“The Culture of Islam in the Western Himalayas”

Abeer Gupta

Ladakh and the region of the western Himalayas, is made up various forms of Islam. Followers of
various Sufi shrines – devotees at aastans offamous peers, communities of Nurbakshis and Ahli-I Hadith sects inhabit this region which has been a gateway between central and south Asia. Along with various conquests it has seen the passage of various goods and ideas, and been a melting pot of various philosophies, - Rishi-ism, Buddhism, Sufism, Islam. Ladakh, over centuries, saw traders from Yarkhand, Lhasa, Samarkand as well as the Gangetic plains. Objects from a pan Asian trade could be found fairly easily in the bazaar in Leh, and this interaction had a profound influence on the local visual culture, materials, forms, beliefs and customs. In recent years a range of pricy consumer goods arrive from west Asia via stores in Kashmir, along with a wide range of branded trekking gear imported from Nepal, while mass produced goods from the Subcontinent and China flood the fringes.This research will visually represent the complex identities of various Islamic beliefs in the districts of Leh and Kargil, - the main areas around the mosques, markets and the variety of objects which inhabit the Islamic cultures of the region. Archival objects, as well as popular culture, mapping the subtle variations that take place in these objects in time – in their form, their materials and rendering – depending on changing practices, regional overlaps and outside influences.

Note on image:
Inside of the mosque in Shey which is said to have been founded by Mir Syed Ali Hamadani –assumes the status of an astana (pilgrimage center) – built in a characteristic Ladhakhi style of architecture – revered universally by Shi’as, Sunnis and Nubakhshis.

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