Moti Lal Saqi is no more Community loses a veteran warrior on the cultural front
Poet, writer, folk-lorist, researcher Moti Lal Saqi passed away in the wee hours of May 21, 1999 in New Delhi after a massive heart attack. Earlier in March he had undergone surgery for a heart ailment at Jammu, and was now recuperating at his eldest son, Vijay Saqi's residence at Sarojini Nagar. The tragic news of his death was received with great shock by his numerous friends and admirers in Delhi who rushed to bid him a tearful farewell. With his demise the Kashmiri Pandit community has lost yet another warrior who was in the vanguard of the struggle to save and sustain its culture in exile.
Born in 1936 at Bijbehara, Kashmir, Moti Lal Saqi enriched Kashmiri language and literature in several ways, and emerged as a major poet and critic in the language while still in his youth. From the lyrical romanticism of 'Modury Khwab' (Sweet Dreams), his first collection of poems, to the spiritual restlessness and an inward quest for higher values based on faith reflected in'Mansar', for which he won the Sahitya Academi award, and 'Mrigvan', Saqi underwent a significant change in his sensibility as a poet and established an idiom distinctly his own. The traumatic experience of uprootment from his native soil in 1990 found a poignant expression in many of his poems, his long poem 'Marsi' (Elergy) being a most disturbing document of the tragedy of the Pandits' displacement. His latest collection 'Niry Nagma' (Songs of the Green Meadows) shows his intense nostalgia for Kashmir and points to the torture of having to live in a forced exile away from the Valley's myriad charms and attractions.
Saqi's contribution as a literary critic is equally impressive, his work on Sheikh Nur-ud-Din, popularly known as Nund Rishi, and the Sufi poets like Samad Mir is regarded as monumental. As a folk-lorist, Saqi compiled five volumes of Kashmiri folk-songs with a valuable introduction and annotation. His numerous articles on Kashmiri literature, art and culture were published in several prestigious magazines and journals of the country.
Moti Lal Saqi was a lexicographer as well, having worked as an editor of the Kashmiri-Kashmiri and Urdu-Kashmiri dictionaries brought out by the J&K Cultural Academy under the Chief Editorship of Prof. S. K. Toshkhani. He also edited the three volumes of Kashmiri Encyclopedia published by the Academy, showing his great acumen as a researcher.
His latest book 'Aagar Neb' reflects his deep research and study regarding various aspects of Kashmiri culture. Surprisingly enough, Saqi was awarded Padmashri for his services to Urdu literature.
Moti Lal Saqi was alo associated with the activities of the N. S. Kashmir Research Institute and had agreed to work for the compilation of the encyclopaedia of Kashmiri culture which the Institute is going to bring out. We at NSKRI deeply mourn his loss which we feel is immeasurably great for a community that values learning and literature above everything else.Reproduced From: Unmesh - Monthly Newsletter of N.S. Kashmir Research Institute
by Shyam Kaul
Poet, writer, dramatist, scholar, researcher, encyclopaedist, specialist in Kashmir's cultural and literary heritage, authority on the Valley's Rishi tradition - all rolled into one - Moti Lal Saqi.
A simple villager, who never shed off his pastoral homeliness, humility and open-heartedness, who never allowed even a grain of false ego enter his head, inspite of recognition, both at state and national levels, and who always lived the lily of an honest and eager learner till his last breath. That was Saqi - ever lively, ever communicative, ever cheerful.
When I think of Saqi the words of the great French philosopher Voltaire, come to my mind. He had said, "not to be occupied, and not to exist, amount to the same thing".
Saqi kept himself perennially occupied with finer pursuits in life. Put your finger anywhere on the literary and cultural canvas of Kashmir, and you will find Saqi's name there, as a contributor, a researcher, an elucidator, a commentator or a scholar. All that kept him occupied were his creative endeavours and his pen seemed to reach everywhere. In these days of pin-pointed specialization, one hardly finds any equal to this man of multifarious brilliance.
When the physical and physiological makeup of his person, especially his heart? prevented him from keeping himself actively occupied, as he had done all his life? Saqi ceased to exist. He died.
Like all displaced Kashmiris, Saqi's soul had been deeply lacerated when circumstances drove him out of Kashmir, the land of his ancestors. Everyone loves his land of birth, but Saqi had done so, sometimes with the passion of a lover, sometimes with the care of a doting mother, and sometimes with the dedication of an ardent admirer. His only possession, only asset and only wealth, was his pen, which he used all his life in praise of Kashmir.
Some years back I once told him that since our displacement, he had gone a little slow with his pen. He responded with a deep sigh and recited a coupled of Nadim:
Mye khoon-e-dil az syatha chhu chyon kyut
Tsu thav pagah kyut sharaab Shaqi
Then, after a pause, he added, with yearning in his eyes, "because ourpagah' (tomorrow) will be in Kashmir". He did not live to see the 'pagah' of his dreams. Many of us won't, either.
Unmesh - Monthly Newsletter of N.S. Kashmir Research Institute
by Moti Lal Saqi
Buddhism in Kashmir is older than Asoka and survived till 15th Century.
The Valley of Kashmir hailed as the 'Paradise of Indies' has been a crucible of great world civilizations from remote pre-historic times down to the present day. The elements of great world Civilizations are discernable in the composite Kashmiri culture even today. It is worth noting that Kashmiris derived inspiration from all the rich and fertile sources but never surrendered their individuality under any on-slaught, despite many vicissitudes they faced during their history spread over almost five thousand years.
The Valley of Kashmir has been a cradle of numerous faiths and beliefs, which include pagnism, animism, Naga-mata, Koul-Acara, Pasupata-mata, Trika, Sanatana Dharma etc., Buddhism alone, by and large, remained a living faith in the Valley for more or less two thousand years. Though Buddhism lost its ground in the sub-continent during the Gupta period, it remained a living faith in Kashmir even in the 15th century A.D. Benevolent Kashmiri King Budshah (1420-1470 A. D.) had a Buddhist scholar Tilak-Acharya in his council of ministers. It was in the concluding quarter of the 15th century that the last Buddhist monastery was built at Bijbehara, in South Kashmir. The construction of the monastery is a testimony of the fact that the Buddhist faith must have continued even after the 15th century though the later chroniclers failed to record the fate of the Buddhist faith after the 15th century.
Buddhism made its way in Kashmir long before the advent of the reign of the Arya Raja Asoka. As recorded in the national chronicle of Sri Lanka, Mahavamsa, it was Madhiantika who converted Yakhsa Pandita and a Naga to Buddhism in the first instance. There is also a recorded legend that Kum Kum in Kashmir was introduced by Madhiantika.
Buddhism was firmly rooted in the soil of the Valley in 11th century A.D. when the great Tibetan scholar Rin-Chen-Zang-po stayed here for a period of seven years to learn at the feet of Buddhist scholars of this area. It was he who took fresco specialists of Kashmir to the Western Himalayas and got all the important monasteries embellished with paintings. It is the Western Himalayan region today which provides us with ample surviving evidence of the Kashmiri school of wall-paintings and bronzes etc. because after the 15th century the tradition of painting got wiped out in the Valley on account of historical reasons.
Various sects, scholars and Buddhist architecture in Kashmir
Kashmir enjoyed the honour of being the Prayaga, the holy pilgrimate-spot, of Mahayana Buddhism. It was this unique feature that attracted the attention of seeker of truth from far-off countries to it. In seventh century A.D. Hieun-Tseng came to Kashmir and stayed at Jayendra Vihara at Srinagar to attain proficiency in Sunya-vada in the company of Kashmiri scholars. Ou-Kang was another luminary seeking knowledge in this way. Great Kumar Jiva stayed in Kashmir for quite some time to equip himself with the command of Buddhist scriptures. Nagarjuna propounded his concept of Sunya-vada here and was stationed at present-day Harwan as recorded in Rajatarangini. The part played by Kashmiri monks and scholars in the spread of Buddha's message of compassion and fraternity is a glorious part of our history. These monks and preachers covered Central Asia, China and reached even Korea on the one side and Sri Lanka, Java and Sumatra on the other preaching Buddha's Gospel.
Tibetan Tantrayana and Kala-Cakrayana schools owe their origin to Kashmir and Kashmiris. Lamaism of Western Himalayan countries has absorbed many customs and rituals from Kashmir and Nepal. It was because of their perfect knowledge and understanding of Buddhist - lore that preacher monks of Kashmir were designated as Khuchi Pandits (Learned Kashmiris) in the Western Himalayan countries of Ladakh, Tibet, Bhutan and Zanaskar.
There is much truth in the fact that the title of Sharda-Pitha (The throne of the Godess of Learning) bestowed upon Kashmir is actually a gift of Mahayana Buddhism. It was during Kushan rule that Valley became a centre of Sanskrit learning. This legacy was further enriched in later centuries which resulted in giving birth to great luminaries of Sanskrit like Vasu-Gupta, Som-ananda, Bilhana, Mammata, Kalhana, Jaini-Bhatt, Kheshmandra, Soma Deva, Abhinava-Gupta, Jonaraja and Srivara to mention only a few. Most of these scholars and creative writers had a soft corner for Buddhism and gave full credit to its merits.
A remerkable figure of Kashmir was Guna Vermana, of the royal line, who in his early years, renounced his royal entitlements and took to the monastic way of life. He preached the message of Lord Buddha in Sri Lanka, Java and Sumatra and converted kings to Buddhism. After the completion of his mission Gunavermana came back with a sweet gift to his people in the shape of the 'pagoda' style of architecture usually called 'eastern Java type'. It is known in Kashmir Parihaspora, Risi and Charbam style. The 'Pagoda' type of architecture attained great popularity in Kashmir and the best structures of yore in Kashmir represent this type. In present day Kashmir this type is still in vogue and considered sanctified buildings; all prominent shrines particularly those of Rishis, belong to this type. Though Kashmiris have made certain additions and alterations in this type (i.e. they have combined stupa and monastery in one structure) its basic form has not undergone any drastic change. The same old Chatteravali spire and square-base remain to keep its original shape and form in tact. New shrines of this type are built even in the present epoch. The shrine of Nund Rishi at Driyagama is a living specimen of it. Built only a few years back; it is being decorated now in accordance with the old canons.
Wandering Buddhist monks of Kashmir were always on the move, as borne out by various sources of history. On the occasion of inauguration of Anuradhapuram stupa in Sri Lanka, in the remote past, Kashmiri Buddhists constituted the second biggest contingent.
Survivals of Buddhist practices in Kashmir society
Buddhism has left deep and indelible imprints on the life and culture of Kashmiri folk. Though it lost its hold on Kashmir some 450 years back and people do not profess the faith, now its rituals, customs and mythology sustain their life and activities. The custom of Kashmiri Pandits keeping a fast on the eight day of every bright half-of-the moon, known as Atham (Astami) has a close connection with the Buddhist faith; on this day homage used to be paid to the Buddha and Podisattva. Similarly their offering of oblation on the occasion of Huma is made not only to the gods and goddesses of their own pantheon but also to Tri-ratna, Avalokitesh-vara and Tara. In their daily prayers they pay obeisance to Buddhist goddesses,Varahi, Mrici, Locana, Prajana, Rag Ratri, Vajra Ratri and others. Display of sacred relics and shrine-worship are as common among the Kashmiris of today as they must have been prevailed in the hey-day of Buddhism.
Due to its long stay in the Valley, Buddhism virtually shaped the course of Kashmir History. Under its influence two indigenous spiritual schools were born, known as Trika-Darsana and Risi order of mystics. The monotheistic trika system of Kashmir never accepted the authority of the Vedas and discarded the caste system. Its conception of Paramasiva is in fact a subtle from of Sunya-Vada. Kashmir Saivism came into being as a result of historical needs and has served as a bridge between the Buddhism and Hinduism. Kashmir Saivism inherited Vegetarianism from Buddhists and the latter had no difficulty in embracing the Hinduism to a large extent. The rishiorder of mystics in Kashmir is more or less an adaptation from Buddhism. Kashmiri rishis, though counted Mussalmans, were vegetarian to the core. They shunned marriage and domestic chores, lived in monasteries and devoted their life to public welfare. Tolerance, compassion, mutual goodwill, respect for each other's faith, and human values, which have moulded our composite culture are marvellous legacy of Buddhism; we cherish, own and practise these values even in this chaotic age also.
Buddhist ideas in old Kashmiri Literature; Lal Ded
Kashmiri Literature took shape as part of our composite culture. The first specimens of Kashmiri language and literature are found in some Saiva works of the 11th century A.D. and Chuma-padas of 12th century A.D. Chum-Samprada as a matter of fact has been an off-shoot of Mahayana.
Sahajayana also has influenced Kashmiri poets through the ages; this was a later sect of Mahayana thus Kashmiri literature was born in the lap of Buddhist-lore. But it was at the hands of Lal Ded (1320-1377 A.D.) and Nund Risi that Kashmiri Poetry struck roots and impressed the minds of the people. Both Lal Ded and Nund Rishi remain unsurpassed, having attained great height of literary effort. All Kashmiri speaking people use Vakhs of Lal Ded and Shruks of Nund Risi for parables and proverbs and their merit and spiritual appeal is accepted by one and all. Lal Ded though basically a Shiva Yogini has a lot in common with Buddhism, and Buddhist themes are enshrined in her Vakhs in a beautiful way. She speaks of the Buddhist Middle path (Madhyana-prati-pat), the furnished Buddhist way of life because it keeps us away from two extreme ways, i.e. life of ease and luxury and the life of rigorous asceticism. Lal Ded herself was a follower of this path she declares her belief thus;
It is no use to fill the belly again and again,
you wont be able to attain any thing;
Do not follow the way of self-mortification;
It will arouse your sense of conceit.
Be moderate in your way of life,
To be moderate is the way to reach the goal.
Wear dress, only to avoid the cold,
Take food only to cope with hunger;
Listen, Oh dear one! think for a while,
You do not need to shed tears for this perishable body. She is totally against the sacrifice of animals, and puts forth powerful arguments to bring home to people the necessity of non-violence and non-injury;
It conceals your nakedness and protects you
from winter chill
It thrives on grass and Water;
Who has initiated you, Oh Pandit;
To sacrifice this living lamb for a non-living idol.
Lal Ded had great veneration for the great Buddha.
In one of her Vakhs she declares
Be he Siva, Vishnu, Buddha or Brahma
I am not bothered about the name or form
I only desire to be cured of my worldly ailment.
Sunya-vada is very close to her heart and she understands that it is the Sunya which is the origin or the source of all things. Lal Ded is the first creative writer who coined the term "Kainhna" for Sunya expressing her experience she says :
I repeatedly enquire from my perceptor
What name shall we give "that" which has no name
My repeated questioning bore no fruit
I fumbled and broke down.
Then I perceived that some thing came out of Sunya.
She in fact accepts that we emerge from Sunya
and are absorbed in Sunya :
Incessantly we come, without a break we go,
this process has no halt, no stop
Whence we come, whence we go
Sunya, Sunya, Sunya and what?
Nund Risi the great patron saint
The great patron saint of Kashmir, Nund Risi (1377-1442 A.D.) has been the centre of adoration for all Kashmiris irrespective of their faith or belief. Mussalmans call him Alamdar-Kashmir (Standard-bearer of Kashmir) and Pandits as Sahaja-Anand (in-born bliss).
Nund Rishi was a Bodisattva incarnate of his times. He not only preached the gospel of love, non violence, compassion and universal brother-hood, but himself lived a pious life of high order. He spent twelve years of his early life in a cave in meditation and when he came out, he composed a long poem Buddha Carita (life of Buddha) now lost. However a few fragments of this long poem are preserved in some Rishi Namas (talks of Rishis). He is believed to be the founder of Rishi order of Kashmir, although we come across references to some ancient Rishis in his longer poem who were his forerunners. Nund Rishi's love for living beings and his firm faith in non-violence and non-injury is proverbial. His compassion and piety has been a source of inspiration for those who followed in his foot-steps. He made his Shrunks (Shaloks) the vehicle of his Risi philosophy and his way of life. As literary figures and mystics both Lal Ded and Nund Rishi are the founders of Kashmiri culture and spiritual renaissance. Stressing his faith in non-violence the latter says :
Do not slay this innocent lamb,
You slay none else but the universal soul,
understand my word of initiation.
All these forms are but the sparks of the ultimate.
He sees all life as a part of one universal self projecting itself in countless forms. He was all love and compassion for the living beings and saw life throbbing in all the objects of nature. It was this intense respect and love for life which made him to give up the food of green-vegetables, to live on milk for some time and in the last phase to sustain himself simply on water, which brought him the title of "Salil-hara-Rishi" (the water-sipping saint). Lamenting the cruelty practised in his times he says with a heavy heart :
They kill that very rooster
Who reminds them that time is running out;
that rooster will not weigh more than a seer
Where such treatment is meted out to an
Great God, I shall not be born there.
This shrunk also gives clear evidence that he was believer in re-birth or transmigration of souls. Once he was passing through a wood and saw maidens plucking spurious vegetables. Moved to tears he addressed them thus;
Why do you pluck these tender vegetables
Why are you after this green attire of mother
Why do you forget thereafter,
Where you have to render the account of
It is to be noted that shruks of Nund Rishi are the vehicle of the teachings of his mystic order. One cannot understand the basic, spirit of the Rishi order unless one has developed an insight into his poetry. Kashmiris read hisshruks with great reverence and say it is the holy Quran in Kashmiri, just as Masnavi Maulana Rome is called the holy Quran in Pahalvi i.e. Persian.
Kashmiri mysticism : Sunya Vada :
The under-current of Buddhist thought and themes never ceased to influence the Kashmiri mind at any time particularly with mystics and Darveshes of the land. The most influential concept which moulded the thought of Kashmiri mystics is Sunya Vada. As referred to earlier it was Lal Ded who coined the term "Kainhna" for Sunya, as early as the 14th century. Since then this term appears in our mystic poetry again and again and has attracted the attention of today's mystic poets also. In Kashmiri, mystic poetry constitutes the richest treasure and in its thought-content and statement of spiritual experiences it has enough to quench the thirst of seekers of truth.
All our epoch-making mystic poets have accepted the Sunya as ultimate reality. There is hardly anything in common between Kashmiri "Kainhna" and "Nafi" or "La" of Islamic mysticism or Tasawuf as it is often called. Further all known mystic poets have tried to understand and interpret "Kainhna" according to their experience and perception. The change of faith of mystic poets of Kashmir has not changed their mental world, and their inner self is still preserved in their subconscious mind their old inheritance. So far as their day-to-day life is concerned mystics are very pious Mussalmans but in their thinking and perception of spirituality they still retain Buddhist and in certain cases Shaiva approach. The "Kainhna" of Kashmiri mystics is sometimes nearer to Neti-neti (not this, not this) of Advaita Vedanta, but this philosophy had never its way over Kashmir, Neti-neti of Vedanta (predicating whatever the ultimate is not) is at the sametime one more elaborate inter-pretation of "Sunya".
Advaita Philosophy could not be very close to the Kashmiri mind as Trika was a dominant force in Kashmir at the time when Advaita Vedanta was gaining ground in other parts of the sub-continent. How Kashmiri mystics have treated the theme of Sunya and what its essence was according to their individual understanding and mental discipline can be inferred from some examples :
That which has no form, is encompassing
What you see is but a ripple.
Ripple by itself is not apart from the waters;
Knower of this truth is free from bondage;
(Ibrahim Shah - 19th Century)
There is nothing behind or beyond but the Sunya;
Everything emerges from its bosom.
It is a riddle to be explained.
I only know that Sunya prevails.
I am only the shade or tool
(Such Kral 19th Century)
Shams Faqir says :
Whence do you come? Whence do you go?
What name do you bear, what is your destination?
What is the essence? reveal
Compliment is a tribute to existence
Whab Khar another poet of Qadri mystic order has understood the Sunya in his own way in terms of his experience :
Ascetics resmble the Sunya
Unity is beyond the Waste-land
Multiplicity cannot enter that realm
I am amazed to witness this phenomenon.
(D - 1912 A.D.)
Another leading poet of Kubravi order Samad Mir (1897-1960 A.D.) sings of his perception in this way:
This cosmos is the Sunya
All our knowledge flows from it
It there is nothing other than Sunya,
To whom shall I pay the obeisance?
I heard of the Sunya and am contemplating.
A towering Sufi poet of our times Ahad Zargar (D - 1983 A.D.) speaks thus of his perception :
Sunya merged in Sunya
My naked eyes witnessed it
What is the cause behind this Sunya
I am bewildered to understand it.
Buddhist ideas in Kashmiri Poetry
Dhyana Marga (path of meditation) was to Buddha the real path to attain perfection reaching the ultimate. In 'Maha-sucak suta' he has expressed his firm faith in this Marga (path). Sufi poets in Kashmir have consciously followed this path and have stressed its importance for the seekers of truth. They preached this path with so much conviction, that their heart felt perceptions got poured out in the shape of spontaneous poetry :
Don't be led astray, follow the path of meditation
Keep mind and life-breath together
The lotus in you will sprout in glory
Be composed; you will be free from torments
Dear : Oh my dear : meditate on "OM"
(Paramananda - 19th Century)
Shah Gafoor speaks of his conviction in this verse :
Nothing in this world is ours as our lot,
Nothing is prize for here-after,
Meditate on 'though art that'
Follow the path of meditation, understand my word;
What you perceive, keep it a secret;
those who attain are in know of the truth
Our Lord is a Sun amongst the stars.
(Samad Mir D - 1960)
Most of the Kashmiri poets consider this world full of miseries and misfortunes and long to be free from its shackles and bondage. The deceptive appearance of the world has not hindered their perception.
Shamas Faqir a top-ranking mystic has this feeling :
I saw mountains and hillocks ablaze,
All around there was scarcity of water
Alas, I was snared by a green path
And was caught in it.(D-1905)
Gulam Nabi Dilsoz (D-1942) is fully aware of the reality and says in a sad mood :
Make the best use of this moment;
This world is but a market-place of misfortunes
Another poet as man feels :
Evil deeds are the cause of defame
You cannot carry on with this heavy burden;
Every part of your body will be a witness of
This world is not of any value to any one.
Modern poetry and drama on Buddhist themes
Master Zinda Kaul (1884-1965) is all praise for Buddha; in one of his poems he recalls :
He is here the cow or sheep, and there the
cat or tiger;
There he is a Buddha, a Shankara, or a Tagore;
And here He is a simpleton like myself
Thus has he come to amuse himself!
Our modern poets and writers have taken to Buddhist themes being very much influenced by the luminous personality of Bhagvan Buddha. They have derived inspiration from Buddhist sources here and there in their poems espousing human values. Moti Lal Kemmu (b-1933) wrote a play 'Tsay' using a Buddhist theme for depicting the undesirability of war. It is a play of unique type in Kashmiri literature. Embodying a protest against war and its repercussions, Kemmu has borrowed freely from history and Buddhist-lore. One of the main characters of the play is Saravajha Mitra, a Kashmiri by birth, and a teacher of university at Taxila.
Kemmu has slightly amended the name of the scholar to Sarvagina Mitra so as to suit the sound palteins of Kashmiri language. The theme has been so handled that the nemesis is seen inevitable. At the end the main characters of the play are overtaken by snow-storm and are buried in it. This play has been well received by all critics and has won the state Cultural Academy award. Its Hindi version appeared a few months back.
Avtar Krishnan Rehbar (b-1932) is a known short-story writer and play wright. His well-known short story 'Niravana' brings richness to Kashmiri literature; it views the concept of 'Nirvana contrasting it with painful modern realities. It is pointed out that 'Nirvana' has lost its meaning for present-day man who goes hankering after wealth and sensual pleasure. Rehbar's story embodies his protest against the short sighted materialism of present-day man lamenting at the erosion of values cherished by our fore-fathers. This appealing story has been translated in Urdu, Hindi, Dogri and some other regional languages.
Buddhist values combined with human values
The life and teachings of Lord Buddha have inspired Moti Lal Saqui (b-1936)deeply who has written widely on Buddhist subjects, particularly on contribution of Kashmiris to Buddhism. He has translated a number of Jataka tails into Kashmiri. His poems have an undercurrent of Buddhist philosophy. One of his poem is 'Mrgvan' (Deer-park), in which he has dealt with the subject of attainment of enlightenment of the Buddha and has afterwards set out the chaotic conditions of modern world with cherished values lying in shambles. Frustration discontent, greed, envy and violence have become the order of the day. Buddha's message carries no weight for present-day man and that it is simply a subject of text-books now to be crammed by the students. He feels sad that no Buddha will appear again and there is none to deliver us from the shackles.
At last he left at the dead of night
With a heavy heart and distracted mind
in search of the Invisible;
To perceive Him through his vision, he
carried on austerities for a long long time;
But all this proved of no avail
He got hold of his mind,
gave up chanting of mantras,
crossed the bay of miseries on the boat
of simple words,
touched the pinnacles,
attained the state where words yield to silence.
Now No Buddha is expected to be born;
Sambodhi is a mirage in this age of ours
It is now a part of the text-books,
to be crammed by the students,
in this thick forest of human beings
The poem ranked as one lyrical charm has been translated in a number of Indian languages. Modern Kashmiri poet Dina Nath Nadim (1916-1988) (regarded as the tallest of the tall) was the only epoch making poet after Lal Ded. A firm believer in the great human values, Nadim was in love with Buddhist phikosophy, values and the personality of Lord Buddha. It was his firm conviction that Buddha Dharma is basically a path of peace and human brotherhood. In one of his poems he refers to a Buddhist - temple as an abode of peace and tranquality. To hom Lord Buddha was a symbol of love and compassion. In one of his famous poems 'Yi Soun Dunya' (This world of ours) Nadim expresses his feelings in this strain :
This land of ours,
the land of peace and fragrant roses
decked with flowers and decorated with
It is the land of valiant Arjuna, the big-hearted
Gautama the Buddha is ours,
the harbinger of peace and symbol of love
Nadim was a progressive poet and had hardly anything to do with mysticism. But metaphysical speculation brought him very near to the "Kainhna" of mystic poets and Sunya-Vada of Buddhism. Along with his vast studies which drew him very close to Sunya-Vada, the Kashmiri poetic tradition shaped and sharpened his way of thinking. Nadim speaks with high poetic imagination of his perceptions:
This world - a crude reality very much before us
And Sunya - far far away, a vague conception
This world - within the range of experience at all times
And Sunya - just a try to understand what is what
This world - bound within the cycle of time
and Sunya - Always young without the pangs of old age
This world - An amalgam of sweet and sour
and Sunya - Colourless, a journey in the
unknown, a soundless reality.
Arjan Dev Majboor is a poet of stature and has contributed his bit in the furtherance of Kashmiri literature. Majboor is a poet and research scholar of varied interests. He has derived inspiration from ancient sources. HisKathagur (story-teller) is a remarkable poem bringing alive the role of Kashmiris in the development and propagation of Buddhism in the far-off lands of Central Asia, Tibet and other northern parts of Kashmir. A blend of History and poetic imagination gives depth and dimension to the poet's utterances. Majboor's best use of verse-craft and historical knowledge shows up his gifts:
The serene and sweet message of love
Crossed the mountains.
Nagas and Paishaches joined hands
new area dispelled the darkness of the past
Sunya-Vada was absorbed by Trika.
Soom Nath Veer is a poet of the younger generation. Displaying individuality in statement and treatment of themes. His poem Yadasht(remembrance) is a tribute to Buddha and Buddhism :
We enjoyed the pure message of the Buddha,
Carried the banners of brother-hood
Through Khutan, Taskant and Kashgar,
Followed the path of piety and compassion
This Ashoke Chakra deserves your attention,
Lion and goat quench thirst at the same spot.
The message of universal brotherhood and equality of man has been the key-note of Kashmiri poetry almost for the last six hundred years. It has been a humanistic note all through with poets singing in praise of men and holding human dignity in high esteem. Mehjoor (1885-1952) has praised the composite culture of Kashmir in his melodious songs, again and again and has held up the brother-hood and religious harmony of Kashmir :
Hindus and Mussalmans belong to one family and
Why should they go astray, why should they be
averse to each other?
Mussalman is milk and Hindu is sugar
Mix the two and enjoy the sweetness.
Abdul Ahad Azad (1903-1948), a junior contemporary of Mehjoor, devoted a major portion of his compositions to speak of his belief and faith in the dignity of man and universal brotherhood. Of all the poets of the 20th Century in Kashmiri, Abdul Ahad Azad has been a crusader without equal against communal passion, hatred coersion and force. His powerful pleas for equality combined with his skill of poetic craft make him a thinker-poet. He speaks thus of the essential human personality, divorced from externals:
You were born as a human being
Where did you embrace Hindu Dharma
Your religion is equality and fraternity.
It is wrong to discriminate between man and man.
Had the eternal been interested to keep religions
and nations apart from one another
Every nation and every faith would have been
provided with a separate land and sky.
His approach to God is stated in these words :
The water that nourished Kalhana, Gani and Sarfi,
Can that water prove poisonous for you?
Your God is consoled with the temples, mosques
But my God is pleased with love, equality
Despite the pulls and pressures of the times, Buddhist thought and culture directly or indirectly continue to influence Kashmiri life in this age also as it has allured Kashmiris for centuries earlier. The Buddhist influence has been a balancing factor sustaining and shaping the tolerance of Kashmiri people, who temperamentally avoid religious and communal conflicts and imbalance has harmed none other than Kashmiris as has been observed through the centuries.
Though Buddhism as a religion is no more a living faith in the Kashmiri speaking area of J & K state, its deep-rooted ages old influence is still keeping alive the nourished value of tolerance, brotherhood and respect for all faiths; which are inscribed on the subconscious mind of all Kashmiris.
by Moti Lal Saqi
In the realm of Kashmiri Literature Shaik-ul-Aalam is second to Lal Ded only. His poetry is considered sacred by the common people. Mussalmans of the valley have great respect for his Shruks. His Shruksand other longer poems are quoted from the pulpit in the religious sermons enjoyed and adored by the literate and illiterate equally, irrespective of their faith or religion. A number of his verses are quoted in day-to-day conversation by the common people and such verses have attained the status of proverbs, wise sayings and parables.
Shaik-ul-Aalam's poetry is the spontaneous expression of his spiritual experiences and observations. He, in fact, has poured his very soul in his verses. His poetry reveals the grandeur of the saint as a great soul and poet of high order. There is no contradiction between the patron saint and poet Shaikh. When we examine his poetry in detail and depth, it is impossible to understand the saint and his Rishi order unless and until his poetry is understood. He made his poetry the message of his faith, love and brotherhood, peace and respect for all creeds and beliefs, but his message has not injured or diminished the quality and grace of his Shruks and longer narratives. Here we come across a perfect blend between his gospel and poetry. Such complete blend is hardly witnessed, which speaks of his poetic genius and complete grip on the art of versification. Like a master mind he has converted his feelings, experiences and observations in living images and word pictures.
His poetry is the harbinger of a new mystic order the neo-Rishi order of Kashmir which has hardly any parallel. This mystic order has absorbed all the good and noble principles of different prevailing faiths. As regards his 'Rishi Order' there is no recorded evidence or source other than his poetry available to understand its basic principles or tenets.
Junior contemporary of Lal Ded, Shaik-ul-Aalam was in many ways very close to her. His sources of inspiration remained almost the same which nourished the ideal world of Lal Ded. He too preached non-violence, and adopted the way of asceticism. There is much more resemblance evident in their poetry; difference if any is in thought content, presentation and execution of the theme. But form is the same. The poetry of Lal Ded and Shaik-ul-Aalam is complimentary to each other.
The poetry of Lal Ded is termed as Vakh and that of Shaik-ul-Aalam as 'Shruks' in Kashmiri. The Vakh owes its origin to Sanskrit 'Vakhya' and the Shruk, is, in fact the Prakrit form of Sanskrit 'Sholok'. In Sanskrit both these words have nothing particular to denote as independent forms of poetry. In Kashmiri both the words refer to particular genres used for rendering the mystic experiences in poetry.
Like Vakh most of the Shraks are four line stanzas and their rhyme scheme is as follows :
Though independent of foreign influence Vakhs and Shruks have of-course something in common with Hindi Doha and Chau-Paei and Rubai. How and why our ancestors classed and divided the poetry of these two epoch making personalities as 'Vakh' and 'Shruk' is still a problem to be resolved
The poetry of Lal Ded and Shaikh represent the phases of Kashmiri language when it was thriving in the lap of Sanskrit culture. It belongs to that bright period of our language when Kashmiri could easily bear the burden of philosophy and communicate its essence to the readers. It was not the beginning of a glorious chapter of Kashmiri language and literature, but the end.
After Shaikh and his contemporary Avtar Bhat there is a complete break for a long period. It is worthwhile to say that while Shaikh-ul-Aalam's Shruksrepresents the language of the common man, Avtar Bhat's verses represent the language of the elite of that period. There are references in books at some literature was produced in the intervening period also but nothing has come down to us. Actually this period of Kashmiri History was a period of chaos and civil unrest. Every now and then kings were installed and deposed. Later on when Habba-Khatoon (16th Century A.D.) appears on the scene we see a complete, rather drastic change in the form as well as thought content of Kashmiri poetry.
In Persian Rishi Namas it is recorded that one of the disciples of the Shaikh, Kati Pandita compiled his poetry in the form of a book but this manuscript is not traceable. Historians have written that court poet of Budshah - Milla Ahmed translated the poetry of Shaik-ul-Aalam in Persian but this version too is not available now. It was the result of reverence of the people for Lal Ded and Shaik-ulAalam and established sacred oral tone of their poetry that some people had committed it to memory and this tradition continued for centuries together. Finally the 'Vakhs' of Lal Ded were written down with their Sanskrit commentary in late 18th Century. The Shruks of Shaik-ul-Aalam were collected and written down in 19th century by Baba Kamal-Ud-Din, Mir Abdullah and Baba Khalid in their respective Rishi Namas; Rishi Nama of Baba Nasib-Ud-Din Gazi was written only 190 years after the death of the saint and contains only a few Shruks.
Baba Davood Muskavati's 'Asrar-ul-Abrar' provides the reader with some details about the wanderings of the Shaikh. So far as his poetry is concerned Muskavati has provided nothing to satisfy our craving.
The compilers of Rishi Namas have rendered a great service to Kashmiri language and literature by recording the Shruks of the Shaikh for the posterity. Otherwise Shaikhs' poetry must have been wiped out for ever, but at the same time they have left out a sizeable portion of Shaik's poetry which they refer to as Shamskriti (poetry in Sanskrit) and 'Gouri' (poetry in the idiom of Pandits) because all such poetry was beyond their comprehension. As such the poetry of Shaikh is invaluable linguistically also. The study of his 'Shruks' proves beyond any doubt that Sanskrit was a dominating force in the 14th Century A.D. in Kashmir. It enjoyed the royal patronage of some Mussalman kings also and was replaced by Persian in 15th century during the kingship of Budshah (1420-1470). The word hoard ofShruks owes much to Sanskrit. Most of the spiritual and technical terms, besides some, 'Tatsam' and 'Tad Bhav' words have been borrowed from Sanskrit besides, a host of words and technical terms in their Prakrit form. He has enriched his poetry with epic and Puranic allusions and mythology. We frequently see words and terms 'Giana Dhyana', 'Krodha', 'Bal', 'Bhag', 'Lobha', 'Siva', 'Chitta', 'Kivala', 'Panthan', 'Punya', 'Diva', 'Bandhana' etc. used in their original meaning in his poetry. We rarely come across a Persian word or phrase in his real Shruks which is enough to prove that during his life Persian had yet to make a mark on the life and culture of Kashmir.
Thus we come to the conclusion that Shaik-ulAalam's poetry thrived in such a background which was illuminated by Sanskrit culture and thought. It is close to the Sanskrit Kavya tradition and has a direct link with Sanskrit. His 'Shamskriti' and 'Gouri' poems would certainly open new vistas of understanding and would unfold many hidden realities about 15th century Kashmiri but all the poems of this class are lost for ever.
Shaik-ul-Aalam is the father of narrative (Nazam) in Kashmiri. He enriched the Vatsun also, which we for the first time come across in the poetry of Lal Ded. Some of the longer poems of the Shaik are more revealing than hisShruks. It is he who paved the way for the forthcoming mystic poets and provided them with the fund of words and technical terms which served them as chariots for the revelation of their mystic experiences. From Souch Kral (19th century A.D.) to Ab. Ahad Zargar (died 1984) all our Sufi poets have derived inspiration from him and have been influenced by him. He has recorded almost all the details of migration of his great grandfather and his settlement in Kashmir. He has openly recorded that he is a Mussalman as his father embraced Islam at the hands of Syed Hussain Simnani at Kulgam.
He craves for that what was attained by Lal Ded and cries :-
"That Lalla of Padmanpora drank ambrosia in gulps. ' She saw Shiva all around her, in each and every object, oh God bestow me with such eminence."
His poetry has a cooling and soothing effect, with something deep, something peculiar to communicate. It has a glow of spirituality around it and a keen reader gets lost and is absorbed in it. One feels refreshed after reading or listening to it. Every time its recitation has something new and novel to convey. The spontaneity of the Shaik's poetry is like that of a mountain stream which has a powerful gush-and makes its way through the stone beds and hard rocks. The saint has used the languages in such a creative way that every word and phrase bears a fresh look, attains new dimensions of grace and meaning. His poetry is not confined to the mystic experiences alone. Sometimes he comes out of his mystic world also and talks of life. His longer poems are the word picture of the society of the age and unveil the inequality, injustice, tyranny and social disorder in such a way that a sensitive person can hardly control his tears.
In one of his longer poems 'God has nothing to do with all this' he reveals :
"There are people who have hoarded enormous quantity of food grains.
Food grains of various tastes and colours.
There are people who long for a morsel of food.
Their infants wail and weep of hunger.
This state of affairs is man made and man created. God has nothing to do with all this."
Commenting on the cruel behaviour of men Shaikul-Aalam says :
"They will cut the throat of that very cock.
Who calls them to prayers.
They will simply weigh him for their own ends. I beseech I may not be born among such people Oh! God."
At the same time we witness the all pervading dread of death in his poetry :
"One can not escape death and its blows.
Noble souls are being swept away every now and then."
Shaik-ul-Aalam always stressed the unity of man. Man in his eyes was the symbol of the divine. To serve the mankind is the noblest service and way to God :
"Why are you bent upon to create hatred amongst them.
They are the descendants of one and the same mother,
serve to the best of your capacity Mussalmans and Hindus.
If you follow this path God will bestow his grace on thee."
Throughout his pious life Shaik-ul-Aalam fought against the bigots and bigotry; because in his opinion bigotry was the very negation of truth, and was against the fundamental dictums of evey religion. Bigots have nothing to do with the real nature of religion because all the religions teach tolerance and respect for other's creeds. Bigots simply create an atmosphere of hatred and
disagreement and thus pave the way for their ends. They pretend to be learned but their attitude exposes them at every step. They learn only to attain worldly fame and have no liking for attaining the divine. Addressing the bigots the Shaik says :
"You have crammed the books only for worldly ends.
Your learning never prevents you from your bad deeds.
You always think in terms of trapping each-other
Your contention is wrong, for you consider.
Yourselves to be amongst the chosen.
I foretell with authority that you will not reach the goal."
In the poetry of Shaik-ul-Aalam there is no dearth such Shruks which contain the essence of Vedanta. In one of the Shlokas of 'Bhagvat Gita' Lord Krishna says :
"It is desire, it is anger
Born of Rajujana
All consuming and most evil.
Know this to be the enemy on earth" (Gita A-3 S-37)
Shaik-ul-Aalam says :
"Desire, pride and greed overwhelmed you.
It is the burning inferno before your very eyes."
At another place he says :
"If you are under the fury of God.
Do not try to avoid it.
If he puts you to a hard and fast test.
Consider it to be the source of comfort.
If you do this you are sure to be a chosen one."
In Gita Lord says :
"Satisfied with whatever comes unshaked,
beyond the pairs of opposites.
Free from envy, balanced in success and failure.
Acting he is not bound" (Gita A-2 S.12).
Shaik-ul-Aalam reveals the nature of ultimate thus :
"It was there from the very beginning.
It will always remain there.
Meditate upon the ultimate.
All your doubts will fade away.
My inner self, beware."
The dictum of Gita runs thus
"Never the spirit was born,
The spirit shall cease never,
Never was time it was not.
End, beginning are dreams."
Shaik-ul-Aalam says :
"Who saw him face to face,
Who follow his path,
Those who concentrate and meditate upon the ultimate.
They alone find an easy path to him."
Addressing Arjuna, the Lord says :
"Oh! Arjuna, He who acts me,
depends upon me.
Devoted to me,
gives up attachment,
is without hatred towards any being,
Great personalities are mirrors and in a mirror everybody is bound to see his reflection. Shaik-ulAalam one of the noblest of Kashmiris is one, in the fraternity of great Indian sages and saints like Tulsi Dass, Tuka Ram, Sur Mass, Mira Bai, Guru Nanak, Nama Deva, Bhagvat Kabir and others. Shaik-ul-Aalam commands a place of respect and reverence as a great saint and a great poet. In fact Shaik-ul-Aalam is one of the foremost makers of our language and literature.
By Moti Lal Saqi
When I heard the bad news about Dr. Brij Premi's death, I was shocked. He died unsung and unwept. No bells tolled for him because all those who knew and loved him were scattered and are still in disarray. Dr Premi's news of departure came as a bolt from the blue to all his friends. He never deserved such a treatment at the hands of nature, because he loved life.
Dr. Premi died a martyr - a martyr due to exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He was in deep love with his land and people but was made to say good to it. He suffered in exile not for want of money but simply for breathing space. In his heart he was agonised and succumbed to this agony. This fact shall go down in the annals of times to come that exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Valley deprived them not only of valuables and belongings but also snatched away some brilliant souls from amongst them like Dr. Brij Premi. Had he not been compelled to leave his home and hearth he would have lived for many years more and could benefit us with his ripe experience and overflowing pen. What a tragedy, our official and non-official media remained tight-lipped about the untimely death of Dr. Premi so much so that even a condolence was not offered. This is nothing but the turn of events which speaks for itself. We had heard a lot about the fraternity of pen pushers but all this proved a false dream at least in the case of my angel friend, Dr. Premi who sacrificed his life at the altar of exodus.
Treatment meted out to this noble soul is the alarm of the events that have changed in course of our thinking and approach. All through his short span of life he showered flowers in the way of his friends, colleagues and writers but in turn he was forgotten as if he never existed. Time is the great judge. On the touch stone of time best and pure will show its worth and Dr. Premi will be given his due place in the cultural and literary history of Kashmir. He had carved out a niche for himself in the mansion of our cultural movement and there is none to deprive him of his place come what may? Because sands are sure to settle, glitter shall vanish and base is sure to be rejected.
To me Dr. Premi's death is not simply the death of a friend. It is the loss of a man who was close to my heart. It is the departure of a benevolent angel who was a source of solace and strength for me. For the last thirty five years our friendship stood the test of time and weathered all the storms which came our way..
I know it is not a loss to me alone, there are many people who will remember him for a long time. My personal loss is something greater, something that cannot be made up. His departure has crippled me. I feel my right arm has been cut and sooner or later I have to depart in my crippled state.
Health failed Dr. Premi for the last six or seven years. But his ill health never made him to shun his love and affection for me. He would off and on come from University campus for a chat or to discuss any problem relating to our personal or cultural matters. Though he was not physically fit even then he was full of life.
He was determined to accomplish something more, something novel, which could add to the knowledge of Kashmiriology. It was his earnest desire to complete history of Kashmiri literature in Urdu. He had done some preliminary work in this regard also but merciless jaws of death deprived him the opportunity to accomplish the job.
In his literary pursuits Premi was an infidel. In fifties Mantoo was a symbol of reactionary forces to progressive writers, who were in full command of the situation at that time. Premi on the other hand was all praise for him. He loved Mantoo’s diction, treatment and style of story telling. It was this infidelity which led him to select Mantoo and his writings, as the subject for his Ph.D thesis. His love for this great writer knew no bounds. After the completion and publication of his Ph.D thesis which won him a prize also, Premi wrote a series of articles which appeared in leading Urdu journals and periodicals. He was, of course one of the few scholars who have proved their mettle in the realm of 'Nutoiat'. What Premi thought and believed in fifties came true after seventies when Mantoo was declared undisupted master of short story in the sub-continent.
The sweet memories of the past are the only treasure now left with me. People of my hue and colour are departing one after another. How painful it is that I am left behind to lament and mourn the death of those who sprinkled honey dew on burning soul as and when it was needed. It is not possible at this juncture to recount all that which was shared and what transpired between us. It is the subject that I will tackle at proper time separately. The wound is fresh and pangs pinching. In this atmosphere at least allow me to control my tears, which of their own accord come into my eyes when I think or talk about my best friend. Our friendship was not the alliance of mutual bargaining or self interests, it was an amalgam of heart and thinking.
Dr. Premi appeared on the scene as a short story writer and ended his sojourn as a student and a scholar of History, cultural folk lore, personalities of J&K State. It was his research work which brought him honour and recognition. But this does not mean that he was lacking in any way in the art of short story writing. I remember it very well that his short story 'Sapnon Ki Sham' appeared in Biswin Sadi, it was praised by lot of people and the author received at least two hundred letters praising the treatment and art of short story writing.
Dr. Premi was miles away from self glory and hypocrisy. He was all grace and compassion for those who sought his help and sympathy. This short appraisal is nothing but simply the recollection of some of the things I knew about Premi. I only long to meet him again and enjoy his company for ever. I know my dream will not materialize here, but, I am sure, we will meet again where and when that is the question of destiny and time because I firmly believe in the transmigration of the soul.
*Born in 1936 at Badiyar Bala, Srinagar. Poet, Writer, Historian, Researcher, Translator, Editor and Author of many books in Kashmiri & Urdu languages. Sahitya Academy Award Winner. He was honoured with Padmashree for his overall contribution to literature.
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