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Maliks of Kashmir

By M.M. Munshi

None of the features of Kashmir have so directly influenced its history as the mountain ranges which enclose it. For centuries the mountain ranges guaranteed its relative safety against foreign invasions in comparison to plains of the sub continent. The only vulnerable points were the mountain passes and Pakhla route along the Jhelum valley.

Throughout the history special care was taken by the rulers of Kashmir to keep a strong hold on the route entering and leaving the valley and ingress was very strictly controlled. It was probably for this reason that muslim rule in Kashmir was established about more than three centuries later than the adjoining Punjab and other northern parts of the sub continent that too not by conquest. Mohmud Gaznavi twice failed to penetrate Kashmir via Toshmaidan Pass in 1015 and 1021 AD due to skilful deployment of defending forces by Kashmiris in the narrow glen of Lohara present Lorarin.

Kalhana mentions these entrances into the valley as Dvars Darangas. The names still survive to this day in Biru and Hirpur areas of Kashmir valley. During the muslim rule the dvars came to be known as Kartals or simply Darras (passes).

The establishments of dvars comprising watch cum military stations each of which was organised on a feudal basis under an official called as Dvarpati or Davarpida who maintained a contingent of militia the size of which depended on the importance of the route, capable of holding the dvars till arrival of reinforcements. In subsequent chronicles, Srivara referred the dvarpatis as margapati and marghesa. In due course of time the Sanskrit term margesa was distorted to Magrey both words signifying profession. All the descendants of Magres could not have been employed for guarding the routes/passes but they continued to use the title even after adopting other professions.

Those who continued to guard the routes /passes were bestowed by independent Sultans of Kashmir the title of honor and distinction "Malik". However at different times besides the guardians of passes/routes leaders of influential groups like Chaks, Rainas, Dars and others were also bestowed with title of Malik for their loyal services. After the annexation of Kashmir by Mughals in 1586 most of the Chaks,

Magres and other Maliks were hunted, killed and banished from the valley for having fought against them. But those who latter submitted themselves before Emperor Akbar and took the oath of loyalty were allowed to assume the duties of maintaining and guarding the routes/watch stations, administration as well as judiciary on receipt of fresh grants of land.

During the Afghan rule 1753-1918 all the routes leading to Punjab and other places except the Pakhli route [which they needed for communication with Kabul ] were closed for travelers as well as trade for security reasons .

Guarding of certain routes was taken up by Afghan army. After Sikhs annexed Kashmir in 1819 all the routes were reopened and institution of Maliks was revived but with reduced grant of lands. Some of the Maliks to supplement their reduced grants of land started charging very exorbitant tax of rasum rahdari from traders and others for which they were severely punished by Sikhs.

With the advent of Dogra rule in 1846 opening of the most of the routes and gradual establishment of regular police posts at vulnerable places and reasonable distances the ancestral occupation of Maliks came to an end. During the later half of nineteenth century the maliks had to contend themselves by escorting the pilgrims to Amarnathji cave, Harmukh Gangabal and probably to Sharda in Kishenganga valley and other places of pilgrimage for which they received a fixed percentage of the offerings at the shrine rather than for rediscovering or retracing the route to the holy places like Amarnathji Cave.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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