The working man’s Sufi

Sufi encouraged people to earn their livelihood through honest means and hard work

One of the most beautiful khanqahs in Kashmir is that of Shah-e-Hamdan, on the banks of river Jhelum. It is a wooden pagoda-style structure, known as Khanqah-e-Maula. Its interiors and walls are decorated with the most exquisite papier-mâché work. This place of solace is where the great Sufi of Kashmir Valley established his hospice. It now contains some holy relics and is visited by hundreds of devotees each day.

Also known as Amir-e-Kabir, Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani came from Hamdan in what was then Persia. His father belonged to the ruling elite of the city and his family traced their lineage to Prophet Muhammad through Imam Ali.

Shah-e-Hamdan’s visit to the Kashmir Valley during the 14th century is a major event in the history Kashmir. Shah-e-Hamdan is said to have written over 100 books, of which 50 short treatises have survived. The most famous of these is the treatise Zakhirat-ul-Muluk that explores the social and political ethics which rulers and the governing classes were expected to follow. The mystic is credited with the revival of Kashmiri handicrafts, an industry that was then on the decline. Nearly 700 fellow Sufis and travellers from Central Asia are said to have accompanied Shah-e-Hamdan to Kashmir. Encouraged by the Sultan, they shared their skills with the local craftsmen, giving a boost to the handicraft sectors. The Sufi encouraged people to earn their livelihood through honest means and hard work.

Even today in Kashmir, shawl-making is called kar-e-amiri, the work of a king, in deference to Shah-e-Hamdan, who earned a living by making caps with his own hands. He gifted a cap that he had made to Sultan Qutubuddin, who wore it under his crown. The cap remained a family treasure, worn by several descendants of the Sultan. Eventually, the ruler Fath Shah willed that the cap be placed in his shroud and buried with him.

After a brief spell in Kashmir, Shah-e-Hamdhan headed towards Mecca for pilgrimage. He died on the way and his body was carried to Khuttalan, in present day Tajikistan where he was buried. The urs of Shah-e-Hamdhan is celebrated with great fervour in the Valley. Seven hundred years later, Shah-e-Hamdan still rules in the hearts of the people of Kashmir.

Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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