Composite Culture Heritage of Kashmir – Part Two

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The Kashmiris contributed voluminously to the Sanskrit literature in India.  Not only in the field of poetics where the  Kashmirian scholars have excelled all others, their contribution in the field of philosophical and historical literature are superb and notable. Out of the regions in the Country, Kashmir excels in producing continuous series of historical records from ancient times to the present Century. In the field of historiography, the names of Ratnakara, Ralhaha, Suka, Srivara, Jonaraja, Mulla Nadri, Mahamad Mehdi, Haider Malik, Moshin Fani, Narayan Koul, Mohmad Azam, Birbal Kachru, Hassan Shah will be remembered always.

Islam made its headway into Kashmir through the efforts  of the Muslim travellers, soldiers and saints, who visited the Valley in the 8th Century A.D. It was Brahmarja, who invited the seven Muslim Princes for an invasion of Kashmir. Harsha appointed Mulsims in his army and they enjoyed great influence on him. There are many indication in the Rajatarangini of Kalahana, which show Harhs’s leanings towards Islam. But it goes to the credit of Gyalpo  Rinchina, the last Buddhist ruler of Kashmir,  to have brought Islam to the masses by his voluntary conversion at the hand of afakir, whose tomb at Bulbul Lankar has become our national heritage. It was Islam, which completed the process of the blending of cultures in the Valley.

The period of Sultanate, from the beginning of the 14th Century to the end of 16th Century is a golden period of national glory in the history of Kashmir. It  was a period when the Valley of Kashmir had its own rulers. During  Sultan Shahab-ud-din’s reign, the Kashmiris extended the boundaries of India right upto Gazni, Qandhar and Badakshan. Sultan Zain-ul-abidin (1420-1470) was undoubtedly the greatest ruler in the history of Kashmir for having ushered benevolent rule for the people. Due to our love and affection for him, we still call him Badshah or the Great King. He was honoured with the appellation for Narayanavatara by the Kashmiris. During the Sultanate, the Kashmiris evolved new humanistic philosophy known as the Rashi order, founded by the great patron saint of Kashmir, Hazrat Shaikh Noor-ud-din Wali. These Sufis played an important role as preachers of love, justice, social reform and Islam. These Rishis, who belonged to various faiths, were the harbingers of secularism, world brother-hood and peace and it is due to them that the Kashmiris have remained tolerant in their outlook and behavious throughout the Centuries.

The Sultans of Kashmir were great builders but with the passage of time, nothing remains of their works except the tomb of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin’s mother, the tomb of Sayed Mohamad Madni and the Khanqah of Shah Hamdan. They gave to the world, what is known as the wooden architecture of Kashmir, which has a distinct style of its own.

It was during the period of the Sultans, that arts and crafts, for which the Valley has attained world fame, were introduced. The weaving of the shawls, the wood work and the paper- machi were brought to Kashmir from the Central Asian region. Some of the Sultans like Badshah, Hassan Shah and Yousaf Shah were great patrons of music and now, the santoor and sofiyana and the rouf has become synonymous with Kashmir.

The Mughals, though conquerors of Kashmir, added to our cultural heritage in the shape of various Mughal gardens around the Dal Lake and at various places in the Valley. It was due to the Mughals that the ancient glory of Kashmir, as the paradise on earth, was restored. They were the great patrons of learning and it was during their period that Dabistan-i-Mazahib, an authoritative work on comparative religions was compiled by Mulla Mohsin Fani. The greatest of the Persian poets of Kashmir Mulla Tahir Ghani composed his world famous Divan in the middle of the 17th Century.

It was due to the progressive and secular thinking of the Kashmiris that they joined the freedom struggle without  any  distinction of caste, creed and color. Since pre-historic times, Kashmir has been a meeting ground of many a varied and rich cultures. While absorbing new ideas, the Kashmiris on their won part have created a mixed and composite culture, which is tolerant, humane and kind at the same time. Such a happy blending of cultures is peculiar  to the Valley only  has influenced them up to the present times in their outlook on every day affairs and problems. Our composite culture which is Buddhist, Shaivist and Islamic at the same time is the hallmark of the Kashmiris and we are proud of it.

About the Author
FM Hassnain
F.M. Hassnain, a graduate from the University of Punjab, Lahore completed his  Post Graduation Studies in History and Law from the Muslim University, Aligarh.  He began his service career as a professor in 1948 and retired as the Director of Archives Archaeology, Research and Museums, Jammu & Kashmir State in 1980. He is an author of about two dozen book on history, culture and mysticism. He is the first Kashmiri writer whose books have been published in Poland, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Information Courtesy: Gulshan Books. From the pages of “Heritage of Kashmir” edited by F.M. Hassnain