Victim of egos:  A 600-yr-old monument in downtown Srinagar is closed for public since 2002, thanks to sectarianism

By Nazir Gillo

What could have been a unifying site for Kashmiris, and a major tourism attraction, has become a bone of contention. 

The shrine of Madin Saheb, a many centuries old structure in Zadibal area of downtown Srinagar, remains locked down since 2002 when two communities clashed over its custodianship.

Named after Sayyid Muhammad Madani who is believed to have arrived in India with Timur in 1398 and later moved to Kashmir as an envoy of Timur during the reign of Sultan Sikandar Butshikan, the shrine houses the tomb in which Madani is laid to rest. There is also a mosque and a hamaam.

The shrine, few parts of which have been removed to and preserved in a museum in London, is believed to have been raised during the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly known as ‘Budshah’ in 1444 as a tribute to his teacher Muhammad Madani.

Before 2002, devotees from both the communities would gather inside the shrine without discussing its ownership in public to avoid sectarian strife. The peace was, however, broken in 2002, after a rumour spread in Srinagar that some miracle had happened inside the shrine. The rumour spread like a wildfire and a number of people rushed to the shrine.

 For centuries, this heritage monument remained a centre of attraction not only for the locals but for outside visitors and tourists. Its architectural value gained attention because of a puzzling painting on its front side, which researchers call a ‘mysterious beast’.
The shrine, which has a mosque adjoining it, is believed to have been raised during the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly known as ‘Budshah’ in 1444 as a tribute to his teacher Muhammad Madani
Photos: Nazir Gillo

W.H.Nichols, an archaeological surveyor, during his pioneering study on Muslim architecture in Kashmir, noticed the uniqueness of the art of this shrine among the Muslim monuments in India. It was because of Nichols that this monument received attention from archaeologists and researchers in India and abroad.

The shrine and the mosque lie adjacent to each other

During his study, Nichols found that the mosque had glazed tiles which were found nowhere in heritage structures in India then. Besides, some tiles had that ‘mysterious beast’ painted on them.

Nichols explained the painting as: “A beast with the body of a leopard, changing at the neck into the trunk of a human being, shooting apparently with a bow and arrow at its own tail, while a fox is quietly looking on among flowers and cloud-forms.”

These peculiar cloud-forms are common in Chinese and Persian art, and were frequently used by Mughals—by Akbar in the Turkish Sultan’s house at Fatehpur-Sikri, Jahangir at Sikandarah, and Shah-e-Jahan in the Diwan-e-Khaas at Delhi, to mention only a few instances, his report says.

“The principal beast in the picture is about four feet long and is striking quite a heraldic attitude. The chest, shoulders, and head of the human being are unfortunately missing. The tail ends in a kind of dragon’s head. As for the colour, the background is blue, the trunk of the man is red, the leopard’s body is yellow with light green spots, the dragon’s head and the fox are reddish brown, and the flowers are of various colours.

“It is most probable that if this beast can be run to earth, and similar pictures found in the art of other countries, some light will be thrown upon the influences bearing upon the architecture of Kashmir during a period about which little is at present known,” Nichols has said in his report.

For centuries, the painting has baffled everyone who tried to translate what this ‘mysterious beast’ has hidden inside, and so far there has been no agreeable point of view by any of researchers.

“A beast with the body of a leopard, changing at the neck into the trunk of a human being, shooting apparently with a bow and arrow at its own tail, while a fox is quietly looking on among flowers and cloud-forms.”

But then the shrine is itself a victim of egos of local Shia and Sunni Muslim communities.

Abdul Aziz, a 75-year-old resident of Zadibal, has vivid memories of the past when the shrine would witness a huge rush of devotees. “The entire area would bloom with festivities. The lawns of the shrine would also witness a huge presence of locals and tourists,” Aziz recalls.

The locality in which the monument falls is mostly inhabited by Shia Muslims. The areas of Nowshera and Saazgaripora, from where people used to come in large numbers, form the Sunni Muslim majority. But people from both communities would gather at the shrine and offer prayers individually inside the mosque.

The tradition continued smoothly for centuries, until one fateful day in 2002, when clashes between Shias and Sunnis erupted over the ownership of the shrine. Shias claimed that the shrine belonged to them as there are some religious terms inscribed on its pillars which suggest that it belonged to their sect. Sunnis rejected the Shias claim, and argued that Sayyid Muhammad Madani, on whose name the shrine built, was a Sunni who had arrived from Madinah.

“Before 2002, devotees from both the communities would gather inside the shrine without discussing its ownership in public to avoid sectarian strife,” Aziz said.

Path leading to the gate of the shrine

The peace was, however, broken in 2002, after a rumour spread in Srinagar that some miracle had happened inside the shrine. The rumour spread like a wildfire and a number of people rushed to the shrine. Though there are different versions on the incident, the largely accepted one is that Shias claimed that the outer wall of the shrine had some blood spots on it and a “Shia flag was miraculously erected on the roof of the shrine, hence the entire monument belongs to them.”

“It was a mischief done by someone. The blood spots were actually a beam from a laser pointer, a trending device then used as a source of amusement,” says Ghulam Nabi, 62, who was among the hundreds of people present on the spot that day.

He says that soon after this act, riots broke out near the shrine and its adjoining areas leaving many people injured. “It was chaos all around. No one from either sect was ready to listen. It was only after tiresome efforts by police and civil administration that the situation was brought under control,” Nabi says. Following the incident, Department of Archives, Archeology & Museums sealed the shrine, and since then, entry to it is restricted.

Notably, the 2002 clashes were third of its kind in more than 100 years. In an article titled ‘Why is Madin Sahib locked?’, Vinayak Razdan, a Kashmiri Pandit writer, says that on 19 September 1872, on the Urs (death anniversary) of Madin Sahib, a wave of violence was unleashed over the claims of ownership of the place that lasted about three days.

“In the madness, the ancient monument was damaged in a fire that raged all over Zadibal,” says Razdan. He says that the violence of 1872 is recorded in a report published in a Munich-based paper, where it is titled ‘The Grauel in Kajhmir’ (The horror in Kashmir).

Nearly a century later, in 1983, when the renovation work on the shrine had just started, it suffered damages due to rioting. A report by the Press Trust of India on 15 June 1983, says that at least 700 people were injured and many shops and houses, and a mosque, were burnt during sectarian violence that started near the shrine and lasted for around three days. The violence had erupted when assembly elections were on cards and Zadibal, the Shia majority area, was considered a stronghold of Congress.

Thankfully, despite frequent damages and onslaught that this monument has witnessed, it has been largely saved, preserved and restored to its original position by the officials of Archeology department of Jammu & Kashmir.

Shabir Hussain, a Shia who heads Zadibal Mohalla Committee, terms the 2002 clashes “unfortunate” and seeks opening of the shrine for the public “as an honour and respect to the sentiments of people from both communities living around it.”

“I think the situation has changed a lot since then. More than a religious site, today’s generation see this shrine as an architectural and heritage marvel, and wish it to be thrown open for public,” Hussain says.

Another local, Manzoor Ahmad, a Sunni, seconds Shabir’s views. “Given its heritage and historical importance, sealing off the shrine is an irrational decision. But, of course, the onus of maintaining peace and sectarian harmony, lies on both communities,” he says.

Director Archives, Archeology & Museums, Mohammad Shafi Zahid, who spearheaded the efforts to preserve the shrine, says that they have been consistently trying to make it possible “to throw this classic model of archeological heritage open for general public, but then the situation does not allow us to do so.”

“Though there has been an improvement in the situation since the day it (shrine) was closed, we do not think that opening this shrine right now would be a reasonable decision,” Zahid tells Kashmir Narrator.

“We respect the sentiments of people attached to the shrine, but we have to keep it shut till situation returns to normal. The monument will be opened one day,” he says.  “We see that happening soon, Insha-Allah.”

The story was published in Kashmir Narrator’s April issue. To subscribe to Kashmir Narrator’s print edition, please mail here: KashmirNarrator@Gmail.com

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