On a sombre April day, Bisma Ali sojourns Dargah and captures through her lens the still life around the most revered shrine of Kashmir where faith has been put under lockdown.
Amid the ongoing lockdown in Kashmir due to the Coronavirus pandemic, places of worship which otherwise would be buzzing with worshippers and their loud incantations blaring through loudspeakers – the most popular and revered shrine of Dargah sits calmly on the northern side of the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar.
The shrine of Dargah has forever been a site of attaining solace for Kashmiri Muslims - especially in the last three decades when conflict has meant that peaceful life remains out of bounds for local people. However, the current pandemic has shut the doors of solace for residents of the city and faith has been put on hold.
The hum of Naat (hymns in praise of the Prophet), Darud-o-Azkaar (salutary prayers to Prophet and his family) is no longer soothing the souls. Azaan (call for prayers) too is not heard.
All daily prayers, Friday prayers, and special prayers have been called off as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the viral disease – which has claimed over 1,54,00 lives worldwide, including five in Kashmir.
The move has disrupted the connections of the faithful towards this revered shrine. The entry gates of the shrine remain locked, guarded by armed policemen and blocked by layers of concertina wires. The measures are put in place to prevent the assembly of people in the mosque.
Birds still visit the shrine and land in its courtyard to gather crumbs of food. People living nearby the shrine don’t forget the birds – lockdown or no lockdown. Birds don’t despair, they say.
The locals place food regularly as a duty ordained by faith. The deputed staff for cleaning the shrine arrives four times a day. They spray disinfectant on its walls. They broom its surface, wash its concrete plinth and remove bird droplets.
“The Astaan (shrine) has to remain clean. It’s my duty and part of my faith. Even in these times, people manage to come here, touch the walls, and rub their hands on their bodies. They believe it will cure them. So we spray the disinfectants, in order for the disease not to spread,” said a worker.
According to the Kashmir’s Grand Mufti Nasir-ul-Islam, the prayers have been abandoned at the shrine for the first time in its 300-year-old history due to a fear of coronavirus.
The shrine was established in the mid 18th century when, as per locals, the holy relic of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was brought here.
“Dargah has always been and remains the place where people get their wishes fulfilled, diseases cured, and problems solved,” the worker said.