Kashmir Place in the Cultural Mosaic of India

Kashmir Place in the Cultural Mosaic of India

by Manmohan Dhar

Kashmir suddenly flashed into the world news when Pakistani marauders came over the mountains to annex Kashmir by force. Although repeated attempts to annex Kashmir on the flimsy ground of majority Muslim population, have been frustrated in the recent past, grim clouds of a more organized attempt, backed by modern arms and armoury that are being supplied to Pakistan, are again gathering in meancing proportions. Whereas, India will again face such a situation with greater determination and united will and strength of the country, it is essential that every Indian should refresh his mind with a broader understanding of the place of Kashmir in the Indian Cultural fabric.

Kashmiri mind transcends the bounds of narrow religious and communal view of Hinduism and Islam, and has been a creation of thousands of years of cultural and spiritual enquiry and experiment. It was amidst its cool valleys, known for their enchanting beauty, that these fair coloured men - all of them brahmins - with their sharp features, aquiline noses and beautiful eyes, measured with and exceeded in thought and spirit, the excellence of their surroundings. Different religions were considered as complementary aids to greater understanding of the human spirit and these geniuses of thought, untangled the path of men from the snares of narrow religious creeds and conventions, to strive into perennial streams of freedom, sustained, softened and sweatened by love, religious catholicity and enlightened human understanding.

Right from the very ancient times, Kashmir had become a clearing house of spiritual knowledge, a laboratory to nourish and to give shape to new thoughts and a place where scholars concourced, conversed and concurred to give ground rules for thinking processes, language, logic, aesthetics, religions, philosophies, music, dance and sciences. Scholars and spiritual seekers moved regularly from Kashmir to various parts of India and central Asia and from central Asia and India to Kashmir.

Says Grierson " For upward of two thousand years Kashmir has been the house of sanskrit learning and from this small valley have issued masterpieces of history, poetry, romance, fable and philosophy. For centuries Kashmir was the home of the greatest sanskrit scholars ..". According to Bilhana " Even women in Kashmir spoke Sanskrit and Prakrit quite fluently ".

Is it surprising, therefore, that Panini-the father of sanskrit grammar was born there in a village called Salatoor-for which reason hewas also known as Salatooriya-but later moved to Patliputra (Patna in Bihar ) where he taught sanskrit grammer. Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashya-the commentary of Panini's grammar-and also one of the greatest systems of Yoga- ' Yoga Darshan ', was a Kashmiri. ' Saivism' which represents one of the most luminous attainments of spiritual endeavour to relate human with the Divine, was conceived there and was and is being taught in the valley even today. According to Prof. Sylyan Levi, Caraka author of the famous book on Medicine, Carkasamhita, was a Kashmiri, and so was Koka - author of Koka Shastra which is considered the most important book on sex after ' Kamasutra '. Even ' Panchtantra ' is supposed to be of Kashmiri origin. Damodara Gupta wrote Ruttani Maram an interesting poetical work dealing with the ethics of concubinage. Much can also be said in favour of Kalidas having been a Kashmiri.

The names of mighty minds who made contributions to Indian thought in the field of sanskrit learning, literature and sciences covering a wide field of philosophy, potery, prosody, aesthetics, tables, plays, medicines, astronomy, astrology etc., are legion. Volumes have been written on the work of these great personalities. What is, however, more important, is that during this period and even centuries before Christ, there was a constant flow of scholars from Kashmir to the rest of India and vice-versa. Having become a seat of learning scholars from all over India used to go to Kashmir for higher studies.

As is well known Kashmiri's had developed their own script, called the sharada script for writing sanskrit. It is significant, that 'recently several important manuscripts of works of Kashmirian Saivan philosophy in sharada and some South Indian scripts have been found in Kerala and Madras'.

Kashmiri scholars wrote extensive commentaries on the Gita, Mahabharata and other important sanskrit works including those of Kalidasa and others and actively participated in many important assemblies deliberating on religlon, philosophy or literature in various parts of India.

According to Narayan Menon, the most important work on music in the medieval period is that on Karnataka Music, Sangit Ratnakara. This was written by Sarangdeva whowas a Kashmiri. His father had immigrated to South in the 12th century and worked at Devagiri. Menon says that Sarangadeva's book formulates the basis of Karnataka music and there are few West Asian and European works to compare with ' Sangita Ratnakara' when it comes to detailed accounts of theory and practise by scholarly musicians.

According to Professor Thattacheriar, head of the sanskrit department of Madras University, the contribution of Kashmiri scholars to South Indian Philosophy, aesthetics, dance and music has been very significant. For instance, it is known that Thirumalur, one of the earliest teachers of Saivism in South ( 1st to 9th Century AD ) came for Kashmir.

Similarly, many scholars from India went to Kashmir and settled there. Notable among these is Atrigupta, a well known scholar from Kanaujwho came to Kashmir at the invitiation of King Lalitaditya. His descendent, Abhinavagupta ( 950-960 AD ) stands like a prince amongst Kashmiri thinkeres, wose contribution in the field of aesthetics and philosophy has been the most profound.

There is a strong belief that Shankaracharya visited Kashmir and the legend has it that he held philosophical discussions with Mandan Misra and his wife. So did Ramanuja the doyen of the Vaishnava creed go to Kashmir all the way from Madras to argue with the Kashmiri Shaivait philosophers.

In the field of Tantra Shastra, the links established between Bengal, Kashmir and Kerala, would in itself be a fertile field for study to provide considerable evidence of exchange and inter-action that took place over many centuries. 'Kaula' is a title given to the adept in the tantra sadhana and the prevelance of this system of spiritual pursuit in Kashmir can be judged by the number of ' Kauls ' in and outside Kashmir, whose surname is derived from the spiritual attainment their fore-fathers may have attained.

Earlier, during Ashoka's reign, 5000 monks were settled in the valley to establish a centre of study and propogation of Budhist religious texts. Ashoka is stated to have gone to Kashmir and worshipped Lord Shiva at the famous temple of Harmuktaganga.

In the later period, Kanishka held the third Budhist Council in Kashmir and ' Mahayan Doctrine ' was born. The deliberations were conducted in sanskrit. Kashmiri missionaries, radiated into Tibet, China and other parts Or south-east Asia. In order to make propogation in Tibet purposeful, Kashmiri scholars devised a script and grammar for the Tibetan language and translated Mahayan Budhist Doctrines into Tibetan. The greatest among these missionaries is Shyam Bhatta who created the script and grammar for the Tibetan language.

Added to these facts, are the evidence in sculpture strewn all over the valley. Says Lawrence "The valley of Kashmir is the holy land of Hindus and I have rarely been in any village which cannot show some relic of Antiquity... " The ruins of Martanda and other old temples are even now called ' Pandawa Houses ' and Kalhana says it was at Lord Krishna's advice that Yasovati was made queen regent of Kashmir after Krishna had defeated King Damodara, Yasovati's husband.

A whole population of Saraswat Brahmins, who gave themselves up wholly to the refined graces of life, in the bracing and beautiful environment, unique in its own right, and kept alive the pursuit of spiritual enquiry and art of living, have to be seen in the foregoing back-drop of the pre-budhist era and later, which gives some indication of the deep spiritual and cultural links of Kashmir with the rest of India.

But history was not to leave them at peace. While muslim Kings invaded India, their ingress into the valley was at first thwarted by high mountains, cold weather and snow. Mahmud Ghazni made several attempts but finally like Napolean's retreat from the Russian soil, he yielded against the geography of Kashmir and abandoned the idea of invading Kashmir again. Islam had, however, swayed over vast territories around Kashmir, and the new faith had made its entry gradually, stealthily but steadily. Harsha, a Hindu King, influenced by Islam, destroyed Hindu temples and images. During the ' Saltanate ' rule lasting for over 200 years from early fourteenth century, King Sultan Sikander, decided to convert Hindus by force and his Prime Minister, Suha Bhatt ( Saif-ud-Din ) a convert to Islam, razed to the ground some of the most famous and beautiful edifices to the Hindu temple and architectural genius. Mosques were raised in their place. Simultaneously, muslim scholars from Iran and other places were invited, and the artistic propensities of the Kashmiris were stifled by banning playing of musical instruments and dancing.

Yet amidst this multi-point thrust on the Hindus, Sanskrit continued to be the official routine language in the Government. Several Kashmiri Pandits were in high position. But Persian and Arabic words were freely used and it was in about the 15 th century that Persian became the official language under the rule Or Sultan Zain-ul-abibin. He was a great King, who lent Hindu content to the Persian language by getting some of the ancient Hindu scriptures translated into Persian. Kashmiris during this and later periods made outstanding contributions to the Persian literature. Zain-ul-abidin laid the foundation, for a cultural synthesis, where in the spirit behind form, it was difficult to find the dividing lines between Hinduism, Budhism and Islam.

During this period, the local language became the repository of Sanskrit, Arabic and the Persian words; and Kashmir became the cradle of cultures and almost through unconscious accretion of various influences worked out a synthesis, which became the dominant message in the poetry of some of the greatest seers of ' Unity in the diversity of religions', such as 'Laleshwari' and ' Nunda Rishi '.

Although buffeted by constant strifes and travails of wars, through the passage of history and persecuted by religious bigots, Kashmiri Pandits survived the holocaust of tyranny, which at one time reduced their population to a mere eleven families, the rest were eithel converted or fled from the valley to various parts of India. There have thus been a series of exoduses from the valley.

In the words of Dr. Sengupta " Kashmir has been very much in the news since 1947 as if it is just a piece of terrain, over the possession of which warring forces are at bay ....

We want the world to know a bit of the bubbling fountain of life that has been flowing through her arteries, since the Aryan immigrants settled first in this snow-capped valley, which constitutes a diadem of diamond on the head of India".

India has thus a spiritual and an emotional stake in Kashmir, which has been the culmination of thousands of years of deep association, exchange and a living process. It is the duty of every Indian, not to barter it away because of lowly concept of communal claim on her, on the basis of majority muslim population. Kashmir has indeed become the symbol of secularism.

Kashmiri Pandits, have gone through the tortures of wars and persecution. A few thousands of them - perhaps less than a lac are in Kashmir and other parts of India. They have played their enlightened and constructive role in various fields through the centuries over the length and breadth of India, which can be written in letters of gold and have always been the torch bearers of cultural excellence of India.

Pandit Nehru's and the Nation's spontaneous response to fight Pakistan have to be seen in this broad vision of Kashmir's place in the cultural mosaic of India and the Nation must take due note of the efforts and role of the Kashmiri Pandit community so as to ensure that the links between Kashmir and the rest of India enriched by the glorious past of thousands of years, are not snapped or obliterated by unscrupulous elements through the subversive and subterranian efforts in Kashmir with their epic centre in Pakistan.

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