Hazratbal Shrine is the holiest shrine in Srinagar. The presence of the hair of Prophet Mohammed makes it a revered place for the Muslims. The Shrine is right on the banks of Dal Lake and is an important pilgrimage site.
The shrine has a courtyard that opens to the lake. From the outside the shrine looked dull. Many construction work around the shrine and particularly on the tomb didn’t help either. It has a large outer hall and a sacred inner sanctum. Out of reverence people wear caps while entering the shrine. There are skull caps in a basket at the entrance and can picked and worn before entering the inner sanctum. The interior of the shrine is quite peaceful and cool. It is a place for meditation and to prayer. It is also here that the relic of Prophet Mohammed is kept.
For a peaceful place of worship, the shrine was heavily guarded. It has been in news before for many unwanted reasons; one in particular- the Hazratbal siege crisis that began on October 15th 1993. Hordes of police and armies poured in and surrounded the shrine after they got the news that some militant leaders have assembled inside the shrine. In the proceeding events around 28 people died and 60 injured when they came out to protest, ignoring the curfew.
The shrine also made headlines when the hair of Prophet Mohammed was stolen from the shrine on 26 December 1963. There was a big uproar and mass agitation in the State. It became a matter of National interest when Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India appealed to whoever had stolen to bring back the holy relict. It was finally restored on January 4th 1964. The relic is brought out for public display occasionally during Mehraj-U-Alam by the head priest.
Legend has it that the relic was taken to India by Syed Abdullah, a descendant of Prophet Mohammed when he relocated to Bijapur near Hyderabad from Medina in 1635. He than passed on the relic to his son, Syed Hamid. After the Mughal conquest, Syed Hamid could no longer guarantee the safekeeping therefore, sold it to a rich Kashmiri businessman Khwaja Nur-Ud-Din Eshai. The Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb finally seized the relic and sent it to a shrine at Ajmer. Ultimately, the emperor realized his mistakes and returned it to Khwaja Nur-Din Eshai, to be taken it to Kashmir. Khwaja-Nur-Din Eshai died in the prison and the relic was taken along with the body to Kashmir. It was Inayat Begum Daughter of Khwaja Nur-Din Eshai who became the caretaker of the relic and built the shrine to house the relic. The relic has been there in Kashmir since 1700.
On my way back the auto driver told me that the inner-peaceful sanctum of the shrine was his favorite place in the entire city. ‘It is so peaceful and cool inside Hazratbal,’ he said ruminatively as if he was talking about another place from another era. The sanctum is so revered that they don’t speak but whisper. For people who follow the religion, there cannot be a holier place in the entire city.