Table of Contents

   Kashmiri Writers

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Beginnings of Kashmiri Language and Literature

By Dr. S.S. Toshkhani


As a daughter of Sanskrit, Kashmiri has a number of traits that it shares with other modern languages of Aryan stock, and yet it has its own peculiarities also. What makes it a unique language in the Indian Linguistic context is the fact that it is analytic and at the same time synthetic holding many a secret of the development of modern Indo-Aryan languages.

That is perhaps, what Dr. Siddheshwar Verma means when he says that Kashmiri reveals linguistic strata of various ages  -  "Vedic, Buddhist Sanskrit, Pali, Kharoshthi Prakrit" etc. No wonder then that Georg Buhler considers it to be of greatest importance in the study of a comparative grammar of Indo-Aryan languages, preserving, as it does, not only several old word forms but also revealing how new word-forms evolved from old bases. Grierson too seems to ensorse the same view despite his controversial classification of the language. The study of Kashmiri, he says, is an "essential preliminary to any inquiry" regarding "the mutual relations of modern vernaculars of India".


Kashmiri or Kashur’ as its native speakers numbering over 31 lakhs according to the 1991 census call it, is spoken in the region extending from Uri to Matrigam in the north, Verinag to the Pir Panchal ranges in the south, Zojila to Kashtawar in the east and Shopian to Lagan in the West, covering an area of about 10,000 sq. miles. Besides the Kashmir valley, there is a sizeable concentration of the speakers of the languages and its dialects in Kashtawar, Ramban, Pogal Paristan, Reasi, Poonch and several other mountainous areas of the Jammu region. Today a large number of its speakers-around 5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits have been displaced from their original linguistic habitat and relocated in Jammu, Delhi and other places in India. There is a clearly perceptible dialectic variation in respect of accent and usage in the Kashmiri spoken in Kamraz (Skt. Kramarajya-North Western Kashmir) and Maraz (Madvarajya-South Kashmir) and the standard Kashmiri of Srinagar and adjoining semi-urban areas. The main areawise dialects, however, are Kashtawari, Pogali, Siraji and Rambani which preserve several old and archaic elements of the language. Unfortnuately, there has been no attempt to study these dialects systematically which could well reveal secrets of its development of Kashmiri from the regional. Prakrit and Apabhramsha.


There exists a very strong evidence to show that Kashmiri has descended from the vedic speech or, as Buhler  has pointed out, from "one of the dialects of which the classical Sanskrit was formed." The presence in Kashmiri vocabulary of a large number of lexical and phonetic items that can be directly traced to  Vedic corrobate this fact. For instance, the Kashmiri word ‘yodvay’, meaning ‘if’ is the same as Vedic ‘yaduvay’, the corresponding word for it in Sanskrit (and Hindi) being ‘yadi’. Similarly we have the word ‘ada’ in Kashmiri, meaning ‘so, then, thereupon, yes’, which can be hardly distinguished from the Vedic ‘addha’ of which the Prakrit form too is ‘addha’, Again, the Vedic ‘sanna’ appears as ‘son’ in Kashmiri having an identical meaning ‘deep’. Or take the Kashmiri word ‘basta’ which comes straight from Vedic ‘bastajin’ meaning ‘goatskin’, ‘bellows’. It is from the Vedic root ‘taksh’ that the Kashmiri word ‘tachh’ (to scratch, ‘to peel’, ‘to plane’, ‘to scrape’) is derived, Sanskrit ‘ksh’ changing to ‘chh’ in Kashmiri as in Laksha>lachh, vaksha>vachh, draksha>dachh, akshi>achhi etc. And from this very root comes the Kashmiri word ‘chhan’, ‘a carpenter’.

Generally, Kashmiri words have evolved from Vedic or old Indo-Aryan through intermediairy Pali or Prakrit forms. Thus, Vedic ‘prastar’, from which the Hindi ‘patthar’ (=a stone) is derived, changes through the intermediary Prakrit ‘pattharo’ to ‘pathar’ (=on the floor) and ‘pothur’ (=the floor) in Kashmiri, retaining the original sense. Vedic ‘atyeti’, ‘comes upon, goes by’, ‘enters’ is another example. It becomes ‘achcheti’ in Prakrit and from it the Kashmiri ‘atsun’. (=enter) is derived. In fact, numerous such examples can be adduced to show that Kashmiri preserves not only phonetic and semantic but also morphological elements of Vedic speech.

The phonetic aspects of the tendency in Kashmiri to retain some most archaic word forms has been analysed at some length by Dr. Siddheshwar Verma. It will be interesting to look at some of the examples he gives to provide evidence on how Kashmiri shows contact with older layers of Indo-Aryan vocabulary. One such word that Dr Verma examines is ‘kral’, the Kashmiri for ‘a potter’. While all other modern Indo-Aryan languages, he points out, except Nepali and Sinhalese, have words for it derived from the Sanskrit ‘kumbhakar’, post-Vedic development, Kashmiri alone preserves the phonetic remanants of the Vedic ‘Kulal’, an older word. Similarly, the Kashmiri word ‘tomul’, uncooked rice’, he says, has retained the initial ‘t’ of the Sanskrit ‘tandulam’, while in other modern Indo-Aryan languages, ‘t’ has changed to ‘ch’, as in Hindi ‘Chawal’, Bengali and Oriya ‘Chaul’, Sindhi ‘chavir’, Nepali ‘chamal’ and so on.

It is on the basis of such linguistic evidence that eminent linguists like Morgenstierne, Emenean, Bloch and Turner have arrived at their conclusions about Vedic origin of Kashmiri. Supporting this view, Prof. S.K. Toshkahni goes even further to point out some pre-Vedic developments in the language like the existence of words like ‘sost’ and ‘rost’ which later become ‘sahit’ and ‘rahit’.

Grierson's folly:

Grierson, however, disregards all this massive evidence and holds an entirely different view about the origin and affliation of the Kashmir language. Kashmiri, he insists is "a mixed language, having as its basis a language of the Dard group of the Pishacha family allied to "Shina’. He accepts the fact that there is a predominance of Indo-Aryan vocabulary in Kashmir, but attributes this to a powerful influence of Indian culture and literature for over two thousand years. Almost echoing Grierson's views, Dr Suniti Kumar Chatterji observes that "the Kashmiri language is a result of very large overlaying of a Dardic base with Indo-Aryan. But neither Grierson, nor Chatterji have cared to show what this Dardic base or sub-stratum precisely is. Nor have they been able to produce any evidence of this ‘overlaying’. Grierson's view are largely confined to the realm of hypothesis and fly in the face of actual facts of the language. This insistence on equating Kashmiri with Paishachi and therefore, with Dardic and Iranian makes little linguistic sense.

The Paishachi speech exists only in the few examples that Prakrit grammarians have given of it, there being virtually no other record available. And a glance at the phonetic and morphological features of Paishachi as given by them proves beyond any shadow of doubt that linguistically it has nothing to do with Kashmiri.

Grierson has further muddled the issue by placing Kashmiri in the Shina-Khowar group of Dardic languages and clubbing these in turn with the Kafir group. Both Morgiensterne and Emenean have rubbished this classification and shown very clearly that Dardic languages “are of pure IA (Indo-Aryan) origin and go back to a form of speech closely resembling Vedic”. Emeneau has further pointed out that though the Dardic languages are Indo-Aryan, “they did not pass through the MIA (Middle Indo-Aryan) development represented by the records".

The problem with Grierson is that he bases his arguments on a false premise, overlookking the fact that if there are some cognate words in Shina and Kashmiri, it is not because of any Dardic connection, but because both the languages draw upon Sanskrit or the old Indo-Aryan as the basic source for their respctive vocabularies. He also ignores totally the fundamental differences that exist between the Linguistic features of Shina and Kashmir. What is more unfortunate, however, is that many later scholars have accepted his views uncritically, giving rise to a fallacy that still persists. As P.N. Pushp has clearly pointed out, "the data adduced by him in this regard is just confined to tentative resemblances: just some casual sounds and vagrant vocables regardless of the evidence offered by the structural framework that the Kashmiri language shares with sister languages including Sindhi, Panjabi, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali”.

Structural Framework:

What this structural framework actually is and how it developed can be known only when the language is “historically studied and structurally analysed”. In other words when we examine the written evidence of its gradual development through various periods of time. Like other Indo-Aryan Languages, Kashmiri too started assuming its distinct shape as a modern language around the 10th century after emerging from the MIA stage of Prakrit  and Apabhramsha. And though much of its early literary output has been lost, whatever written evidence is available to us today of the language is sufficient to help us draw a clear outline of the process of its development.

The earliest extant record of Kashmiri we come across is in the form of a commentary on the verses of a work titled “Chhumma Sampraday”, which can be assigned to 11th century or so. The work, though in verse form has nothing as such to do with poetry but with the teachings of an esoteric Tantric sect of the times. A scrutiny of these verses shows that linguistically they are closer to regional Apabhramsha, though Prakrit forms also abound. This will be clear from the following two examples from the work:

Bhava sabhave sab avinashi

Sapan sabhavan vi uppanna

Te aj niravidhi agam prakashi

Idassa dishti Kali vipachhanna

Vigalani shunnya ashunnya swarupa

Vividh padarthu sathu kavatet

Ashayu chitti sada nirupa

Vichchi viju virtha prghatet

The nascent features of early Kashmiri that appear in the 'Chumma Sampradaya' take a more pronounced and distinct form in later works like the ‘Mahanaya Prakasha’, ‘Banasur Katha’ and Sukha-Dukha Charit, presenting a somewhat continuous picture of linguistic development from the 10th-11th tury to the end of the 15th century.

Surely Kashmiri must have acquired a distinct form in the 11th century for we have Kshemendra, a great stalwart of Sanskrit Literature recommending to upcoming Sanskrit poets of his times to study bhasha kavya or poetry written in the regional dialect alongside Prakrit and Apabhramsha works. Bilhana, another great Sanskrit poet, who lived in the 12th century, admires women of his native land for having the same command over Sanskrit and Prakrit as they had over their 'janma bhasha' or native tongue-obviously Kashmiri.

In Kalhana's Sanskrit chronicle "Rajatarangini", also written in the 12th century, we come across a curious piece of linguistic evidence in the form of a single sentence-"Rangassa Helu dinna" (the village of Helu was given to Ranga). But it is Amir Khusro's 'Nuh Siphir' that we find the nomenclature 'Kashmiri' being used as such for the first time (c.1300). Khusro has placed Kashmiri along side Lahori and Sindhi as one of the prominent languages spoken in India at that time.

If 'Chhumma Sampraday' presents the earliest recorded form of the Kashmiri language, 'Mahanay Prakash' documents the next stage of its development. Grierson considers it to be a work of the 15th century, but Prof PN Pushp and Dr Suniti Kumar Chatterji assign it to the 13th century which seems nearer the mark as an examination of its language with its tendency for Prakritisation shows. Grierson confuses its author Shiti Khntha with Shiti Kantha the author of a grammatical work, 'Balabodhini Nyasa' who lived in the 15th century. Interestingly, the author of 'Mahanaya Prakasha' has described the language of his work as "Sarvagochara desha bhasha', or "the regional dialect intelligelbe to all".

According to Dr G.V. Tagare, the term 'deshi', 'deshya' or 'deshi bhasha' generally imply the spoken language of a particular province. It is in this context that the term "desha bhasha" used by Shiti Kantha has to be understood. This is made further clear by repeated references to "attharasa desha bhasha" or eighteen provincial languages in Jain Prakrit works. There is little doubt that Kashmiri too must have one of eighteen languages in the early medieval period.

"Mahanaya Prakasha" (Illumination of the Great System or the System of the Great Meaning) is work of the Krama (Gradation) School which is akin to the Kula (Familial) School and is based on Shaktopaya or the Energic Way. It deals with the Goddess, the Wheel of Energies and ritual sex and emphasises that the Great Meaning or the Absolute Sense expresses itself gradually through the four forms of speech: para (transcendent and undifferentiated), pashyanti (visioning), madhyama (interjacent) and Vaikhari (displayed) word. Obviously all this terminology and the esoteric practices of jnaansiddhi, mantrasiddhi and melapsiddhi associated with the propitation of deities like Vameshi, Khechari, Bhuchari, Sambarbhakshini and Raudreshwari cannot by any stretch of imagination be taken to be poetry. But the importance of Mahanaya Prakasha lies in the fact that it is the only written evidence we have of the Kashmiri in the 13th Century. Its linguistic strtum appears to be definitely old, revealing how the language was emerging from its Prakriti-Apabhramsha form. Here is one example:

Yasu yasu jantus samvid yas gas

Nila pit sukh dukh sarup

Udyisdatta Samani samaras

Kamkampan tas tas anurup

In this  verse the Kashmiri pronouns yasu-yasu-yas-yas (<skt. 'yasya', Pali-Prakrit 'yassa', whoever, whomever) and 'tas-tas' (< skt. 'tasya', Pali-Prakrit tassa', to that person. can be clearly recognised and also the genetive marker - 'as' (< skt-'asya') used with 'jantu' ('a c-creature') in 'jantus'. in fact a large number of Kashmiri words can be found in their older forms in Mahanay Prakash - an aspect dwelt at some length by Grierson in 'The language of the Mahanay Prakash'. It is a brilliant analysis in which Gerirson accepts that the vocabulary of the work is predominantly Indo-Aryan, but attributes it to the authors being a Sanskrit scholar- something that does not appear to be convincing in view of Shiti Kantha's claim of having composed it in 'sarvagochar desbhasha'. Surely, Shiti Kantha's would not have made this claim without any basis.

While "Chhumma Sampraday" and "Mahanay Prakash" are the earliest recorded specimens of Kashmiri language and literature, the first heartbeats of Kashmiri poetry in the real sense of the word can be heard in the vaakhs or verse sayings of Lal Ded only. Born in the early decades of the 14th century when Kashmir was in the throes of an unprecedented political upheaval with a collision between two cultures, the indigenous and Islamic, thretaening to tear the entire social fabric apart, Lal Ded played the dual role of a poet and spiritual leader to ensure continuity and stability. No other Kashmiri poet has scaled the poetic heights that she attained and influenced Kashmiri psyche so deeply as she did. Even today her vaaks or verse sayings are a source of immense spiritual solace to Kashmiri speaking people, suffused as they are with great wisdom. Her mystic insights, and her vision of the relationship between the individual soul and the supreme being, her awareness of the human condition and a deep sense of compassion, her protets against everything that demeans a human being and restricts his freedom of will and her Shaiva world-view of the oneness of all conciousness make her - what she is regarded to be - the greatest cultural icon of the Kashmiris.

Lal Ded translated her existential anguish into soul sterring poetry, emphasising the inwardness of spiritual exprience and lashing out at religious formalism and external ceremony. But more than anything else, she chose to speak to the common masses in their own mother tongue rather than the literary language of the elite, borrowing her imagery ferom everyday life and making accessible to them the subtle truths of Kashmir’s Trika philosophy.

This direct contact with the life and concerns of the common people charged her language with tremendous power and made her poetry glow with a unique incadecence. In fact she shaped and enriched the Kashmiri language in a manner that it formed the basis on which a new Kashmiri identity was forged. Here are a few of her representative 'Vaaks' which are etched indelibly on the collective memory of Kashmiris :

*Ami pana sodaras navi chas laman

Kati bozi day myon mye ti diyi tar

Amyan takyan pony zan shraman

Zuu chhum braman gara gatshaha

(With a rope of loose-spun thread am I-towing my boat upon the sea.

Would that God heard my prayer

and brought me safe across!

Like water in cups of unbaked clay

I run to waste.

Would God I were to reach my home!

(--Tr. Prof Jaya Lal Kaul)


(Gagan tsuy bhutal tsuy

tsuy dyan yavan tu rath

Arga, tsandun, posh, pony tsuy

Tsuy sakal tu lagizi kyah?

(Yea, Thou alone the heavens, thou the earth,

And Thou alone the day, the air, the night

And Thou alone the slumbering and rebirth

Thi offerings of sandal oil and light!

Yea, Thou alone all these, for Thou art all,

What, then, to offer Thee, what name to call?

(--Tr-Nilam Cram Cook)


*Gwaran vonanam kunuy vatsun

Nyabra dopnam andar atsun;

Suy gav Lali mye vaak tii vatsun,

Tavay hyotum nangay natsun.

(My Guru said, "But one thing you must know

How, from within, still further in to go!"

The words became my precept and my chance

And so it came I, Lalla naked dance.

(--Tr. Nila Cram Cook)

If we look at the diction of these verses, we will find that Lal Ded uses words which are commonly used in the colloquial Kashmiri of today. In fact, her language appears to be surprisingly close to modern Kashmiri. Obviously this must not have been the language of her vaaks at the time they were composed. What it must have actually been like, we have no means to ascertain today. As these were not written down when they fell from the lips of the poetess but passed on through oral tredition from generation to generation till Bhaskar Razdan translated sixty of them into Sanskrit in the 18th century. In the intervening centuries it must have imperceptibly changed with each generation introducing its own linguistic elements and these accretions finally adding up to massive interpolations. The only way left for us to come as close as possible to the original language of the vaaks would be to critically edit the text in light of the diction of the extant works written immediately before them and after them.

However, even in the form in which the vaaks are available to us today we find that Lal Ded has used quite a number of Sanskrit and Saaskrit-derived words, pointing to the form of the Kashmiri language in her times. Here are some examples of such words: 'gagan', 'bhutal', 'dyan' (< 'dina'), 'pawan', 'sakal', 'sahaj', 'kusum', 'mudh', 'jnana', 'turag', 'desh', 'wopdish' (<updesh), tset ('Chitta'), 'Svaman', 'amritsaras', 'lay', bhan (<bhanu'), 'mukur', zanam' (< janma), tubh (<tobha), ahar, 'bhavaruj', 'artsun' (< 'archan'), 'akshar', 'rasayan, 'brahmand', 'rav' (<ravih), 'varun', 'salil', 'lavan', 'rasani' (<'rasana), 'prakash', 'shishir', 'pran', 'sham', 'dam', 'muktidvar', 'neshibod (< 'nishbuddhih'), 'shunya', 'vag' (< 'valga'), 'vak', 'manas', 'kul', 'akul', 'pashya' (< 'pashya), 'vimarsha' (< 'vimarsha), 'rajan' (< 'rajani'), 'ambar', 'laz' (< lajja), 'mrig', 'shrigal', 'nishpath', 'chidanand-as', 'jnanaprakash-as', 'jnanamarg', 'varna', 'aham', 'antar', 'nabhi', 'tslitan' (<'chetana'), 'atsitan'- (<achebra), 'ashvavan', 'geh' (<'griha') 'svalabh (<'sulabhah'), 'kesari', 'van', 'anna-s', 'dwish' (< 'dvesh), 'zal' (< 'jala') 'chamar', 'rath', 'simhasana', 'ahlad', 'charman', 'trin', 'ahar', 'ahlad', 'chhatra', 'panka', pad', 'hridi' (< 'hridaye), 'shank (< 'shnka), 'karan', 'vatsun' (< vachana') and so on.

Lal Ded chose 'vaak' as the verse form to convey her personal experiences and mystic insights and used it with such perfection that it acquired a serene dignity and subtlety of tone which no one has been able to surpass. Her mastery over the medium suggests that she must have come at the culmination of a long poetic tradition rather than having started a new one. It is difficult to say with certainty whether 'vaak' is based on any Rigvedic metrical pattern or Prakrit-Apabhramsha metres like 'arya' and 'gaha'. But one thing is certain-Lal Ded contributed the best of her creative geniues to make the four-lined stanza an ideal medium for expressing philosophical and mystic content.

Lal Ded was folllowed by Sheikh Nur-ud-Din (1376-1438), popularly known as Nunda Rishi, as the most significant representative of the creative upsurge that was taking place in Kashmir in the 14th century. Revered greatly by Kashmiris for founding the Muslim Rishiorder, the saint poet left a tremendous impact on the religious and cultural life of Kashmir. The transformation of the Vedic Rishi into Islamic Rishi is regarded as a very significant event in Kashmir's spiritual history. Sheikh Nur-ud-Din's disciples believed in preaching through personal precept, laying stress on the need for inner discipline and purity of conduct and a balance between spiritual and material life. Self-abnegation, abstention from wordly pleasures, contentment, penance, vegetarianism and frugal eating habits, belief in oneness of existence and human brotherhood were some of the characteristic features of this new cult. This made Dawood Mishqati to say that the Rishis "followed the practices of the Brahmans and the Buddhists".

It is not without significance therefore that Nand Rishi's verses are known as "shruks" or "shlokas". Generally "didactic in content and exhortative in tone", these verses remined one again and again of the transitoriness of life and insubstantiality of worldly pleasures, stressing the need for a total surrender before God's will and seeking His grace.

Sheikh Nur-ud-Din does not forget to acknowledge the debt of gratitude for Lal Ded, his senior contemporary who is said to have deeply influenced him. In fact there are many verses of Lal Ded which have been attributed to the Sheikh. This has created confusion about the authorship of as many as 35 verses which are found in the works of both. The main reason for this is that their is no critical text of Sheikh Nur-ud-Din's verses. The Nurnamas and Rishinamas in which they were recorded were compiled nearly two hundred years after him with numerous interpolations and insertions. Though structurally there is not much difference between the 'vaks' of the Lal Ded and the 'Shruks' of Nunda Rishi, the two are considerably different in style and content making it not much too difficult to distinguish between them. Here are two much much quoted and illustrative verses of the Sheikh:

Kuniray bozakh kuni no rozakh

Ami Kuniran Kotah dyut jalav

Aqal ta fiqir tor kot sozakh

Kami mati chyath hyok su dariyav

(Know the one, and you will cease to be

The one whose radiance pervades all around

Reason and wisdom will never take you there

There is no one who can qualt that perennial flow.

—Trs. Shafi Shauq)

Kivaly kor nerakh panthani

Travith shury-mury to gih-bar

Yim kas bar Ladakh papani

Bar khvadaya pap nivar

(To what destinations art thou wending thy lonely way?

Renouncing hearth, home and family?

Whom wilt thou encumber with thy load of sins?

Greak God absolve from my sins

Great God absolve me from my sins.

—Trs. Prof. B.N. Parimoo)

A number of Sheikh Nur-ud-Din 'Shruks' have refrains with one verse running into another. Some of them have the form of the 'vatsun' short lyric also. However, it would be wrong to say that the 'shruk' is modelled after the quantitative 'bahar' of Persian". The Sheikh was virtually illiterate and so he could not have been able to read or understand any Persin poetry. As far as language is concerned, we find that the Sheikh's vocabularly is predominantly of Sanskrit origin retaining some of the most archiac words despite all the interpolations and additions made from time to time which is illustrated by the occurance of the such words in his verses :

'Kival' (< 'keval', 'panthani' (< 'panthan'), 'gih-bar (< 'griha'+'bhara'), 'pap', 'nivar' (<nivarana), 'niz' (< 'nija'), 'subhav' (<svabhava), 'ambi' (<'amba'), 'vodari' (< 'udare'), 'gambir' (< 'gambhirah'), 'prakrath' (<'prakriti'), 'das', 'dulut' (< 'duhita'), 'samsar-', 'ann', 'van', 'krey' (< kriya), 'vinat', (< 'vinati'), 'antah' ('antah'), 'laz' (<'lajja'), 'svargas' (<'svarga'), kosam (<'kusuma'), 'tap', 'ahar', 'bavasende'( <'bhavasinduh'), 'sondari' (< 'sundari'), 'yavan' (<'yauvana'), 'shunitav' (< 'shrunu'=hear), 'velu' (<veta), 'hahakar', 'padan' (< 'pada'), 'lubh' ('lobhah'), 'krudh' (< 'krodah'), 'khag', 'duji' ('dvija''=twice-born bird), 'sahaj' (<'sahaja), 'kartavi (<kartavya'=duty), 'Shunyakar' (<shunyah+akarah), 'shit', 'vishve', 'amrit', 'guru', 'avtar', 'diva' (<devah), 'gyan', 'varzit (<'varjit'), akash', 'bhakti', 'karan', 'tran', 'nirgun', 'kaitas', 'disha', 'sakalan' (<'sakalena', 'vish-as' (<'visha'), 'hetu', 'kval' (<kula), 'asur', 'vahanta' (<'abhyantara'), 'ang', 'shish', 'muh' (< 'moha') 'ahankar', 'shubh', 'vopakar' (<upakara'), 'nayan', 'svazan' )<'sujanah", 'min' ((=fish), 'vopas' (< 'upavasa'), 'tranan' (<'trina'), 'lavan', 'sadbhav', 'turag' and so on.

The 'vaaks' of Lal Ded and 'shruks' of Nund Rishi had a direct appeal because they were composed in what can be called the ordinary speech of the people. Yet the form in which they have come down to us is not reflective of the actual linguistic situation prevailing  in, their age their language being not much different from the Kashmir, that is spoken today but for the archaicisms, as pointed out earlier. However, their 'temper and tone is so characterstically Kashmiri that, have moved and enthralled generations of Kashmiris, catering to both their spiritual and literay needs. That their language is relatively modern can be seen only when we place them alongside works of a later age, like the 'Banasur Katha' and 'Sukh Dukha Charit'. Both these extant works, retrieved by Buhler, were penned down at definite points of time in the 15th century and both therefore, present the actual picture of literary expression in Kashmiri in that age.

Shrivara, Sanskrit scholar and chronicler who wrote the Jaina Rajatarangini in Kalhana's tradition, has mentioned the names of several other Kashmiri works written during Zain-ul-Abdin's reign (1420-1470)--"Zaina Prakash" by Yodh Bhatt, "Zaina Charit" by Nottha Soma and 'Zaina Vilas' by Bhattavatara or Avtara Bhatt-but none of these has survived. What needs to be noted, however is that in keeping with the tradition in Prakrit and Apabhramsha, panegrical works in Kashmiri too were given titles like 'Charit', 'Prakash' and 'Vilas' .

'Banasur Katha is a long narrative poem of haunting beauty written by Avtar Bhatt or Bhattavtar of Lar in 1446 A.D. Based on the story of Usha and Aniruddha as given in the Harivansha Purana, it abounds in depictions of love and war. The lilting cadinces and soft music of its verses and the supersensuous images of Usha's beauty make it a masterpiece of early Kashmiri literature. Avtar Bhatt seems to have been a poet who revelled in presenting the physiology and psychology of erotic love in a manner suggesting that he had cultivated some of the graces of classical Sanskrit poetry. As a poet whose sense of beauty matches that a poets like Vidyapati and Jayadeva, Avavtar Bhatt is at his best when he is describing physical charms of the heroine, Usha, as in those melliflous lines :

Sa Usha amar nependas dullabh

Varkamin vadana zan shashi pabh

Lat zan kshavun pike -

Pushbhar gan ada niret kshane ake


[The same extremely attractive, 'lady, Usha was very charming and difficult for even the king to obtain. Her face was radiant like the moon. Enjoying that flowering creeper like a cuckoo-bird, he (Pradyumna) went away in a moment]

While the poet excels in describing feminine beauty and various shades the erotic sentiment, he displays equal poetic brilliance in depicting the valour and courage shown by at men in trying circumstances as in this image of Aniruddha prefering to fight unarmed than hiding his face in the tresses of the beautiful usha:

Dhik-dhik myanes Yadav jammas

Vanati atsaa majj kachan

Yudh kara namet svakamnas

Ushe atha-chhon in than

[Shame upon my Yadav birth' O lady, shall i hide behind your tresses or shall I fight here, even though I am bare-handed]

Apart from the narrative charm of the work that shows poet Avtar Bhatt as a consummate and conscious artist employing his verbal skills with great effect, we find him making sensitive use of the short lyric to depict the mental states of the characters. Coming at dramatic turns in the narrative, the lyrics that punctuate the descriptive passages in Banasur Katha reflect the poet's ingenuity as well as his subtle sense of accoustic values. Enthralling pieces like "Piya ma gatsh marnay" (Love do not go there, for they will kill you) and "Kar iya so piy mye nikato" (when will my love come to me?) can be seen as the earliest specimens of the Kashmiri short lyric form, the "Vatsun", beautifully expressing tender feelings of love and longing. The present writer was pleasantly surprised when he came across the word "piya" in these lyrics, but then Sheikh Nur-ud-Din has also used it--"Ada kavay piy praznavnay" (How will your lovers recognize you then?).

Another important aspect of Banasur Katha as a poetic work is its metrical system. The poet has employed well known Sanskrit syllabic metres like Matim, Mandakranta, Sragahara, Narkataka, Shardulvikriditam, Mattamayuri, Tanumadhya, Vaitali, Pushpitagra, Vasantatilakam, Drutavilambit, panchapaja, shatpada, etc. and also what appear to be some original Kashmiri metres based on Sanskrit the metrical pattern like Thaddo, Phuro, Dukatika, Kadokdya etc. Later, we find the author of "Sukha-Dukha Charit" also using the similar metres. Obviously the tradition of using such metres in Kashmiri poetry have been long and popular one. This should be enough to blast Grierson's view that Kashmiri prosody is basically Iranian in character.

But it is from the linguistic poet of view that a study of "Banasur Katha" is most rewarding. Together with the "Sukha-Dukha-Charit", it sheds significant light on the medieval development of Kashmiri, being an actual record of the language as it was used for literary expression in the 15th century. This also help us trace earlier forms of a number of Kashmiri works which are in use today. For instance, various forms of the Kashmiri auxiliary verb 'chhu' occur in it as ksho, kshi, kshem, kshiyiy, suggesting that these have evolved from the Sanskrit root 'kshi', which means 'to be similarly, 'Dittho' (modern Kashmiri 'dywith' <Skt. drishtwa and 'ditto' (mod. ksh. 'dyut') <skt dattah meaning having given' are among some of the intermediary forms that one finds in Banasur Katha.

The language of Banasur Katha is predominantly Sanskritic, with hardly two or three words of Persion, although 'Persian' had by then become the court language in Kashmir. There is also quite a large number of such words in its whose eitymotogyas not clear. There is also another category of words in which the etymology does not pose much of a problem, but which have become totally obsolte, as for instance 'yakhet' (like', as, 'just as', 'as it'), 'takhet' (like that, 'thus', 'so'), 'kakhet' (how', 'like what' 'in what manner'), 'jave' ('quickly', 'speedily') etc. The use of several synonymous words to denote the same meaning is one of the main linguistic tendencies, found in Banasur katha. For instance to convey the sense of 'he says', a host of words like 'vadis', 'nigadis', 'dappi', 'vachi', 'giri' have been used.

A tinguistic feature of greater interest is the use of rural Kashmiri dialect here and there by Avtar Bhatta. Thus we have words like 'kod' ('where'), 'prad' ('wait'-imperative), 'khadet' ('having seated'), 'dapavan' ('saying') in Banasur Katha, which have added a sweet rustic flavour to its language. More importantly, Banasur Katha, shares most of the phonological and morphological features of Mahanaya Prakash as well as the "Sukha-Dukha Charit". These works document the transition of Kashmiri from its medieval Prakrit—Apabhramsha form a modern Indo Aryan language. Before we make a mention of some of these changes, it would be good to say a few words about the "Sukha-Dukha Charit".

Written by Ganak Prashast during the reign of Sultan Hassan Shah (1475-1487), Zain-ud-Abidin's grandron" the "Sukha-Dukha Moha-Maya Jal Charitam" or the "Sukha-Dukha Charit" as it has been notified in its abbreviated form by Buhler, who obtained it from Bikaner alongwith 'Banasur Katha', is important only its linguistic value. Written in the form of an "advice" to a "friend" it is a work divided into four parts dealing with subjects like jyotishya or astrology, 'garud' or tretament of snake-poison, 'Vaidak' or treatment of common diseases and 'Kam Shastra' or the art of sexual love. The 'friend' is advised by the author about how to lead ones life while keeping in view the transient nature of the world and the vanity of its pleasures. To call the work poetry is to stretch the definition of the term to its furthest limit. The author, however, does show occasional flashes of imagination and a sense of music, the outward structure of his work being that of a narrative poem. He frequently indulges in verbal artistry, embellishing his lines with devices like aliteration, pun and other figures of speech.

The 'Sukha-Dukha-Charit" is composed of the same Sanskrit and Kashmiri syllabic metres we find in "Banasur Katha'--and that is the last we see of them. We also come across "dwiphuro", or double "phuro"--a metre Avtar Bhatt has not used. The language, as we have already pointed out, shares most of the features of that has been used in 'Banasur Katha' and Mahanaya Prakash', a chain of linguistic continuity passing through all the three. Its vocabulary gives us an idea of the kind of Kashmiri spoken in the last decades of the 15th century, containing words for some articles of daily use, common medicines and parts of the body which continue to be ued today with slight changes. Let us note a few examples :

1. Kshe shastra gane kate komo bujji

Vaidak garud jyotish buddh

Sar-sar gahenas pazzi

Hans yakhet jalo majja dudth

[The Shastras are very profound, who can explain them-

The science of medicine, treatment of snake poison, astrology

We should try to grasp their essence

As the swan separates the milk from water]

2. Him zantape vigtos pape kukarma chilla

[Remembering my bad deeds and sins, I melted down as snow melts in the heat of the sun]

It is important to note that phonological changes in "Mahanaya Prakasha", "Banasur Katha" and Sukha-Dukha Charit take place much in the same way as they do in later Middle. Indo-Aryan dialects. While the language of Mahanaya Prakasha is comparatively older, "Banasur Katha" and "Sukha-Dukha Charit" show Kashmiri emerging as a modern Indo-Aryan language through the intermediary stages of Prakrit and Apabhramsha. It will not be possible here to discuss their morphological or phonological features in detail, but some broad outline of their common characteristics can be indicated.

For instance, in nominative singular feminine forms a > a (Usha > Usha, bala > bal, mata > mat, puja > puj, duhita > dahit), i > a (rashmi > rashm, buddhi > buddh, agni > agna, shakti > shatta; i > i (Saraswati ? Sarswat, ramani > raman, gauri > gaur. Likeswise in Nom. Masa. Sing., medial a >u as in modern Kashmiri (Mod. Ksh.):> balak > baluk, rakshak > rakshuk/rakhuk, Narada ? Narud, anala > anul, i > a:narapati > narpat, dinapati ? dinapat, rishi, risha (e.f. Mod. ksh. ganapati ? ganapat, ravilh > rav). In all the three works we have examples of elision of initial 'a' and ri) > a, i, u, though at several places it survives. Elision of 'ch', t, d, p and introduction of the glide 'y' or 'v', elision of 'r' and the doubling of the following consonat, -th?-d,-m>-v,-pt>t, ntm>mmdy>jj,dhy>jj are other common phonological features.

So far as morphological features are concerned Accusative/Dativ Mash. Sing forms are made by adding '-s' or '-as' (Skt. -asya, Pali-assa): jantus, Parama Shivas, Banas, nipas, janas, nishibuddhas, hamsas, kumbhas, hridayas, charanas, samsaras etcd. Feminin singular forms have been formed by adding the suffixes '-n' or '-yi' : devi, pithi, bali, vissi, ushi, anuradhi, vaggi etc. Acc/Dat. Masc. and Fem. plural forms have been made by adding the suffixes '-n', '-an' and '-an' : tattva-ganan, panchan, padakamlan, deva-daitan, nayanan, vananitan, virvaran, shishyan, kamalan, ratsun, rashun etc. The instrumental masculine singular is marked by '-e' (paramathe, nathe, kumbhande, kishne, chature, anande etc! the feminine forms are formed by adding '-i' to the stem (suti, bali, chitra lekhi, dayi, kuvalayanyani, giritanayi - cf. Mod. ksh. ashi'_. The locative singular is formed by adding the suffix '-i or 'e' as in modern Kashmiri. The Ablative Masc. Sing forms take the suffix 'a' (< skt. '-at' : spanda, chandra, bhaya, nala, kamala, '-akasha' At certain places the suffixes '-u' and '-u' have also been  used nabhu, nayanu, guhu, dishavu, dishu etc. which is nearer to the Mod. Ksh. form. The past, participate '-et' < Skt. -itva is an earlier form of Mod. Kash. '-ith '-e an -i being interehangable in Kashmiri (bhakshet, takshet, bhavet, gahet vandict, shunet, karet, gahet, manget, thavet, chhonet, jalet, puret pehet etc), the present perfect is formed by the participles and, '-ani' '-an', which are all derived from Sanskrit -'anti' (karan, phiran, pratshan, dharan, vyapan, ativan, avtarand, pishand, karand, natsand, pathand).

There is a lot of similarity in the three works in pronominal and verbal forms too. However, one thing can be discerned clearly, the language of 'Mahanaya Prakasha' is comparably of an earlier age, while 'Banasur Katha' and "Sukha-Dukha Charit" record the earlier form of Kashmiri as Indo-Aryan Language. Together, the three document the medieval development of Kashmiri in its successive stages.

References :

1. Banasurkartha, Ph.D. Dissertation, S.S. Toshkhani (Hindi) 1975.

2. Kashmiri Sahitya Ka Itihas, Dr. S.S. Toshkhani, 1985

3. Banasur Katha, Manuscript, Bhandarkar Oriental Reserach Institute, Pune.

4. Sukha-Dukha Moha-Maya Jal Charitam, MSS, BORI, Pune

5. George Buhler. Tour in search of Sanskrit Manuscripts Made in Kashmir, Raiputuna and Central India, Royal Asiatic Society, Bombay, 1877

6. The Antiguities of Kahmiri-An approach Dr Siddheshwar Verma

7. Some Important Aspects of Kashmiri as Language, Prof S.K. Toshkhani.

8. Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh-A Linguistic Predisement, Har Anand and Co.

9. Shri Mahanaya Prakasha, Rajanaka Shitikantha, Research Department, Sringar, Kashmir.

10. Historical Grammar of Apabhramsha, G.V. Tagare Motilal Bonarasi Das, Delhi, 1987.

11. A comparative Grammer of Modern Languages of India, Jhon Beames.

12. The Structure and Development of Middle Indo-Aryan Dialects, Vit Bubenik, Moti Lal Banarsi Das, 1996.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel




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