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Reviving Kashmiriyat

Ashok Handoo*

When Francois Bernier , a French physician and the first European to travel to Kashmir in 1665 , described the Valley as “Paradise of the Indies” he did not refer to its natural beauty alone, but the unique culture of the place. Kashmir has been a cradle of a variety of cultures through the ages symbolizing love, brotherhood and devotion.

If it was Buddhism in the early days, the next to follow was Shaivism preached by world renowned exponents like Abhinav Gupt. With the advent of Islam a new stream of Islamic mysticism known as Sufism became popular among the people.

The common strain through all these religious philosophies was search for the truth and the secrets of living in a materialistic world but at the same time keep oneself detached from its pleasures that tempt an ordinary person. It is this craving for a pure, unblemished and pious life, far removed from worldly considerations, that forms the core of what has commonly come to be known as “Kashmiriyat”.

Kashmir has had a history of producing saints and sufis in line, generation after generation, to tell the people that the real bliss lay not in hankering after the worldly pleasures but in seeking union with the supreme power, God, with whatever name you call him. And the message went down well to become the guiding principal for the masses.

Lala Yogeshwari

Among a host of saints that Kashmir produced two important personalities stand out in relief. They are Lala Yogeshwari popularly known as Lal Ded (Mother Lala ) and Sheikh Noor-Ud- Din , who later came to be known as Nund Rishi. They belonged to different religions but had common followers among Hindus and Muslims alike. Lala sang the songs about Shiva. Her Vakhs’s, underlining the importance of search for God, touched the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people, Hindus and Muslims alike and became folklore for them. The patron saint of Kashmir Nund Rishi with his ninety–nine followers called Khalifas established themselves throughout the valley . The ministers at the shrine came to be known as Rishis. This gave rise to not only delightful religious tolerance but a crusade for understanding and assimilating the messages that Hinduism and Islam stood for. The aim was to shun the frivolities of mortal existence. It is this incredible faith in unity of existence that marks the core of Kashmiriyat.

Rishi Nama

Nund Rishi , though unable to read and write, uttered hundreds of beautiful sayings with both terrestrial as well as celestial meaning. These are preserved as Rishi Nama and Noor Nama. Nund Rishi exhorted his followers to perform good actions, which was the secret of happiness in this world as well as the life afterwards. He preached that all men should lead a disciplined life and not fall prey to worldly temptations. ”. No wonder then that his grave at Tsrar Sharief is a pilgrimage for all Kashmiris, irrespective of their religion.

The interaction between Budhists, Hindu and Muslim saints in the Valley has been far more than one can imagine. Interestingly, the last proponent of the Rishi cult developed by Nund Rishi was none other than Swami Parmanad, a Hindu saint. Mir Saiyad Ali of Hamdan known as Shah Hamdan in Kashmir, the saint who exercised the most direct influence on the religion of Kashmir, , is said to have received inspiration from a Hindu lady Laleshwari, an incarnation of goddess. The interaction is visible at the organization level as well. Lawrence observes that the shrine establishment is somewhat similar to a monastery. “The abbot of the Shrine is all powerful”.

Reverence For Shrines

Shrine-worship led to self- denial, besides plain living and high thinking. The reverence for shrines was so deep that no man could dare even to pass a shrine on a horseback. If he did, he would face the wrath of God. Walter R. Lawrence, a household name in Kashmir who served as settlement commissioner, in his book ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ records a striking example of an eye witness account. A marriage party was to cross a stream above which stood the shrine of a saint. All of them dismounted except the father of the bridegroom. He rode boldly over with the bridegroom in his arms. The bridge broke and the horse, father and son lay struggling in the stream. Sir, Lawrence ran to rebuke the crowd for not assisting the victims but was told that they deserved this fate for the sin they had committed.

Kashmir abounds in Dargahs and Ziyarats revered by both Hindus and Muslims alike. The Ziyarat of Baba Rishi near Gulmarg is as sacrosanct for the Muslims as it is for the Hindus. So is the case with Aastana of Maqdoom Sahib in the heart of Srinagar City. Who, after all, invented the Famous Cave of Amarnath which is thronged by lakhs of people every year? It was a Muslim shepherd, Malik of Batakote in Pahalgam . The Malik family would keep the mountainous path in order, ensure that nothing is stolen during the Yatra and carry the sick. The family has a one- third share in the offerings at the cave. According to an account by Walter Lawrence, an imprint of a foot in stone at Fatehpura in Verinaag and Waripura in Magaam is worshipped by the Muslims as Kadm-i- rasool ( The prophet’s foot-print ) and by Hindus as Vishnu Paad ( Vishnu’s foot ) .The well known exponent of Islam, Shah Hamdan , was welcomed with open arms when he came to Kashmir in the 14th century. The subsequent conversions from Hinduism to Islam also played a role in generating a feeling of brotherhood.

Cultural Synthesis

With the advent of Islam in Kashmir, the Pandits were among the first to learn Persian. Not long ago, Quran-e-Shareef was being taught to Muslims by Pandits.

It is this synthesis of cultures which Kashmir has been famous for through the centuries and which today has culminated in KASHMIRIYAT. If the father of nation, Mahatma Gandhi, saw a ray of hope in Kashmir when the entire sub continent was up in flames in the wake of the partition of the country in 1947, it was due to these traditions of mutual brotherhood that Kashmir has been nurturing throughout the ages.

In 1947, when Shaheed Sherwani held back the Pakistani raiders in Uri by misdirecting them and consequently paying with his life, he was not saving only the Muslims of Kashmir from their wrath but Hindus and Sikhs as well. When the people of Srinagar came out with Lathis in the streets , to fight the raiders they were not only Muslims but others also.

Contemporary poets, like Mehjoor, Azad and Naadim kept this flame of Hindu-Muslim unity burning. Mehjoor described the two communities as milk and sugar and said that a mixture of the two always makes a sweet drink.

Promoting Prosperity

Historians have recorded that “offences against persons (in Kashmir) are extremely rare. The sight of blood is abhorrent to them.” Ironically, people have been watching nothing but mayhem and bloodshed ever since terrorism raised its head in 1989. The need therefore is to revive and strengthen the philosophy of Kashmiriyat to bring back peace and prosperity into the lives of the people of Kashmir.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and not necessarily reflect the views of  INVC

*Well-known broadcast journali people

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