Stripped chinar and charred roof: a requiem for Ziarat Dastgir Sahibun

by Vivek Menezes

You won’t find the Truth
By crossing your legs and holding your breath.
Daydreams won’t take you through the gateway of release.
You can stir as much salt as you like in water,
It won’t become the sea.

(by Lal Ded, translated by Ranjit Hoskote)

3q9My journey to Ziarat Dastgir Sahibun in Sringar began on a cool, cloudy afternoon in Goa last December at the annual Arts + Literary Festival, when Ranjit Hoskote finally released a master-work after two decades of labour, ‘I Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded”.

Like many here, no doubt, I’d encountered the writings of this revolutionary fourteenth-century mystic earlier. But the preternaturally brilliant Hoskote has completely re-cast her in a new light. I dare say most of those present when he talked about Kashmir (with Bilal Tanweer and Jerry Pinto) became as immediately hooked as I was. This is when I started to seek out more information about the unique, confluential Sufism that came to prevail in Kashmir, without much effacing the Shaivism, Buddhism, and indigenous nature-worship that preceded it.

And so a family trip to Kashmir this May, which readers of 3QD already know about.

As described in that purposefully touristic post made from Srinagar itself, there is a bizarre gulf between Kashmir’s very real status as a tourism destination with near-limitless appeal (and demand to match), and the quality and quantity of reliable information available to travelers.

3q5On the one hand, Kashmir abounds with genuine marvels, but on the other you mostly don’t know about them and mostly can’t find out about them. Thus Srinagar is unqualifiedly a world cultural marvel of the highest order, but the very vast majority of travelers to the city are enjoined to wheel in and out in a couple of days, while being led by the nose on a tightly drawn, and increasingly seedy circuit of gardens, shikhara rides and shopping, with perhaps Shankaracharya Hill and Hazratbal part of the package.

3q8This leaves out almost everything wonderful and unique in Srinagar, with the now tragically lost Ziarat Dastgir Sahibun a perfect example of an utterly distinctive Srinagar landmark that was consistently overlooked while it existed, only to become widely lamented when it is gone.

Just see this “ranking” of tourist highlights from the unavoidable Tripadvisor.

Dastgir ranks 24th!

And so one at all – whether local or tourist – recommended the building to me in the entire month I was in Srinagar.

It was repeated, random viewings from my speeding rickshaw window that piqued the attention. On various days, I caught glimpses of 19th century chandeliers suspended from a soaring ceiling that looked richly bejeweled, every inch gilded with the first-rate papier-mache work that Srinagar’s craftsmen have made famous for centuries.

3q2Let these photos speak for this marvelously cospmopolitan shrine, but let me note that it was one of the most open, welcoming, comfortable and dignified that I have ever visited, anywhere in the world, with spell-bindingly beautiful interiors that words can’t possibly describe adequately. My time there was unforgettable, easily among the highlights of our trip.

And then on return, the shocking news came that Ziarat Dastgir Sahibun had caught fire, and the blaze unaccountably spiraled out of control to reduce everything you see in these photos to ashes. Another staggering loss of an irreplaceable treasure of Kashmiri cililization lost cheaply, overnight. Numbed by the news, I sent some of these photographs to Ranjit Hoskote, who set my feet on the road to Srinagar last year.

And my friend in turn shared a poem he had written “in 2006, based on the experience of spending time in that beautiful, still centre — and walking a few hundred meters to a very different kind of zone, the Mazhar-e Shauda.” Just now, he has given me permission to share with 3 Quarks Daily.

READING A SCRIPT AT ZIARAT DASTGIR SAHIBUN

Srinagar

Proverbs fall from the saint’s upturned bowl.
Beneath the cypress, work is a steel-grey word,
thought is plum and prayer a mournful green.
A cube with three lacquered walls and a broken face
holds them together.

The almond merchant shuffles past the lake
without humming. The singer hides his voice
under a scarf. The guide won’t admit to his compass.
They’re actors in a long-running movie about comets,
in which a pair of hands wash themselves at a fountain

over and over, the sound track worn out,silence dripping
from the stripped chinar and the charred roof
to the headstones buried in snow.

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