On the western shores of the shimmering Dal Lake is a beautiful ivory-coloured building of marble and stone with the unmistakeable Islamic dome rising from it. This is one of the most well-known shrines in all of India and is undeniably the most significant of all the Islamic shrines in the Kashmir: Hazratbal Shrine, whose very name originates from the words for “sacred enclosure”.
Typically, a sacred enclosure would be a repository of something holy, and this is certainly the case for Hazratbal Shrine. It holds a very important relic indeed: the hair of Mohammed brought to the Kashmir by Syed Abdullah, a descendant of the prophet himself. It was the son of this descendant, Syed Hamid, who sold the relic to a local plutocrat, Khwaja Nur-Ud-Din Eshai, after the family came upon hard times and realised it could no longer provide the care required to house so important an object. The new keeper of the relic bought it with the intention of caring for it himself… but this was not to be, for a new force entered the picture all of a sudden and wrested control of the relic from him.
The Emperor Aurangzeb apparently took the relic from the plutocrat and had him imprisoned for it, although he later recanted his decision and returned the sacred hair to Kashmir. There is a tragedy written into this tale, however: by the time Aurangzeb had recognised his error in seizing the sacred item and imprisoning the man who had been in possession of it, the man had already expired in his prison, so what was returned to the Kashmir were a sacred hair and a corpse. Fortunately, Khwaja Nur-Ud-Din Eshai had descendants remaining in his homeland, and one of his daughters, Inayat Begum, took on the role of caretaker of the relic, which is dubbed Mo-e-Muqaddas in the local language. Since then, her descendants have been in charge of keeping the relic safe.
There have been controversies in the history of the Mo-e-Muqaddas, however. This is one of the most prominent relics in the Muslim faith, after all, and a certain level of danger to its existence and safekeeping can safely be assumed. For instance, in the early 1960’s, an uproar broke out in Kashmir when it was declared that the hair was gone from the shrine and supposedly stolen. The resulting tumult led to the Indian government forming an ad hoc committee dedicated to its recovery, which was announced achieved shortly afterwards, in January of 1964 (the relic was announced to have disappeared in December of 1963).
While security is said to have tightened in Hazratbal Shrine due to the incident, one may still go there to catch a glimpse of the holy strand of hair. Take care that you go during holy days and make inquiries with local agencies to find out when the hair might be on display in its glass case: it is not always on exhibit, so there is a possibility that you may not see it. That said, it would still be worthwhile to visit the shrine even then, for it is a beautiful structure and rather a distinctive one amidst the other great monuments in Srinagar.