Kashmir: Behind the veil

Kashmir, the word comes along with various illusions in one’s mind like snowy mountains, dew speckled apple trees, rejuvenated morning kangri, houseboats drifting on Dal Lake etc. But, Kashmir has lot of tales to tell beyond this. The word ‘Kashmir’ comprises of two phrases, ‘mir’ means the mountain and ‘Khasis’ means the people of mountains. Hence, the principal city of the mountains and the region surrounded by it came to be known as Kashmir.

 

Jahangir, the son of man who brought Kashmir into politics of Delhi during medieval period put Kashmir precisely in his chronicle as:
Kashmir is a garden of an eternal spring or an iron fort to a palace of kings, a delightful flower bed, and a heart expanding heritage for dervishes.

If not talking of the material virtues, the people of Kashmir are known for their unscathed simplicity which is often confused with docility and which can be the reason for why they were repeatedly exploited. They are austerely proud of their identity, their self-esteem and the respect for their motherland. That is why Kashmir has bowed more easily to Buddhism and Islam than to weapons.

So, when did the history of Kashmir begin? The Nilamat Purana says that at the beginning of Kalpa, or creation, the Valley was a hundred feet deep lake called Sati Saras or the lake of Sati. Mythology suggests that Kashmir has been a Karmabhumi or field of work for Lord Shiva. Under the Sati Saras lake lived a demon Jalodbhav who terrorised the snakes (the word is still used in the place names as in Anantnag) living under water. Lord Vishnu, decided to end this and asked his brother Balabhadra to pierce the closed ring of mountain at Baramulla. The water dried from the lake and the demon came out of the water. Vishnu, slew him with his disc and sage Kashyap who guarded the snakes settled in the dry Valley. The valley was named after him.    

But geologists deny this fact completely but agree that a great lake once existed and a post Ice Age earthquake dried the lake. Pandit Kalhana, begins the history with Gonanda the first. Mythology also suggests that three Gonanda rulers ruled Kashmir and the dynasty was founded by Harandev, a great-grandson of Arjuna. Historical facts take firmer ground when we reach (273-232 BC), the time of Mauryan dynasty.

 Ashoka, the Great soldier, brought Kashmir into Mauryan empire and founded the capital, Srinagar. Kanishka, the first Indian emperor of Turkish origin, held the third council of Buddhism in Kashmir. The spread of Mahayana Buddhism can be dated from the council organised by Kanishka at the Kudalvan Monastery near Srinagar. If Buddhism went to south to Sri Lanka, Burma, Indo-China and Indonesia from Ashoka’s efforts, then it moved to Central Asia, Tibet and from there to China and gradually to Korea by AD 372 and Japan by AD 552 from Kanishka’s Kashmir. Kashmir is the land from which emerged Buddhist missionaries like Kumarajiva, Yasa, Vimalaksha and Sanghabuti that reached China in AD 381. It is interesting to know that Buddha himself had praised Kashmir as the ideal place for the spread of Buddhism because he considered that the environment was ideal for

meditation and for the practice of religious life.    

In AD 625, one of the greatest rulers of Kashmir emerged. Lalitaditya’s thirty seven years of rule saw an incredible expansion of Kashmiri Empire. It is said that his first principle for ruling the empire was religious tolerance.
The Muslim invasion in the subcontinent had begun headed by Mahmud of Ghazni. He headed towards Kashmir twice, once in 1015 and the second time in 1021, but both the times he was checked on the southern slopes of Pir Panjal range by a well-known strategist General Winter. Persians and Mongols were also now eyeing on Kashmir and both Changhez Khan (1162-1227) and Halaku Khan also planned to conquer Kashmir. Suddenly, in 1320 a Mongol tyrant Dulacha, conquered Srinagar, massacred the people, raped the women and ravaged the land.   

Islam spread in the Valley to a significant degree with the arrival of revered and beloved Bulbul Shah. When Bulbul Shah passed away in 1327, the first mosque of Kashmir, now called Bulbul Langar had been constructed. Rinchin, a Ladakhi, accompanied with Shah Mir, a Muslim adventurer from Swat became king of Kashmir on October 6, 1320. Rinchin, realised that the faith of king should not be far away from the faith of people and decided to become a Hindu. The Kashmiri pundits informed him that he could not become a Hindu because they could not decide which caste he could join. Hence, Rinchin became a Muslim and Muslim dynasties started ruling Kashmir.

Meanwhile, another conqueror Taimur, the Lame established himself at Samarqand. In 1369, Alawi Sayyaids of the Persian city of Hamadan refused to support him and left the city to escape Taimur and settled in Kashmir, under the leadership of Sayyaid Ali Hamadani. He was a great scholar and a missionary of the Naqshabandi Order of Sufis. Sufis, adapted easily to the religious culture of Kashmir that comprised of negation to the vices, simplicity and rejection of material pleasures. They fell to this culture and another kind of faith, Sufism was developed in Kashmir which encouraged equality, rejection of material pleasures and idolatry. In these two centuries, Islam evolved as a paramount religion of Kashmir.          

Hence, Kashmir proved to be a centre not only for Islam but also to Hinduism and Buddhism. But above all, the faith which prevailed during all the times is the faith of humanity which was the strength of three most powerful rulers of Kashmir, Lalitaditya who ruled for thirty-seven years, Zainul Abidin for fifty years and to some extent Sheikh Abdullah, but time was not much kind to him.    
Author is writer/editor and currently resides at Delhi. She can be mailed at joshigunjan56@gmail.com or joshigunjan12@gmail.com.
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Kashmir proved to be a centre not only for Islam as a religion but also to Hinduism and Buddhism. But above all, the faith which prevailed during all the times is the faith of humanity which was the strength of three most powerful rulers of Kashmir, Lalitaditya who ruled for thirty-seven years, Zainul Abidin for fifty years