Opinion: Tale of ‘Khauja digar’
A debate ignited recently on social media where two important questions were posed. Why ‘Khauja Digar’ (congregational prayers at the shrine of Naqshband sahib Nowhatta ) is observed/celebrated? What makes this prayer so popular for ages? Most of the people relentlessly opposed the idea of ‘Khauja Digar’. An attempt was unleashed on social media to call this centuries old congregational prayer as ‘un-Islamic ritual being observed in ignorance’.
Before building any opinion in ignorance on the issue, I too got curious to know what exactly ‘Khauja Digar’ is and why people are negatively debating on it. Since my childhood, I have seen people thronging the shrine of Naqshband sahib and offering ‘Khauja Digar’ (‘asr prayer) on a particular day. But my faculty of reasoning never evoked any doubt till lately I solicited the intervention of learned people about the significance of this day that had created furore on the social media.
However, none came up with any kind of satisfactory explanation, except that ‘Khauja Digar’ is ‘irrelevant and un-Islamic’. The situation provoked me to know exactly what this ritual is all about. While researching on the subject I came across important information and it makes a sense to borrow some facts which researchers have found.
Kashmir is often called land of sufis and saints .Since ancient times,the Kashmir valley has been known as a holy land which has seen the unique teamwork of major cultures of the world .After the advent of Islam kashmir valley witnessed the emergence of great sufis and saints,who played an important role in transformation of religious and cultural way of life of the people of Kashmir. And one among them was Khawaja Khawand Naqshbandi who played a definitive role in the spread of Naqshbandi order in Kashmir. His influence was so enormous that people from all walks of life would seek his guidance and ulama contended for becoming his disciples. As a matter of fact, his activities prompted several Central Asian Sufis of Naqshbandi order to promulgate their ideas in the Valley and turn it into a centre of their activities. It was during the time of Khwaja Muinuddin Naqshbandi, the son of Khwaja Khawand, that the present site of the shrine gained importance as a religious centre. Unlike his father, Khwaja Muinuddin did not take part in politics but devoted himself to the dissemination of the teachings of the Naqshbandi order in the Valley.
Now coming to the main point of discussion, let’s understand the literary meaning of ‘Khauja Diger’. Khauja is a Kashmiri word, a derivative of the Persian Khwaja. Digar is the Persian term for ‘asr prayer. And the Naqshbandi Sufis are called Khwajagans. This way the term Khwaja got associated with the ‘asr prayer offered at the shrine of Khwaja Muinuddin Naqshbandi on the occasion of annual ‘urs.
Basically two ‘urses are observed at the shrine of Khwaja Mu’inu’d-Din Naqshband. One is related to Khwaja Bahau’d-Din Naqshband Mushkilkusha who is entombed in Bukhara and the other concerns Khwaja Mu’inu’d-Din Naqshband, entombed in Srinagar. It may sound strange yet true that the shrine of Mu’inu’d-Din Naqshband holds a unique place in Kashmir for preserving the spiritual heritage of the Naqshbandi order to this day. Notably, it is the ‘urs of Khwaja Bahauddin Naqshband and not of Khwaja Muinuddin Naqshband that is celebrated with great devotion.
This ‘Khauja Digar’ is offered in congregation at the shrine which actually is a mark to show high regard and respect for the Naqshbandi Sufi Khwaja Bahauddin Naqshband.
Notably, from 21st Safar to 3rd Rabi-ul-Awwal thousands of devotees attend the religious assemblages at the shrine. The ’urs is celebrated on 3rd Rabi-ul-Awwal and this day is specially marked with the ‘Khauja Digar’. In other words, this is regarded as the climax of the ‘urs celebrations at the shrine of Naqshband. The devotees are keen to offer this prayer in congregation at the shrine. So the largest congregation at the shrine is the one that is related to Khauja Digar. This event attracts not only men but a large number of
women as well.
Let me also quote a leaf from history. Prof. Tayub Shah Kamili who has led Khauja Digar has told researchers that Khauja Digar
came into vogue from the days of Khwaja Khawand Mahmud. It, however, seems that during the early days the Khauja Digar must have been the prescribed ‘asr prayer rather than Khauja Digar. The daily ‘asr prayer on the day of ‘urs seems to have assumed the name of Khauja Digar in due course as a result of the growing popularity of the Naqshbandi order in Kashmir. The enrolment of several Kashmiri ‘ulama in the Naqsbandi order must have also prompted various sections of Kashmiri society to participate in the recitation of the khatmat preceding the ‘asr prayer on the day of ‘urs.
Many historians have wondered how Khwaja Khawand Mahmud or for that matter his son, Khwaja Muinuddin would have named the ‘asr prayer the Khauja Digar in view of its being one of the fundamentals of Islam. “As a matter of fact, it is on record that Khwaja Bahauddin Naqshbandi would remain engrossed in meditation soon after the ‘asr until the maghrib prayer. On this account, the tradition of holding a special assemblage on each Thursday after the ‘asr at the Khanqah came into vogue. This assembly is marked by the recitation of khatmat and manaqib in praise of the Khwaja’, reads a leaf from history tracing the origin of ‘Khauja Diger’
So it is purely an inspirational religious devotion of the Kashmiris evolved over centuries while being under the influence of Sufi masters of the Naqshbandi order who strictly followed the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
(The author is Associate Editor at INS)
Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not of the organisation.