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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Five Millennia Old Culture & Literature of Kashmir

- Some Landmarks

T. N. Dhar ‘Kundan’

(Lecture delivered at RP Memorial Foundation Society on 16th December, 2000)

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Please bear with me; I am no scholar. I am simply a student of literature. Writing poetry is my hobby. My only qualification for delivering a lecture on the subject of culture and literature of Kashmir, before this learned audience, is that I am a Kashmiri. You may not, therefore, find any thing revealing or new in my talk but I assure you that you will get the fragrance of saffron and the soothing breeze of the valley, while I share my views with you. You may not be any wiser over what you already know but you will surely feel the bubbling life represented by the Lotus grown in the Dal Lake and elsewhere. 

- T.N.Dhar 'Kundan'  (URL)

Culture Defined

It is in the fitness of things that today when the twenty-first century is knocking at our doors and when our beloved Kashmir is undergoing an unprecedented turmoil for more than a decade now, we should be sitting back and reflecting on the five millennia old culture and literature of Kashmir, the land of our birth. Before doing so let us first try to figure out what the word Culture connotes. According to Professor Terry Eagleton, ‘Culture, etymologically speaking, is a concept derived from nature. One of its original meanings is husbandry. At first the term denoted a material process, which was then metaphorically transposed to the affairs of the spirit. The Latin root for this word is ‘colere’, which can mean anything from cultivating and inhabiting to worshipping and protecting. But ‘colere’ also ends up via the ‘cultus’ as the religious term ‘cult’. The idea of culture signifies double refusal: of organic determinism and of the anatomy of spirit. It is a rebuff to both naturalism and idealism. The very word culture contains a tension between making and being made, rationality and spontaneity’. S.T.Coleridge says that ‘culture is what comes naturally, bred in the bone rather than conceived by the brain’. Raymond Williams is of the opinion that ‘culture is the organization of the production, the structure of the family, the structure of institutions which govern social relationships, the characteristic form through which members of the society communicate and a structure of feeling’. T.S.Eliot, on the other hand, has defined culture as ‘the way of life of a particular people living together in one place; that which makes life worth living; that which makes it a society – it includes Arts, Manners, Religion and Ideas.’ After the mid twentieth century culture has come to mean the affirmation of a specific identity – national, ethnic, regional rather than the transcendence of it. All these definitions make culture overlap civilization. In order to differentiate between the two, one could say that culture is the manner of our thinking and civilization the manner of our living. The former has a definite and telling effect on the latter and the two together give us our distinct identity. In effect culture of a society manifests itself in the form of its civilisation.

Ancient Hindu Period

If there is a single terminology that sums up the entire gamut of our culture as Kashmiris, it is the name ‘Ryeshi Vaer’ given to our land. ‘Ryeshi Vaer’ literally means a garden of sages. This land has produced an innumerable number of saints and savants, sages and Sufis, who have always stood for the durable human goods of truth, freedom, wisdom, humility, simplicity, compassion, contemplation, worship and the like. The common Kashmiri has adopted these qualities and infused them in his thinking and actions. If I borrow the idiom of Mary Pat Fisher I would say that the map of our Kashmir cannot be colour-coded as to its Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist identity; each of its parts is marbled with the colours and textures of the whole. We have had Buddhist view of life and cosmos thrive in this land for many many years in the past. We have had a distinct non-dualistic ideology called the ‘Trika’ Philosophy shape the metaphysical thinking of this land. We have had the Vedic rituals of the Sanatana Dharma as the basis of our very existence. There used to be an admixture of ‘Shakta’ and ‘Tantra’ in our way of worshipping and then, with the advent of Islam in fourteenth century we witnessed the rise of Sufi order in this land. All these in course of time got merged and produced a blend of culture, which is humanistic, pious and pure, yet very simple and straightforward. It has taught us to t urn from the fragmentary to the ‘total’, from the superficial to the profound, and from the mundane material to the spiritual. Religion has never been an obstacle to this unique culture. I am reminded of a Sufi, Mohd. Sheikh, who lived in our neighbourhood at Chattabal in down town Srinagar. He used to say that the religion is ‘Gaev gudom’, the rope with which we tie a cow lest it should stray into the fields and eat the crop. Once the cow knows that it has to eat only the grass and walk only along the periphery of the field, there is no need for the rope any more. Similarly a man needs the religion only so long as he does not develop wisdom to discriminate between right and wrong and reality and falsehood.

Professor Timothy Miller, a specialist in new religious movements, has rightly observed that, ‘Human culture is always evolving and reinventing its own past and present. There is no cultural vacuum from which anything truly new under the Sun could arise.’ We call our way of life ‘Sanatana Dharma’ or the eternal norms of Do’s and Don’ts of life. Our belief is that God, Universe and the Vedas are eternal and co-existent. Strict adherence to the prescribed norms ensures cosmic harmony, order in the society and the welfare of mankind. Due to this belief Hindus, the original inhabitants of this land, were neither interested in recording their history nor inclined to force their way of thinking on any one. The basic ideology has been twofold. One, ‘Ekam Sat Viprah bahudhah vadanti – the Truth is one and the learned describe it in many different ways’ and the second, ‘Aano bhadra kratavo yantu vishvatah – let noble and beneficial thoughts come to us from all sides of the world’. John Renard, Professor of Theological Studies at St. Louis University, USA has said about Sanatana Dharma, ‘I have been intrigued by the tradition’s flexibility – some call it ability to subsume every religious idea. The larger Hindu tradition represents an extra-ordinary rich gallery of imagery of the Divine. It has encouraged visual Arts to match the Verbal. There is complete religious tolerance and it is free of large scale proselytizing.’ This eternal way of life, this age-old culture of ours is said to be five millennia old on the basis of the Saptarishi Samvat adopted by us from time immemorial. Ours is perhaps the only almanac in the country, that gives this Samvat and the running year is 5076. It is a fact that the only recorded History in India, the ‘Raja Tarangini’ has been written by a Kashmirian, Kalhana. Yet ironically we do not have any record of our cultural heritage and historical events of the prior period and, therefore, we are unable to paint a correct picture of the life and faith of our ancestors who lived in this pious land. As in the rest of the country, we have to draw upon legends, fables and other types of literature, verbal or written, in order to visualize the picture of our ancient heritage. It is very significant that in the Indian tradition the two great epics, ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ along with the ‘Puranas’ form the corpus of our history, from which we have to figure out what our past has been like. Kashmir also has its own ‘Purana’ called the ‘Nilamat Purana’, which throws some light on our heritage. This ‘Purana’ vouches for the fact that after the water was dried from the vast area of Sati Sar, sages were invited to settle in the valley and do their penance in the calm and peaceful environment of this sacred valley surrounded by the western Himalayan ranges. The aborigines, Nagas, Pishachas, shvapakas etc. were assimilated and as tribes became extinct in course of time. During this period the rituals and the injunctions of the Vedas only were followed. The inhabitants today in effect are, therefore, the progeny of the sages who settled here for penance and eventual emancipation with a sprinkling of immigrant population.

Buddhist Period

The fact that an important congregation of Buddhists was held in Kashmir, during the reign of the King Kanishka, shows that this ideology had found favour with the peace loving citizens of Kashmir in course of time. It is from here that the ideology travelled as far as Japan via Tibet and China. This ideology had Tantrik philosophy as its background and focussed on ‘Mantras’ or recitation, ‘Mudras’ or physical gestures and ‘Mandalas’ or meditation. The Sanskrit word for meditation, ‘Dhyana’ became ‘Gom’ in Tibet, got mixed with ‘Jen’ of China’s Confucius and eventually became ‘Zen’ of Japan. In Kashmir, however, a strong non-dualistic philosophy, called Kashmir Shaiva Darshan, drove out this ideology but not before it had left an indellible mark on our culture. There are a number of places, which are named after the ‘Bauddha Viharas’ and are called in local language as ‘Yar’. In Srinagar itself we have a locality named as ‘Bodager’ a corruption from ‘Buddha Giri’ or the Buddha’s hillock. These together with the non-violent passivity of Kashmiris and their life style imbued with the tenets of Buddhism stand testimony to the fact that this ideology had sway on our thinking for a long time. Buddhism accommodated itself to the local ideas while revaluing them by changing the spiritual centre of gravity. Tantra was given the meaning of extension and interpenetration. The eightfold path of this theology, right view, right aspiration, right speech, right behaviour, right livelihood, right effort, right thoughts and right contemplation permeated into the life of the common man.

Period of the Trika Philosophy

It appears that while the Buddhist thought did shape the lives of the inhabitants, it did not quench their thirst for knowing the reality nor did it satisfy their spiritual quest. The genius of Kashmir evolved its own version of non-dualistic philosophy, which was an improvement on the philosophy of Shankara in as much as it did not accept the creation to be an illusion. This philosophy branched into two, the ‘Spanda’ or the vibration system and the ‘Pratyabhijna’ or the cognition system. This unique school of thought espoused that the Divine, which is pure light, of His own free will and by His own inherent powers, appears in the form of His creation and this is nothing but a play of His own free will. The creation gives an indication of the mundane, the spiritual and the ethereal existence, whereas the Divine indicates the light in the form of knowledge and manifestation in the form of action. This was the knowledge aspect of the Kashmir culture then and the ritualistic aspect was governed by the Vedic injunctions. Of course these rituals also were modified to suit the local conditions. The ‘Sanskaras’ codified by Rishi Katyayana were in vogue in the rest of the country whereas in Kashmir those codified by Rishi Logaksha were implemented. It was the effect of this philosophy that spirituality and divinity was manifest in the life style of the common man. Although many Hindu holy places and temples were destroyed by Sikander But Shikan, who ruled from 1389 to 1413, yet the ruins of these temples at many places including that of Martand Temple stand testimony to the Sun worship also being prevalent here. There is a hill feature named as ‘Aeta gaej’ a corrupt form of Sanskrit ‘Aaditya Guha’ meaning the cave of the Sun. This corroborates the fact further.

Sufi Influence

Towards the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth century Islam came to Kashmir. On the one hand the invaders came to conquer and rule the land and on the other hand this place attracted the Muslim Sufis also. These Sufis believed in ‘Khalwa’ or spiritual retreat and propagated going from the outer exoteric to the inner esoteric. This coincided with the prevailing tradition of ‘seeking to refine deeper realization of the Divine within one’s consciousness rather than engaging in critical theological discussions; realizing the possibilities of the soul in solitude and silence, and to transform the flashing and fading moments of vision into a steady light which could illumine the long years of life’. Thus came into existence a synthesized cultural framework that we proudly call ‘The Rishi Cult’. Glimpses of this blended culture could be seen in the day to day life of an ordinary Kashmiri. My father used to swear by ‘Dastagir Sahib’, a revered Muslim Sufi saint. Any Muslim passing by a Hindu shrine would bow in reverence and any Hindu passing by a Muslim holy place would fold his hands in obeisance. There are innumerable holy places and shrines where both Hindus and Muslims would go to offer prayers. Hindus and Muslims equally revered Lal Ded and Peer Pandit Padshah, and other Hindu sages. Both the communities likewise held Nunda Rishi, Bata Mol Sahib, Dastagir Sahib and other Muslim saints in high esteem. A Muslim lady, after washing her face at the river Vitasta called ‘Vyath’ in Kashmiri,

would join her palms and pray thus, ‘Afu Khodaya fazal kar, badas ta janas, Hyandis taMusalmanas – God shower your grace on good and bad people alike, both on Hindus and on Muslims.’ A Hindu woman, after pouring milk and water on the Shiva Lingam in the temple would pray thus: ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhenah sarve santu niramayah sarve bhadrani pashyantu ma kaschit dukh bhag bhavet – Let all be happy, free of worries. Let all be met with beneficial and pleasant things and let no body meet with grief and unhappiness’. Salutations would be offered to Muslim elders by the Hindu youngsters and to Hindu elders of the area by the Muslim youngsters whenever and wherever they met. In return they would receive blessings in abundance.

The Other Facets of Culture

To sum up we can safely say that the origin of the cultural stream of Kashmir is Vedic. It has absorbed the influences from Buddhism. It has been shaped by the Trika philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism and it has drawn from the Muslim Sufism and in turn influenced it deeply. The enormous literature that has been produced by the sages and savants of this land portrays a picture of ‘Jnana’ or Knowledge dressed in ‘Bhakti’ or Devotion. The message has all along been one of humanism, simple living, high thinking, altruism, contentment, purity and piety. The other facets of our culture are shrouded in mystery. Take the case of the Arts. The old Sanskrit and Sharada manuscripts are full of beautiful paintings and pictures of gods and goddesses. Picturesque flowers and petals are drawn on the margin of the pages and the text is written in beautiful hand in the centre. The colours used in drawing them have been made indigenously from natural material like leaves, herbs etc. They are so prepared and mixed that even the passage of time running into centuries has neither damaged nor faded them. The art is so prolific and profound that it indicates the existence of a well-developed system. Even today one can see samples of these paintings on the top of the horoscopes and on the margin of the manuscripts written on hand-made paper. The portraits and the figures are exquisite and amazing and a well-organised research will throw light on its origin and gradual development. No wonder that the artisans of Kashmir have made a name in embroidery, papier machie and the patterns woven on carpets. In modern times Kashmir has produced a good number of artists, who have experimented with traditional and modern techniques but have distinct styles of their own. Sarva Shri K.N.Dhar, Dina Nath Almast, Ghulam Rasool Santosh, P.N. Kachroo, Manohar Kaul, Bansi Parimoo and many other luminaries fall in this category.

Music is another area where very little is known of its past. Today we have almost identical marriage songs for Hindu and Muslim marriages. The difference is that whereas the Hindus sing them in ‘vilambit’ or elongated tune, the Muslims sing them in ‘Drut’ or fast tune. The effect of SamaVedic recitation is apparent from the former. If you listen to these songs from a distance you will mistake them for ‘Sama gana’. Kashmir has a tradition of very rich folk songs which depict the emotions, feelings and sensibilities of a common man as also troubles and tribulations faced by him from time to time. Floods and famines have been vividly described in these songs. Then we have a well-organized classical music called ‘Sufiana Kalam’ or the sayings of the Sufi saints. It has different ‘Ragas’ and usually the sayings of ‘Lal Ded’ the great poetess of Kashmiri language are sung in the beginning of each ‘Raga’. In recent times we have had many a great exponent of Sufiana Kalam, Mohd Abdullah Tibbetbaqual and Ghulam Mohd. Qalinbaf being among the prominent ones. The former told me once that all these ragas which are in vogue these days have been formalized by Arni Mal, another great poetess of Kashmiri language. I have also heard Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan state in one of his interviews on the All India Radio about the origin of Ragas that the ‘Rag Khammach’ has originated in Kashmir and was derived from the voice of a parrot. While the ‘Tumbakh Naer’ and the ‘Not’ or the pitcher form important instruments of the popular folk music ‘Chhakri’ – a chorus, the multi stringed ‘Santoor’ is the soul of the Sufiana Kalam. It is well known that Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma has successfully introduced Santoor into the film-music. Other musical instruments are also in vogue in Kashmir and a well-known name in Sitar recital is that of Pandit Shambhu Nath Sopori. Chhakri was given a new direction and lustre by the late Mohan Lal Aima.

As regards the festivals and the rituals, these are primarily religious in character and therefore, different in different religious groups. But there are some commonalties. Distribution of ‘Tahar’, the cooked yellow rice on festive occasions is common between Hindus and Muslims. Night long singing of hymns in praise of the Divine is another common feature. The annual ‘Urs’ or commemorative days of various saints are also celebrated jointly by all the ethnic groups with due reverence. The Hindus of the valley are called Kashmiri Pandits or ‘Bhattas’ meaning in Sanskrit the honoured one. The important festival that has become their identity is the celebration of Shiva Ratri in the month of February. Unlike elsewhere in the country, here the festivities are fortnight-long and this festival has the same importance for us as the Ganesh Puja has for Maharashtrians and the Durga Puja has for the Bengalis.

Not much is known about the tradition of dramas and dance of Kashmir. Many dramas have been written in Sanskrit. Obviously these must have been staged because Sanskrit plays have always been written for being staged on various festive occasions like the advent of the spring season. It is said that King Zainulabdin had patronized drama writing and theatre. He was himself fond of witnessing plays being staged and would encourage stage artists and actors. During his time, Yodh Bhat and Som Pandit had written some plays with serious themes. The existence of folk dance called ‘Banda Paether’ with a strong satirical accent and the melodious group dance called ‘Rouf’ as also ‘Veegya Natsun’ on the occasion of marriages and yajnopavit ceremonies, indicates that there must have been a very well knit dance tradition in the valley. A unique and well-developed dance pattern with rhythm and synchronized steps accompanied by lively music is prevalent in Ladakh. It is, therefore, certain that there must have been a dance system in vogue during the Buddhist period in the valley also, if not earlier. This is a matter for future researchers to remove the veil of ignorance from this facet of our culture.

Our Language

The inhabitants of Kashmir have a distinct language called ‘Kaeshur’ or Kashmiri. Although there are two different views about its origin, yet a dispassionate and scientific analysis will show that it has developed from the language of the Vedas. Thereafter the syntax, vocabulary and idiom of Sanskrit enriched it. During the Pathan and Mughal rule, when Persian became the court language, it adopted a number of Persian words. During the rule of the Sikhs, the language of the Punjab also influenced this language and later, with the adoption of Urdu as the official language by the Dogra rulers, it had to borrow from Urdu language as well as from English. There are references in various chronicles that during the Buddhist period some religious books were written in local Prakrit, which has to be Kashmiri but these books are extinct although their translations are available. The initial glimpse of this language is had from the verses written about the love life of the queen of Raja Jayapeed during 8th century and in the Sanskrit work, ‘Setu Bandh’ of King Praversen, who incidentally established Srinagar as the capital of the valley for the first time. This language was then referred to as ‘Sarva gochar Bhasha’ or the language of the masses. The Sanskrit writers used to write in this language side by side with Sanskrit. But a systematic literature in Kashmiri starts from ‘Mahanay Prakash’ written in thirteenth century by Shitikanth in the same Vakh form, which was used later by Lal Ded. Kashmiris had evolved a script of their own and this is called Sharada script. It largely follows the pattern of the Devanagari script in the matter of the alphabets and combination of vowel sounds with consonants and appears to have been developed from the old Brahmi script. Unfortunately this script did not get official recognition for obvious reasons and has gone in disuse. It may not be out of place that even Ghulam Mohd. Mehjoor, the eminent poet was in favour of retaining the Sharada script. The official script is based on Persian script with some modifications. Because of a large number of vowel sounds and shades in this language this script hardly meets the requirement. It is time that the alternative script based on Devanagari alphabets, with two or three modifications is also given recognition. It may be mentioned that such a script is currently used by all the publications and journals issued from Jammu and Delhi.


It is the rule of nature that a change in thinking results in the change in action, which in turn changes the environment. All these changes are reflected in the literature produced from time to time. The literature is the mirror of the culture and the civilization of a society. Kashmir was a seat of learning because of which it is called ‘Sharada Peetha’ or the seat of the Goddess of Learning. Just as the name ‘Ryeshi Vaer’ denotes the culture of this land, the name ‘Sharada Peeth’ indicates the greatness and vastness of the literature produced by the Kashmiris. Up to the time of Sultan Zainulabidin, known as ‘Badshah’, who ruled from 1420 to 1470, Sanskrit was the language of the elite. No wonder, therefore, that a galaxy of Sanskrit scholars hailed from Kashmir and their contribution to the Sanskrit literature is monumental.

Sanskrit Literature

The literature in Sanskrit of this land can be divided into two groups. The first group relates to the Kashmir Shaiva Darshan. The prominent authors in this group are Utpala Deva, Somananda, Vasu Gupta, Abhinav Gupta and Khema Raja. The scholarly works include Spanda Karika, Shiva Drishti, Shivastotravali, Parmartha Sara, Pratyabhjna Darshan, Tantra Sara, Malini Vijaya, Rudrayamal and the monumental work, Tantralok of Abhinava Gupta Acharya. A number of treatises and commentaries have been written on these works in order to bring to light the true purport of this unique philosophy. It is a matter of concern that there is no effort on the part of the state government to preserve and develop this important and world acclaimed school of philosophy. It has been preserved by individual effort of largely those individual scholars who are ‘Sadhakas’ or the disciples of Swami Lakkshman Joo. However, there is an ‘Abhinava Gupta’ centre at Lucknow established by Dr. Pandey where this philosophy is studied by young scholars. Dr. Baljinnath Pandita and Dr. Neelkanth Gurtoo as also late Dr. Dwivedi of Rajasthan University, Jaipur have edited and translated some of the selected works of Shaiva Acharyas.

The second group comprises books on subjects other than Philosophy. The most distinguished name in this group is that of Kalhana Pandit, the author of the famous ‘Raja Tarangini’, the only book of chronicle written in Sanskrit. This book gives an account of the Rulers and the events from the 8th century to the 12th century. It was later extended and supplemented by Jona Raja, Shrivara and Prajna Bhatta and brought up to date till the reign of Zainul-Ab-din. There are a number of books in Sanskrit written by Kashmiris on a variety of subjects like Linguistics, Aesthetics, Poetics, Sexology and the fiction. Mammtacharya is a great name because of his work, ‘Kavya Prakash’. It is said that the scholars would accept no work in Sanskrit unless it had the seal of approval from Kashmir. A very prominent poet brought his book to Mammata for approval after it had already gained recognition in the Sanskrit world. The Acharya said, "The book is very good but alas I wish you had brought it earlier. I have recently completed the chapter of my book on ‘Kavya doshani’ or the faults and flaws in poetry writing. I had to strive hard to find examples for different flaws but here in your work I could have got the examples for all the flaws at one place and it would have saved me a lot of effort." Such was the scholarship of Kashmiri Sanskrit luminaries. ‘Dhvanyalok’ of ‘Anandavardhan’ added a new dimension to linguistics and poetics. Earlier the definition of a ‘Kavya’ was ‘Vakyam rasatmakam kavyam – any composition which gives tasteful pleasure is poetry’. With this work scholars were forced to change their opinion and define poetry as ‘Vakyam dhvanyatmakam kavyam – a piece of writing that gives a message by inference and suggestion is poetry.’ The scholars of Sanskrit from Kashmir had always something novel to say and propound. They were multi-disciplinary scholars and respected in the entire country as geniuses. Kshemendra, the author of ‘Kalavilasa’, was another great writer who dazzled scholars with his writings full of wit and satire. Then there were host of others including Bilhana, Kaiyata, Udbhatta, Hayata, Koka Pandit, Jagaddhara whose literary, philosophical, devotional and authoritative works have made them immortal in Sanskrit world. The eleventh century poet, Bilhana wrote ‘Vikramanka Deva Charitam’ in praise of the Karnataka king who honoured him. Manakha wrote ‘Shrikantha Charitam’ in 12th century. Bharata’s ‘Natya Shastra’ is an authoritative treatise on dramaturgy. During the reign of Badshah Bhatta Avatara wrote ‘Banasur Katha’ and ‘Zaina villas’ and Yodha Bhatta wrote ‘Zaina Prakash’. Another big name in Sanskrit literature from Kashmir is Gunadya, who wrote ‘Brihat-katha Manjari. It is felt that many of the stories from this book have been included in the great storybook, ‘Katha Sarit Sagar’. A Russian scholar of Sanskrit revealed during the World Sanskrit Conference at Varanasi in 1981 that the story of their famous ballet ‘Swan Lake’ also has been taken from this collection. There are modern scholars like Pandit Lakshmidhar Kalla, who have opined on the basis of the internal evidence that even Kalidasa hailed from Kashmir. However, let that be as it may.

Contribution to other Languages

When Persian replaced Sanskrit as the court language, the local Kashmiris faced a serious problem of learning the language in the shortest of time. It is said that by-lingual and tri-lingual verses were composed, committed to memory and thus an effort was made to learn the new language. Two samples will show the ingenuity of the people. (1) Roni lagani Zongla bastan, Natsun hao raqsidan ast, banda paether murdami raqas sonth amad bahar. - Tying the jingles is called ‘Zongla bastan’, dancing is called ‘Raqsidan’, male folk dance is ‘Murdami Raqas and the advent of spring is called Bahar amad. (2) The second is in the form of question and answer and runs thus: kuja budi, kahan tha, kati osukh? Dere tha, khana boodam, gari osus, Chi khordi, kya tse khyotho, kya khaya? Du nano, do rotiyan, tsochi jorah. The questions are in three languages about where the person was and what did he eat, and the answer also is in three languages that he was at his home and had eaten two loaves. In the absence of any authentic information with me I am unable to give an account of the prominent Persian scholars of Kashmir of the olden times. I would, however, make a mention of two very important names. The first is about a great poet Ghani, who lived during Aurangzeb’s time. He is reported to have declined the invitation of the king to visit his court. His habit was to close all the doors and windows when he was in and leave them ajar when he was out. His explanation was that the most precious item in his house was he himself. The inscription on his tombstone is ‘Chu Shama Manzile Ma ba Payi Ma’. It means that ‘like a burning candle my destination is under my very feet’. This shows that he was a spiritual poet, who was unconcerned with worldly affairs. The second name that I wish to mention is that of Pandit Bhawani Das Kachroo. He is known for his long poem ‘Bahar-I-taweel’ or a long meter. This poem is written in praise of the Divine and shows an extra ordinary control on Persian vocabulary that the poet had. His wife, Arnimal too was a great poetess of Kashmiri language in her own right. There are many devotional poems written in Persian with an admixture of Sanskrit. A great saint Krishna Kar has written in praise of Goddess Sharika in these words: ‘Avval tui aakhir tui, batin tui zahir tui, hazir tui nazir tui, Shri Sharika Devi namah. Man az tu nadi chakri man, pran az tu pranayami man, Dhyan az tu japa malayi man Shri Sharika devi namah.’

Kashmiris within and outside Kashmir have written in Urdu also. The well known names include Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar, Pandit Brij Narayana Chakbast, who wrote Ramayana in Urdu, Pandit Daya Shankar Naseem, Pandit Dattatreya Kaifi, Pandit Anand Narayan Mula etc. More recently we have had poets and writers like Prem Nath Dar, Prem Nath Pardesi, Ghulam Rasul Nazki, Ali Mohd. Lone, Shorida Kashmiri, Dina Nath Mast, Pushkar Nath, and others who have made a rich contribution to literature both in prose and poetry. Writers have not lagged behind in Hindi either. Dr. Toshkhani, Ratan Lal Shant, Mohan Lal Nirash, Madhup, Dr. Agnishekhar, Khema Kaul, Dr. Krishna Razdan, Haleem, Maharaj Krishna Bharat and many eminent scholars have contributed both in prose and poetry. Their language is Hindi but the aspirations and feelings projected are those of Kashmiris. I have also given two books, "Main Samudra Hun’ and ‘Main Pyasa Hun’, both collections of my Hindi poems.

Kashmiri Literature

I am proud to say that my mother tongue is very rich in literature, particularly in poetry. The prominent forms in which poetry has been written have been taken from Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian and English. From Sanskrit we have adopted Vakh and Shruk or ‘Vakya and Shloka’ as also Vatsun or ‘Vachan’. Hindi has given us Geet and Urdu Ghazal, Qita, Nazm and Rubai. From English we have taken sonnet and free verse. Lal Ded and Nunda Rishi of the fourteenth century are two great names who have written mystic and spiritual quatrains. Our poetry starts systematically from Lal Ded whose Vakhs were first translated into Sanskrit by Bhaskaracharya and then into English and many other languages. These Vakhs are dipped in Shaiva philosophy and enjoin upon us to go inwards in order to attain the reality. ‘Gorun dopnam kunuy vatsun, nebra dopnam ander atsun – my preceptor advised me in nutshell to go from without to within’. Nunda Rishi wrote Shruk, which are replete with Sufi mysticism. He has praised Lal Ded in these words; ‘Tas Padman Porechi Lale, Yem gale amreth chyev, Shiv Tshorun thali thale, tyuth me var ditam Deevo – Lala of Padmanpura drank the nectar and perceived Shiva in everything. O God, give me a similar boon (so that I see the Divine in the similar way).’ These two poets are great names in our spiritual and mystic poetry. Whereas Lal Ded has propounded jnana and Shaiva philosophy in her Vakhs, Nunda Rishi has put forth the Sufi ideology in his Shrukhs. All the Kashmiris hold both in high esteem. During his itinerary, Nunda Rishi reached village Tsrar. He is reported to have spontaneously uttered these words there, rhyming with the name of the place, ‘Vola zuva yati prar – let me wait here till the last,’ and it is here that he left his mortal frame.

While this spiritual writing must have continued as a sub-stream, in the sixteenth century we suddenly see emergence of a new theme in the poetry of Zoon, later known as Habba Khatoon. She has sung songs of love, separation, and ill treatment at the hands of the in laws and other human feelings. The Kashmiri poetry thus came down from the spiritual heights to the mundane human level. Her lament was, ‘Varivyan saet vara chhasno chara kar myon malino ho – I am not at peace with my in-laws, would somebody come to my rescue from my father’s side?’ Arnimal further strengthens this human romantic and love poetry in 18th century. Her diction and selection of words and the musical meters used by her are exquisitely beautiful. She had profound knowledge of classical music and is believed to have rearranged the Ragas in use for the ‘Sufiana Kalam’. For the first time she uses what in Sanskrit are called ‘Shabda-alankaras’ or decoration of the words, like alliteration and internal rhyming. An example would show her master craftsmanship. ‘Matshi thap ditsnam nyandri hatsi matsi, matshi matsha-band sanith gom, vanta vyas vony kus kas patsi, vunyub karith gom – I was in deep slumber when he caught hold of my wrist. The gold wristband cut into the very flesh of my wrist. Friend! Tell me who is to be trusted in these circumstances. He has left me crust fallen’. Rupa Bhawani is another great name in the spiritual poetry. Her Vakhs are full of Shaiva philosophy and the language is sanskritized. She lived a hundred years in 17th century and is regarded as an incarnation of Goddess Sharika. There are a number of anecdotes about her interaction with Muslim Sufi saints. In one such encounter with ‘Shah Qalandar’ it is narrated that the two were on the opposite banks of a river. The Sufi called her, ‘Rupa (literally Silver) come over to my side, I shall make you Son (literally Gold). She replied, ‘Why don’t you come over so that I make you Mokhta (literally a pearl as also emancipated).

By this time the Persian influence had gone deep into our literature. Poets started writing ‘Masnavis’ or long fables in verse. The prominent poet of this period has been Mohmud Gami, who lived during 18th and 19th centuries. The Persian stories adopted by him included those of Laila Majnun, Yusuf Zulaikha, Shirin Khusro, etc. Yusuf Zulaikha, which has been translated in German language, is the most famous of his compositions. He no doubt introduced the Masnavi style but it reached its zenith at the hands of Maqbool Kralawari. This 19th century poet has written a monumental masnavi, ‘Gulrez’, which has become very popular with the masses. From here onwards three distinct streams of poetry continued to flow unabated, the Sufi mystic, the devotional and the romantic. There is a long list of Sufi poets, who espoused the cause of purity and piety as also mutual brotherhood between various religious groups. These included Rahman Dar, Shamas Faqir, Sochha kral, Nyama Sahib and a host of others. Their philosophy was monotheistic and they laid stress on ethical and moral values. Their poetry shows a deep influence of Advaita Philosophy. ‘Ognuy sapan to dognyar travo, pana nishi pan parzanavo lo – Trust in oneness and shun duality; try to know thy real self.’ ‘Ognuy soruy dognyar naba, haba yi chhui bahanay – Truth is one and there is no duality; all else is a fallacy.’ In the second stream of devotional poets the names of Prakash Ram, Krishna Razdan and Parmanand are prominent. While the first two wrote devotional poems called ‘Leela’ in praise of Shri Rama, the last named was a devout of Shri Krishna. ‘Aaras manz atsaevay, vigne zan natsaevay – Let us join the circle of dancers and dance like nymphs in ecstasy for Shri Krishna. Parmanand, who lived in 19th century, has written a memorable long poem wherein he has compared the human actions with tilling of the land right from ploughing up to the time of reaping the harvest. ‘Karma bhumikayi dizi dharmuk bal, santoshi byali bhavi aananda phal –your actions are the land where you must put in the fertilizer of righteousness. Sow the seed of contentment and you will reap the harvest of supreme bliss.’ Prakash Ram wrote the first Ramayana in Kashmiri and captioned it ‘Ram Avtar Tsaryet’. In the romantic stream of poetry, the next important poet has been Rasul Meer. He has written beautiful love poems in musical meters. His famous poem starts with these words, ‘Rinda posh maal gindne drayi lolo, shubi shabash chani pot tshayi lolo – My beloved has come out to play in an ecstatic mood, praise be to her shadow that follows her’. The description in the next line is noteworthy. ‘Raza hanziyani naaz kyah aenzini gardan, ya Illahi chashmi bad nishi rachhtan, kam kyah gatshi chani baargahi lolo – The gracious one has a neck like aswan. God! Save her from evil eye. By that your grace will be no poorer.’ Rasul Meer was the first poet who addressed his poems to a female beloved. The earlier poets had made a male their love, perhaps because they were pointing to the Divine and not the human.

Modern Period

The twentieth century is the period when the Kashmiri language made an all round progress. The three streams that were flowing continued and some new trends also developed. Master Zinda Kaul is a great name among the mystic poets of this period. His book ‘Sumran’ won him the Sahitya Academy award. His suggestive poems are par excellence. A short poem of his reads, ‘Tyamber pyayam me khaermanas, alava hyotun kanzael vanas, taer ti ma laej phaelnas, dil dodum jigar tatyom, krakh vaetsh zi naar ha – A spark fell on the haystack, the entire jungle caught fire. It didn’t take long to spread. My heart burnt and the liver heated up – shouts came from all sides, fire! Fire!’ He has described God in these words: ‘Kaem tam kar tamat bonah pot tshayi doorey dyuthmut, sanyev kanav tee buzmut, saenis dilas tee byuthmut – Someday somewhere somebody has seen His shadow from a distance. We have heard it with our ears and our heart is convinced of His existence.’ Ahad Zargar is another important poet of this stream who has written masterly poems on mysticism and spirituality. The immortal poet Mehjoor, who is called Wordsworth of Kashmiri language, has carried the romantic poetry to new heights. He was acclaimed by no less a personality than Rabindranath Tagore. The Hindi poet Devendra Satyarthi, collecting folk songs of different Indian languages was aghast to find that Mehjoor’s poems were being sung by peasants in the fields just like folk songs during his life time. He had this message for his fellow country men: ‘hyund chhu shakar dodh chhu muslim ahli deen, dodh ta shakar milanaeviv pana vaen – Hindus are like sugar and Muslims like milk, let us mix the two (to create a harmonious society)’. Another great name of this period is that of Abdul Ahad Azad. He did not live long but left an indelible mark on our literature. He was virtually the harbinger of the progressive poetry in Kashmiri. His long poem ‘Daryav’ or the river is a masterpiece. He has ridiculed romance in the face of poverty, want and hunger. ‘Madanvaro lagay paeree, ba no zara ashqa bemari. Tse saet gaetsh fursatha aasen, dilas gaetsh farhatha aasen, me gaemets nael naadari, ba no zara ashqa bemari – My love! Romance is not my cup of tea. It needs leisure and peace of mind. I have none and I am crestfallen due to my poverty. So no romance for me please’.

Post Independence period is a period of renaissance for an all round development of literature in Kashmiri. Kashmiri poets were influenced by the philosophy of Marx and the progressive literature of other languages, notably that of Urdu. While Allama Iqbal was the ideal for many, Faiz, Jaffri and other Urdu poets were heroes for others and they took a cue from their writings. Whereas most of the mystic poetry was full of obscure and suggestive idiom, the poetry of this new genre of poets was frank and forthright; sometimes sounding like slogans. In response to the Pakistani tribal raid, the writers formed Kashmir Cultural Front in defence of inter-ethnic harmony and as an affront to religious fanaticism. The literature created could not remain unaffected by the political and social uprising. Earlier in 1945 Mirza Arif had started a cultural organisation by the name of ‘Bazme adab’. Many enthusiastic writers got involved with this organization. Mirza Arif himself is a well-known name for his Kashmiri Rubaiyas, which are crisp and meaningful. The prominent poets of this new movement are Dina Nath Nadim, Rehman Rahi and Amin Kamil. Nadim revolutionized the entire face of poetry. He used pure Kashmiri diction, gave expression to the desire and aspiration of the common man and raised his voice strongly in defence of peace. He wrote operas and sonnets for the first time and his poems have been translated into many languages. One of his immortal poems against wars and strife is ‘Mya chham aash pagahaech, pagah sholi duniyah – I have full faith in tomorrow for tomorrow will bring new light to the entire world.’ He is the trendsetter of progressive and humanistic poetry in Kashmir. His operas, ‘Bomber ta Yambarzal’ ‘Neeki ta baedi’ etc are the milestones in our literature. Rahi is another Sahitya Academy awardee, whose ‘Nav rozi Saba’ shows the influence of Iqbal very clearly. He has also made a rich contribution to Kashmiri poetry. He sang, ‘Yaer mutsraev taer barnyan, Maer maend phyur mas malryan, vaer zahir vaets aaman ta lolo – The benefactor has thrown the doors open and filled wine into the big pitchers; It appears that the common man will get his share now.’ Kamil has written short stories and poetry both. His diction is rustic and meters musical. ‘Khot sorma sranjan tala razan bhav bahar aav – The price of the items of make-up for ladies and the ornaments have shot up, it appears the spring has arrived’. This period produced a galaxy of poets who contributed to the enrichment of our literature. Noor Mohd. Roshan, Arjun Dev Majboor, Ghulam Rasool Santosh, Moti Lal Saqi, Chaman Lal Chaman, Prem Nath Premi, Makhan Lal Bekas, Ghulam Nabi Firaq, Vasudev Reh, Ghulam Nabi Khayal were active within the valley and outside there were B.N.Kaul, Shambu Nath Bhatt Haleem and myself who wrote on a variety of subjects.

Prose writing also got a philip during this period and continues unabated to date. The master short story writers include Akhtar Mohiuddin, Som Nath Zutshi, Ali Mohd. Lone, Umesh, Bansi Nirdosh, Hriday Kaul Bharati, Deepak Kaul, Hari Krishna Kaul, Santosh and Kamil. They gave expression to the emotions and feelings of the common man and picturized the life of the inhabitants of the valley. Akhtar, Lone, Kamil and Hari Krishna have written novels also and given a lead in this direction. Radio Kashmir and later the Door Darshan Kendra at Srinagar provided an opportunity and thereby played an important role in encouraging these writers. The Academy of Arts and Culture has also been publishing the works of these artists and anthologies, which inspires other young writers to try their pen. Moti Lal Kyomu has been a pioneer in the field of drama and Pushkar Bhan in satirical radio plays. Hari Krishna Kaul is also a successful drama writer. There are a host of other writers whom I have not mentioned for fear of digressing from the central point. My apologies to them since I hold all of them in high esteem and recognize their contribution to the Kashmiri literature. I am trying to convey that our language is rich in literature. There have been some translations into other languages but it is not enough. Some of the names that come to one’s mind, who have done pioneering work in popularizing Kashmiri literature are Professors Jai Lal Kaul, Nand Lal Talib, T.N.Raina, P.N. Pushp, K.N. Dhar, B.N. Parimoo, MotiLal Saqi and R.K.Rehbar. There is a pressing need for translating the selected works from Kashmiri into other Indian and foreign languages so that the readers and scholars in the entire country will be acquainted with its depth and vastness. Kashmiri is the beloved mother tongue of all the Kashmiris irrespective of their creed or faith. Both the communities, the Hindus and the Muslims have produced poets, writers and artists of repute. It is, however, a pity that the language has not been receiving the official patronage that it deserves.

Post 1990 period has been a period of turmoil, which brought shame to the composite culture of the valley. The Hindus had to migrate to Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country to escape the wrath of the foreign provoked and controlled militancy. During the last decade of their exile Kashmiri writers have authored a lot of literature. In this literature there is a lament of losing their hearth and homes, a craving to go back to their roots and pain and anguish at the way in which politics and narrow aggrandizement have cut at the very roots of their rich culture and shattered their proud tradition. The worst casualty have been the mutual trust, relationship and understanding between people of different faiths. Ladies and Gentlemen! May I, therefore, conclude by reciting this verse of mine:

"Byeyi vaeth deenaek ta dharmaek fitnai,
Byeyi gav byon alfas nish bey.
Gotsh na yi ravun hasil kor yus,
Dashi thaev thaev astanan manz."
(Again we are witnessing conflict and confrontation in the name of religions. Again one is getting separated from the other. I am afraid we may not lose all that we had achieved after offering prayers repeatedly at the shrines and holy places.)

I am grateful to the R.P Memorial Foundation Society and the organizers of this meet for providing me this opportunity of sharing my views with all of you, on the rich tradition of the place of my birth. Thank You.


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