The Metamorphosis of King Zain-ul-Abidin

King Zain-ul-Abidin was the eighth King (Sultan) of Kashmir, belonging to the Shah Mir Dynasty which ruled Kashmir from 1339 to 1561 and can be attributed at establishing Islam in the valley.

However he is the most revered King in its history as he was benevolent, fair and modest. He reigned for 50 years from 1420 to 1470 bringing the much needed peace and prosperity to the region. He put a stop to corruption and crime. He did a lot for public welfare by building bridges, canals, towns and villages. He gave great attention to education, literature and arts. It was because of him that the fame of Kashmiri handicrafts reached across Asia and onto even Europe.  Yet his greatest achievement was that in a time when religious discrimination was rampant he practiced religious tolerance, equality and liberation.

In short he made Kashmir an actual paradise on earth as all the members of the society irrespective of their religious beliefs lived together in harmony and joy. 

On the other hand his father Sikandar Shah Miri  had not been a very kind and just ruler, so it can come as a surprise that he was nearly the complete opposite to him.

Thereby the following folktale is quite an imaginative account of what could have been the reason for his having such a different personality than that of his father.

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The thick grey clouds loomed low over the valley of Kashmir. It seemed as if winter had no intentions of leaving, adding to the misery of the people.

Pandit Shri Bhatt; a local physician was attending to a patient in his clinic which was set up on the first floor of his house. He seemed quite preoccupied, and his face showed signs of anxiety. He hastily wrote out a prescription, and gave it to the patient.

News of the Illness of King Zain-ul-Abidin

Actually the day before he had been visited by his friend; a Muslim nobleman who had given him a detailed report about the illness of King Zain-ul-Abidin, and the fact that none of the royal physicians had been able to cure him. His friend had suggested his name to the King, and so Shri Bhatt was now eager yet at the same time apprehensive of proving himself a worthy physician. He was asked to come to the Palace at noon. Having finished with the work of that day, he picked up his medical box and set off. Upon arriving he was escorted to the main building. There was a hushed silence, as everyone was perturbed by the King’s illness, and anyone who talked simply whispered. Then he was taken to the King’s bedroom where he found him reclined on his bed. Two of his royal doctors were attending to his wound which in fact had transformed into a boil. Shri Bhatt saluted and then stood at a distance. The doctor asked the King: “You Majesty, Shri Bhatt is here, may he have a look?”  “You may try, but we are in great pain”. Shri Bhatt felt immediately became alert. He unwrapped the bandaged wound, applied some medicine, covered it with cotton wool and redid the bandage. “I am hopeful that your Majesty will have a peaceful night, and within 3 days would be absolutely cured”. King Zain-ul-Abidin gave him a wan smile.

The Recovery of King Zain-ul-Abidin

However the King was quite relieved of his pain, and was able to sleep. It cannot be ascertained that was it the medicine or Shri Bhatt’s good fortune, yet the King was completely recovered within a few days and attended court.  Sitting on his throne he looked around and saw Shri Bhatt. He beckoned him to come forward. The King thanked him and said that he could name anything in the world, and it would be granted to him. Shri Bhatt articulated his gratefulness for the offer, but His Majesty’s recovery was enough for him. However he felt the King’s gaze upon him, and when he looked into his eyes he saw kindness and there was a smile on his lips. Encouraged Shri requested that his fellow Hindus be given the freedom to practice their religion and live with dignity. King Zain-ul-Abidin gave an affirmative nod. On his way home, tears of joy ran down his face as the realization of what he had been able to achieve for his people sank in.

King Zain-ul-Abidin Falls Ill Again

However his joy was going to be short lived, as after a short period the King became ill again. This time his illness could not be diagnosed let alone cured by any doctor not even Shri Bhatt himself. Day by day his life ebbed away. He suffered from high fever, and his once sparkling robust face was now ashen as well as gaunt. The entire kingdom was enveloped in despair and a fervent prayer was on everyone’s lips for his recovery.

Shri’s inadequacy to cure the king frustrated as well caused him great sadness as on one hand he had a fondness for him and on the other not only was his reputation on line but the request for his people was yet to be materialized. And with the precarious state the king was in; the future seemed rather grim.

The Suggestion of the Sadhu

Before dawn he went for a swim in the lake, for the previous night he had spent by the King’s side. On his way back he saw a person coming from the opposite direction. When he came nearer he recognized him to be a Sadhu (a holy man). He was over 6 feet tall, with thick long hair and a beard to match. Shri bent forward and touched his feet in reverence. However he seemed to be quite angry. “I have been roaming for a day and night but have not found any place to rest”. Shri invited him to his house and offered him food and drink. The Sadhu had come from the south so was unaware of the situation. So Shri told him all about it. The Sadhu listened carefully with closed eyes. “Your King cannot live any longer…his time is up”. Shri looked at him in misery. “Then how will the plight of my people change, can’t he stay alive for just a few months?” Then the countenance of the Sadhu altered and a smile spread on his face. He opened his eyes. “I can animate your king with my atman (spirit) for 100 days as soon as he breathes his last. I hope you may achieve what you want in that period. My mortal shell will remain here till that time and you will preserve it. It took some time for the scheme to sink into Shri’s brain. The Sadhu then crossed his legs and closed his eyes. Very soon he stopped breathing and was still as a statue.

The Rebirth of King Zain-ul-Abidin

Shri Bhatt then jumped up and dashed out of the door. He was soon at the palace and ran into the King’s bedroom. The King was bathed in sweat and after a few minutes he breathed his last. His body went cold and stiff. Shri did not take his eyes off him. He wanted to witness the miracle. A few minutes later the King started to breathe again, opened his eyes and in a weak voice asked for some water. Shri was convinced that the Sadhu’s spirit had brought him to life. Yet he began to think that even 100 days would not be enough for the King to regain his strength and power of thought . A devilish thought begun forming in his mind….if the body of the Sadhu was disposed off then his spirit would always remain in the King! So Shri Bhatt had the body cremated with all honors..

Story Reference:

By K. N. Naul

Source: Koshur Samachar (A Journal of Kashmiri Pandits)

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