outsiders most of whom were interested in getting hegemony over this beautiful land and possession of the Kashmiri grandees' estates and properties. We know it from the contemporary historian, Janaraja, that Mala Nurdin, as he calls him, was imprisoned and put under restraint during Ali Shah's time. And Amin Kamil tells us how the Rishinamas reveal that outsiders were opposed to him and harassed him in many ways. But little daunted, he pursued his enlightened course, as though to justify his title to being called Alamdar of Kashmir and all that it had stood for at its best.


The Sheikh's spirtual eminence and his humanistic philosophy made him the idol of the people of Kashmir. They flocked to him and some of them modelled their very lives on his pattern. These latter who came to be known as Rishis, after him, were of great help and assistance to him in the stupendous task that he had undertaken.

Rishis were by no means new to Kashmir. Rishis and Munis had been known among the Hindus from hoaly andquity. Kalhana mentions some well-known Rishis like Vishwamitra, Vasishta and Agastya in his Rajatarangini. He describes a Rishi as "a treasure of asceticism". The term Rishi should by no means have been uncommon in our saint's time also. In fact, he describes the person at whose hands his parents received the Islamic faith as a Rishi.


But the Rishis of those days, though they commanded the respect of their fellow-beings and outsiders for their simplicity, spirit of service and self-abnegation, were not rated high in the matter of knowledge of the Islamic faith. Jehangir, for example, says in his Memoirs: 'Though they have no religious knowledge of learning or any sort, yet they possess simplicity and are without pretence....'

In organising the new Order, Nund Rishi had before him the example of the Buddhist Sangha, which for centuries before the advent of Islam had been such a prominent feature of the religious and socio-cultural landscape of the Valley. And like Buddhist monks, the Rishis also did not many; nor did they eat flesh. Like them again, they would not revile those not of their faith, and lived simple, frugal lives and tried to be a source of benefit to the community at large. For this reason, the "Brotherhood of Rishis" may well be considered to be a descendant of the Buddhist Sangha or a Buddhist Order of Monks.

In this connection, a most interesting fact that has come to light is recorded in Baba Khalil's Rishinama. In this work the author has ascribed a 2,500 verse Sanskrit work, Buddha Charita, to Nund Rishi. According to Baba Khalil, the work was composed by him on his re-emergence from a 12-year sojourn in a cave at Kaimoh on the ninth of Chaitra, a very sacred day in the Hindu calendar, both in Kashmir and the rest of India.

Wrong Assessment

Since Baba Khalil was not conversant with Sanskrit, he has not been able to correctly assess the nature of the work or what it actually was. In truth it must have been the well-known Buddhist work, Buddha Charita, which the Kashmiri savant kept with himself in his seclusion. And when, after he had found answers to the riddles and questions that had made him resort to severe penance and meditation in a cave, he re-emerged into the work- a-day world, the great work on the Buddha's life and philosophy was with him. In this connection it is interesting to note that another great work, Yoga-Vasishta, was the solace of Sultan Zain-ul- Abidin (Bud Shah), the noblest ruler that Kashmir has ever known, in the closing embittered years of his life.


Saints and Sages

Nund Reshi


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