Despite great advances in medicine, something has remained unchanged. The tradition of faith healing has survived in Kashmir. Shams Irfan caught up with some of the practitioners of the tradition who are thronged by believers seeking treatment for anything from dog bites to jaundice.
These are people of faith dedicated to the welfare of the suffering. A few decades back faith healers used to be the main stop for people afflicted with various diseases and many would turn up at the doors of some Peers after feeling dissatisfied from practitioners of modern medicine. While most people have turned away from the tradition, many in Kashmir still repose faith in the faith healing order supposedly rooted in the Quran.
Bulbul Nowgam is a small village off the main road to Achabal. On Sundays, this sleepy village comes to life with people from nearby villages and towns moving hastily towards a small house located at the corner of a rundown street. A broken wooden gate welcomes you inside a small compound where around hundred and fifty people, mostly women and young girls, sit impatiently waiting for their turn to enter the main building.
A small stout man in his mid-thirties controls the crowd with a small stick. People come from as far as Shopian and Srinagar to see Peer Sahab for spiritual healing.
A modest traditional brick house with a finely carved wooden door welcomes you. A small signboard, with an inscription written on a green base in a bold white letter, advises people to visit on Sundays only, until 5 pm. People coming afterwards will not be allowed to meet Amin Sahab, who is famous for curing dog bites with his spiritual powers and known among his acolytes as Peer Sahab.
Dog bite patients are given preference as they are allowed to visit Peer Sahab any time throughout the week. On Sundays too, he starts treating dog bite patients first, from early morning till noon, and then the other patients with different ailments are allowed inside the building.
While waiting outside, two girls, both in their teens sneaked forward through the crowd to convince the gatekeeper to let them in as they have been waiting for their turn since the morning. “We have come all the way from Vailo, please let us see Peer Sahab,” they pleaded. But the gatekeeper did not pay any attention to them. “My sister sees things during the night. Some evil spirit has taken possession of her body,” said the younger sister in a whispering tone, fearing that the people around might get afraid.
After a while, an old lady, who walked with a stick in one hand, and a hen carefully pressed under her left arm, looked heavenwards and then turned to the gatekeeper, “I am getting late. And I am old. Please let me in first.”
After waiting outside for almost an hour this reporter was finally allowed to enter the building. Inside it was dark. A small spiral wooden staircase led me to a small room. It took me few seconds to adjust my eyes to the darkness of the room. The room was packed to capacity with patients, women on the left and men sitting in a line on the right side of the room.
In the centre of the room against the only visible window sat Amin Sahab, a middle-aged man wearing a traditional Kashmiri pheran and a prayer cap. He was keenly observing Ruksana’s leg where a fresh dog bite mark was visible. He touched the wound gently with his bare hands and took a small round ball of clay [potters clay] and applied it thoroughly on her fresh wound. Then he closed his eyes and started reciting something. For a brief moment, this small dark room full of people was so silent that even the blinking of eyes would have caused a nuisance. Peer Sahab, then took a piece of paper and rolled some sweet sugar balls mixed with clove and black pepper, and gave them to Ruksana and instructed her to add this mixture with her meals. The treatment lasts for seven weeks. And Peer Sahab strongly instructs any dog bite patient not to miss even a single sitting. Otherwise, things could get worse.
“It is important for a dog bite patient to complete the session otherwise it is possible for him/her to get infected,” he said while turning to me.
“In the last twenty years, not even a single dog bite patient has complained of any complications. They all have full faith on Peer Sahab and his treatment,” said one of the attendants who was sitting behind a wooden desk and passed small rolled paper packets to Peer Sahab, which then were given to patients.
Twenty-five-year-old, Nahida, was shown inside immediately after she revealed the purpose of her visit. “I have a fresh dog bite. Please let me in,” she said worriedly. Nahida, who is in her late twenties, has fresh dog bite marks on her right leg. “This morning, I was working in the fields when a small canine suddenly appeared from behind the trees and attacked me,” she said in her broken voice. She was immediately rushed to Peer Sahab by her husband.
Once inside, she was taken straight to Peer Sahab, who was keenly looking at Fayaz Ahmad Bhat’s aching tooth. Peer Sahab, immediately attended to Nahida whose facial muscles indicated the extent of pain she was experiencing. After observing her for a while, the Peer said, “You don’t need to worry. It’s not threatening. But just follow what I say.”
“It is a fresh bite,” Peer Sahab told me while wiping the blood from Nahida’s wounded leg with a small piece of cotton. “By just looking at the wound, I can tell if a dog is carrying rabies or not,” he claimed. He then rubbed his hands gently on her wound and applied the same clay ball on it. “Do not apply water,” he instructed her while handing her a packet of sweet sugar balls mixed with clove and black pepper. “She will be alright in seven weeks. There is no danger,” he said assuredly to her husband who was watching the whole process with sacred silence. After Nahida and her husband left, Peer Sahab turned back to Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, a middle aged man from main town Islamabad, who was till now waiting outside with his hands tightly pressed on his jaws.
Bhat said that the last time he was here was two years ago when he had a severe tooth ache and he could not sleep because of pain. “First I visited a local dentist who gave me sedatives and used a number of tools inside my mouth. But nothing could reduce the pain.” He then, on a relative’s suggestion visited Amin Sahab. “I was dying with pain, he simply gave me some soil to apply on the ailing tooth, and miraculously within a day it healed completely,” he said with an air of satisfaction on his face.
“I am not here to do miracles. I only perform my duty and rest is up to Allah. I am just a source but the real healer is He Himself,” said Peer Sahab in a low but hypnotizing tone.
Since the last twenty years, Amin Sahab claims to have treated thousands of people who visit him every Sunday. On an average around 700 people visit Amin Sahab on a weekend, and among them, almost half are dog bite related cases.
“My spiritual guide, Abdul Rehman Sahab, passed on these powers to me on a condition that I will not charge people for my services. The day I charge even a single penny from anybody, I will cease to be effective anymore,” he said. Amin Sahab, who recently retired as a peon, now treats patients fulltime at his residence. “The condition is to serve people selflessly,” said the Peer.
It is God’s gift
Noor Muhammad Pajwari, who works as a watchman at a government school near his house in congested Habba Kadal area of downtown Srinagar, walks with an air of piety through the narrow lanes of Karifalle Mohallah.
He is in his late sixties but looks much younger. He makes it a point to smile at you after every sentence. His hazel eyes seem to possess special captivating powers with which he draws your attention while forcing all his facial muscles in order to pronounce each word perfectly.
Noor Sahab, as he is known among the locals, is a busy man. From eight thirty in the morning till afternoons, people rub against each other for space in a small dark room which is separated from the main house. In a corner, sitting on a small wooden chair, Noor Sahab supervises patients who work on a mortar and pestle to create the magical combination which then they take home with themselves for healing Herpes [mal’dhaar] disease.
One cannot just walk into his double storied house and meet him. You have to wait for your turn to see Noor Sahab. “It is God’s gift. I am nobody to cure anything, it is He who has chosen me to serve people unconditionally,” he said as I settled down in his room.
The house itself is special in many ways. Once inside, it instantly transports you back to some hundred years. Made of small bricks and limestone, it stands out amongst the haphazardly constructed new houses in the neighbourhood.
“One cannot learn the formula overnight and start treating patients. It is a dangerous job and one has to be careful. It took me fifteen years to raise myself to such a level of spirituality where I can treat patients without putting mine and my patient’s life at risk,” he said.
Noor Sahab likes to stay away from the limelight and appears low profile despite receiving patients from as far as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, England, America and far off Indian states.
His clients even include doctors who want a quick and assured treatment for Herpes disease as modern scientific techniques take more than a month for treatment. “Most of the time patients die a very painful death if not treated properly.”
Besides, there is no vaccine available to cure Herpes as of now, and the chances of recurrence are high in patients who fail to follow the strict procedure.
On the other hand, Noor Sahab simply uses a combination of three things to create his magical medicine for the treatment of Herpes. Black salt, Meerschaum [solid sea foam], and a third mysterious ingredient which is round in shape and looks like a solid crystal rock. All teh three are ground together in a pestle to make a fine powder.
“Then by adding a small portion of mustard oil, it becomes like a paste which is then applied to the affected areas. Within seven days of the occurrence [only if a patient has consulted Noor Sahab immediately], he is cured of Herpes all together,” he claims.
“I use remedies which are prescribed in our religious texts. There is a cure for every ailment in the Holy Quran. One just needs to go through the text properly,” he said.
Taking a book from an overhead cupboard, Noor Sahab recited a few lines to me which he claims possess healing powers. “There is a proper procedure to use this mixture. One cannot just mix them up and use it. I keep on reciting the verses from Holy Koran while making this paste.”
“You have to first earn your position in the eyes of God then only your medicine can heal people,” he said.
“My services are free of cost. I don’t charge anything for medicine except a nominal amount for this [he held that shinning crystal shaped rock in his hands], as I have to get it from Saudi Arabia,” he informed me. “But, I never force anybody to pay as I am here to help people and not to make money for myself.”
People often come to Noor Sahab to learn the art of healing Herpes but so far not a single person has been able to stand the rigorous training Noor Sahab thinks is necessary for curing patients. “My only regret is that, after I am gone, this gift will be gone with me as well. There is nobody who can bear this burden for the sake of healing those who are in distress.”
“I am just a servant of God. And I will do that till my last breath,” he said smilingly.
Mr Fix it
His long flowing salt-and-pepper beard might make you take him as an Imam of any mosque in Kashmir, but fifty-eight-year old Abdul Rehman Baing, is a professional bone-fitter, whose family has been fixing broken limbs since the last two-hundred years. “The practice of fitting bones goes back to my great grandfather’s days. He was famous for his x-ray like eyes. He would scan a person with his eyes and tell instantly which bone is broken,” he said. “I have learned this art from my father who in turn inherited it from his father and so on. It is our family identity now.”
It took Baing Sahab twelve years to learn the art of bone fitting. “I would sit with my father and watch him fix bones from 6:30 in the morning till noon. Then after lunch, we would discuss patients which he had treated that morning. He would tell me about different bones, joints, nerve system and their function in a human body.”
He said that for an amateur, first ten to twelve years of training are crucial. Every member in his family has to go through this regime before he can be entrusted with a patient’s life. “My eldest son is already an expert. Now I am training my youngest son as he keeps an eye on what I do while I am attending to patients.”
He claims to have treated thousands of patients with his skilful hands. “Our profession is all about diagnosis,” he said. “Doctors use X-ray machines to detect a fracture but we just use our experience and hands,” he added with an air of authority.
“It is all about the experience. The more you practice the better you get with your diagnosis.”
“After spending my entire lifetime into this profession, now I can easily tell from a distance how deep the fracture is or which part of the body is affected. My eyes work as an X-ray machine now.”
Most of the patients who visit Baing Sahab at his residence in Tailbal, have already visited doctors to no avail. “People are referred [unofficially] here from even Government’s Bone and Joints Hospital, Srinagar.”
“You need to have a little bit of faith on what I am doing otherwise healing is impossible. People would come with complete broken limbs and go back walking on their legs,” he claims.
The way a patient was bought into his presence, “my father would tell if he would be cured at all or not”. He had such an experienced eye that he was never wrong in his diagnosis, the son claims.
On asking him about his most challenging experience as a bone fitter he held his head back for a moment and after closing his eyes for what seemed forever and finally said, “Yes, there was a guy from Kakapora [Pulwama District] who worked as a clerk at a brick kiln in Pampore and was referred to me by a mutual friend when I was only 25 years old. I clearly remember his case as it was typical in many ways.”
It was the first case where a patient had come to him after being disappointed by modern scientific methods of healing.
When he was first bought to Baing Sahab, the patient’s entire flesh had started to rot under a tight plaster pasted all over his body. “I was told by his father that he fell from the second story straight on to the concrete floor. And they took him to the hospital where doctors as per norms wrapped him in a plaster for the next three months.”
But as time passed, instead of healing his condition got worse and they [doctors] suggested another round of plaster for another two months, Baing says. “Finally, after six months of his ordeal, he landed at my door. I was a bit nervous as his entire body was decaying slowly.”
“First, I got him rid of his entire plaster, then using small pieces of cardboard and bandages I wrapped him up in my own way. His both legs were broken and there was almost an inch-wide gap between the two parts of the bone which I had intended to join. But thank God. It went well.”
After visiting him for six consecutive weeks and changing his bandages with utmost care, finally during Baing’s seventh visit he was able to walk on his own again.
“It is God’s gift and nothing else. One cannot claim to be superhuman or special. We are but a means, the real healer is He Himself,” he said. “One must have a clear conscience to succeed in this profession.”
“The only thing I told my son when he was about to join this profession was not to get carried away while treating opposite sex, it is a God’s gift and should not be misused.”
Baing Sahab said that he has even visited Central Jail Udhampur and fixed bones of around twenty to twenty five inmates there during the early days of militancy. “It was a horrible experience for me as almost everybody there had broken ribs, limbs, dislocated joints and deep fractures. I only left when all five big roles of bandages, I was carrying along, exhausted,” he recalled.
He said that his entire family is into the same profession and they have hired small rooms in different places across the valley where they visit on particular days to treat patients. “I see patients at my home on Thursdays and Sundays. On other days I am visiting different places or a particular patient,”
Apart from these more famous ones, there are others who stay in the order to help people dissatisfied from the modern medical practice.
Seventy-five-years old Ghulam Qadir Reshi, of Dara Harwan, is a third generation spiritual healer. He is famous for treating Jaundice patients successfully with his ‘spiritual powers’. Every Sunday people afflicted with Jaundice from far off villages of Kashmir visit him to get rid of the disease. He has successfully carried forward his grandfather’s legacy of treating Jaundice patients at his residence in Dara. The treatment is free of cost as Reshi family is financially well off and does it for social service.
Seventy-year-old Khazar Mohammad Dar is the disciple of Ghulam Qadir Reshi of Dara Harwan. He has taken spiritual healing to a new level as he visits different locations in district Shopian and Pulwama to see Jaundice patients. He has rented rooms in small towns and villages where he visits on fixed days to treat patients with different ailments. But like his mentor, he too is best known for his expertise in treating Jaundice.
Mohammad Shabaan Gooru, who lived in Banderpora area of Pulwama district, trained his only son Bashir Ahmad Gooru, to fix broken bones before he died a few years ago. People from as far as Shopian and Islamabad would often visit him to get their bones fixed. Shabaan Sahab was famous for fixing broken joints, bones in a record time with precision. He learned this art by practice rather than getting any formal training from anyone. However, Bashir Ahamd, who now treats patients at his residence in Banderpora has received formal training from his father from a very young age.