Sufi influence on Kashmiri life
14 March 2002
New Delhi: The credit for introducing arts and crafts inn Kashmir along with multiple handicraft and papiermache
manufacturing activities is generally given to Zamul Abidin. But from a historical perspective, it was Syed Ali Hamadani,
popularly known as Shah-i-Hamadan, who brought all these crafts and arts to Kashmir. He arrived in Kashmir from Iran along
with about 713 of his companions in 1474/879.
However, it took about hundred years till the reign of Zainul Abidin for the crafts and arts to established in Kashmir. New
dimensions were added to them in the fields of embroidery, calligraphy and their such delicate enterprises. Syed Ali Hamadani
facilitated the clandestine exchange of craftsmen and artisans from Khurasan, Hamadan, Yarqand, Samarqand, Khwaraz,
Turkistan Bhaiq, Muristan etc. The craftsmen and artisans were also preachers and saints.
Syed Ali Hamadani took care that arts and crafts and stronghold at various places in Kashmir. For example, paper machie was
developed in severalities of Srinagar like Safakadal, while the Naushera, Maqam, Kenhama, Beerwah areas of Kashmir were
chosen for embroidery, carpet weaving and shawl weaving. The locality was later named after the art or craft in which it
excelled. Some such places still exist in Kashmir: Kamgarpura, Zarabkhana, Sazigaripura, Sheeshghari Mohallah, Qalamadan
Pora, Ehangar Mohallah and Mashalli Mohallah.
According to Mir Syed Mustaqh Hamadani, Syed Ali brought raw pashmina from Ladakh with him when he came to Kashmir
and introduced its use in the preparation of shawls. He himself prepared socks from pashmina and gave it as a gift to the king.
Sultan Qutbuddin Shahmirri. Syed Ali adopted cap-tailoring as a means of his livelihood. The author of Baharistan-i-Shahi says
that Syed Ali had gifted a cap tailored by his own hand to Haider Shah and Hassan Shah and later this cap used to remain in
the custody of Qutbuddin, Sultan Sikandar, Zainul Abidin, Ali Shah, Sultan Udham Shah respectively.
People involved in idol-carving were provided alternative jobs by involving them in slab-carving and embossing on the tombs
various calligraphic and embroidered inscriptions on them. New ornaments for women were introduced which included
Tomapr, Awazay, Globand, Namah, Halq Bandh, Bazuband, Pishain Band, Ghaswara, Disware etc, which were originally
used in Central Asia and different villages of Iran. New crafts and arts like Najari (carpentry) Hamamdari, Khimahdozi,
Naqashi, Kafashdoozi, Kabab Pazi, Hareesa Pazi, Gilkari, Zargari are a few such areas to name. New dresses with their
preparing-techniques were introduced and phem, kurta, dastar, amamah etc became prevalent in Kashmir Embroidered
qaleen (carpets) mattresses, ghabbas (wollenmates) and silken takiyaposh, makhmalli takiyya and even lihaff were introduced in
Kashmir from Iran.
The shawl industry was founded by Sayed Ali Hamadani as it did not exist before the 13th century for there is no reference to
it in any earlier source. It was, however, developed under the patronage of the Sultans with the help of weavers who came from
Persia and Turkistan. These immigrants not only introduced new patterns, but also new techniques — the twill-tapestry
technique — which had a parallel in Persia and Central Asia, but nowhere in India and Pakistan.
Thus Syed Ali Hamadani introduced new arts, crafts and ornaments along with their techniques and brought new economic
mobility in the otherwise dormant areas of concern. He changed the conditions of the poor and docile Kashmir plebian masses.
Thus a new phase from the agriculture oriented economy to a market oriented economy ensued.
It is perhaps for this reason that Dr Iqbal calls Sycd Ali Hamadani the maker of minor Iran (Traini-i-Sageer) out of Kashmir by
his introduction of fine and unique arts. The far-reaching consequences of these artistic and economic activities revitalised the
hitherto sluggish living standards of the valley which produced some of the best artisans and craftsmen (Charb Dast) in the
world. Since Syed Ali laid much emphasis on rizq-halal (earning by lawful means), he seems unique in the entire history of
Sufism. He combined spirituality with earning by the sweat of his forehead. The local rishis and their spiritual followers took this
clandestine economic activity to its logical conclusion and as a result Sufis like Batamallo Sahib emerged. He used to cultivate
land in order to feed the needy and the destitute. Thus, rather than becoming a burden on others, the Sufis served humanity
instead and helped the local economy to grow substantially.