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.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Unique Civilizational Experiment

Balraj Puri wonders if diversity is a virtue, how come Ladakh and Jammu lose out in history books?

(Mr. Balraj Puri, 80, was born in Jammu city and attended the Ranbir High School and the Prince of Wales College in Jammu. He is a journalist, human rights activist and a writer who has been an eye witness to the turbulent history of the State. He has written 5 books, including the historical "5000 years of Kashmir" in 1997. He is the Convenor of the J&K State branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and the Director of the Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, based in Jammu.)

5000 Years of Kashmir

Kashmir is a unique civilizationed experiment which can claim, as observed by Sir Aurel Stein, the distinction of being the only region of India (undivided) which possesses an uninterrupted series of written records of its history. The archaeological excavations in Bourzahama, 15 kilometers from Sringar, establish its antiquity to before 3000 BC ( ie over 5000 years). It was contemporaneous to the Mohenjudaro civilization. Moreover, the excavations further provide evidence to the fact that some of the practices and rituals prevalent 5000 years are still prevalent in Kashmir society today. In other words, this is a unique experiment of continuity of a tradition for such a long period.

According to James Ferguson, the Nagas, the earliest inpatients of Kashmir, were an aboriginal race of Turanian stock before the Aryans conquered the North India. Again, Sir George Grierson, the pioneering authority on Indian languages, maintains that Kashmiri to is not of Saskrit origin but of Dardic origin that means Kashmiri does not belong to Indo- Aryan family of languages, spoken from Dhaka (Bangladesh) to Pershawar (Pakistan).

The original Naga tribes resisted absorption in the Vedic civilization by the Aryans. According to legends, some Nagas attended the religious seminars of Nagarjuna at Nalanda and impressed by the way he contradicted the Vedic doctrines, invited him to Kashmir. According to GMD Sufi, on account of his connections with the Nagas, he received the name of Nagarjuna. (Some scholars claim that he was a Kashmiri as Naga in his name suggests ). He was elevated to the status of Bodhistava. It was under his leadership that the fourth council of Buddhism was held at Harvan near Srinagar in Kashmir in 100 AD where Mahayana school of Buddhism was founded. Influenced by Naga-Tantric thought of Kashmir, Buddhism got transformed into its Kashmiri version. Buddhism was, in a way, Kashmirised before it was adopted by Kashmiris.

Shivas supremacy over Vedic gods

With the decline of Buddhism in India and its eventual absorption in the mainstream religious thought, the process started in Kashmir also. But in Kashmir this, was done with reservation. Kashmir adopted shaivism. Shiva is not a Vedic god but of pre-Aryan tribes. Abhinav Gupta, the eminent Kashmiri philosopher, claims the primacy of agamas religious texts of ancient Kashmir dating between first and fifth century AD over the Vedas both in point of time and performance of rituals. The interaction between Vedic and Kashmiri traditions did develop in course of time. But in Kashmirs religious literature the supremacy of Shiva over the Vedic supreme god Indira has often been asserted. Margendre Tantra, for instance, refers to a legend in which Shiva is regarded as the supreme deity from whom Indira brings the sacred knowledge of Tantra to the world, thereby reducing him to a mere communicator of Shivas knowledge. According to VN Darbu, the pre-Vedic people of Kashmir were admitted to Vedic society with distinctive characteristics of their own life at different periods. Eventually indigenous religious beliefs, and Buddhism were synthesized by great Kashmiri philosophers Vasugupta (ninth century AD) and Abinava Gupta (tenth century AD) into Kashmiri version of Shaivism called Trika philosophy. Influence of Buddhism is discernible in many rituals and customs of Kashmiri Hindus even today.

Islam as Consolidator of Traditions

According to GMD Sufi, Monastic theism of Kashmir Shaivism is very near to Islam. He particularly compares it with the tenet of celebrated Muslim mystic Mansur al Hallaj (858 to 922 AD) who proclaimed Anl Haq (I am creative truth). Kashmir thus accepted Islam not as a negation but as a culmination of a proud spiritual heritage. It did not surrender to Islam as a spiritually exhausted personality but greeted it in a friendly embrace. Islam did not come to Kashmir as a faith of conquerors and thereore did not humiliate or hurt its pride. Muslim rule was not an outside import but followed the conversion of a local ruler. Mass conversion of the people of Kashmir to Islam owes to a unique character that emerged from the soil in the person of Alamdar-e-Kashmir, Shaikh Nooruddin Noorani, popularly called Nund Rishi (14th Century), who became the patron-saint of Kashmir. He translated Islam into Kashmirs spiritual and cultural idiom and converted it into a massive emotional upsurage. Farooq Nazki calls him a Muslim Shaivite. According to Dr. B.N. Pandit, his poetry is a mixture of Shaivism and Sufism.

Proclaiming himself to be the spiritual son of Lall Ded, who represented the acme of pre-Islamic spiritual heritage of Kashmir, Nund Rishi carried it ahead as a part of its Rishi order (as Sufism in Kashmir was called). Islamic beliefs and practices enjoyed as much autonomy within wider Islamic tradition as pre-Islamic Kashmir did during Vedic and post-Vedic tradition of India. It neither affected the independence of Kashmir nor, at first, materially change its cultural and political conditions. (Sufi). Many scholars have noted pre-Islamic influences in Kashmiri Islam. Abdullah Yausuf Ali traces practice of relic worship as in Hazratbal shrine where the Prophets (PBUH) hair is preservedto Buddhist influence. Dr. Arthur Nave observes, Kashmiri Muslim has transferred reverence from Hindu stones to Muslim Relics. Similarly Muslim saints are worshipped like Hindu gods and godlings. Islam in sufi form thus came to Kashmir not as a destroyer of the tradition, as is the case in many other lands, but as its preserver, consolidator and perpetuator. The fact that Islam is rooted in Kashmiri tradition and the tradition is permeated with the Islamic spirit has enabled Kashmiris to reconcile cosmopotan affiliations with territorial nationalism. Kashmiri Muslim has remained a Kashmiri as well as a Muslim and rarely suffers from schizophrenic pangs which Islamic links and local patriotism often generate among Muslims elsewhere in India.

Kashmir has been a melting-pot of ideas and races. It received every new creed with discrimination and enriched it with its own contribution, without throwing away its earlier acquisitions. As Sufi observes, the cult of Buddha, the teachings of Vedanta, the mysticism of Islam have one after another found a congenial home in Kashmir. He adds, it has imbibed the best of Buddhism, the best of Hinduism and the best of Islam. Similarly, on account of its cultural homogeneity and geographical compactness, all admixtures of races who emigrated to Kashmir from ancient times merged their identities into one whole. According to the renowned Kashmiri scholar and historian Mohammed Din Fauq, even the people who came from Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkistan as late as six and seven hundred years ago were so mixed with Kashmiri Muslims in culture, civilization and matrimonial relations that all non-Kashmiri traces are completely absent from their life.

Monumental Achievements

Kashmir was, at one period, the clearing house of several civilizations and the influences of those are found in this natural retreat. It had also made monumental contribution to Indian culture. Its position within India was similar to that of ancient Creece in European civilization. It has been one of the biggest seats of Indian culture and learning which, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, dominated the intellectual scene of the country for almost 2000 years. There is no branch of human knowledge to which ancient Kashmir did not make a pioneering and a substantial contribution.

Among political achievements of Kashmir, mention may be made of the conquest of Lalitaditya- Muktapdia (725-753 AD), whom the great Kashmiri historian Kalhana describes as the universal monarch moving round the Earth like the Sun. According to Sufi, he is the most conspicuous figure in Kashmir history. He raised this country to pitch of glory it had never reached before. He, writes Mohibbul Husan, defeated the Arab forces led by Mohammed Bin Qasims successor in Sindh Junaid and overran his territory. He collected a galaxy of scholars from all over India in his Durbar. Kashmiris similarly hail another golden period of their history during the reign of the Muslim king Zain-ul-Abdin popularly called Bud Shah (the great king) from 1420 to 1470. It constituted a climax never attained by any other independent king in Kashmir. He invited artisans, craftsmen, scholars and men of letters from far-off foreign countries as a result of which Kashmir flourished materially and culturally. He laid lasting basis of a truly secular polity. In Rodgers words, he was three hundred years ahead of England. According to Jonaraja beauty dwelt in his person and the goddess of hearing on his lips, fortune rested in his breast, and patience in his mind. Sufi quotes sir Wolsley who says Zain-ul-Abdin possessed a stock of learning and accomplishments from which Akbar was excluded, his views were more enlightened than the emperors and he practiced a tolerance which Akbar only preached. According to the greatest Kashmiri poet of modern age, Mehjur, Akbar learnt from him (Bud Shah) the art of running the affairs of the state. It was emperor Akbar who brought an end to indigenous Kashmiri Muslim rule that had lasted 250 years.

The watershed in Kashmir history is not the beginning of the Muslim rule as is regarded in the rest of the subcontinent but the changeover from Kashmiri rule to a non-Kashmiri rule.

Crisis of Kashmiri Civilization

Kashmirs 5000 years old civilization is facing unprecedented crisis today. Why it has ceased to grow and is stagnating? What are the lessons of the past and how relevant are they in current situation?

It is a universal principle that a tradition survives, if it continues to change. Kashmiri traditions have continued to evolve in order to survive. Continuity and change have a symbiotic relation. The foremost change that Kashmir needs today is to provide for dissent which has been absent so far. The wholesale conversion to Buddhism of the Naga tradition was followed by similar adoption of Shaivism. Conversion of Kashmiris to Islam, too, was almost universal ie about 95% of the population. Though Kashmiri retained the essence of its tradition, it did modify.
Faced with divergent, optionsperhaps for the first timeKashmirs survival depends on allowing respect for dissent. Otherwise, too, right of dissent is essence of democracy. Freedom is possible only in a democratic system. Freedom of ex-pression and respect for opposite view point must be introduced in Kashmiri society.

Another new development is that Kashmir is no longer a homogeneous society with the same race, language and predominant religion cut off from geographical barriers from the outside would.

In fact there is colossal ignorance among leaders and intellectuals of Kashmir about the heroes of Jammu, freedom fighters, movements against feudalism and system of tyranny, Sufis and saints and eminent masters of art culture and music. The Kashmiri leaders, who ruled the state, after the end of monarchy, from Sheikh Abdullah to Omar Abdullah (with the exception of a brief period of GN Azad) have made absolutely no contribution to get a history of Jammu written. The same is true about Ladkah.

Diversity has in modern times been university recognized as a great virtue. In isolated and homogeneous society becomes stagnant and is likely to decay. Jammu and Kashmir state is endowed with maximum diversities. If the aspirations and interest of each diversity is appreciated and reconciled with one another, this state would became a model state for the subcontinent. The current drift breeds tensions and misunderstanding which does not do good to any one of them.

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