Kashmir became the home of foreign missionaries from Persia and Central Asia during the fourteenth century. The activities of foreign missionaries intensified after Muslim rule was solidified with the establishment of the Shah Mir dynasty in 1339 that ruled Kashmir for about two hundred years. As Suhrawardi and Kubravi Sufi missionaries and their Kashmiri followers preached the new faith to the local people, an indigenous Sufi movement emerged in the countryside in the first decades of the fifteenth century under the leadership of Nuruddin Rishi, who is also known as Nund Rishi or Shaikh Nuruddin. Rishi Sufis lived austere and devout lives and worked towards the betterment of humanity by spreading the message of love, peace, and simple living.
Nuruddin Rishi (1378-1439), also known as Nund Rishi or Shaikh Nuruddin, founded the indigenous Sufi order of Muslim Rishis in the beginning of the fifteenth century in the midst of intensified activities of the missionary Sufis from Central Asia and Persia. Rooted in the Islamic tradition, the Rishi Sufis integrated local customs and traditions into their teachings, which differentiated them from the immigrant Sufis and their Kashmir followers. People were attracted to Rishi Sufis not only due to their elevated spiritual status, but also because their lives were based on ethical values of non-violence, religious tolerance, and compassion for the poor and the needy. They spread the message of peaceful coexistence of all people irrespective of their caste, class, or religious creed and they contributed to creating a tradition of communal harmony, which became an integral part of the Kashmiri culture for centuries. The order was active with a distinct identity for about two hundred years before becoming absorbed in the mainstream Sufism. Even though it has ceased to be a distinct order with its own identity, many Sufi mystics in the Valley continue to embody the spirit of the Rishi Sufis, as they too believe in religious tolerance, compassion, and peaceful coexistence. However, the Rishi Sufi worldview is "hidden" or "suppressed" due to increasingly orthodox elements in the Kashmiri society. We need to unearth this narrative and acknowledge its silent presence in some contemporary urban and rural spaces of the Valley. The present study and translation of Nuruddin RishiÍs verses are an attempt to contribute in this direction.
About the Author(s)
Jaishree K. Odin is professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Hawai'i. She is the author of To the Other Shore: Lalla's Life and Poetry and Mystical Verses of Lalla (2007, MLBD).