On the occasion of Jumatul Vida, the mood inside Dargah Hazratbal remains a mix of joy and sorrow.
As the shimmering sanctum on the banks of Dal Lake resonates with “Aye Mahi Ramzan, Alvida” daroods, Shahid turns meditative in a market full of faith and festivity.
His month-long bazar outing concludes when the faithful flocks the Dargah for the farewell Friday prayers and some festive Eid shopping.
In the soulful souk of the valley, Shahid has arrived dressing for the occasion. A white dress and turban gives away the moorings of the man selling dates in his car-turned-cart.
“I run several businesses throughout the year, but prefer to sell dates during Ramazan in the Dargah market known for its unique features and footfall,” he says.
“Dargah is Kashmir’s biggest faith center whose spirit sustains so many survivals in this holy month.”
One of the reasons for the Dargah market’s immense popularity is the presence of well-known and well-liked dishes, breads, snacks, and other items that are not easily obtained in one spot on regular days.
“Our shop does well on Fridays, but during Ramazan we make some special snacks like Feeni and Katlam for eager devotees,” says Mohammad Shazad, a snack-seller.
“These delicacies sell like hot cakes in this blessed month when so many people come here to pray.”
In this faithful bazar, a mobile-library van can be seen marketing digital and printed Quran.
“The demand for the holy scripture increases in this month,” says Showkat Ahmad, the van operator. “We move from place to place in normal days, but remain anchored in this market during Ramazan.”
Not only Muslims, Showkat says, but some non-Muslims also visit the mobile library.
“Since we’ve the Quran in many languages, we give them as haddi for people to read and understand the true message of Islam.”
Near the lakeside shrine compound, Hilal Ahmad sells the Islamic literature. Spread out in the shade of a young maple tree, his book stall has Kalam-e-Shiekh ul Alam, Bukhari Shareef, Guldasata Naat, Kuliyaat-e Iqbal, Diwan-e-Galib among others.
“Unlike the other months when I only manage to sell a few titles, Ramazan provides me with some quick sale,” Hilal says. “Such blessings make one pine for more such months!”
Outside the Hazratbal shrine, sexagenarian Ghulam Nabi sits on a nylon sheet selling embroidered skullcaps and beautiful string of beads. His three-decade-long association with the shrine souk makes him a market maven with clear insights about what works and what not.
“The demand for religious symbols grows in Ramzan and motivates many to set their stall in the market,” the elder says. “The market is a perfect place for spiritual and shopping coexistence in this blessed month.”
In the same market, Rubina, 40, has been selling kean’ki masaal and homemade pickles in a huge silver-coated bronze pot for 17 years now. She calls the month of fasting as the month of lucky charm for traders of Hazratbal.
“The Dargah market is always crowded,” she says, “but the Ramazan time rush is special. It never disappoints anyone.”
A little girl stops near her stall for some eager pickle buying. Rubina greets her with a warm smile and happily sends her away with an extra stock.
A young man nearby is exhorting people to buy his Kashmiri traditional spices. His fixed gaze at the growing bustle in the bazar makes him a captive trader.
“My father would sell spices in this same spot in the holy month of Ramazan,” the young vendor says. “It’s sad we’re bidding an adieu to such a ba-barkat time.”
In the middle of the busy street, Yawar Abbas usually sells women wallets and other items, but during Ramazan he brings a cart full of dates in the market.
“I chose Dargah for selling dates because a large number of people come here for prayers,” he says. “But now as the holy month is leaving us, I will be restarting my women-centric stall after Eid.”
In this classic market scribed with some stark symbols, Bilal Sofi has decorated his shop with specially-made bread for Ramazan. A few young workers inside his shop are working with vigor despite fasting.
“We make a variety of things for Ramazan, including Kashmiri bread with ghee, kripi, and bagerkhani,” Sofi says. “Many people come from far-away places to buy bread from us in this month.”
Amid the meditative ambiance created by Jumatul Vida (the last Friday of Ramazan) fervour, many people can be seen surrounding Arshid’s attar stall named Laylatul Jummah.
“It was the name of very famous attar I used to sell in the past,” Arshid says. “People used to swarm my stall to buy it. On a special occasion like Ramazan, the rush for attar grows manifold in this market.”
Among all the stalls, Fayaz Baba’s stall selling halwe parath and nader-monje is witnessing a festive rush.
“People of Kashmir have a token of faith associated with our fried delicacies,” Baba says. “Most of these devotees who come here to pray return home with some halwe parathe as a long-standing faithful practice.”
During his 30 years in the Dargah market, Javaid Bhat’s dry shop remains a popular point for special Ramazan shopping.
“The Dargah market has its own charm throughout this month,” Bhat says. “People buy goods, especially for iftar, from my stall. The auspicious month brings more barkat and income. For this reason only, most of us change our profession during Ramazan.”
As the shrine continues to air farewell daroods sending faithful into a trance state of mind, the mood inside Kashmir’s faithful bazar turns a mix of joy and sorrow.
It’s this competing emotion that makes the spirit of Dargah so soulful and satisfying for masses—swarming the sanctum as well as the souk full of delicacies.