THE land of Kashmir is hallowed by great souls - saints, seers, rishis, munis, mystics, sufis, faqirs, gods and tirthas. Little wonder, therefore, that this holy land of Bharat Varsha has throughout maintained the 'parampara' (tradition) of producing men and women of spiritual eminence. Kashmir alone in India has a recorded historical account of its past in the Rajtarangini of Kalhana and subsequent writers, spanning several thousand years.
Kashyap Rishi of yore, shines at the top of the galaxy of great souls. He was so exalted as to have an easy access to the gods to invoke their help to ward off evil. According to the legend narrated in the Nilmata Purana, Jalodbhava (water born) came to live under the care of Nila in the waters of the Satisara. He had obtained from Lord Vishnu the boon of being 'indestructible under water.' As he grew up, he became arrogant and cruel, indulging in death and destruction all around. Nila got so much perturbed over his demonic behaviour that he had to approach his father Kashyap Rishi for help. The rishi in turn approached Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara for redemption from the evil element. Finding the ineffectiveness of Lord Vishnu's Sudarshan Chakra against Jalodbhava, who had disappeared under water, the gods decided upon cutting the mountains around to get rid of the demon. As the water gushed out, Jalodbhava got exposed and was beheaded.
Kashmir has been rightly referred to as 'Rishi Vaer.' All rishis and mystics have not been men or women of scholarship and erudition. They were, however, human beings given to renunciation, contemplation and compassion to attain spiritual heights. They were either married persons or recluses. Swami Grata Bab was one such recluse, whose actual name was Pandit Prasad Joo Koul. His parents were residents of Shopian town in South Kashmir. He was, however, adopted by Pt. Zana Koul of Banamohalla, Kashmir. The Swami was taught Sanskrit by Shri Suraj Ram Bhagwan and Persian by Shri Ram Wander Bhagwan at Srinagar. As he grew up, he went back to Shopian and lived with his natural parents for about three years. Thereafter, he shifted to Srinagar and sold off his inherited house at Banamohalla to the well-known saint, Swami Kailash Koul.
As I have learnt from my grandfather, late Pt. Madhav Joo Saraf, Grata Bab as a very young person (when he was still known by his name Prasad Joo) had lived in our house for quite some time before he went to Achabal. Though he looked normal and also behaved as such, he enjoyed sound siesta-cum-sleep during the day, of course attending to normal work whenever required. In contrast, he remained virtually awake during nights, absorbed in meditation. Though he tried to give every one an impression that he was asleep, to the discerning eye, his inclination towards spirituality was evident.
Around the first Great war, he fled from our house to take refuge in the premises of a 'Grata' (water mill) at Achabal, where he stayed for about three decades. It was here that he attracted the attention of people through his antics as a typical mastana. Apparently, he talked incoherently in soliloquies, and attracted crowds of believers from all communities. Very many such visitors came to believe in his spiritual powers as their questions got answered and their desires fulfilled. It was in view of the Swami's long stay in the premises of Grata (water mill) that he came to be called Grata Bab.
Miracles started being attributed to him, with the result he became an object of curiosity and attraction. If I remember the name correctly, one of his devotees from Srinagar, Nandlal, revealed to me that he was detained by the Swami and persuaded to stay put at Achabal. Shri Nandlal was very anxious to leave early to be able to catch a tonga for Anantnag to proceed for an onward journey to Srinagar by bus. He could not summon up the courage to leave without Bab's permission and so stayed on there, internally restive. After some time, Bab, under an impulse, blurted out that transport was arriving and he was unnecessarily worrying. In an unusual tone, he asked him to get ready. Soon another person arrived on a tonga (booked for a to and fro journey). This man had come to stay with the saint for the night. Through the grace of Bab, Nandlal got the transport facility to take him to Anantnag.
Grata Bab would always sit facing the wall on which he would continuously spit. According to thoughtful devotees, he adopted this habit deliberately to look repulsive and thus keep away unwanted crowds excluding true devotees who stuck to him at all costs.
Pandit Shridhar Joo Dhar, ax-Conservator of Forests, of Kanyakadal (Chota Bazar), Srinagar, was one of Bab's closest devotees. It was on his persuasion that Bab returned to Srinagar, probably one year before Qabaili raid of October 1947 on Kashmir. He stayed for a year or so at the house of Pt. Shridar Joo Dhar, which remained thronged by people (including devotees) throughout the day, even till late hours. From there, he was taken by a devotee to his residence at Kupawara. While he was at Kupawara, the Qabailis were on their onward march killing Hindus and destroying their properties. These Qabailis were informed about the presence of a Godly person, Grata Bab in the town. They raided the house where Bab was putting in. These Qabailis physically lifted Bab and threw him out of the third storey window. What a miracle! The Swami got up from the snow covered ground, and walked up back to his room. The Qabailis repeated the act. Lo and behold! the saint came up once again without receiving even a bruise. The Qabailis left the house convinced of his spiritual prowess.
At Srinagar, he stayed at the houses of several devotees. One such devotee was Shri Balbadar Dhar, who was an employee of Srinagar municipality, and lived a Sathu Bala. One day my father and I went to Shri Dhar's house with the sole purpose of requesting Bab to grace our house at Fateh Kadal with his presence. He directed us to seek OK from Shri Dhar. Shri Dhar and his wife told us that we could take him to our house after a day or two. Accordingly thereafter, we brought Swamiji to our home. Having been an inmate of the house long-long back, it was a sort of homecoming of Bab. As he stepped into the house, he recalled the name of the room (Diwan Khana) he had previously stayed in. So, we prepared his Aasan on a diwan, which he rejected. He insisted on being accommodated on the floor in a particular corner of 'Diwan Khana' close to the window overlooking the Vitasta (Jhelum). From that day onwards, he made this corner his permanent seat for about six years. Now and then, he took a day's break to visit the houses of other devotees on their request, making it a point to come back to ours in the evening. He continued the practice of spitting at the wall.
As I observed him, he lived a very simple life, without making any demands. As was his wont, he only took the morning meal. During the day he had many cups of tea, as often as tea was served to the visitors as instructed. He had a cup of highly spiced tea as his dinner. Whenever he sat for his morning meal, he offered a morsel to every one present as prasad, and himself, took whatever little was left behind. If the Thali got emptied in the process, he never asked for food for himself. It may be added here that members of Muslim community also believed in him and partook of this prasad from his Thali. Shah Brothers, a known Muslim business family of Naid Kadal, Srinagar, visited him once and insisted on sharing his left-overs.
Throughout the year, he used a Kangri (fire-pot) containing live, hot charcoal, so hot that none other could bear. At regular intervals, he would ask a devotee around to pound (Dug Dug) his back, especially the lower portion of the spine, as hard as he or she could. He used to wear Pheran throughout the year.
Apart from smoking hubble-bubble, he relished the 'chillum' too. He would recite verses from the scriptures and had a good knowledge of Sanskrit and Persian. He wrote meaningful quotes on pieces of paper, which he distributed among the visitors.
It would be worthwhile to make a mention of one incident concerning my elder brother-in-law, the late Mr. Somnath Zutshi. He fell seriously ill in the late forties. He was suffering from jaundice, which was considered incurable at that time. The disease had damaged his liver. On seeing his deteriorating condition, his wife made me to accompany her to the saint Kash Kak of Manigam. We took with us fruit and vegetables as an offering to him. While crossing a rivulet towards his house, a passer-by informed us that the Swami was seated on his ground-floor window. As we reached his house, we didn't find the Swami at the window. On entering the house, his wife informed us that he had gone to plough the fields. She told us to leave the offering in the room and look for the Swami at the field. On reaching the field, we found oxen standing still with the plough on their back. Another passer-by informed us that Kash Bab was lying asleep in the front of a shop. It took us some time to trace the shop. We found the Swami fast asleep with swarms of lice moving about on his pheran, probably to create a revulsion in us. I summoned the courage to touch and massage his feet. He woke up, and expressed his anger for disturbing him. We explained our problem with our tearful eyes. He very sternly replied that we were too late, and said further that if he interfered in the scheme of God, his hands would be chopped off with unseen swords. However, he added that Grata Bab alone could help. Obviously, he meant that the lady should have approached Grata Bab rather than him. He also admonished us for having brought fruit and vegetables, directing us that the entire stuff should he collected from his home and taken back. He further instructed us not to throw these vegetables and fruit into the close by Sendh nallah as these would kill the fish. Instead, he desired me to hang these from the cave of my house, which I did much against my parents' wishes, to comply with the saint's wishes.
On reaching Fateh Kadal, we related the whole tale to Grata Bab, who expressed his inability to do anything, saying that it was too late. He also said that the patient's wife had not the faith to seek his help in time. That very day, Mr. Zutshi went into coma and passed away at night.
After completing my post graduation in Economics and L.L.B., I returned to Srinagar where, to my dismay, I did not find Swamiji in our house. He had left only a few days before my arrival. From our house, he had been taken by his ardent devotee, Pandit Bhaskar Nath Raina, to his house at Rainawari. From there he had gone to several houses of his devotees, finally landing in the house of another close devotee, Pandit Jia Lal Koul (Jalali). Pt. Jalali had provided him a separate room in the out-house. I continued to pay my obeisance to the saint almost daily during Summer, as during Winter I used to be in Jammu.
I had a great regard and love for Grata Bab, and he always reciprocated my feelings of love for him. With aging, though he showed some signs of exhaustion, his face retained its spiritual glow. It was Ashad Krishna Paksh Ekadashi. Being my birthday, I, as usual, went to Bab to seek his blessings. I was taken aback to find that he had breathed his last that very morning. I stayed on to attend to his last rites at the cremation ground, Karan Nagar. If my memory does not fail me, it was the year 1962 when he attained his Nirvana. Since then he has continued to lead me as 'kindly light.'