In Baba’s Nagri

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Every year thousands of Gujjars from all over the state congregate at Baba Nagri near Kangan for the annual Urs of Hazrat Baba Jee Sahib Larwi (RA). Haroon Mirani travels to Baba Nagri.

This summer was cruel for Gujjar nomads caught unawares in the weather fury in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir. The untimely snowfall claimed three human lives, besides thousands of their livestock in the Peer Panchal range.

But that did not dampen the spirits of the community from attending the annual Urs (commemoration) at  the shrine of Hazrat Baba Jee Sahib Larwi (RA) at Baba Nagri in Kangan.

Although the number of visitors at the annual congregation which is one of the biggest in valley, was less than the previous year, but that had more to do with the security hassles and a general strike associated with the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that coincided with the event.

The annual Urs started on June 6 and concluded on June 8 with night long prayers and special prayers on Tuesday. An estimated 60 to 80 thousand people from Poonch, Rajouri, Kathua, Doda, Shopian, Bandipora, Baramulla and other districts, as well as from other parts of the country participated.
Binyamin, 68, from Kalakote Rajouri has been coming to the Baba Nagri shrine from the times he can remember. “I have been coming here from my childhood, come what may,” said Binyamin. “We come in groups or alone, in buses or on foot, but it has to be ensured that we come here.”

Binyamin described his visits as spiritual recharging. “After visiting this holy place my mind and body is soothed. I get spiritual satisfaction,” said Binyamin.

The shrine is situated at the base of a mountain in a scenic setting. Surrounded by still surviving forests, the shrine and its vicinity become the hub of religious and commercial activities during the week every year.

Families arrive in buses, taxis, and private vehicles, as far as UP and Rajasthan. “This year we had limited visitors from outside states like Uttar Pradesh,” said Mohammed Hussain 59 from Poonch. Besides UP, a few pilgrims also arrive from Haryana, Delhi and Pakistan as well.

Children and women in colourful attires and men in bright headgears is a common sight along the road to Baba Nagri during this time.

Before 1990’s people from Pakistan administered Kashmir and Pakistan would also visit in good numbers, but now the situation permits only a few.

As the Urs comes at a time when the nomadic Gujjars are on their annual migration and many carry their livestock along.

“So we come along with our livestock and pay obeisance here for a happy year,” said Binyamin who himself is a nomad. Binyamin spends six months of winter in Kalakote Rajouri and six months of summer in the cooler meadows of Sonamarg.

The Urs dates back to 19th century, with this year being the 118th annual Urs. During these years the enthusiasm has only been growing.

The most problematic time for visitors has been the turbulent 90’s.

“During those times, the army was deployed everywhere with too many security checkpoints,” remembers Mohammed Hussain 59 who hails from Poonch. With militancy at its peak, forests were witness to regular gunfights.

Devotees say the shrine attracts followers across religions. “Baba Jee has not only Muslim followers but lots of Hindus, Sikhs and people from other religions who come here in good numbers,” said Binyamin. “Baba Jee equally belongs to all.” Before 90’s lot of Hindu and Sikh devotees would also come to the shrine, but now the number is very less.

Local population is very cooperative to the visitors. “Tens of thousands of people visit here every year and nobody ever complains of lack of accommodation,” said Alam Din. “Here people offer their houses for the visiting pilgrim irrespective of caste, creed or religion.”
Pilgrims believe their wishes are granted at the shrine. They also tie votives  at the shrine seeking fulfilment of their wishes. “Everybody has something to pray for and here at this holy place people get what they pray for,” said Kalam Din of Rajouri.

Besides Baba Nagri, the Gujjars also visit the shrine of Chrar-i-Sharief during these days in the valley.

The annual Urs also sees emergence of a makeshift market spread over a large area in the vicinity of the shrine. The festival goes on for around a week with traders from every part of the state arriving with their merchandise.

Everything from horse saddles to herbal medicines is available here during these days. But the people say that the excessive commercialisation has taken over the spirit of old times, when locally made things used to flood the market. Millions change hands during these transactions.

The shrine gets lots of donations during the Urs. Besides offering cash, pilgrims also donate cattle, sheep or other livestock, maize, rice, corn, pulses etc.

Over the years new facilities have come up in Baba Nagri for the convenience of visitors.

“Earlier we used to see just mud, there were no transport or other facilities,” said Hussain. “Now thanks to God situation has improved a lot. There are good roads and the vehicles drop us right at the shrine.”

Some pilgrims also complained of hoarding and hiked fares during this period of Urs. “Normally the fare is Rs 500 but at this time the transporters charge upto Rs 900 per passenger from Poonch to Baba Nagri,” said Alam Din.

Din cherished the old days when he used to pay Rs 25 from Poonch to Baba Nagri. “Those who can, pay, and those who can’t travel on foot from Poonch or Rajouri to the shrine,” said Din. “It takes them weeks to arrive.”

The Mian family is the custodian of the shrine and Mian Bashir Ahmad, grandson of Baba Jee is one of the most revered figures among the community.

A big langar (free meal) is also organized on the occasion for days.

Baba Jee, who originally belonged to Kashmir had migrated to Hazara Division of Khyber Pakhtunwa in Pakistan during the late 19th century. He was mentored by another Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizam-ud-Din Wali Kiyanawi (RA). Later he was asked to return to Baba Nagri in Kashmir and preach Islam at the place. He lived and preached here for the next 33 years, and lies buried in the shrine. He was from Naqashbandi legacy.

Baba Jee also wrote some Islamic books including Asrar-e-Kabaree and Malfoozat-e-Nizame on Fiqah and Tasawuf. After Baba Jee’s death his son, Hazrat Mian Nizam-ud-Din carried forward his legacy.

Almost all the pilgrims coming here say that the Mughal Road will bring in revolution for them. “You can’t imagine how Mughal road will change our lives,” said Nazir Hussain of Mendhar. “The journey will become a one day affair as against the three days journey.”
Nazir also feels that the road will free them of the clutches of vested interests. “We have to bribe policemen and authorities and then only they let our buses to march towards Kashmir,” said Nazir. “The Mughal road won’t be under their control.”

Others are sad that government is not keeping up their promise of opening the Mughal road on its stipulated time. “The work on this road is going on very slow and we don’t know when will it be completed,” said Binyamin expressing anguish over the passing of deadline for making Mughal road fit for smaller vehicles this summer.

“If only this road is completed the number of visitors coming here would reach lakhs and it will become a centre of our community,” said Binyamin.

Gujjars also feels that the Mughal Road will be solution to most of their problems. “More connectivity and easy roads will reduce our annual livestock causality,” said Binyamin.

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