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Photo Story: Torch festival at Aishmuqam shrine

Photo Story: Torch festival at Aishmuqam shrine
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People in Kashmir celeberated the torch festival and burnt Mashals (also known as Zool in local language) at Shrine of Sufi saint Baba Zaina-ud-din Wali at Aishmuqam village of South Kashmir’s Anantnag district on 30, April, 2018. Performing the traditional ‘dambael’, some revellers ripped apart their shirts in excitement while chanting “Zain Shah chui Baadshah (Zain Shah is king)”.

Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims who believe in Sufism throng to the shrine of Wali to celebrate the annual torch festival which symbolizes the end of long winter and the beginning of new season .

A festive atmosphere was witnessed along the serpentine stairway leading to the shrine on the hillock. Dozens of devotees carrying ‘mashaals’ (fire torches) lined up the zigzag hilly track leading to the shrine.

People believe that during the rule of Ashushah Badshah, a few centuries back, a ‘genie’ (ghost) had terrified Aishmuqam. He would devour villagers one by one. However, a Gujjar boy named Bumisad  later killed the ghost after a fight that lasted for a week. The villagers still celebrate the victory of good over evil centuries later.

Abdul Gani Wani, a local resident who has been coming to the shrine for the past many years said, “The shrine has been witnessing the same celebrations on ‘Urs’ for the past many centuries.”

Locals said that when Hazrat Zain-u-Din Wali came to Aishmuqam in the 15th century, he kept the tradition of lighting torches alive. The saint meditated in a small cave, where his mausoleum is now located. Many cultural activities take place here. The festival is held after the evening prayers, and a torchlight procession is the main part of festival. The procession involves holding torch lights, locally called leshi in a peculiar way, which depicts the public seeking blessings of the saint.



A Kashmiri Muslim chants slogans, part of the ritual, outside the shrine of Hadrat Zain-ud-din Wali, a Sufi saint, during an annual torch festival.


A villager carrying unlit torches while on his way to the shrine.


Kashmiri Muslims hold the burning torches outside the cave shrine of Hadrat Zain-ud-din Wali.


Kashmiri Muslims pray outside the shrine of Hadrat Zain-ud-din Wali, a Sufi saint, during an annual torch festival on 30, April, 2018 at Aishmuqam, 75 km (47 miles) south of Srinagar.


After offering Maghreb prayers people assemble outside the shrine.


People taking videos and pictures of the torch march.


The shrine of Hadrat Zain ud Din Wali amidst torch lights.


People burning fire to dance around. A decorated shrine can also be seen in the picture.


People dance around the fire. Dancing is one of the ritual practices of the torch festival.

Author is freelence photojournalist with various international photo agencies.

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