Zool: Fest of faith in Kashmir

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Culture

November 30, 2022

/ By / Srinagar

Zool: Fest of faith in Kashmir

Devotees carrying zools or blazing torches as part of the celebrations in Aishmuqam in Anantnag district in Kashmir, carrying blazing torches, or zool (Photo : Syed Shahriyar)

Zool, a unique torchlight festival to honour a renowned sufi saint of Kashmir, is celebrated by different religious communities and depicts victory of the good over the evil as well as beginning of farming activities at the end of winter.

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Every April, the shrine of Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali, a renowned 15th century sufi saint, features a unique sight as thousands of people march the streets in Aishmuqam village of Anantnag district in Kashmir, carrying blazing torches, or zool.

The group ascends a hillock in the village, situated in the picturesque Lidder valley, where there is a cave with the shrine of the saint who was a disciple of Sheikh Noor-ud-din, one of the leading saints of Kashmir. According to the legend Zain-ud-Din Wali was actually a Hindu Prince Zia Singh of the princely state of Kishtwar.

The legend says that Zain-ud-Din Wali was barely 13 when his father Yash Singh, the King of Kishtwar, passed away. At that time the prince was also suffering from a severe disease and his fate was uncertain. Legend goes on to say that at that time Sheikh Noor-ud-Din, known for his miracles, was passing through the region. When Zia’s mother prayed to him for recovery of her son, he agreed to do so but on condition that Zia Singh met him in Kashmir after getting well. His mother agreed, but even after recovery the prince did not keep the commitment to meet the saint. As a result, he fell ill again. His mother again promised to the saint that she would bring her son this time to Kashmir.

And as soon as the prince recovered, the queen took him to Kashmir to meet the saint. It was here that he and his mother embraced Islam and Zia Singh was christened as Zain-ud-Din Wali. He then penanced in a cave full of snakes that were a menace for the villagers. But when the saint began his meditation, the snakes left the cave and the cave became the saint’s abode until his death. The legend says that through his spiritual powers, the saint made the snakes non-poisonous and they were lifted by the people in pujas and yets, big willow baskets used for carrying fertilisers to the forest and the forest came to be known as “Puhr Pajan”.

Since then, as per the legend the devotees have been carrying out this march, as a mark of respect for the saint. To mark the occasion, the climb of over 100 steps is also lit up by the devotees. The shrine is located on a hillock, which stands 86 km away from Srinagar. The festival involves taking out a procession in a peculiar way that depicts the public seeking blessings of the Sufi saint.

However, another folklore goes on to say that during the rule of Ashushah Badshah in Aishmuqam, many centuries ago, a demon terrified the villagers. After chaos and fear, one day the villagers approached the demon and requested him to eat them one by one. The demon agreed but in turn, the villagers were supposed to provide him with food each day. When it was the turn of a young orphan Gujjar boy, Bumisad, it is believed that he had challenged the demon and asked him to fight with him. The fight later continued for a week and one night the villagers were overjoyed to learn that Bumisad had killed the demon.

Then, it became an occasion of celebration for the victory of Bumisad, and people assembled and lit up their wooden torches and oil lamps in honour of him.

“People enter the cave mausoleum seeking the blessings to end their miseries,” says a devotee, Tanveer Ahmed, a 33 year old man from Srinagar who is a regular visitor to the Aishmuqam shrine.

For the thousands of pilgrims who gather at Aishmuqam, the annual torch festival also symbolises the end of the long winter and the beginning of the new sowing season. Traditionally, the festival is held after evening prayers and the torchlight procession and a bonfire is the main highlight.

Many locals hold their infants near the flames for a few moments, as this is believed that it acts as a security against evil influences and a procession is taken out after the evening prayers and religious verses are recited by the people at this time.

Ritual followed on the day of Urs

Both the Muslim and Hindu communities celebrate the Urs or death anniversary of a sufi saint with the same spirit. The residents of Aishmuqam and its neighbourhood in particular don’t eat meat on the death anniversary of the Sufi saint.

This has become obligatory not only for Muslims but the Hindus who also follow it in the region. It is said that any deviation from following the ritual on the festive occasion is considered a breach in the custom that results in catastrophe, particularly fire.

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