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P. N. K. Bamzai

Though Sanskrit and Persian were the medium of polite literature, they became the domain of the learned few. The masses, on the other hand, spoke Prakrit which, with the admixture of words and phrases from the many languages spoken on the borders of the Valley, assumed the form of a new vernacularKashmiri. Whereas during its early phase, the language was preponderatingly composed of Sanskrit words and idioms, its character changed considerably with the advent of Muslim rule in the fourteenth century, when Persian and Arabic words and expressions entered into its expanding vocabulary, shaping it to the form as it is spoken these days. No wonder that it was during the early Sultan period that Kashmiri language attained a distinct status, and that its earliest-known literature is datable to only the fifteecth century A.D.


Several theories have been put forth regarding the origin of the Kashmiri language. It is traditionally believed by the Kashmiri Pandits and scholars like Jules Block, George Morgenstierne and Ralph L. Turner agree with them that Kashmiri is an offshoot of the Indo-Aryan or Sanskrit language. Dr. Grierson's researches have, however, shown that there is, in addition to the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European, the Dardic, which is intermediate to the Iranian and Indo-Aryan, and that Kashmiri is ntimately connected with it. According to him, the common ancestors of the Indo-Aryans appear to have followed up the course of the Oxus and the Jaxartes into the highlying country round Khokand where a portion of them separated from the others marching south over the western passes of the Hindukush into the valley of the river Kabul, and thence into the plains of India where they settled as the ancestors of the present Indo-Aryans. The Aryans who remained behind on the north of the Hindukush and who did not share into the migration to the Kabul Valley spread eastwards and westwards. Those who migrated to the east, occupied the Pamirs and now speak Ghalchah. Thus Aryan is the parent stock which shoots off the Indo-Aryan languages. After the great fission which separated the main body of the Indo-Aryans from the Iranians, another branch, the Dardic, shoots off and settles in what we call Dardistan. The word Dard is an ancient one and is of frequent occurrence in the early Sanskrit geographical works and Puranas. Greek and Romans included under the name of the Dard country the whole mountainous tract between the Hindukush and the frontiers of India proper. The Aryan languages spoken in this region are therefore called Dardic. They are Kafir, Chitrali, Shina, Kashmiri and Kohistani.1 The Kashmiri, as it is spoken nowadays, has been considerably influenced by the neighbouring languages of Tibetan stock.

The position can be indicated by means of the following tables :

1. Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. viii, Part II.

Another Theory :

The complex question of the exact affiliation of Kashmiri remains still an open one. "The fact remains that ever since its earliest history, unlike its western neighbours like Shina and the Kafir dialects, Kashmiri has always remained under the tutelage of Sanskrit."1The earliest specimen of Kashmiri is the well-known verse in Kalhana's Rajatarangini, where the author, to characterize the boorishness of the Domba relative of king Cakravarman, quotes the vernacular words spoken by him. Ranga, whose daughters, the dancers Hamsa and Nagalata, were taken by the king as his wives, was granted the village Helu in Jagir by the latter, but the document relating to the grant was not registered by the official recorder. Angirly Ranga shouts at him, "You son of a slave, why do you not write : Rangas Helu dinna (Helu is to be granted to Ranga)"? In modern Kashmiri this would be Rangas Hela dyunn. Here the grammatical elements are traceable through Prakrit to Old. Indo-Aryan (spoken form of Vedic Sanskrit).

That Kashmiri had become the popular language of the land long before the time of Kalhana (12th century A.D.) is shown by the use in the Rajatarangini of numerous Sanskritised version of Kashmiri proverbs extant even today. For instance, in v-401 and viii-565, we have a reference to the well-known proverb : nov shin chhu galan pranis shinas, the new snow melts the old one. Similarly in vii-1226, there is a marked resemblance to the Kashmiri idiom : myac ti thavanas na, "he destroyed him and his house till the very earth."2

But it is a hundred years after Kalhana that the earliest known work in the old Kashmiri, Mahanay Prakash, was written by Siti Kantha.

The theme of the book is Trantric worship and as its name suggests, it aims at finding the highest meaning of Truth through Tantric rituals. A close study of its passages which are rather difficult to understand now shows the use of a large number of Sanskrit words.

Though for over a hundred years after Mahanay Prakash we do not come across any work in Kashmiri, it seems that the language had made further headway. For, in the fourteenth century when Lalleshwari appeared on the scene, she realised that the times demanded the propagation of her doctrine in the language of the masses. She poured forth her heart, rich in spiritual and mystic experience, in Kashmiri verse. Her language is easier to follow and in some cases comes very near that spoken now. Her Sayings which became popular were learnt by heart by her followers and in this way were passed down from generation to generation. A collection of these was put in writing by Bhaskara Rajanaka towards the end of the seventeenth century A.D.

Lalleshwari in her Vakyas begins with a narration of her own spiritual experiences. She tells us that she wandered far and wide in search of Truth, made pilgrimages to holy places and sought salvation through observance of rituals, but all in vain. Then suddenly she found the 'Truthful One' in her own home :

Lalla bo drayas lolare
Chhandan lossum dyan kyaho rat,
Wuchhum Pandit tah pananih gare,
Suy me rutmas nishtiwr tah sat.
Passionate with longing in my eyes
1. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Kashmir, Vol. iv, p. 75.
2. For other passages of similar nature, see vii-1115, viii-148, viii-2546.
Searching wide, and seeking day and night
Lo! I beheld the Truthful One, the Wise,
Here in my own house, filling my gaze.
That was the day of my auspicious star.
Breathless I held Him my guide to be.
But to reach this stage she had to work hard and undergo the exacting discipline of Yoga :
Damadam karum daman hale
Prazalyom deep tai naneyam zat
Gananaki ambar pairim tane
Yim pad Lalli vani tim hrydi ankh.
So my lamp of knowledge blazed afar
My bright soul stood revealed to me.
I then flung my inner light far and wide
And, with darkness all around me sealed,
Did I garner truth and hold Him tight.
Meanwhile Sanskrit had been supplanted by Persian as court language and a number of Sayyids who were scared away by Timur from Persia and Central Asia came and settled down in Kashmir. Their contacts with indigenous saints and savants gave rise to an eclectic school of Islamic Rishis who also poured forth their preachings and teachings in vernacular. The founder of the Order, Sheikh Nur-ud-din, born in about 1377 A.D., conveyed his mystical experiences and teachings in hundreds of couplets known as shrukh (Sans. sutra) which became current coins of quotation among the Kashmiris who learnt them by heart. His ideas and experiences can be gathered from the following verses given in translation :
The lover is he who burns with love,
Whose self shines like gold.
When man's heart flares up with the blaze of love
Then shall he reach the Infinite.
Shield no thyself against His arrows,
Turn not the face from His sword.
Consider misfortune as sweet as sugar.
Therein lies thy salvation
In this world and the next.
In his collection of saying known as Nur-nama and Rishi-nama we find a marked influence of Persian and Arabic words the number of which increases in the later works.

Again there is a long gap of over a hundred years of which no literature in Kashmiri is now extant. A mythological poem Banasur-vadha composed in the fifteenth century is perhaps the oldest narrative poem in Kashmiri so far known.

Khwaja Habibullah Naushahri who was a profound scholar in Persian (see p. 513 above) also composed mystic poems in Kashmiri. Born in the middle of the sixteenth century he is the connecting link between the mystic poetry of earlier period and the 'lol' or love lyrics which were a feature of Kashmiri poetry in succeeding centuries. Complains he :

From far off he shot at me arrows of fascination,
Then ran away having injured my heart,
O, the charm of his casting a look back!
He saw me and yet pretended not to know!
[Excerpted from : "Socio-Economic History of Kashmir", by P. N. K. Bamzai (1987)

The author is a great historian, researcher and chronicler Kashmir has produced.
Mailing Address : C-13, Kailash Apartments, Lala Lajpat Rai Road, New Delhi-110048]
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