Rekindling Interest in Kashmiri Heritage

Ashok Ogra
Kashmir is perhaps the only state in India that can claim to possess written records of 5000 years of history? Rajatarangini (Flow of Kings), written in Sanskrit verse by the Kashmiri Brahmin Kalhana in 1148, covers the entire span of history in the Kashmir region from the earliest times to the date of its composition. Kalhana is regarded as Kashmir’s first historian. What the Shahnameh is to Persia, the Rajatarangini is to Kashmir.
One can visit the past as a tourist, a reporter, a historian or a pilgrim. Reading the just released book KATHASATISAGAR by Prof. Raj Nehru, senior corporate executive and currently Vice Chancellor of Shri Vishwakarma Skill University, Haryana and Dr. C.K.Gariyali, noted author and retired IAS officer – one is made to believe that there is little of all the four in both of them.
From the book one gathers that Kashmir did not participate in the war of Mahabharata; Buddhism and Hinduism were never at loggerheads in Kashmir; Ramanujacharya of South visited Sharda Peeth before he wrote his commentary on Vedanta; the custom of ‘Pot Maharaz’ (proxy bridegroom) was introduced during the Afghan rule; Swami Vivekananda undertook pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave in 1889; the stories surrounding ‘Madhav Bishta’- the Robin Hood of Kashmir.
The book is dedicated to the five-thousand-year-old Kashmiri Pandit culture, and to the creator of Kashmir, Rishi Kashyapa and Nil Nag who gave us the code of conduct for living in harmony with nature and other original people such as Nagas, Yaksha and Pisachas.
First about the book title KATHASATISAGAR:the original Kathasaritsagara – the gift of Kashmir- contains stories within a story. The original work is not available but many later adaptations exist including by Somadeva. It is the largest collection of Indian tales. Like the Panchatantra stories, the stories from Kathasaritsagara also travelled to different parts of the world and got absorbed in the local folk tales.
However, the authors preferred to title their book KATHASATISAGAR given that almost all the stories selected pertain to the land of Sati.
Raj and Gariyali provide a brief background to the origin of ‘Kashmir’ by reproducing the dialogue held between Gonanda and the sage Brihadashwa: “the birth of the land and the lake, of Sati, the origin of various tribes from Kashyapa and Vishnu’s allotment of Satisaras to the Nagas. Then follows the story of the demon Jalodbhava born in the water and reared by the Nagas.”
The reason advanced by the authors for Kashmir not taking part in the war of Mahabharata was Yashomati choosing to remain neutral and thus saving her region from ruin caused by the war in the rest of India.
Kashmir is perhaps the only place where Buddhism was preserved and Buddha revered by the Brahmins. The authors claim that Buddhism arrived in Kashmir much before Ashoka’s reign – within 50 years of the Mahaparinirvana of Tathagata.
The book contains nine chapters, each devoted to one important aspect of our ancient land: History, Culture and Ancient Kashmir; Buddishm in Kashmir; Temples and Sacred Place; Scholars, Sages and Kings; Festivals; Folk Tales; Culture; Women: The Shakti and Exodus Stories.
The book is full of interesting and somewhat unknown facts: idol of Goddess Ragnya was initially taken out from Sri Lanka and brought to Shadipora near Srinagar but was finally installed at Tulmul in Ganderbal; Chinese Hsuan Tsang staying at Ganpatyar temple in Srinagar; TANTRALOKA (Light on the Tantras) was written after Abhinavagupta attained nirvana; Adi Shankracharya composed poems Sharada Bhajana Stotra and wrote Soundarya Laharai at Gopadari Hill, now known as Shankaracharya hill; King Lalitaditya’s empire was bigger than Mauryan or Mughal empires;Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin paying a visit to Amarnath Cave while inspecting a canal being constructed on the left bank of the Lidder valley; Guru Nanak visiting Martand temple during his pilgrimage to Kashmir in 1500; it was at the scared cave that Kripa Ram Dutt in his obedience to Lord Shiva led the delegation of 500 Pandits to Guru Tegh Bhadur; Bhagwan Gopinathji’s spiritual state has been described as SHAMBHAVI state- a state of Shiva consciousness; Kashmiri society was perhaps the only society where husbands demonstrated his love for his wife by personally giving her a bath with sacred water.
No wonder, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan described Kashmir the land of saints and, in particular, referred to mystic shaivite poetess, Lal Ded ?
In his foreword, Chief Minister of Haryana Manhohar Lal refers to the twenty-four treatises in Sanskrit, twenty-two were composed in Kashmir. Quoting the local legend he writes that Kalidas was born in Kashmir but due to the oppressive rule of King Ananda he left Kashmir for Ujjain.
Buddhism, Shiviasm and Sanskrit learning flourished in the valley and produced a remarkably rich culture till the Muslim conquest changed the social structure of Kashmir. The last chapter EXODUS STORIES deals exclusively with the forced migrations. They have faithfully recorded suppression and oppression of Kashmiri Pandits as a religious minority.
The chapter BHATTA MAZAR (the graveyard of Pandits) makes for a painful reading: “In the 14th century, the radical and bigoted Islam bared all its intolerant fangs under the sixth ruler of the Shah Miri Dynasty, Sultan Sikandar when Pandits were indiscriminately drowned. Today the place of these gruesome crimes is known as BHATTA MAZAR.”
It is during this period- out of fear of the bridegroom being abducted or killed, that the custom of having a ‘POT MAHARAZA’ (proxy bridegroom) was introduced.
One does not discern any trace of rage or revenge in the authors’ description of the atrocities but certainly a sense of loss of our values and heritage.
It is amazing how the authors have managed to weave so many different aspects into one compelling story in the form of this book of 300 pages. Nothing is left uncovered and yet after reading the book one gets a feel as if one has gone through an entire encyclopedia on Kashmir. By and large, the authors are precise.
Notably the authors have made good use of relevant and apposite sources and have been generous in acknowledging them. That lends credibility to their assertions.
The jacket picture of an ancient temple ruins against the backdrop of green valleys and mountains and the black/white format of the striking illustrations and pictures provide evocative windows into the past. Published by Prabhat Prakashan, the book makes for a compelling reading. Raj Nehru has written this book in loving memory of his late father Bal Kishen Nehru who passed away last year.
There is a mixing up of dates at page no 263: “In 1972, the introduction of the Land to the Tillers Act by Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was a major attempt to economically annihilate the Kashmiri Hindus.” The fact is that the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950, was drawn up by Sheikh Abdullah in his first term in 1950, and in 1972 it was Syed Mir Qasim who as the CM introduced the Agrarian Reforms Act. One also wonders why index is not provided as it would have added value to the book.
In the wake of mass migration of Pandits from the valley in 1990, the authors call for setting up a TRUTH COMMISSION to help defeat cultures of denial and contribute to social healing and reconciliation. But how does one reconcile to the sad truth that TRUTH has always been a contested idea – more so since the last few decades. Salman Rushdie has brilliantly captured this dilemma in his essay ‘The Language of Truth’: “we stand in the midst of the rubble of the truth. Truth needs to be reconstructed from the ground up, with new language.”
Perhaps, we could start with inter-community dialogue and conversations at a much broader level. Similarly, Sharda Peeth and Harvan need to be rebuilt on the pattern of Takshila Foundation and Nalanda University.
There is something very warm about Raj and Gariyali: their profound love of the past that was uplifting and inspiring, and the clarity and the precision with which they bring alive our ‘Ocean of Stories’.
It is hoped that the book will inspire the younger generation to becoming the inheritors of our glorious heritage that has contributed immensely to Bharatiya culture. The authors have managed to put their language on diet and keep it slim and elegant – thus making KATHASATISAGAR reader friendly. Not an easy feat to achieve.
(The author works for reputed Apeejay Education Society, New Delhi)