Saturday, January 21, 2012

Kashmir : The Storm Centre of the World - Abode of Kashyap



Kashmir is the name of a Himalayan valley situated about 5,000 feet above sea level. Eighty miles in length and forty miles in width, this valley of the river Jehlum, the Vatista of the Rigveda, pronounced as "Vyath in Kashmiri,'' is the largest valley of its kind in the world. The Vyath rises from Verinag springs on the foot of the Panchal range that surrounds this valley; flows north through the capital city of Srinagar and Wuler lake and then enters the mountains through a gorge resembling the mouth of a boar called "Varaha" in Sanskrit near the town named "Varaha Molla" now called Baramula on the northern tip of the valley. The valleys of the Liddar, the Sindh and a number of smaller streams that flow into the Jehlum add to the size and beauty of this celebrated valley. According to tradition recorded in a number of Sanskrit texts and chronicles of Kashmir this valley was once a vast lake. It was converted into an alluvial plain when Kashyap, a great "Rishi," made an opening into the surrounding mountains near Baramula.
As a result the water of the lake was drained out and the submerged land became a habitable valley. It then came to be known as "Kashyap Marga" the abode of Kashyap from which the name Kashmir is derived. Geomorphological evidence has confirmed that the valley was originally a vast lake.

History of Kashmir began with the settlement of the Indo-Aryan people in it in pre-Mahabharata days. It became a centre of Indo-vedic culture and civilization. Sanskrit literature is replete with references to it. It is often described as "Nandanvan" the pleasure garden of Bharat.

Unlike many other parts of India, we have recorded history of Kashmir from the earliest times. The oldest of these records is Nilamat Purana. It deals with the legends pertaining to the origin of Kashmir, the ordinances of Nila, the earliest ruler of Kashmir and gives detailed information about its numerous "Nagas" or springs and lakes that dot the valley and its surrounding ranges. Other notable sources of its history are: "Kultanimala Kavya" of Damodar Gupta, "Deshopadesha" of Kshemendra, '~Vikrama Devacharita" of Bilhan, "Rajtarangini" of Kalhan and chronicle of "Jonrajya" who wrote in 15th century. Kalhan recorded the history of Kashmir from the Mahabharata period but the real beginning of Kashmir's history can be traced to the rule of Mauryan emperor Ashoka who built Shrinagar as its capital.

Kashmir was made a centre of Mahayana Buddhism by Kushan emperor, Kanishka. He built a town "Kanishkapura," now called Kanspura. It is situated about five miles from Baramulah on the Baramulah- Srinagar road. He also built many Buddhist viharas and convened the fourth Buddhist council there. Archeological remains of the viharas built by him have been found near Harvana Lake.

Hun king Mihirgula, occupied the throne of Kashmir for some time after he was driven out of Punjab in the fourth century A.D. He later embraced Shaivism.

The most celebrated king of Kashmir was Lalitaditya who ruled over it in the seventh century A.D. He extended his sway beyond the valley. He built the famous sun temple - the Martanda temple - on a plateau overlooking the town of Anantanag and the holy springs of Mattan in the Liddar valley. The ruins of this great temple which was destroyed by Sultan Sikandar in the 14th century point to the glory that was Kashmir at that time.

Avantivarmen was another notable ruler of Kashmir who ruled in the 11th century. He built a new capital, Avantipur, mid-way between Anantnag and Srinagar. His prime Minister, Sayyah, deepened the Vitasta from the Wular lake to Baramullah which helped in reclamation of more land. A new town Sayyapur now called Sopore was built on the reclaimed land.

Shadow of Islam first fell on Kashmir in the 11th century when Sultan Mahmood of Ghazani made an unsuccessful attempt to conquer it. But some Muslim adventurers and preachers of Turkish, Persian and Khorasani origin entered the valley in the wake of his invasion.

The last effective Hindu ruler of Kashmir was Sahdev who ascended the throne in 1301 A.D. Two Muslim adventurers, Shahmir from Khorasan and Lanker Chak from Gilgit, came to Kashmir during his reign and entered his service. Another foreign adventurer to enter his service was Rinchan, a Buddhist Bhotia from Laddakh. He usurped the throne of Kashmir and married his queen Kota rani, daughter of Ramachandra, the commander-in-chief of Sahdev in 1319. He wanted to embrace Shaiviasm but Brahmins refused to accept him. He, then, turned to Islam and took the name Sadaruddin.

Rinchan died in 1323 A.D. Udyan Dev, brother of Sahdev, then ascended the throne. He married Kota rani and ruled upto 1338 A.D. After the death of Udyandev, Kota rani took over the reigns of government. But she could not rule for long. Shahmir, who had entrenched himself in Udyandev's court, staged a coup and took control of the government.

After capturing power, Shahmir made Kota rani captive. He wanted to marry her but she spurned his offer. She was then forcibly put into the harem of Shahmir. She committed suicide the next morning. Thus, the throne of Kashmir passed into the hands of a foreign Muslim adventurer whose conduct can be compared with that of Haider Ali who usurped the throne of Mysore fourteen centuries later. This marked the beginning of Muslim rule over Kashmir in 1339 A.D.

The Indo-vedic culture is writ large over every nook and corner of Kashmir. Most of its village and town names end with suffix "Gam" derived from Sanskrit word "Gram" or "Pur" or "Nag." Every scenic site of this picturesque valley has a temple or remains of an ancient temple on it. The sky-line of the capital city Srinagar is dominated by two hillocks, Shankaracharya and Hari Parvat atop which stands the shrine of Shankaracharya temple and a Kali temple. Hari Parvat has a fort of the same name on it.

Ram kund and Devi mandir near Baramullah, ruins of Kanishkapur and Pattan between Baramullah and Srinagar, Shankaracharya temple of Srinagar, ruins of Martand temple and of Avantipura between Srinagar and Anantnag, holy springs of Kheer Bhawani, Anantnag and Mattan and the holy cave of Amarnath, link the present day Kashmir with its Hindu past and rest of Hindustan.

The Muslim Rule

Shahmir was the real founder of Muslim rule in Kashmir. Rinchan Shah, who came to power by virtue of his marriage with Kota rani and who embraced Islam in 1319 AD, ruled only for three years. Hindu rule returned when Udyan Bev ascended the throne after Rinchan's death.

Shamiri dynasty founded by Shah Mir ruled over Kashmir for over 200 years. Shah Mir was a Khorasani and not a Kashmiri. But in course of time SHAHMIRIS got assimilated, took to Kashmiri language and way of life.

Fourth ruler of the dynasty was Sikander who is called 'But-shikan' i.e. iconolast because he destroyed almost all Hindu temples of Kashmir including that of Martand and confronted the people with the choice of conversion to Islam or death. Most of the Kashmiri Hindus were converted or killed. A few Brahmin families took shelter in Jammu region across Panchal range. The present Hindus of Kashmir are progeny of those refugees. According to Kashmiri tradition he burnt seven maunds of sacred threads of the murdered Hindus whose bodies were thrown into Dal Lake to form what is now called 'Butt-mazar' i.e. grave of Brahmins. This is a bund which runs across the Dal lake from Nasim garden to Nishat garden.

Zain-ul-Abdin who succeeded Sikander in 1420 AD brought a welcome change. He not only stopped forced conversions but also allowed those Hindus who had fled away to return to their home land. He appointed Hindus to high places in his court. Jonraj the famous chronicler who continued the chronicle of Kalhan and brought it to date enjoyed his patronage.

Shahmiri dynasty was replaced by Chak dynasty in 1561 AD. Ghazi-chek the founder of this dynasty was a scion of Lanker Chak, the Muslim adventurer from Gilgit who came to Kashmir in the reign of Sahdev. Chaks were Shia. Therefore, Shia sect of Islam got a foothold in Kashmir during Chak rule.

Usuf Shah the last effective Chak ruler of Kashmir was defeated by a Mughal army led by Raja Bhagwan Dass, during the reign of Akbar. Usuf Shah died in Patna as an exile. His son, Yakub Shah, ruled over Kashmir for some time but was defeated and displaced by the Mughals in 1686 AD.

Akbar made Kashmir a separate province of Mughal empire. His son Jahangir had special liking for Kashmir. He described it as "Heaven on earth" and embellished it with the famous Mughal gardens.

The Mughals used Bhimber, Rajouri - Nandi -Marg route for going to Kashmir from Punjab. This area was inhabited by war-like Suddan and Chib Hindu Rajputs many of whom were forcibly converted to Islam under orders of Jahangir. Aurangzeb let loose a reign of terror on Hindus of Kashmir.

Later Mughals patronized Kashmiri Brahmins who took to Persian language with gusto. Many of them came down to Delhi and Agra to work as scribes and tutors in the Mughals' households. Mohammed Shah, one of the later Mughal rulers of Delhi, decreed that Kashmir's Brahmins should be described as Kashmiri Pundits to distinguish them from local Brahmins. This name has stuck with them since then.

Mughal rule in Kashmir ended formally in 1752 when Ahamed Shah Abdali annexed it to his kingdom of Kabul. But, beginning of the end of Mughal rule took place in 1739 when Nadir Shah sacked Delhi and gave a body blow to the decadent Mughal empire.

Afghan rule over Kashmir, which is considered to be the cruelest and the worst, lasted till 1819 when it was conquerred by Diwan Mohakam Chand, a General of Maha Raja Ranjit Singh. It then became a "Suba" or Province of Lahore Kingdam. Thus Hindu rule returned to Kashmir after a lapse of about five centuries.

The Dogras

Kashmir passed into the hands of Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, a feudatory of Lahore kingdom in 1846. He entered into a treaty with the East India Company in March 1846 as a result of which the British recognized him as dejure master of all the hill territories of Lahore Kingdom lying to the east of the Indus and west of the Ravi. This territory was taken over by the British after the first Anglo-Punjab war of 1845 in lieu of war indemnity of Rs.75 lakh which Lahore Durbar was not in a position to pay.

Gulab Singh was already de-facto master of all this territory excepting Kashmir Valley which was a separate province of Lahore Kingdom.

Therefore, the only real acquisition of Gulab Singh as a result of this treaty was Kashmir. That is why it is alleged by his critics that he purchased Kashmir for Rs.75 lakhs from the British. But this is not correct. The British at that time were in no position to dislodge Gulab Singh and annex this territory to their expanding empire. Gulab Singh had to wage a war against the Governor of Kashmir who under secret instruction from Lahore Durbar, refused to hand over Kashmir to him. He therefore got Kashmir by force of arms.

This historical background of Kashmir Valley, the real bone of contention between India and Pakistan, is of vital importance for proper understanding of Kashmir problems. It points to certain realities which are vital for arriving at a durable settlement of this problem.

Because of its geographical situation, Kashmir valley has a distinct geo-political identity different from the territories surrounding it across the Himalayan ranges, which remain snow bound and impassable for four to six months in a year. That is why it has always been a separate kingdom or a separate province of the various Indian empires of which it become a part in course of history. Some of its rulers like Lalitaditya did extend their way to the territories beyond the surrounding mountains for some time. But that did not in any way affect the distinct identity and character of Kashmir valley as such.

The second reality to be noted is that Kashmir has always been a part of the Indian state system. Geography, history and culture have made it an inseparable part of Bharat-Khand and Jambu-Dweep now called Hindustan or India.

The third fact to be kept in mind is that even though Kashmir came under Muslim rule and most of its people were forcibly converted to Islam it never got completely cut-off from its Indo-vedic cultural moorings. Islam sat rather lightly on its people who continued to cherish their pre-Islamic culture and way of life till recently. Their links with the rest of Hindustan were never snapped. Its holy shrines like Amarnath cave and Holy springs like Mattan and Khir Bhavani continue ta attract pilgrims from all over Hindustan. These links were reinforced during 30 years of Sikh rule and 100 years of Dogra rule. Jammu and Kashmir was one of the 500 and odd princely states of India before the British left it for good in 1947.

The cultural affinity of Kashmir with the rest of India is evident from its language, art, literature and architecture. All its mosques still look like Buddhist Gompas and temples. None of them has minaret which is an essential feature of mosque architecture all over the world. The only mosque with a minaret in Arab-Persian style was built by Sheik Abdullah at Hazratbal around 1980. Most of the Muslim saints of Kashmir are still called "rishis." Kashmiri language, which is directly derived from Sanskrit, was written in Sharda script, a form of Devnagari script till Persian script was imposed on it by Muslim rulers.

Recent developments which have made Kashmir a storm centre of the world and dragged it into the vertex of international power politics, are directly connected with the developments in and about Jammu and Kashmir state of which it became a part in 1846. Therefore, the story of the making of Jammu and Kashmir state, its relations with the rest of India and British Government and recent socio-political developments in it are very relevant and important for any study of genesis of the Kashmir problem and its changing contours and dimensions over the years.

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