(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 49, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numismatics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. He is employed by the Jammu and Kashmir State Government. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)
‘Koshur’- The Language of the Land
Beyond any doubt, ‘Kashmiri’ has been the primary language of people living in the valley of Kashmir. Its antiquity is being traced to the period of Kalhan Pandith, a famous historian who lived in the 11th century AD. A Scholastic analysis of Kalhan Pandith’s historical chronicle “Rajtarangni”, written in Sanskrit, reveals a number of Kashmiri terms incorporated in the text. Scholars have come across few such terms in this historic chronicle which later became a source book for most of the historical writings and other relevant explorations.
At one place Kalhan writes, Nav Sheen Chhu Pranis Sheenas Galan (It is the fresh snow that melts the old snow layers), a pure Kashmiri proverb, which is a clear indication of how the local dialect influenced Kalhana’s pen when he sat to write a historical chronicle. In fact this dialect has served as the main spoken language for its people though it was hardly used for any writing purposes.
Surprisingly, despite its popularity among the masses in the valley, ‘Kashmiri’ could never succeed to reach to any official position where it could have been used for any kind of official business which would usually be carried out either in Sanskrit or Persian. These two languages has dominated not only the official scenario but even the common mans writing traditions. The Kashmiri speaking people also neglected their own dialect and preferred to write in other scripts famous for writings during those ages.
There were only a few poets who used to compose lyrics in their own dialect. But this would remain an oral activity and would never be scripted in black and white. Historical researches and findings suggest that, during its initial periods, ‘Kashmiri’ served only as the spoken language of this land and nothing was written in this language. It was Sanskrit and Persian which somehow filled the vacuum leaving a literature of the land in foreign languages instead of its own one. That is probably why thousands of ancient manuscripts of Sanskrit and Persian are found in various olden book collections of this land while as one fails to spot even a single ancient Kashmiri manuscript.
Such findings motivated several scholars to believe that Kashmiri has been a spoken dialect rather than a written one. They also believe that it was the Persian script and language which served as the alternate for writings. The historical records also suggest that Persian has been the most popular official and written language of this land. Although today this language has almost disappeared from writing traditions of this land but it has had its golden period here when it dominated the writing and educational culture of Kashmir.
Persian, therefore, became a fundamentally essential language for people living here in the valley. They needed to know this language in order to know their past and the literary traditions that have existed here. People, it is said, developed a yearning for this language and till late 20th century, the language was being taught in formal and informal institutions. But this centuries old language promoted here by Sultans and their learned men stands neglected in Jammu and Kashmir now as it is now simply an optional subject in the University classes.
This language has a very long and interesting history of its own. Kashmir seems to have had cultural relations with Persia from ancient times. The Terra-Cotta tiles unearthed at Harwan, dating back to the fourth century AD, depict Sassassin characteristics. Besides, the Persian titles like Shah Nanoshahu adopted here by few Kushan princes are few earliest evidences of these ancient ties which existed between Kashmir and Persia.
These influences did not dominate, fully, the local culture and dialect. It was the Muslim rule did in the middle of the fourteenth century AD that left indelible influences on the local language and culture. The arrival of Sayyids and learned men from Persia and central not only brought various techniques and craftsmanship here but also left a deep influence on the literacy and cultural aspects here. This was the time when the two countries came closer for various types of trades and traditions. The royal patronage of Sharda and Sanskrit collapsed and it extended towards Persian script and language. The earlier writing mechanisms receded into the background, the students switched over to the study of Persian which became the language of the royal men and educated classes and even found its way into the villages.
As much as, the society of Kashmir reached a stage when education became synonymous with Persian learning’s. During the period of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidine, the language had a tremendous patronage. He established several translation bureaus where the earlier Sanskrit works got translated into Persian while as Persian also earned the honor of being practiced in courts as well. Chak Sultans left no stone unturned in patronizing Persian which is very much evident from the coins of that period.
The Shahmeri Sultans promoted Persian as well as Arabic learning’s while as Chaks devoted their full attention towards Persian. They were so eager to popularize Persian that the reverses of their maximum coins represented the Persian legends. This tradition of Chaks in Kashmir remained unchanged till Dogra rule. The status of Persian as official and court language was maintained by Mughals and Durrani rulers too. Durrani rulers adopted different Persian couplets in praise of their money market and displayed those on the obverses and reverses of their coins. This tradition became so deep in royal mints that when the Kingdom passed to Sikhs, they did not, at once, make any big change in the status of Persian language. No doubt they introduced Gurmukhi and Punjabi script and language but it had hardly any impact on Kashmir culture. They too did not disturb the judicial and official status of Persian. They continued to make Persian legends on their coins and so did the Dogras too. The Sikh coins minted in Srinagar had the following couplet on the observers:
Degu-Tegu-Fateh-u-Nustrat Bayed Rang Yaft Az Nanak Guru Govbid Singh
It was the court language of the Darbar of Kashmir too and was written and spoken even by local Pandits. Besides its literature, books on history, art, culture, philosophy, astronomy, astrology, geometry, and mathematics are written in this language. The Hindu religious books were also translated into it. Those manuscripts are preserved in various institutes of Kashmir.
The language lost it royal patronage in later years of Dogra rule when it was replaced by Urdu as the official language. But it was taught as a compulsory subject in school and colleges till late seventies of this century. Later on, it was neglected and was treated as an optional subject that too for University classes, while in schools it vanished altogether. Today neither government nor any private institutions are showing any interest in its promotion. The thousands of manuscripts written in this language are not taken due care of.
Truly, things have almost changed, the roman script and English language has superceded the Persian and even the Urdu language of this land. To revive the olden traditions seems to be a Herculean task. We can still preserve the olden Persian and Sanskrit manuscripts and books and translate them into simple Urdu and English. These manuscripts are the sources of excellent knowledge on astronomy, astrology, physics, medical science, mathematics, geometry, history , culture, and fiction. There are valuable researches, on the above mentioned subjects, carried out by learned Kashmiri scholars. Unfortunately, this treasure of knowledge cultivated by our own ancestors has always remained behind the access of present day experts. Steps are needed to be taken to explore this treasure for present day researches.