Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gandhara Art in Kashmir

Iqbal takes reader to Kotebal which was founded by Kushan rulers and was well known for Gandhara art as is clearly evident by the skill and craftsmanship of its floor tiles

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 48, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numastics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)

Terracotta’s of Kotebal

I do not know the origin of Kotebal but this word is classified under Kashmiri terminology and refers to a place. Kotebal basically in Kashmiri denotes a place name. It is a compound word, “Kote” and “Bal”. Kote usually refers to a place situated on a plateau, most probably some built enclosure in shape of a fort. Similarly, “Bal” is also a place name where people meet. We have Kotebal, Nagbal, Hazratbal, Khirbal, Khanabal like scores of villages whose names end with Bal.

Kote is also sometimes used as a suffix of a word which denotes a place name e.g. Daderkote, Chanderkote are also Kashmiri place names where in ‘Kote’ has been suffixed to the main names. Sometimes ‘Kote’ comes before the main name like Kotebal, Koteraj, Kotehair etc. There are few villages having the name Kotebal. I have seen few odd villages and places of this name. These places are often seen on plateaus that too in hilly and forest areas of Kashmir.

Traditions speak that during ancient periods few chieftains ruled in these smaller areas of the Valley. Those chieftains have been referred in folklore as Koteraz. There principalities mostly existed in the distant corners of the Valley which had been delinked from their main urban areas. The local powerful tribes would emerge as the chiefs in their respective areas and established their respective authorities. Who were these people and when did they establish their respective principalities? The historical records are quiet silent about it as they do not make mention of any such local tribe.

However, it is only the local folklores and traditions which have made mention of these small states and named their chiefs as “Koteraz”. The places named as Kotebal, Dardkote, Kotehair, or Chanderkote are said to have been the remnants of those smaller states whose rulers were known as Koteraz. In South Kashmir, I have been to few such places which carry these names. These are Dardkote in Pargona Khuvepur, Daderkote in Pargana Arwani, Kotebal in Pargana Devesar and Kotebal in Pargana Kothair.

These places are usually seen on the upper lands or we can say on the plateaus. There are various legends associated with these places which sometimes tell us that olden treasures are buried under their debris. The people adjacent to these places tell us that these places belonged to different Koterazs who had raised their forts. They dumped their possessions inside these places. No doubt these are traditions which are associated with these sites but sometimes traditions when investigated have revealed hidden stories of human civilizations.

Although most of such places and sites which carried these names are still unexplored, one such place called Kotebal in eastern South Kashmir revealed a mysterious terracotta pavement when investigated in 2005. The traditions associated with this site have made it a significant historic site of South Kashmir. It was in the month of June 2005 that archaeologists of state archeology department under the expert guidance of young archeological Mohammad Shafi Zahid undertook the survey of Alliqa Kothair in South Kashmir.

The team made extensive surveys of the area and visited several forest compartments. During the survey of the area they reached Sheikhpora few kilometers above the town of Shangus. It was in the Sheikhpora forest compartment that the team came across a mound at a very high forest plateau near a nomadic settlement of Gujjars. The place is named Kotebal where the nomadic people had raised their wooden structures called Gujjar Kothas.

From Sheikhpora to Kotebal it is quiet a difficult track of about five kilometer distance which passes through a zig zag pathway. Kotebal is situated at a height of above one thousand feet from Sheikhpora plains. The archeological mound was explored at the forest edge near the kotha of Basher Ahmad Khatana. The debris was removed by the experts and after studying the surface evidences the spot was dug.

After digging a small portion of land, excavators came across a tie floor at a depth of 2.5 feet. These were baked tiles shaped like large bricks. After the scientific clearance of the excavated tile floor, it was found that the floor consisted of a well planned tile pavement. The pavement was laid in a circular shape which consisted of several terracotta square and rectangular shape of tiles; the centre of the pavement was marked by a lotus stalk like motif.

The trial dig report of the site published by the excavator writes, “The excavation work was taken up on 6th June 2005 and after several days of continuous work magnificent stamped tiles were excavated by the team. These tiles form a circular pavement with a variety of motifs. In the centre is a lotus flower design with beautiful central pieces of Kamalghata with the petals of the flower motif forming a circle. Beyond it many other motifs have been made by the artists to create a beautiful sequence of design.

Some of these motifs are very unique and have been found for the first time in Kashmir. These are the motif of dancing girls, elephant rider, fish and running deer. The excavation report of the sites further writes, “The site and its finds are dated to first century AD. It is the period when Kashmir was under the influence of imperial Kushans the famous Kushan king Kanishka ruled the Kushan empire which included Kashmir as well”.

During my visit to site I also got a chance to handle few of the excavated terracotta’s of the site, besides having a view of the exposed portion of the tile pavement. Created in a densely forest compartment overlooking the Shangus valley of South Kashmir, Kotebal pavement in the first instance surprised me. I could not imagine of such a well planned and well-designed baked tile pavement would have existed ever over this distant and high altitude spot of Kotebal.

But soon I could understand the problem of its settlers because in ancient times the Valley was full of waters and it was only on its upper forest reaches that man could established any settlements. During Kushan period the Valley was not feasible to raise their respective monuments, as such most of the sites and monuments associated with Kushan period are usually found on high plateaus of this land.

Kotebal was definitely founded by the Kushan rulers as is clearly evident by the skill and craftsmanship of its floor tiles. The tiles which bear varied human, animal and floral motifs depicted the artistic trends of post-Greco-Bactrian art, better known to artists as Gandhara art which flourished heavily during the mighty Kushan period. This art initially evolved from Gandhara, the present day Khandhar province of Afghanistan and gradually spread to whole of the Kushan empire which then extended from Kabul to Bengal.

Although the Kushans held Kashmir upto 4th Century AD, imprints of Gandhara art, on stone bronze and terracotta’s remained here till 9th Century AD. What was the real purpose of Kotebals pavement is hard to say unless and until the Kotebal site is fully excavated and investigated.

The trial dig given at the site in June 2005 has exposed the archaeological significance of Kotebal and revealed one more monument of Kushan period. Had Kushan’s built any Buddhist monastery at Kotebal or did they built any other tile pavements at or near the place? In absence of required data nothing concrete can be said.

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