The Social and Political Life of a Relic
The Episode of the Moi-e- Muqaddas Theft in Kashmir, 1963-1964
The present article is focused on the relationship between a sacred object: the moi-e-muqaddas (the Prophet’s hair), housed in the Hazratbal shrine in Kashmir, and the Kashmiri Muslim community. The relic, which was stolen from the shrine on 27 December 1963, lead to a massive protest in the Kashmir valley and in other parts of the subcontinent, as people demanded its immediate recovery. Such thefts, which have been reported from across the world and across centuries, point to the extreme value of the relics, and the additional value they generate when they are stolen. Similarly, the Hazratbal relic theft became a vehicle for reifying certain Kashmiri Muslim social and political sentiments. The incident also catapulted the issue of Kashmir’s political accession, which emerged in 1947 at the time of the partition of the subcontinent, to the forefront, alarming the Indian government. The Hazratbal relic episode is also reflective of the role of religious ideas and symbols in political action in South Asia.
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