He was lean, tall and awe-inspiring. Through the lanes and bylanes of Srinagar city, he walked briskly wearing a greatcoat, a big hat and carrying a long staff.
He walked so briskly that his disciples had a tough time keeping pace with him. He was known as the ‘defence minister of India’ and children followed him during his walks in the old city of Srinagar. This was Swami Nand Lalji of Nuner village in Ganderbal district. Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus fondly called him ‘Nand Bab’ (Father Nand Lal).
He was the son of Raj Guru of Maharaja Amar Singh, Shanker Sahib and his wife Subadhra Ji of Purshyar in the Habba Kadal area of Srinagar.
Swami Nand Lal shifted his residence to Nunar village in Ganderbal to live with his brother who was adopted by his maternal aunt there. Nand Bab was employed in the police department and posted in Ladakh. His return from Ladakh proved to be a turning point in his life. He took to spiritualism and became a mystic saint. He blessed everyone who went to him. There were no barriers of caste, creed, colour or religious belief in his companion. His disciples, from all communities of Kashmir, believed that Swami Nand Bab’s spiritual assets were inexhaustible. He would grant boons, favours from his spiritual assets. His elderly neighbours in Nuner village and other places en route to Ladakh remember vividly what Nand Bab did in 1962.
When India and China were swearing by the ‘Panchsheel’ (Five Principles of peaceful coexistence signed by India and China in 1954), Nand Bab started his walk to the Sino-Indian border in Eastern Ladakh. “Muj Ko Hamlawar Ko Rokna Hai”, (I am going to stop the aggressor), he told people who tried to find out the reason for the Swami’s emergency walk to the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
It was after the Sino-Indian war of 1962 that Nand Bab came to be known as the ‘defence minister of India’. The title was truly earned by the saint because he knew months in advance what the then defence minister of India, Krishna Menon did not know till it happened. He would carry a stenographer with him towards the later part of his life. ‘Orders’ and predictions made by the saint were dictated to the stenographer. Among some of his ‘orders’ were the removal of Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad as the ‘Wazir-e-Azam’ of J&K.
Months before the Bakshi was asked to tender his resignation under the Kamaraj Plan, Nand Bab had dictated to his stenographer, “Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad May Do Dulari, Haridwar Rawana’ (Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad along with his two wives is despatched to Haridwar). Incidentally, Late Bakshi had taken a second wife months before he lost power.
Another incident recalled by elders in Fateh Kadal area of old Srinagar city is of the mid-1960s. “He came to Fateh Kadal and drew a line in front of a Kashmiri Pandit home and said, “Aaj Malik Angan Mein Atishbazi Hogi” (Today there will be a grand firecracker show of light and sound in Malik Angan).”The entire locality was gutted down in a huge blaze the same night except for the Kashmiri Pandit’s home where the saint had drawn a line”, recalls G.L. Daftari, 73, who lived in the Fateh Kadal area of Srinagar before the exodus.
Similarly, when the Indian Airlines Fokker F-27 Friendship 200 passenger plane crashed in the Pir Panchal mountain range on February 7, 1966, rescue teams remained clueless about the crash site, but Nand Bab told a gathering of devotees in his native village, “Jahaaz Khew Hoon Hingan” (The plane has hit the twin peak at Banihal) and that is where the wreckage of the aircraft was finally found. 37 passengers lost their lives in that crash.
Without any discrimination between communities, Nand Bab is known to have organised marriages of many orphan girls in different parts of the Valley. His reputation travelled far and wide.
The then Prime Minister of the country, Indira Gandhi had passed special instructions to the guards at the Teen Murti House not to stop the saint at the gate whenever he wished to visit the Gandhi family. Dr Shiben Krishen Raina has written a research paper on the saint in which he says, “Swami Nand Bab stands out in the tradition of such mystics who are known for their godliness, spiritual power, prophecies, foresight, piety and holiness”.
Swami Nand Bab passed away on October 10, 1976, in Delhi after a brief illness. His message of universal love, brotherhood, compassion and tolerance lives in the hearts and minds of those whose souls are still not consumed by hatred and violence.