Wani, whose death in a shoot-out with Indian forces has triggered deadly clashes with protesters in Indian Occupied Kashmir, was the son of a headmaster who excelled at school before he left home aged just 15 to join the region’s largest rebel group.
Wani’s father has said he took the decision after he and his brother were stopped by Indian forces on their way home and “assaulted and humiliated”.
“Our young pick up guns because of the daily humiliation and torture they face here,” Muzaffar Wani told AFP in 2014.
“My son is not the first one. But if he dies for his self-respect and his people, he will be a martyr.”
Charismatic and articulate, Wani rose quickly through the ranks of Hizbul Mujahideen, a group that fights for mainly Muslim Kashmir to be a part of Pakistan.
He soon began posting pictures on Facebook of himself in battle fatigues holding an assault rifle and videos of his band of young fighters – a departure from the militant tradition of anonymity that won him a loyal following among the region’s youth.
His posts, made from different accounts to make it harder to trace his whereabouts, would be shared thousands of times over within minutes of going live.
By the age of 21 he had become the most senior Hizbul Mujahideen commander in the Kashmir Valley.
Local reports after his death said cricket tournaments had been named after him and schoolchildren were acting out his life in plays.
The death of his brother Khalid Wani last year sparked an outpouring of public sympathy as well as angry protests.
Officials said Khalid was killed in a shoot-out, but his father said his body showed signs of torture, and there were no bullet wounds.
In his last video statement on June 8, Wani exhorted Kashmiri police officers to stop supporting “Indian occupation” and to join the struggle for “freedom”.
Thousands of people attended his funeral in his native Tral area on Saturday.