Scientific & Cultural Heritage of Kashmir

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By Dr S.G. Nabi

Over and above its natural scenic beauty, the Valley of Kashmir is well known to the whole world for her rich cultural heritage. We have inherited numerous traditions, customs and even beliefs compared with winch progress of the western countries cannot boast of any comparison. Our Rishis, Saints and Sufis aspired to the realization of the infinite. Their works are the store-houses of wisdom and knowledge. The earliest customs and beliefs still persist in an oriented form in a major section of the Kashmiris.

Kashmir has been for centuries, the fountain head of art and culture in the East. Being at cross-roads of ancient caravan routes in Central Asia, Kashmir has been the meeting point of various cultures such as the Semitic, the Greek, the Buddhist, the Shaivist and  the Muslim. The distinctive feature of Kashmir is that all these cultures are not merely stages of past history, but are living co-existent forces. To regard Kashmir only as a place of great natural beauty would mean a failure to appreciate its other achievements and is many sided character.

We, as Kashmiris, feel proud to recall that the 4th International Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir in the first century A.D. during the region of Kanishka.

This Council gave a new shape to Mahatma Buddha’s message and its proceedings changed the entire cultural outlook of the Central Asia, China, Tibet and Japan. The ever green romance of Heemal and Nagrai, which is the only contribution of Naga to our literacy culture is one of the beautiful part of our national heritage. For a long time, Kashmir along with Nalanda and Texila shared fame as an important seat of learning in the East. Here gathered scholars from different part of the world to exchange views and ideas. Reverting to our historical background of culture, Kashmir is deeply indebted to Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamdani and hisspritual successors, who revolutionized our culture and left an everlasting impact upon over social and economic behaviour. The manufacture of Shawls for which Kashmir is reputed throughout the world, is one the initiative of Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamdani first and later by Budshah.

Because of the lack of authentic records, very little is known of the development of ancient Kashmiri science. However, history bears witness to the fact that the Nagas were the first civilized settlers who are reported to have cultivated Saffron, discovered Copper and bequeathed to posterity, adoration of springs, besides a good number of myths and legends some of which are still alive in the Valley. It is from this time that the science appears in its primitive form. But in those days, art and science were concerned with religious problems and there had been efforts of creating objects and places for worship dedicated to religious ends. The earlist history is preserved in the ruins of Martand, which indicate that those people had a considerable knowledge of basic science and in this context ‘Surya’ the Canal engineering maker is a famous name in Kashmir, who intelligently solved the problem of floods and removed the water of Jhelum by a scientific and planned manner. He carried-out many useful operations and revised the irrigation system of villages on a scientific basis. He indicated Avantivarmas bold steps of allowing him to prove his claim. In consequences of these improvements, production increased so much that price of rice came down from 200 Dinars a Kharwar to 36 Dinars.

The creative and useful arts that represents the culture of a nation are dancing, painting, music etc,. before the arrival of Hazrat Amir, danching was permanent occupation in Kashmir and according to Srivar, one dancing girl in Budshah’s time, could express 49 emotions in her pose. Painting was replaced by more useful techniques as designing in paper-machie, embroidery, carpet-making in which Kashmir excelled. Sculpture for carving out images of gods was also a permanent occupation of Kashmiris,. Music has ever been encouraged by rulers and the common folk.

During Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin’s time, Martand and Zainagir irrigations of the dry areas. A Darogha-i-Amarat (Town Planer) was appointed for maintenance of Srinagar city. It was in his time that the culture, political and religious relations were established with Iran and Central Asia. In his period many books on medicine, philosophy and other sciences were written under the personal care of the Sultan. Many diseases were cured by Ayurvedic medicines, since Kashmir is rich in different species of herbs, Ayurvedic medicines would have an undisputed position in the ancient Kashmir. our medicines were dominated by the Persian and Arabic influences and resulted in an amalgam of Unani medicine as it passed through many hands. The pattern of medical practice changed and the Unani system of medicine continued and even today, it is a living science and many people in Kashmir are being treated according to this system. A system that has survived through centuries cannot be lightly dismissed as being unscientific.

In view of the rigorous climate, hilly and uneven land, less attention was paid to the agriculture. However, animal breeding has been a permanent profession of the man, since pre-historic times. High up in the green pastures of Kashmir, animals breeding is perhaps as old as the Kashmir history itself. It is perhaps due to the fact that the professions other than animal breeding were influenced by chilly winters. Various kinds of woollen blankets and garments such as Lohita Kambala, Sthuula Kambala, Prawara are referred to in Usdars Narmamata and Samay-amatrakan. Kalhan’s Raja-Tarangani, says that Pattana (Patan) was a city famous for waving of clothes. Woollen industry naturally pre-supposed the existence of a population devoted to pasture an there must have been  many people in Kashmir who took up sheep rearing.

Here I shall leave the topic of scientific heritage, half touched for the lack of authentic evidence available, till the majority of writers begin to step forward in this direction and fill in the gaps.

Today in the Secular government it appears strange that our culture is rooted in spiritual values. But our sense of nationhood was so deep rooted that we have always resisted foreign domination. Our artistic ingenuity and our hospitality have rare parallels in our neighbouring countries. The history of the valley is by no means merely a record of local events, but is linked up with great figures and historical movements that affected the whole continent of Asia, and an interest in the events of Kashmir’s past forms a good introduction to the treasures of Asiatic life and literature.

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