Nund Rishi, noble representative of Sufism, by Yann Vagneux

Nund Rishi, noble representative of Sufism, by Yann Vagneux

Located thirty kilometers from Srinagar on the foothills of Pir Panjal, the famous pilgrimage of Charar-e-Sharief offers a striking contrast with the heavy atmosphere of the Kashmir valley – one of the most militarized places in the world after decades of bloody insurrection. In this haven of peace rests Nuruddin Nurani, better known as Nund Rishi (1377-1438). Few beings have been able to captivate the soul of an entire people like him to the point of becoming the emblematic representative of the multi-religious culture which was once the pride of the Kashmiris.

Born into a family that had recently embraced Islam, Nund Rishi renounced the world at the age of 30 and retired to a cave like the rishis, the ancient sages of Hinduism. For two decades, he devoted himself to the harsh asceticism of jihad al-nafs to defeat man's only enemy: his own ego. (nafs). “Marnu'bronth mar”, “Die before you die”, he confided from the depths of his solitude: “Remove the rust from your heart like cleaning a mirror. So you can discover Him. /Your face and body are still very young. Die before you die. – This is the secret. »

Unique blend of Islam and the strangeness of Hindu culture

When he returned to his own people, the Sufi master attracted numerous disciples, both Muslims and Hindus, struck by the mystical influence and the social commitment of the new brotherhood of Rishis. This has now disappeared but the words of Sheikh-Ul-Alam – the “spiritual guide of the world” – continue to inhabit the songs of Kashmiris who, whatever their religion, know one or the other of his poems, shruks : “I searched for Him in the six directions but found no trace of Him anywhere. /I questioned the mullahs, the elders and the sages but they were annoyed to hear my incessant questions. /When I let go of my thoughts and doubts, I saw Him take over everything – and I was nowhere. »

Nund Rishi is a noble representative of Sufism, a movement which, since Moinuddin Chishti (1141-1236), found in India a fertile breeding ground which produced a remarkable flowering of spiritual masters, called pirs. Through them, the voice of the Prophet touched the hearts of many Hindus when they heard the verses of the Quran affirming from the Most High that He is “closer to man than his jugular vein”. In return, India allowed Islam to universalize its message by encountering the strangeness of Hindu culture. This unique mix between the two religious traditions gave rise to peaks of art and thought. He built a bridge of brotherhood across the tragedies of history, as witnessed in Delhi by visitors from all walks of life who flock to the tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya (1238-1325).

In Benares, I find the presence of Nund Rishi when I go to Mehtab Shah, a university professor whose life was once turned upside down by the meeting of a Sufi. Having in turn become a recognized master, he is surrounded by disciples who are Muslim and Hindu without distinction. Everyone comes to him to receive wisdom and advice or simply to be bathed by the indescribable goodness of his face, the moving beginnings of a reconciled humanity.

(1) Author of Indian portraits. Eight Christians encounter HinduismMédiaspaul, 216 p., €18, 2022.

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