It is real magic for some, superstition for others, and irreligious for many. But a number of people in Kashmir believe in sorcery and many visit Pirs to get rid of ‘evil’ or to entangle their foes in it. Hamidullah Dar reports.
Perched in the middle of Devsar Karewa in Kulgam amid a thick canopy of trees is the house of Pir Liaqat (name changed). He claims to have occult powers. And there is no dearth of those who believe him. Squatting on a woollen rug printed with circles and triangles, he is attended by a score of people sitting in a semi-circle in front of him. They are seated just far enough to avoid overhearing the conversation between the Pir and the talisman seeker.
Liaqat talks in a low tone – almost a whisper, with wrinkles appearing occasionally on his face while listening to a seeker. Then he starts writing amulets – on eggs, wooden pieces, chicken legs and other unusual things. The ink in the pen is black or red. The red one appears to be blood. A man in the audience confirmed it was blood.
There are many things people seeking help for their woes or wishing others harm are advised to bring along so that the Pir either by chanting or writing some incoherent words over it invokes occult powers to meet the motives of the seeker. These could be anything such as hair, bones, feathers, blood, nails, copper shreds, fish, and uncut hearts of sheep.
Telling about his experience of such Pirs, Abdul Majid Dar of Muniwar village in Islamabad district says, “I once went to Pir Liaqat and told him that I have a friend who has achieved many successes. I wish him a downfall. Listening to my words, his eyes glistened in a murderous way. ‘What do you want to be done to him? Accident, incurable disease, disrepute…’ For a moment I was dumbfounded and could not believe that such things could be wished for and got done also. I left his house never to visit again.”
Sorcery or witchcraft has been practiced throughout the world for a long time and so is the case in Kashmir. There are many people in the valley, who practice sorcery or witchcraft and claim to solve peoples’ problems by writing amulets for them. In local parlance, they are called Pir’s. People, mostly superstitious, seek supernatural help for their real or perceived misfortunes. And they are usually willing to do anything, they are told by these people practising witchcraft.
Many people suffering from different ailments, failures in business, studies or other endeavours blame witchcraft or the occult for their woes.
Suffering from bouts of hysteria for the last two years 25-year-old Shazia (name changed) from Akhran village in Kulgam district says that some ill-intentioned person has cast a spell on her. “I do not understand what happens to me when this disease (hysteria) strikes me. I consulted psychiatrists and other doctors besides getting a lot of tests done but nothing could be found. Then I went to Pirs but to no use. I am ruined as I was living a good life with a caring husband and a lovely son,” she says bursting into tears.
Not only do the commoners blame occultism for their miseries, but even well-read people accept its ill effects. “I am the only doctor in my village. However, some people set after me with ill designs and used occultism to trouble me,” says Dr Tariq(name changed), who works at SMHS Hospital Srinagar.
But when does a person know that he is being troubled by occult powers? Tariq relates his ‘experiences’: “Strange things would happen to me. I would be driving and the car would stop abruptly. Even good mechanics would not find any snag. Despite no apparent cause the vehicle would still not budge. Then after a few hours, it would start running again leaving me astonished as to what actually happens to it.”
Ghulam Hassan Mir of Sopore was running a successful business until one morning when he suddenly could not stand up on his feet. “A mysterious ailment had caught hold of him while asleep,” says her daughter. Shocked, his family took him to a doctor. “The doctor too was puzzled. He advised papa a month’s rest in a chair with his arms upright tied to a rope dangling from the roof. It was an awkward posture that troubled papa and worried us. His business also suffered,” says his youngest daughter.
However, they had a lucky break. “One day children playing with an old suitcase found some locks of curly hair wrapped in paper inside the case. As soon as they removed the hair from it papa untied his hands and came out of the room, leaving us surprised. Later we took the hair to a Pir, who told us that it was due to this my Papa suffered an unusual ailment. Some ill-intentioned person had spellbound my papa with the cursed hair,” his daughter said.
If there are Pirs who practice the evil part of occultism, there are others who claim to rid a spell-bound person of the evil forces. The good witchcraft and the bad one.
Pir Mohammad Shafi Shah of Bijbehara in Islamabad district claims to have “cured” hundreds of the ill effects of sorcery, again through the use of occult powers.
“People do come to me as I am among a handful of persons who can make the influence of such objects ineffective,” says Shah. “You can’t rule it out as it has been practised for thousands of years. Even our holy Prophet (SAW) also suffered its ill effects and Allah sent a message through Jibraeel that occult has been practised on You (holy Prophet),” adds Shah.
As soon as a woman from Srinagar stepped into the room followed by many more men and women from different areas Shah went on to demonstrate his powers. “Now I will show you whether occult exists or not,” he said exuding confidence.
Shah put a pot on the flame of a gas stove and out some soil from the graveyard in the area of the ‘victim’ into it and boiled the contents while chanting verses interspersed with some Persian words along with the names of those upon whom witchcraft may have been directed. His words get louder and the pitch rises to a high when in the end he opens the pot. He brings out four polythene-wrapped ‘amulets’ from the pot and asks the woman to untie those. The talismans were written in blood with some grotesque human figures scribbled on them. “My God, these are strong enough to make a person paralytic for life if these are not found and destroyed immediately,” murmurs Shah while reclining to the pillow after having done his job – successfully.
Shah recalls the story of a European film director suffering from the ill effects of sorcery. “Davis Ferguson, a European filmmaker during his stay in a houseboat in 1973, had a strange disease for which Dr Ali Jan of Srinagar advised him to remain in a dark room for six months. The houseboat owner Qadir Khuroo brought him to me and I extracted seven potatoes and an amulet from a tiny tin box stowed in his luggage. He had visited Iran and Bengal as well but no one could find or destroy them,” says Shah, adding that he constructed a house out of the money that Davis gave him as fees for “removing occulted potatoes and talisman”.
The Pirs who practice sorcery don’t come cheap. A person who blames his misfortunes on some occult practices or tries to find solutions to his problems through them would do anything the Pir says. Paying money, apparently, is an easy option.
With the kind of superstition rife in Kashmir society a large number of fake Pirs are roaming in the valley. Many case of fraud by these fake Pirs have been reported in the media.
However, a much bigger fallout of such superstition is on the patients who could be treated medically but choose to flock to such Pirs, says Dr. Latief Ahmed of the SKIMS hospital.
“Many patients discontinue medication on the ill advice of these people (Pirs) diminishing the chances of recovery in some cases and putting the patient’s life in peril,” says Dr Latief, adding that the patients of neurology and psychiatry were the most affected.
While a large number of Kashmiris run after the Pirs to get the effects of sorcery, presumably targeted at them, warded off, the religious scholars maintain that opportunist Pirs take advantage of the gullible victims.
Maulana Mohammad Rehmatullah Qasmi of Darul Uloom Raheemia Bandipora acknowledged that sorcery “is very much there”.
“Like Eeman (faith) and Kufur (infidelity) were created by Allah to try His servants (human beings), so is sorcery to test the integrity of the people. The purpose of sending sorcery to the world is to see who adopts it and who rejects it,” says Qasmi. “Those people who adopt sorcery and practise it for harming others are almost heretics,” adds Qasmi.
Asked as to what was the remedy if someone feels he is under the harmful effects of sorcery, he answers that the person must recite chapters numbers 113 and 114 (Surah Falak and Surah Naas) of the holy Quran which can be of immense help in warding off the effects of sorcery.
“There are people who pose as religious seers and claim to ward off the effects of sorcery but they actually lead gullible Muslims astray and instil grains of superstition into their minds,” says Qasmi. “They are taking people away from religion and aggravating their problems,” adds Qasmi.