Kashmir: Majzoobs’, Mendicants and Lunatics


Kashmir’s traditional kind treatment of people with disordered mental health was a supplicated way of taking care of them. Over the last few centuries, they were deliberately projected as super-human and meta-physical beings who have occult powers to heal and that is where it hits the mass wisdom and logic, writes MJ Aslam

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In Kashmiri, meuat aab is a compound term used in common parlance. A portmanteau word, it comprises of two distinct words, Mo’t and Aab. Mo’t is a Kashmiri word with a Sanskrit root derived from Un’matta connoting one ‘disordered in intellect, distracted, insane, frantic, mad, madman” and Matta‘ excited with joy, overjoyed, delighted, drunk, intoxicated;  excited by passion or desire; furious, mad, insane’. (See, Sir Monier Williams) Aab is a Persian word which means water. The term Ma’t i Aab means ‘maddening water’, the water of some source that makes the drinker mad.

In its broader sense, however, the term denotes the social condition of a country or a community in which all its members act like madmen, pagal. It also refers to the ‘condition of anarchy or tyranny and wickedness in which the government officials and the inhabitants of a country all act like madmen”. (See, Grierson)

Every society has people disordered in intellect. In Kashmir, Moat and Maetch denote these men and women. Unlike the rest of the world, however, Kashmir devoutly places the Moat on a slightly super-human ladder.

Living Language

In Kashmiri, there are several phrasal nouns in which Moat is used in figurative sense. It is a routine used for various men and women, not necessarily lunatic in the strict sense of the term: Khin i Moat, one who is habitually snivelling with profusely runny-nose; Posh i Moat, fancier of flowers; Aish i Moat or Mazeh Moat, a ravishing character, enjoying his life, in disregard of his responsibilities; Gon i Moat, who always composes and sings poetry in seclusion; Wan e Moat, who always sleeps in corner of a desolate shop; Nindireh Moat, who loves to sleep too much; Jandeh Moat, one wearing ragged clothes; Giseh Moat, ‘madman who rolls in filth and covers himself with it’.

There are words for lovelorn too:  Lolehi Moat, mad in love with intense affection; Mareh Moat, an ardent lover, beloved, used in poetic genres; and Zaneh Mot who is excessive-mad for his wife. It is often used as a taunt to a man deeply loving and caring about his wife, an uxorious. (See, Kashmiri Lexicons)

The Kashmiri language has too many idioms related to these people. Haseh Matin Wasamat, means Haseh Mo’t’s property. Moat were only anxious about their food viz, Ma’tis Cheh Batini Wir, a madman was only worried about his dinner and feeding them was believed to be protection against misfortune like Matinin Huind Dhup Chui Balayin Thup.

Traditionally, they were considered ‘sinless’ innocuous commoners whose words and prayers were thought to be good. (Knowles) Till the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Kashmiris treated them with kindness as if they were harmless. Off late, however, they started to be considered at par with people with occult powers and spirituality, something which is saintly.

In Hagiographies

In Kashmir’s Persian historiographies, a lot of space has been given to long lists of Majzoobs and Qalandars who lived, according to them, in every mohalla and village. They have been projected side by side with Shariah-abiding revered Sufi saints and mystics whose pious lives and services for the propagation of Islam are beyond an iota of doubt, writes leading Persian and Urdu authority, Prof Sharief Hussain Qasmi, erstwhile head of the Persian Department at the Delhi University. Some of these majzoobs were famed for ‘abusive language’, which Kashmiri hagiographers considered a karamat.

The mendicants were given prominent space in the common discourses so much so that even ‘educated’ people venerate these ‘self-unaware’ people, placing them under ‘super-natural’ beings.

Kashmiris’ Persian Tazkiras of the early modern times, while dealing with the lives of selfless shariah-abiding saints, have incorporated also long lists of mendicants with enormous legendary tales invented and assigned to them. Some Tazkiras have written fabulous stories that ‘death’ was subject to the will of some mendicant and that they had the ‘power’ to ‘appear and disappear physically at a place even after they were dead’ and that their ‘corpses’ vanished in thin air? The fault lies not with these mendicants but with normal men who act and think abnormally. Myth is not destroyed by counter-myth. Myths die on the altar of facts.

Medieval Kashmir mystic Ruma Reshi’s cave is located at Rahmoo in Pulwama.

Strangely, “historians” of Kashmir have recorded the superstitious practices in their chronicles. Khwaja Muhammad Azam Kaul Didamari (d 1765) has detailed a mendicant, Baba Yousuf Darood. Once in Srinagar when a fire broke out in the mendicant’s mohalla, he is said to have walked up to the roof of his house, pulled up his shirt and began urinating toward the flames. The mendicant’s act of spraying-urination extinguished the fire flames from all those sides which faced it.

Writing about “extreme of superstitions”, Prof Sharif writes: “Now what to comment on this kind of “karamat” and what kind of message the “historian” has tried to convey by writing this kind of thing in a history book”.


Finding these “disoriented” people as part of the formal life, various rulers even opted for their headcount.

Quoting Dr Rai Bahadur Mitra, State Minister of Health, in his Valley of Kashmir, Walter Lawrence in 1892-93, wrote that there were 250 lunatics (Moat) in Srinagar who were “chiefly Hindus” and, from his personal experiences, Lawrence added that lunatics were ‘common’ in all villages, ‘well treated’ like “the Swiss regard the cretins’. He categorised Moat’s into three groups: Those who were ‘lunatics from their birth’ (Pedaishi); those who had ‘gone mad from the excessive use of charas’ (Nashe kay Adi) and those who had ‘lost their senses through some calamity’ (Musibat).

The 1901 Census of the British Indian suggested the ‘common cause of insanity amongst certain classes of religious mendicants’ like Sadhus was ‘much addicted’ to the use of charas. The highest number of madmen lived in Burma (later Myanmar, which was British India province till 1937).

A famous Kashmir photograph by German photographer Henri Cartier was taken in 1948 from the slopes of the Hari Parbat hill

It seems unbelievable that the next in order of lunacy under the 1901 Census was Kashmir where 18 per cent of the lunatic persons were under 10 years of age compared with an average of seven per cent, in India’. The Census emphasised the high inclusion of madmen of Kashmir was ‘clearly due to the more general inclusion of cretinism’. Apparently, the Kashmiris seem to have been more conscious more than a century ago about what the Moat stands for. That is why the census included them in the list of madmen including stupid and foolish people of Kashmir. The subsequent census in 1921 reported ‘a fairly large number of women mendicants seen in the streets in Kashmir’.

The Valley of Saints

This popular culture is the bedrock for Kashmir’s popular identity as Pir i Ver or Rish i Ver, the ‘abode of mystics’ which included, besides the saints, all kinds of mendicants, from the ‘ice-age’ mythical character of Kashyab Reshi. A utopian dream, prima facie, the idea borders on the Brahmanical theory of Satyayuga or Kkritayuga, the ‘age of truth’ which was darkened by modern ‘Kalyuga’, the ‘age of darkness’.

Being humane, peace-loving and kind, are noble ideals, but the theory was sold to the masses as a part of larger political craft by the politicians supported by ‘some clergy’ and surrogate writers for their personal interests. It came to be consciously asserted from the second half of the last century by some clergy and writers that Kashmir was an alcove where only ‘mystics’ lived right from the beginning, negating thereby the role of mundane human affairs of daily life. This was taken to new heights by the official broadcasters, the Radio and the TV, later.

This led Kashmiris to be seen as a society ravishing in the idealistic world of self-appeasing ideas, largely ignorant about the history and underlying nuances of the politically oriented narratives. The terminology was ostensible. Some say that it was a dangerous trend in which unfortunately “revered sainthood” of Muslims was consciously and inseparably intermixed with the “sanctimony” of some madmen. Some Meateh came to be canonised by the ruling elite. Mysticism got intertwined with superstitions.

This resulted in Kashmiri’s perception of “sainthood” became obviously subjective. The half-naked, mentally challenged people, and even some charsis, came to be ‘revered’ as “saints”, which was apparently in contempt to the great saints and mystics of Islam in Kashmir. It was the result of misappropriating history and sainthood.

An 1870 photograph showing Faqir’s photographed in a Mansbal cave.

Course Correction

Lawrence had alerted Kashmiris about the dangers of Tuhamparasti, superstition. He wrote about marvellous tales being told during the 1894 floods in Sind and Jhelum of Kashmir when the floods caused havoc in the North Kashmir areas. The people were heard saying to each other that the rice fields of Tullamulla and the bridge of Sumbal were saved by the presence of the flags that were taken by the residents from the shrines as ‘a last resort’.

Then, people were largely socio-economically and educationally backward. Even more than a century later, Kashmir is still encountering the Ma’t i Aab. In September 2014, a ferocious flood devastated Kashmir. “I vividly remember, while we were watching the river in fury, someone whispered (?) that some Faqir in a boat will oar through river. After sometime, a big boat oared by several boatmen with a familiar majzoob of our locality sitting in its middle appeared in the river in a spate – the boat moved down the stream. Many said the boat will stop at Veer only,” a column that appeared in Greater Kashmir wrote on September 7, 2014. “The name of the majzoob has etherized from my memory (?) …… I do not remember if it was Lassa Bab, Nabar Mout, or Habba Mout ….. famous majzoobs during our childhood”.

Please note, the columnist first writes that he has forgotten the name of majzoob and then in the same line, he invokes names of the majzoobs of his locality who were, to note, dead decades before the floods of 2014. What a fantasy!

The ‘columnist’ continued, ” People also whispered that at Habba Kadal’s Nanda Mout, a Pandit sage often dressed in a suit, necktie, and a hat was going to repeat the performance”. The eccentric Nanda Mout born in 1900 was already dead years before. “People overwhelmingly believed that the prayers of these majzoobs”, whom the columnist fancied in boats on flood waters of Jhelum,  “will be granted and the level of waters will start receding as soon as they come out of the boat…..”. A week later, when Srinagar was inundated, no sage was around.

Superstition and Majzoobparasti, Prof GR Malik wrote in Greater Kashmir on October 3, 2014, is “shirk, the most heinous of all crimes…….(which is) being institutionalised by visible hands and invisible forces in the name of Islam to hoodwink the simple masses”. In his Kashmir Flames, Khawja Sanaullah Bhat, the editor of Aftab has written that in Kashmir “an ideal situation for political leaders, preachers and priests who always reaped the harvest” was “blind followership of priests (which) has been the way of life through generations and even the prominent men could not remain free from its influence”.

Even Kalhana has not kept hidden his contempt and ridicule for ignorance and exploitation by Brahman priests, Go’r and  Purohit’s who held greater influence at Hindu shrines and yatras, and also on Kashmir’s Hindu rulers.

Rich Traditions

In the midst of thick clouds of obscurant pirs, dervishes and mendicants, Kashmir has also produced genuine Islamic scholars who were disillusioned with the practices encouraged by the clergy to meet personal ends. Mullah Hussain Khabbaz (d March 22, 1642), a renowned Sufi scholar of Naqssbandi Order and reformist; Mullah Hamidullah Shahabadi (1783-1848 AD), resident of Novbug Nai, Banihal, a satirist, and Mulla Nizamuddin Nizam Furahi (d December 29, 1845 AD) of Srinagar, through their Persian texts and  Maqbool Shah Kralwari (1820-1877), a renowned Kashmiri Sufi poet of the nineteenth century, through Kashur Masnavi”, Peer Nama, raised their concern and voice against the growing Majzoob-Parast , Ma’t i culture, in Kashmir. These works did not receive the attention of the ruling elite as it did not suit their political narrative.

Sheikh’s Critique

Maleh Diyouthm Manch Khivaan,
Hakas Dapaan Yi Chui Kach,
Bakur Khivaan, Dakur Travan,
Mashide Dapan Ati Chu Yech.

(I saw a Malla eating honey, who termed Haakh, the most common vegetable in Kashmir as weed, grass, and a useless thing. The Malla enjoyed eating fresh mutton and belching later but when there was Azaan, the call for prayer, he would tell people saying there is Yetch, a mythical creature that is short of jinn and demon.)

Sheikh Noor ud Din was a vehement critic of Mullas of his time. Their Nafas-Parasti, deep-seated malice against others, ignorance of faith, the sole aim of personal benefits and Shikamkhuri, misleading the common masses, were common occurrences in the mystic Sheikh’s time which has found mentioned in his poetry, Shruik.

A Gradual Upgrade

There were many mendicants named  Sona Mout, Gule Mout, Lasse Mout, Thani Mout, Nabe Mout, Khabli Mout, Kraleh Mout and others in the second half of the last century in Kashmir who being “unaware” of themselves. How could they tell commoners flocking them neither to follow them nor to do mad acts. So the Mat i Aab continued.

Previously, names of the famous mystics were prefixed by the word Baba, principally by Muslims, such as Haji Baba, Baba Reshi, Baba Shukuruddin, Baba Payamuddin, Baba Zainudin; and even by Hindus for their ‘religious ascetics’.  Even Sheikh Abdullah was called Bab by his followers.

Now Mout has been substituted by Bab like Lassa Bab, Ahad Bab, Sule Bab, and Gaffar Bab, by the people. Pandits also affix the word Bab with their Ma’t like Nande Bab.

It indicates terminology of Bab was changed from political leaders to majzoobs. Bab is a title of respect used for elderly men in Kashmir. Fundamentally, with Persio-Arabic root, Bab has been derived from the words Aba and Baba, which means father, or grandpa.

Some of these Babs usually hurl abuses and insults and even beat their faithful visitors with sticks. Such behaviours by mendicants have an old tradition in Kashmir. Tufan Shah of Srinagar, for instance, was known for bombarding his visitors with abuses (Galiyan). Recently, the so-called Lasse Bab of Chogal Handwara axed a devoted woman follower to death. It looks quite funny that the people thronging the residence of Lassa, besides paying tributes to his relatives at his residence, also had deposited their axes for his blessings.

In the nineteenth century, it is worth mentioning here, that Shainkar was an old Pandit, a Brahman of the Dhar family, who lived at Chata Kadal, Srinagar. It was the time when poverty, illiteracy and other socio-cultural backwardness were at its peak. He possessed an old axe with which he treated people for their ailments. He moved the axe from head to toe on a patient, murmuring mantras, and under Brahman’s belief, the patient was healed. Sometimes if he was unwell or the weather was inclement, he would send the axe with someone from his family to the patient for moving it on his body.

Shainkrin Makuz was considered bad as it was a symbol of bizarre kind of treatment under superstitious beliefs. Kashmiri proverb Shainkrin Makuz, Na Galan, Na Badan is associated with his ‘treatment’. Literally, it means Shainker’s axe neither wears away nor melts. It remains as it is.

Sir Walter Lawrence

Rooted In History

Lawrence wrote there were 1254 mendicants, in his time, who mostly came from villages to Srinagar for ‘begging’. Long before the dawn of Islam, there was mention of ‘low caste’ and ‘religious’ mendicants in Kashmir immediately before the White Huns time (6th century AD), when Buddhism still dominated the land. Their origin comes from the Shaivite cult of the land. (Grierson, Sanderson)

These madmen whose “articles of fashionable dress were ashes of burnt cow dung” and who had “matted locks of hair”, were “favourites and companions of” Arya Raja, whose date is not known in history, wrote Prof Wilson, the first Sanskrit Professor at Oxford.

Interestingly, Maetch, mad-woman, is also associated with the name of Lalla Yogishwari or Lal e Ded (d 1392 AD) who was ‘unknown’ to Sanskrit Pandit chroniclers from Pandit Jonaraja (1459) to Pandit Suka (1586), nearest to her time, but was discovered and introduced first time by Mulla Ali Raina in his ‘undated’ Persian hagiography, Tazkiratul Arifin, presumed to be of 1587 AD which leaves a historical gap of two hundred years in between.

Her Vaakhs too were in ‘oral tradition’ before they were compiled in writing first time in the first quarter of the last century after five hundred years. Pandit scholars like Raina, Parmu, and others, write that “she tore her clothes and moved about alone or in the company of Sadhus, as carelessly dressed as they. She came to be known as Lal Ma’itch, (mad Lala)”.

 In the twelfth century of Pandit Kalhana ‘mendicants’ lived in Kashmir, which shows that from early times and then after the arrival of Islam, the mendicants which included later malangs, qalandars, nangas, mastanas as well, who wandered from place to place, barefooted like Buddhist Bikhshus, Jain monks and Brahman Sadhus, attracted the attention of the masses, even though they had undergone socio-spiritual transformation from Hinduism to Islam.

M J Aslam

As yet, the common masses retained old attachments with mendicants; writes late Prof Margoob Banihali. Among several categories of mendicants (which included Fuqra , Masakeen, paupers and dervishes), he writes, there were many saidmakaras and faraibkaras or pakhandis, religious hypocrites who hypocritically wore the dress or sectarian marks of a religious mendicant, with assumed piety, to deceive the people. Whether they followed the fundamental Islam or not, was least the concern of the common masses who did them Lol e Mat e Lai, (Kashur Encyclopaedia, V: I, 282), that is, a great affection was shown by public fondling and caressing the hands and dresses.

About fake-mendicants, a Kashmiri is saying, Mot Lagith Sale Bate Khivan, under the pretence of mendicancy, one enjoying a great feast.


Ignorance of one generation cherished and passed on to the next generation becomes tradition, and for future generations, it is then the article of faith. Deep reading is the key to unlocking the compartment of understanding and breaking the necklace of ignorance.

(The author is a Kashmir historian.)


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