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The gate of the hundred sorrows: Part II | Opium and cannabis in old Kashmir

There is documented evidence that Charsis or Shodas existed in Kashmir in the Dogra period and there are many anecdotes related to their hilarious behaviours
12:01 AM Feb 24, 2024 IST | M. J. Aslam
the gate of the hundred sorrows  part ii   opium and cannabis in old kashmir
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In Kashmir, little quantity of poppy [Gul Lala] was cultivated at some places. In the past Kishtawar, Doda, Badarwah, Kakapora, were famed for its cultivation and young people of the valley liked to eat its leaves. Its juice was dried for some days in vessels and then formed in black balls which were then used as “drug”. However, there is no historical evidence to show that there existed any regular or formal opium-dens or Chandu-Khanas , as elsewhere in the British India, anywhere in the valley during the British-Dogra Period. Charas [Bungh] was an export from Kashmir to Punjab, Leh and Central Asia before Partition of 1947. In Kashmiri, the addict of cannabis indica, [Charas] is called Charsi. Charas is a form of Hashish. The words “charas” and “charsi”, to iterate, have Persian root. Bhang or pounded blossoms or leaves of female hemp plant mixed with milk or water was called Bhang-Shira which was used among ‘certain people’ in olden days of Kashmir. Bolly-wood hit, Aap Ki Qasam, duet-song, “Ye Piyala Teray Naam Ka Piya” [Bhang-Shira ] still resonates in ears of millions all over the country.

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Emergence of Shod e Takias:

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In the written and the spoken Kashmiri language, Shode or Shoda is the actual name of a Charsi or a Bhangi , one who is slave to the habit. This is the term prevalent in common Kashmiri parlance. The attempts are being made to find root of the Kashmiri word “Shoda” in the Sanskrit word “ Shudh” which is merely wishful thinking on the part of self-styled “adeebs”, some sensational raconteurs and cultural writers. It has nothing to do with the word Sanskrit “Shudd”. The word “Shudh” has Sanskrit root which means to be cleansed, purified and corrected in a ceremonial sense. It is also used for pure ghee or milk like Shudh Ghee or Shudh milk without impurities or adulteration. Failingly, these social media and cultural sensations, in an over-zealous attempt, endeavour hard to present the Kashmiri Shodas as “Shudh”, as pure as some saintly characters who occupied Kashmirian social landscape in the past.

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With Sanskrit etymology, Shoda or Shode means “a debauchee, a slave to intoxicating drugs, a mad, delusion or delirium of a sot, or simply a banghi”. There is documented evidence that Charsis or Shodas existed in Kashmir in the Dogra period [1846-1947] and there are many anecdotes related to their hilarious behaviours.  But, in spite of their scattered presence in the society, like everywhere in the subcontinent, there were no public dens of Charsis or Shodas or opium dens in the valley. Privately, Charsis or Shodas would often congregate for puffing off chillum, charas or bhang, in some isolated shop or a room or a desolate place which was called “Shoda Wan” by the people. But, it was always done in secrecy by the addicts of cannabis who were called “Bhang-Yars”. It had social stigma. It was not a social institution or centre of any respect in the Kashmirian culture in general. It did not have a social recognition. It was first time, during the Bakhshi-Sadiq periods, when these wandering, homeless, addicts found recognition in the Kashmirian community. The regular dens of Charsis were set up in the city and now, publicly, they came to be connected intently with the Persian word “Takia”. Hence, they came to be called Shoda Takias. The operator of a Shoda Takia was called Takia Dar who was supplied charas and money by the administration for running the cannabis den. It is said that some Takia Dars like that of Siraj Bazar were Kashmiri Pandits who did not, however, themselves smoke charas, it is stressed.

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In the second half of the last century, the wandering Charas-addicts, were collected and settled, seemingly under the patronage of the then administration, in  cannabis dens, mostly adjacent to the vacant spaces of a room or so of revered Ziarats, or Chinar trees or simply a vacant house, throughout the city, and in some villages. They not only puffed off Chillum of cannabis but, they listened to “sufiyana moosiqi” the whole day. Their entire lives revolved round these two things only. It is in public knowledge that the localities of Siraj Bazar Zaina Kadal, Dalal Mohalla, Tashwan, Gadda Bazar Zaina Kadal, Syed Mansoor Zaldagar, Shihampora, Kailaspora, Maisuma, Narwara, Dargah, Batmaloo, Saraf Kadal and Qutub ud Din Pora Dabtal had famous Shoda Takias. As many Kashmiri Muslims traditionally admired   “sufiyana moosiqi”, they started looking at these lazy , lethargic , addicts of cannabis, as new avatars of “Wali Ullah”, friends of God, or Sufi “fana fillah”.  Some Suffiyana musicians of the yore would often hold “Mehfil e Sama” at Shoda Takias. A new trend was consciously set in the Kashmirian community where Mohalla-wallas would send “Bat e Trami”[ plates filled with cooked  rice and some dainties] to the Shoda Takias. They were regularly plied by the people with food, sherbet and kahwah as a mark of “veneration” for what they deemed to be “Dost e Khuda”, “friends of God”.  It may be noted that Islam strictly prohibits use of intoxicants in all forms whatsoever.

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Takia Saraf Kadal:

One of the Shoda Takias, it is said, was set up adjoining the revered Ziarat of Pir Haji Mohammad Qadri [ d 1390] at Saraf Kadal, Srinagar. Pir Haji Mohammad Qadri was close relative of the patron saint of Kashmir, Hazrat Ameer e Kabir, who under the instructions of his spiritual teacher, familiarised by teaching the Quranic principles to the Muslims who were then not well acquainted with it . He was a simple saintly scholar of Islam who was gifted with recitation of the Holy Quran in seven melodious forms of voice for which he was also famous as “Khushkhawan”. He was Quranic teacher of the royal family. Sultan Qutub ud Din [1373-1389] had built a Khanqah with Langar for him where his Ziarat stands and he is entombed there. Unfortunately, the cultural raconteurs on social media while glorifying the Shodas and Shoda Takia of Saraf Kadal are grossly ignorant about the religious and historical importance of the Ziarat where the Shoda Takia of Saraf Kadal was set up.

M J Aslam, historian, author & freelance columnist.

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