by Prof. Som Shah
Kashmiri Pandit Identity – a historical perspective
Within the Hindu fraternity, Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) occupy a distinct and unique position because of a tumultuous history and consequent evolution, including several aberrations and distortions. At one point of time Kashmir was a great seat of learning and Kashmiri Hindus produced intellectuals of all hues like philosophers, writers, poets, therapists and historians. It would be out of place to list the achievements and contributions that Kashmiri Brahmins made during some glorious periods of Hindu rule and even during some phases of Muslim rule. On the spiritual side it witnessed the onslaught of Buddhist wave together with rest of south and south-east Asia, and eventually countered it through philosophic movement of a distinct kind of Shaivism. However, all this was achieved through debates and discussions as has been the normal practice in all oriental religions.
There is a common mistaken notion that among Kashmiri Hindus there was no caste system and all Hindus are Brahmins. That may be the situation as of now but historically Kashmir shared with rest of India the same kind of caste system with its grotesque customs and practices. This was the reason that most of the non-Brahmins initially opted for Buddhism during its heyday and Kashmir at one point of time, before the start of Christian era, was an important centre of Buddhist society. However, as in rest of India, Brahmin revivalism brought an end to Buddhist sway over the populace in general.
Brahmins dominated the religious scenario including the ruling hierarchy in the valley for several centuries. While on the positive side they made considerable contribution to the intellectual, philosophical and spiritual aspects of the society, on the negative side they strictly enforced hereditary caste discrimination and a narrow-minded exclusivism. This was one of the main reasons that made it easy for Islam to enter the valley in the first instance and take over the administration and eventually to convert the populace to that faith. Added to that an aggressive proselytization by Muslim missionaries with strong support of ruling community and several periods of forced conversion, almost the entire lot of non-Brahmins embraced the Islamic faith. Even some of the Brahmins were also forcibly converted, after their temples were desecrated and mosques built in their place. However, such was the strong hold of the caste system that even after conversion the Muslims retained the caste distinctions almost up to the present day and usually intermarriages and social contacts across the caste lines were a taboo. Thus the so called “Khandani” upper caste converts from Brahmins (Kauls, Rainas Bhats, Choudhrys, Sheikhs) and Rajputs (Dars, Mirs, Rathers, Maliks, Loans) would look down upon lower castes like Vaishs (Wanis) and Shudras comprising a host of menial surnames.
What was left of Brahmins after these conversions and waves of migration outside the valley, constituted a hard core community of Pandits who managed to resist all the allurements, deprivation, pressures, intimidation, harassment and even death threats. Understandably they developed certain traits, both positive and negative, because of a persistent fear and threat to dignity, property, honour and life. It is these traits that have become a hallmark of their identity as distinct from that of Kashmiri Muslims. Probably the only similarity was a common language and idiom. Language is undoubtedly a strong binding force and constitutes the only factor that could be classed as the so called “Kashmiriat” that has been branded as a political slogan in recent years to be used and misused as the occasion demands. But even in language, thanks to the imposition of an unnatural and inappropriate Nastaliq script, a schism has developed between the two communities. Other than the language, there is hardly anything common between the two communities, except for nostalgia of dependence on each other and to some extent tolerating each other. While personal equations and close man to man contacts have always been there, but none of them were on the basis of any cultural identity.
Kashmiri Pandits had a relatively peaceful and secure time during the brief Sikh rule and about a century of Dogra rule. This period generated a sense of euphoria in them that made them complacent, though there were occasions when they should have been vary and watchful. Communal riots of 1931 that is nowadays projected as a freedom struggle should have been one such occasion. The complacency was gradually broken when successive governments after independence started the process of discrimination and the community was forced to seek avenues outside the state. The process of migration that started as a trickle gradually became rapid and culminated in a mass exodus as a result of planned intimidation at gun point.
Evolution of customs and rituals
A common belief among most KPs is that rituals and customs that were prevalent in the valley before mass exodus constitute the KP culture and need to be preserved in totality to sustain a cultural identity. This belief is primarily because of nostalgia following the trauma of displacement and an attempt to snatch at straws to replicate a situation as existed before the exodus. However, rituals and customs do not constitute cultural identity since they keep on changing and evolving from time to time. Culture is like a flowing river that receives input from different directions through various tributaries including dirty drains. As long as it keeps on flowing and receiving these inputs, it remains vibrant and fresh. When it becomes static, it stagnates into a marsh. Kashmiri Pandit culture has never stagnated in spite of various pressures, trials and tribulations. It has always adjusted and accommodated according to the circumstances and situations. That has been the secret of its survival.
Those who believe that rituals must be retained in their entirety in order to sustain cultural identity would do well to examine them in a historical perspective. There can be no better example than the rituals associated with one of the main festivals of KP identity, the Shivratri. These rituals and customs have undergone a total transformation during last few centuries. At one point of time the celebrations, puja and rituals for this festival extended for forty days commencing from Shiv Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Magh) to Phagum Ashtami (Tila Ashtami). In the course of time it got reduced to twenty days and eventually to a few days. During the Afghan rule, a stupid governor (there was a series of them) was told that Pandits invoked their secret powers through puja during Shivratri and fasting and refraining from non-vegetarian food. He ordered that they should be forced to gambol during this period and to partake of non-vegetarian meals. Accordingly the Pandits had to gambol with shells (hara), that was the prevalent currency, and this became a part of the ritual that continues up to the present day in the valley. The Muslims were asked to spy on their Pandit neighbours to ensure that they partook of non-vegetarian food on the day following Shivratri and they made a point to visit them and thus the nameSalaam was given to that day. The name Shivratri itself continues to be called Herath (derived from Persian word Hairat, meaning surprise), following the infamous order of Jabbar Khan (Jabbar Jendha) to celebrate the festival in summer when a snow storm hit the valley. When Sikhs invaded the valley on the invitation of KPs and drove out the Afghans, the Pandits included Waghuru (Wahi Guru) puja one day prior to Shivratri as a mark of thanksgiving. Following Dogra rule they included Ram Gud as one of deities in the puja since Ram was the Kul Devta of Dogra rulers. The rituals associated with this festival have changed continuously depending on the exigencies of the situation and the political climate. But Shivratri constitutes a basic festival of our cultural identity. Most people may be aware that different families adopted varying riti (customs) for every festival meaning thereby that these riti hardly constitute a part of cultural identity.
The elderly generation who suffered the pangs of displacement is nostalgic about most of the rituals that were prevalent before the exodus. That accounts for their anxiety to hold on to them. The younger generation, especially those born just before or after exodus, have no such nostalgia and are generally confused about the fascination that the elders have for something that appears silly to them. No doubt, as time passes, most of these redundant rituals will die their natural death, as has happened to several such customs in the past. If somebody wants to have a peep into what our customs were a few centuries ago, he would do well to observe them in Kashmiri Pandit families who migrated into various other parts of India centuries before and have retained many of those traditions as they existed at that point of time.
What constitutes Kashmiri Pandit cultural identity
If rituals are not essential features of cultural identity, then it is necessary to identify what constitutes a KP identity. For that it is important to understand what has sustained them through centuries of turmoil, torture, discrimination and intimidation. That alone should constitute the foundation of a true identity. Culture is a combination of several factors that have accumulated historically and become part of identity. It may not be possible to list all these here but the more essential features are briefly mentioned below:
Hindu Ethos: KPs have a distinct identity primarily because they are a repository of Hindu ethos. Hinduism is a philosophical doctrine and not a religion in the strict sense of that word. A religion is dogmatic and has well defined and enforceable dos and don’ts. Hinduism allows free scope for speculation and an open invitation to discover divinity in whichever manner a person chooses. In this regard it is closer to scientific ethos that allows an open mind to discover laws of nature. The two have also a symbiotic relationship. While one aims at the ultimate in the spiritual domain the focus of the other is the material plane. One sustains the other and that is the reason there is no contradiction and confrontation between science and religion in the Hindu context unlike religions of Middle Eastern origin. KPs have a remarkable capacity for rationalization of any situation and absorbing all contradictory opinions. This stems from their strong roots in Hindu ethos. That also dissuades them from becoming dogmatic or fundamentalist. They have resisted conversion primarily because they have an in born tendency to reject a dogmatic belief. Talking about the Hindu ethos Beatrice Lamb, the British author, has made the following telling comment: “Indeed, one characteristic that all Hindus claim for Hinduism is an all-embracing tolerance, its ability to encompass every path, finding a niche for each in the vast scheme of things. From the point of view of certain minority religions, this is precisely the difficulty. Any religion that does not want to be encompassed, embraced and indeed absorbed and perhaps ultimately transformed by Hinduism finds Hindu tolerance somewhat too demanding since it is conditioned upon a basic acceptance of a Hindu view of life and Hinduism’s peculiar genius for absorption.” While it may not be possible to agree with him in all details, but basically he has made the point that is characteristic of Hinduism in general and KPs in particular.
Shiva-Shakti cult: While Kashmir was the fountainhead of a distinct philosophy of Shaivism, it is also a fact that majority of KPs is unaware of its tenets and significance. However, it has given birth to a special brand of deity worship that is distinct from most Hindus. Shivratri or Watak Puja is distinct for KPs and is observed in a specific manner quite unlike other Shaivite Hindus. Its significance has various interpretations but they are primarily derived from special Shiva-Shakti cult that is peculiar to KPs.
Shakti worship has also generated identification of Ishat Devis (Kul Devis) whereby Goddess Durga has been personified in various forms, only partly corresponding to the Nav Durga concept. There are primarily three Ishat Devis namely the eighteen armed Sharika, personifying protection, the four armed Raghinia personifying bounties and eight armed Jwala depicting energy. All KPs have either one of them as their Kul Devi that determines their mode of worship and eating habits. The seats of the three are Chakreshwar (Hari Parbat), Tullamula (Kshir Bhawani) and Khrew (Jwaleshwari) respectively. Apart from these, there are a large number of other shrines spread over the length and breadth of the valley representing these Devis. These three seats have a special significance in the spiritual life of every Kashmiri Pandit. That is why immediately after exodus KPs replicated these seats in Jammu, Delhi and elsewhere as they are the primary symbols of their cultural identity.
Language: Language is always a strong binding force for any community and constitutes an important element of cultural identity. Kashmiri language, though rich in idiom, has suffered a checkered history, mainly because of the political turmoil and suppression of the rulers. Primarily derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit and retaining its grammatical nuances, it is flooded with words derived from other sources, notably Persian. In this respect it has suffered the same fate as that of Saxon English following Norman invasion. While the verbs are mostly derived from Sanskrit, since the working class comprised local residents, most nouns and adjectives are derived from Persian that was the language of the rulers. However, there is one major difference between what happened to English language through Norman influence and Kashmiri language after Persian domination. Since the script of English and French was the same, the language got enriched with words of French derivation without altering the scriptural nuances. In case of Kashmiri its original script namely Sharda vanished since the rulers refrained from using it and the Persian (Nastaliq) script did not suit the large number of vowel sounds and even some consonants that are characteristic of Kashmiri. In the process Kashmiri language lost its script and remained only a spoken language. The Sharda script got relegated to writing of horoscopes and almanacs by practicing Brahmins (who were referred to as Bhashya Bhatsmeaning language knowing Pandits as against others who resorted to the study of Persian and were referred to as karkuns), in a traditional style not in Kashmiri but in classical Sanskrit. Because of this Kashmiri language hardly acquired any written literature. Whatever literature in Kashmiri existed up to the beginning of twentieth century comprised no prose but only poetry carried through word of mouth.
While Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits speak the same language, there is a difference in a large number of nouns and pronunciation of some alphabets of Sanskrit origin. Muslims use nouns of Persian origin while Pandits use those of Sanskrit origin. Words like ‘water’ would be aab for a Muslim and poni orwoni (derived from Sanskrit warini) for a Pandit. Likewise ‘sun’ would beaftab and sirya and ‘dream’ would be khwab and swapun respectively. Many Sanskrit derived sounds cannot be properly pronounced by Muslims. The half sounds following a consonant that is common in Sanskrit constitute some of them. For example the half ‘r’ sound as in bror (cat) or praran(waiting)would be pronounced as bior and piaran respectively. Likewise there is a remarkable variation in the speech that can be easily detected.
The imposition of Nastaliq script after 1947 by the government alienated Pandits from Kashmiri language as a result of which they taught their children to speak in Hindi. A large number of Pandit children had stopped considering Kashmiri language as their mother tongue long before the mass exodus. This process was accentuated by the increase of anti-national activity by some Muslim outfits in Kashmir and Pandits identified Kashmiri language with them and Hindi as a symbol of Indianness. Since medium of instruction was Hindi, Urdu or English, Kashmiri did not fit anywhere in the educational system. The imposition of Kashmiri as a compulsory language of study in Nastaliq script up to the 5th standard was a stillborn exercise and even Muslims did not take it seriously since they felt that it was of no value.
Poetry and Music: Kashmiri poetry, as has been mentioned earlier, was carried through word of mouth up to the early part of twentieth century. The most popular among Muslims as well as Hindus were the wakhs of Lal Ded and Sahajanand alias Sheikh Nur-ud-Din. Both of them had a common idiom and message of universal brotherhood and spirituality constituting an amalgam of Shaivism and Sufism. While the former was known to be a Hindu, the latter was supposedly born of converted Muslim parents though he never practiced that religion and is being disowned by present day fundamentalist Muslims. The wakhs constitute an important cultural heritage of Kashmiri Pandits, especially those of Lal Ded as they encompass the essence of Kashmir Shaivism in simple common man’s language.
Another aspect of poetry that constitutes the cultural identity of Kashmiri Pandits is the leela that is sung in a lilting tune or to the beats of atumbaknari. A leela is always in praise of a deity depicting various attributes, or narrating events from Bhagwat and tales from Puranas.
Perhaps one distinct cultural symbol of KPs has been the wanwun that is collectively sung on the occasion of various festivals notably yageopavit and marriage. Most KPs are not aware that wanwun in its original form was derived from classical music using three swars only. Muslims convertedwanwun into a folk song that they sing on festive occasions. Unfortunately the classical form of wanwun has been gradually dying down and even KPs have lately taken to the popular form sung by Muslims. The former has a socio-religious significance that cannot be ignored.
Cuisine: One of the aspects of Kashmiri Pandit culture that has found a national acceptance and liking constitutes the special cuisine. The variety of dishes cooked using different spices and the techniques employed have become so popular that they constitute special menu of most five-star hotels of the country. KP cuisine is totally different from that of Muslims. While the non-vegetarian dishes are limited to five or six only, there is a wide variety in vegetarian dishes. Of the former rogan josh and latter dum aloo (listed usually in hotel menus as aloo dum) are the most popular all over the country and abroad.
In the valley there was a tradition of drying vegetables during summer months and using the same during winter. This was primarily because no fresh vegetables were available in snow-clad winter. KPs, notably ladies, have developed a special taste for these dried vegetables, especially brinjals and gourds (lauki), cooked in a specific manner. Nowadays due to better means of communication fresh vegetables are available throughout winter months and Muslims in the valley (especially in the cities) have generally discontinued this practice of drying vegetables. What is however interesting is that the practice of drying continues for commercial reasons as there is a demand for these dried products from KPs living outside the valley following exodus.
A discussion on cuisine would be incomplete without mention of an essential component of KP table, haak, which is like a tanpura in a musical concert. It has to be always there whether one cooks vegetarian or non-vegetarian meals. In recent years it has become very popular with non-Kashmiris as well, especially in Jammu.
Apparel: The KP dress and jewelry have suffered several historical vicissitudes as a result of which most of the erstwhile apparel has become redundant. While at one point of time turban tied in a particular fashion was the hallmark headgear of adult male Pandit and taranga of a female, both have all but vanished. They are only used on the occasion of marriage and that too in a highly modified form. The more common phiran as a kind of a gown has survived among men in some cases especially those who still live in the valley or Jammu, where it is cold in winter. The female phiran was almost abandoned following the reform movement led by Kashyapa Bandhu in the thirties of the last century.
KP phiran is different from that of Muslims and it is believed that this differentiation was imposed during the rule of Zain-ul-abudin (Budshah). Though he was known to be a just ruler and he imposed this order in good faith, it reduced the Hindu population to a very small minority. The story goes that during the rule of his predecessor, the infamous Sikandar (Butshikan), there was a mass forcible conversion of Hindus. Many were murdered, and some migrated but those who stayed back had perforce to accept Islam and change their name. However, they were Hindus by heart and retained their Hindu practices and identity. Thus everybody had two names, the Muslim name to be used for public consumption and Hindu name at home. Since the dress was the same, it was not possible to know whether one was a Hindu or a Muslim and the name was the only identity. Budshah ordered that there would be no forcible conversions and in order to ensure that he insisted that they dress differently. As a result all those who were still Hindus at heart had perforce to adopt Muslim attire and in due course of time became Muslims.
One of the important elements of the attire of KP ladies that has not only survived but also become popular with non-Kashmiris is the golden jewelry called ath, dejihoru and ataharu. These are marital symbols comparable tomangal sutra worn by Hindu ladies elsewhere in the country. They are the essential elements of jewelry of a married lady.
Socio-religious customs: There is a wide range of socio-religious customs and festivals that are observed by KPs in a variety of ways. It is not possible to list them but some of them have a religious connotation while there are several others that have a historical or environmental relationship. Traditional festivals like navreh, zang trai, pann and other similar festivals belong to the former category, while shishur, gaad bata, khetchi amawasya, nav sheen and the like belong to the latter category. Most of these festivals fall during winter months which may be due to climatic conditions in the valley. In addition there are traditional customs related to marriages, child-births, deaths and other social events. Many of them also have a religious rigmarole associated with them. Hardly anybody has an inkling of the purpose behind many of these customs and even the supposed religious linkage is dubious in most cases since there is no known source of the authority. Some of these customs were not observed much before the mass exodus as they had become redundant. After the exodus hardly anybody remembers them. But there are quite a few that were religiously observed and continue to be observed even after exodus.
Are KPs losing their identity?
After the mass exodus the one apprehension that is haunting the mind of every Kashmiri Pandit is about the danger of losing his cultural identity. Surprisingly this apprehension was not there when KPs were continuously being eased out from the mainstream in Kashmir for nearly half a century after 1947 and made almost insignificant and irrelevant. There was a continuous trickle of migration of younger generation for want of employment avenues and the population was already reducing at a rapid rate. It is also a fact that KPs living in Kashmir during that period had almost accepted their second class citizen status as a fait accompli. In most of the families the children had stopped speaking in Kashmiri and they were afraid of donning atilak on the forehead or displaying any overt cultural identity. The lollipop ofKashmiriat was projected before them to remind them that they were a part of a fraternity that was covertly Islamic. It would be necessary to analyze why they were not anxious about the loss of their cultural identity at that point of time.
Cultural identity is more a state of mind than any tangible reality. Every human being has an emotional need to identify himself first as an individual distinct from others and then as member of a community or religion or country. This stems from the animal instinct of living in a herd from which human beings evolved into a tribal culture. The social evolution is proceeding at a rapid rate towards globalization whereby the barriers of caste, creed, colour, race and geography are rapidly disintegrating. Cultural identities are likely to get eroded in all communities irrespective of geographical location or dislocation. But that would be a futuristic scenario and some people who cannot reconcile with such a rapid change would even label it as an improbable philosophical doctrine. Until the day we head towards that status there is a strong instinctive need to have an identity, since it provides a sense of security. In spite of all threats to KP identity before exodus, they refused to acknowledge it since all symbols of cultural identity were in place. The only time when they became slightly apprehensive was in 1986 when several temples were desecrated. But after the trauma of dislocation they suddenly found that they had lost all the symbols of their identity, including their homes and hearths, and were practically like straws in a wind.
Cultural identity is sustained through symbolism with which people identify themselves. Since all these symbols were in the valley the KPs suffered traumatic crisis of confidence following exodus. Forced migration always generates a sense of rootless existence and consequently an alarming fear of losing identity and getting lost in the mayhem of an alien society. As a reaction KPs started building replicas of shrines at a frantic pace almost everywhere, where they moved in sizable numbers. Moreover, they started making noises as they had never done before through media. Such has been the cacophony of these press statements coming from various kinds of outfits and individuals that it gives an impression that the community is totally confused and divided. This is far from truth for at no point of time have the KPs been thinking differently, including when they left Kashmir en masse without any planning, though they would not admit it.
While exodus has caused immense physical, emotional, economic and psychic damage to KPs, there has been a silver lining. The fear of losing the identity has galvanized the society as never before. In fact at no point of time was the danger of losing identity more acute than when they were living in Kashmir between 1947 and 1989. They were practically being eased out without a whimper. They were losing their cultural symbols and identity was getting rapidly eroded. The younger generation was gradually migrating. Those who were left behind had lost confidence and were acquiring a psyche of servility. If the mass exodus had not taken place the cultural identity would have been lost within a few decades without anybody in the country or elsewhere becoming wiser about it.
The exodus has brought about two positive fall outs. While on the one hand it has triggered a renaissance in the community, on the other the country and the world at large has come to know about this highly cultured and sophisticated community and the injustice meted out to it. The renaissance has been in various forms and fields and has seeped down to the grassroots. Those Kashmiri Pandit boys and girls who lived in backwaters of far flung villages of the valley donned some of the premier educational institutes in the country and abroad. The number of books, magazines, journals and articles published in last twenty years by KPs is phenomenal. The linkage of Kashmiri Pandit groups and organizations spread throughout the world is such that each one knows exactly of what is happening and where. This is no doubt also a result of boom in communication network that has fortunately happened precisely at the same time and KPs have taken maximum benefit from it. Above all the renaissance has generated a serious introspection and brain-storming among KPs, a faculty that they had totally forgotten when they were in the valley.
There appears to be no danger about the loss of cultural identity of KPs following dislocation. Apprehension of the loss itself generates a consciousness of what we are likely to lose and we tend to protect it. With that consciousness almost half the battle is won. When we are confronted with an alien culture we feel insecure and generate a tendency to look deep into our roots. That is what happened to those who migrated to western countries and attempted to teach their children to stick to certain cultural symbols and practices including learning Kashmiri when back home in Kashmir our children had stopped all these practices and even speaking that language.
How can KPs sustain a cultural identity
While it would be a cynical attitude to presume that KPs are in danger of losing their cultural identity, there is at the same time no scope for complacency. The community needs to put their heads together to see what can be done to ensure that we uphold the positive and distinctive elements of our culture. It has also to be understood that some of the aspects of our traditions have become redundant either due to passage of time and changed circumstances or because of being away from the valley. There are also several negative elements of our culture that we have acquired through exigencies of history which need to be expunged. While a lot needs to be done to protect and expand the scope of our cultural traditions, only some of the more urgent requirements are suggested below:
Building Institutions: KPs were very prompt in building shrines and ashrams of prominent saints of Kashmir immediately after exodus. As mentioned earlier, this was a reaction to the loss of symbols of cultural identity and was probably important at that point of time to generate confidence and sense of security. However, there has been a laxity in building institutions of learning and research in aspects of culture and civilization of the community. For example Kashmir Shaivism, that constitutes a flagship of Kashmiri Pandit culture, has been relegated to the oblivion of obscurantism. Following Swami Lakshman Joo and a few other scholars, there has been no institutional follow up. While many non-Kashmiri, including foreign scholars, have published treatises on this subject, there has been hardly any concerted contribution from scholars of Kashmir. When we talk of preserving our cultural heritage, anybody can ask a question what we mean by it. Is there an institution or authority that can answer this question? Is there an institution that can interpret our traditions in a historical perspective and give meaning to what our culture is all about? While there is a lot of breast beating about our youngsters not upholding the cultural traditions, do we have any reasoning to tell them why they should follow some practices dogmatically? Nostalgia alone cannot sustain traditions and culture. They need to be interpreted in the idiom of modern times. This can be done only by an institution of higher learning specialized in these areas. For years we have been dreaming about resurrecting Sharda University, but it continues to be a dream only.
Preserving Kashmiri language: Preserving Kashmiri language is probably the greatest challenge before the community because there are basic hurdles in it. A language is primarily a medium of communication. Any language that provides scope for communication with the widest coverage is bound to expand and proliferate and a language that has a limited convas is bound to languish. In this context it would be pertinent to remember the Indian experience. Following independence there was a concerted effort to promote Hindi as the national language. When it met with difficulties because of large number of regional languages that were not ready to accept Hindi, there was a view that unless English was replaced, Hindi could not become lingua franca. This view was expressed as the infamous remark of Ram Manohar Lohia, “Let Hindi go to hell, abolish English”, that raised a lot of furor. Naturally (and fortunately) the nation did not listen to him. At present it is only because of the knowledge of English that India has become a software and IT hub.
Kashmiri language is plodding with basic disabilities in the absence of well established script and lack of literature in prose. Editors of some community journals are doing a commendable job by publishing Kashmiri section in Devnagari script with some diacritical marks that is tending to become a suitable script for Kashmiri language. But that alone is not enough. There is need to use other methods to popularize the language. The written word is not as popular and powerful nowadays as the verbal communication and there is a need to make maximum use of IT to proliferate the language through circulation of CDs and opening websites bearing interesting material in Kashmiri. It is only possible to do so in an organized fashion and our numerous outfits would do well to pool their resources in this direction.
The apprehension about the loss of cultural identity may help us to be cautious and pool our resources to rejuvenate the community. However, there is very little likelihood of KPs losing their identity. It is a myth that dislocation causes loss of identity. Historical evidence goes to prove that all dislocated communities are more conscious of their identity than settled communities. The examples of Jews and Parsees, who retained their identities for centuries in exile, are there to indicate that it is not the geography but the cultural strength and determination of the community that sustains an identity. There is no reason to believe that KPs do not fall in that category.
by Prof. Som Shah
Whenever we talk about important religions of the world we count Hinduism as one of them. This is essentially based on the number of people professing this religion. However, what we miss in this classification is that almost all other religions are what may be called as revealed religions. A revealed religion is one where a prophet makes a revelation and is the originator and author of a code or philosophy which becomes a holy scripture that needs be followed by its adherents in its entirety. Hinduism is not a revealed religion. While there are several acknowledged revelations in Hinduism, notably those of the various incarnations (avatars), and including the sayings of saints, sages and holy men and many more in the process of formulation even now, there is no revelation that is sacrosanct and absolute. All these constitute a process of introspection like a flowing river fed by several streams, none of which can claim to be the whole river. It is necessary to appreciate this difference between Hinduism and other revealed religions in order to understand the historical, political and social interactions of Hinduism in modern world of science and technology. In fact in the strict sense in which a religion is viewed all over the globe, Hinduism cannot be classed as one. It is more of a philosophy wherein all views, methods, processes and thoughts are analyzed and adopted according to their merit and value towards the goal of human emancipation.
There is a common belief that Hinduism is a soft “religion”, without hard and fast dogmas and dos and don’ts, and therefore easily amenable to proselytization. This belief has historical roots since Hinduism has been at the receiving end of aggressive proselytization from revealed religions of Middle East for more than a millennium. Since Hinduism is not a revealed religion (in fact it cannot be even classed as a religion as it is more of a philosophical approach to spirituality, as logic is to science), proselytization is totally an alien concept for it, especially through use of force, administrative discrimination and political pressure. Hinduism allows free scope for thought and introspection and any dissent is acceptable within the framework of logical discussion and debate. Debates and discussions are a basic tenet of Hinduism in Guru-Shishya Parampara as Shastra-arth. Dissents and cross currents have been a common phenomenon in Hinduism, long before the impact of Middle Eastern revealed religions. In fact Buddhism and Jainism, not to speak of Charvakism and a host of other dissenting beliefs have been a part of Hindu ethos and the dissent was at no stage through use of force or through the concept that the last word had been said. There have been conversions and re-conversions throughout the long history of the evolution of Hinduism before the advent of Middle Eastern religions, but the Middle Eastern assault was entirely of a different nature.
A basic difference exists between all oriental religions, especially those that have emerged from India, and the Middle Eastern religions. There is a long history and tradition of violence and wars among the religions that have originated from Middle East. In fact this war is going on even now although in a different garb. As against that there has never been any violence in the eastern religions among themselves. Buddhism launched a massive propagation drive not only in India but throughout Asia but it was all in a peaceful manner through persuasion and discussion. At no stage in conversions and re-conversions was any violent tension generated or a drive to use force. While rulers did patronize the religions they professed, at no stage was there any violence or even discrimination against those who held different beliefs. In many parts of India, including Kashmir, the conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism and re-conversion was a perpetual phenomenon and this was accomplished without any shade of violence or recrimination.
The interaction between Middle Eastern religions and indigenous Indian religions that constitute what is the Hindu ethos was really a clash of civilizations. This term is frequently used nowadays by the politicians of the western countries, notably USA, following Huntington’s dogma, to designate their war with the fundamentalist Islam. In that context it is a misnomer. The western Christian world and Islam both have a Middle Eastern origin and constitute al kitab group of religions with same roots and a common book of genesis and line of prophets. This is true also of Judaism. If the three are in conflict nowadays, it is the hangover of centuries of war that has been their tradition throughout history. As against that with Hinduism these religions have a basic difference of approach. Hinduism is pacifist, rationalizing all different beliefs as a process of evolution of thought, and encompassing all shades of opinion, some of them often mutually contradictory. There is no scope for fundamentalism in such a philosophy. Hinduism regards all religious beliefs only as relative truths aimed at unraveling the absolute truth that can be an ultimate goal of spirituality. The quest for that is perpetual and almost never ending. Even the concept of avatars denotes a relative requirement of a particular time, place and stage of evolution. That is how a succeedingavatar supersedes the earlier one in thought and belief. As against that for the al kitab religions the kitab is the last word and there is no scope for any change or modification with passage of time.
The impact of al kitab religions in India was the incorporation of a totally alien concept to Hinduism. The sheer aggressiveness of these religions notably that of Islam, coupled with violence and political control, totally confused the pacifist Hindu ethos. For a period of time it lost its bearings and even confidence in its approach. It also tried to emulate the fundamentalist approach of these al kitab religions, albeit clumsily, in order to counter the impact. In the process it partially lost its all encompassing capacity to absorb diverse and contradictory beliefs, though it did make some half-hearted attempts in that direction through the Sufi movement.
Hindus in general are apprehensive about the proselytization designs of these aggressive religions. These designs have been successful not through any inherent weakness in Hindu ethos but because of an Indian social order which had degenerated into a malicious and discriminatory caste configuration. Obviously, these deprived and discriminated castes became easy targets for proselytization by an aggressive religion promising equal opportunities for all irrespective of caste, creed or color.
While the Hindus are wary about the proselytization, the other religions are equally apprehensive about the innate capacity of Hinduism to absorb diverse beliefs in its fold. It has been a battle of wits on either side. Simultaneously both are making half-hearted attempts to emulate each other in their methods without any apparent success. The Hindu attempt at fundamentalism, which is totally foreign to its philosophy, was ludicrous and achieved almost nothing except a bad name for it. The attempt at absorbing Hinduism by using its own method of rationalization by an Islamic organization, Dindar Anjuman, drew a blank, although it was meticulously planned. The literature circulated among elite and educated Hindus quoted profusely from Bhagwat Gita and Upanishads to illustrate that these scriptures forecast that a tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Kalki would appear and He would be the last and final avatar. The Prophet was projected as that final avatar. Well organized and well attended meetings in many South Indian towns commenced with the recitations from Gita, notably the verses7 and 8 from fourth chapter “Yada Yadhahi Dharmase…………” and were followed by eloquent discourses. However, the bubble burst when through a mere chance it was discovered that this was actually a terrorist organization and had accumulated huge quantities of arms and ammunition and was eventually banned and its superstructure decimated. An attempt is still continuing in a subdued manner through a TV channel, though bulk of Muslims themselves do not subscribe to this approach.
As mentioned above, most Indians believe that Hinduism is vulnerable because of its innate contradictions and mild and pacifist profile. This belief has resulted in generating insecurity, bordering on paranoia. However, nothing can be farther from truth than this belief. Hinduism is a resilient philosophy which is not resistant to criticism, modification, revision and questioning. It does not adopt any creed or concept as final and unequivocal. Annie Besant rightly pointed out that Hinduism commits suicide when it adopts a creed. As such its philosophy is in no way different from that of scientific ethos which is entirely based on perpetual questioning and a never ending investigation. It is surprising that similarity between the philosophy of science and that of Hinduism has escaped the attention of most of our scholars and religious leaders. In this context it is necessary to compare the evolution of scientific thought in the western world with that in India.
When scientific thought and investigation proliferated in Europe following Renaissance Movement it immediately fell foul with the Church. Science was considered as heresy and blasphemous. There are stories galore of the battle between Church and scientists since all scientific research negated the entire book of genesis. The battle is still on, though Church has almost lost it. One cult of the Church called Seventh Day Adventists is trying to rationalize the situation by attempting to show that Bible has a scientific approach. But the success in this direction is limited since it is an attempt to prove the improvable through sheer verbiage.
As against this, the advent of scientific thought in India, though somewhat belated due to political reasons, was smooth and rapid without even making a ripple. The Indians took to science as a fish takes to water. The rapid stride that this country is making in spite of a late start is astounding. Same is true of other Asian giants like China, Japan and Korea. All this is possible because there is no tension between scientific thought and religious ethos.
The present day turmoil in Middle East and the terrorism that it has exported in the process is a result of identity crisis. There has been a total change in the life style through technological inputs, thanks to the oil boom, but the outmoded religious mores are not able to rationalize this change. There is a basic contradiction between last word philosophy of religion and the investigative and questioning logic of science. The schism generated in the process breeds insecurity and confusion, resulting into a mental conflict that takes some grotesque directions, including an atavistic fundamentalism.
Hinduism has no reason to be afraid of proselytization attempts of other religions. Nor does it need to emulate those methods that are totally alien to its ethos. Hinduism has consanguinity with scientific ethos and two can evolve simultaneously in a symbiotic relationship. It is the revealed religions who need to worry about their future and to devise means to rationalize the impact of scientific thought on religious beliefs.
by Prof. Som Shah
HINDUISM AND OTHER RELIGIONS
“Indeed, one characteristic that all Hindus claim for Hinduism is an all-embracing tolerance, its ability to encompass every path, finding a niche for each in the vast scheme of things. From the point of view of certain minority religions, this is precisely the difficulty. Any religion that does not want to be encompassed, embraced and indeed absorbed and perhaps ultimately transformed by Hinduism finds Hindu tolerance somewhat too demanding since it is conditioned upon a basic acceptance of a Hindu view of life and Hinduism’s peculiar genius for absorption.”
The above quotation from the famous British author sums up the discomfort felt by some religions that have come in contact with Hinduism. For an average Hindu it is difficult to understand why, in spite of an extreme degree of tolerance that he professes towards all religions, his religion is demonized and serious attempts are afoot towards proselytization. It is the innate strength of Hinduism that frightens all other religious sects who fail to comprehend a totally different approach to faith and belief that Hinduism portrays. Most Hindus do not realize how paranoid other religious sects are about Hinduism whether in India or abroad.
In order to understand this capacity of Hinduism to encompass all paths and practices and thereby to envelope all beliefs in its fold, one has to go back to the evolution of Hindu ethos through social and political turmoil and its survival potential. Hinduism is the only faith (it would be difficult to call it a religion since it does not fit in that definition, as discussed earlier) that has survived through several millennia and is still going strong. In spite of all contradictory social practices, a highly retrograde and demeaning caste system and an endless rigmarole of rituals, it has managed to survive through centuries of repression and political persecution, and risen like a sphinx from the ashes at every stage when it appeared to have been totally decimated. More than two millennia ago it survived one of the greatest onslaughts from a highly progressive and socialistic religious movement, Buddhism. In the process it learnt many lessons from that great philosophy and imbibed it within its fold. In order to put a seal of acknowledgement to that effect it recognized Buddha as one of the ten incarnations (avatars) of Vishnu. Time and again new codes and practices brought in by great seers were incorporated within the framework of this thought process. In this manner Hinduism was transformed and revived from time to time. Some of these seers were even acknowledged as avatars according to one school of thought which recognizes twenty one avatars instead of ten.
Henry Kissinger, who could hardly be described as fraternally inclined towards India and Hinduism, had to admit, albeit grudgingly, the tremendous survival potential of Hindu culture. In an article in Herald Tribune (March 2006) he remarked: “The defining aspect of Indian culture has been the awesome feat of maintaining Indian identity through centuries of foreign rule without, until very recently, the benefit of a unified, specifically Indian, state. Huns, Mongols, Greeks, Persians, Afghans, Portuguese and, in the end, Britons, conquered Indian territories, established empires, and then vanished, leaving behind multitudes clinging to the impermeable Hindu culture.”
Probably the greatest challenge that Hinduism faced during its history was not from any indigenous religion but a Middle Eastern religion, Islam. Islam spread like wildfire during the first five centuries sweeping through all regions east, west, north and south of Arabian Peninsula, decimating all existing religious beliefs in those areas. However, its advance was checked and eventually stopped by three cultural bulwarks namely Christianity in Europe, Taoism in China and Hinduism in India. In certain areas it did bypass these regions to spread its sway as in case of Indonesia , Malaysia andPhilippines .
The phenomenal success of Islam lay in two factors. Its appeal as a religion was because it was primarily a revolutionary socialistic movement against the repression of elitist forces in the name of superstitious religious beliefs and ensured equality to all before God. The second reason of its success was that it was a politico-religious movement that combined politics, social life, administration, authority and religion in one fold. It was the latter reason that justified coercion and use of force to spread the religion. The directive principle in Islam was to aim at the administrative control of a geographical region and to achieve the same through any means in order to transform a region from Darul-Harab to Darul-Islam, that is from an area where Muslims are ruled by others to where Muslims are the rulers.
The relatively partial success of Islam in India can be ascribed to many factors. Probably one of the major factors was that India at that point of time was in a bad shape because of the turmoil in the country and political fragmentation that had taken place following the imperial eras of Mauryas, Guptas and Harshvardhan. Hinduism was also at its lowest ebb and had stagnated and degenerated into a repressive religion where the elite castes notably Brahmins had monopolized the ritualistic religious practices without even a trace of spirituality or capacity for theological leadership or erudition. The resultant revolt within the Hindu masses notably the lower castes, which were on the receiving end of caste hierarchy, found a channel of escape and were easy targets for proselytization by a new faith promising equality for all. The political success of Islamic rulers through internal dissension did the rest, since the rulers enforced the concept of zimmi taxation on all non-Muslims, in addition to other methods of persecution and forcible conversion.
Islam came to India at a time when the innate capacity of Hinduism to imbibe and encompass other religious beliefs had considerably waned through lack of spiritual leadership with a revivalist potential. The religious leadership was in the hands of semi-literate reactionary ritualistic Brahmins, ignorant of Hindu ideals and concepts as expounded in Vedanta and Upanishads. Their plight was aptly described by Lal Ded, the great mystic poetess and visionary ofKashmir and contemporary of those times, in the following couplet: Acharya chhiya ha maali pothyan paraan, yitha pathya tota paraan Raam panjar; Gita paraan ta hitha labaan, param Gita paraan chhus. (The so called religious scholars recite from scriptures the way a parrot recites the name of Ram; This way they claim the authority and scholarship of texts like Gita). The response of such a leadership to a revolutionary and aggressive religious movement like Islam could hardly be expected to be of the type that had been the hallmark of Hinduism through history.
In spite of all these infirmities, the intrinsic strength of Hinduism did eventually prevail in checking the forceful Islamic tide and restricting it to certain pockets and niches only. There was also an attempt, though only half-hearted, to encompass it through Sufism, a movement that was positively a result of the interaction of Islam with Hindu ethos and not something intrinsic to Islam as is claimed by some scholars. The converts to Islam from Hindu fold by and large without any conviction or faith in the new belief, retained and perpetuated the Hindu practices like worship of saints, sages, kalanders, pirs and observing their urs (death anniversary) and burning incense at their shrines. These practices are totally un-Islamic but they are so deeply entrenched in the psyche of Indian Muslims and even Muslims in Pakistan, that no tirade by fundamentalists in recent years has been able to dislodge them. This way the Islam of the Indian subcontinent is totally different from that of other regions, notably Middle East .
One of the major factors that was helpful in making Islam a formidable force for well over a millennium was its exclusive philosophy. One was either a Muslim or a kafir, who had to be converted into a “believer” by whichever means possible. There could be no compromise in this dogma. In the event akafir refused to get converted he became a zimmi or a second class citizen, no better than a slave, in a Muslim ruled region. While this exclusivity has been the strength of Islam, it is now proving to be its greatest weakness. In a rapidly changing scenario where science and technology has transformed the world into a global village, this exclusivity is like an albatross hanging around Islam’s neck. That accounts for the identity crisis from which it is suffering at present.
While Hinduism did encompass most religions in its fold and transformed others, including Islam, it has not been able to come to terms with Islam due to fundamentalist revival that has changed the face of the latter in recent years. There is turmoil within Islamic thinkers ranging between extreme fundamentalism and progressive revivalism. Because of the aggressiveness of the former the latter movement has not been able to make its presence felt. One has however to admit that this turmoil in Islamic ranks has also affected Hindu psyche to a considerable extent. Otherwise it was unthinkable that there could be a Hindu fundamentalist movement, since fundamentalism and fanaticism is totally irrelevant in Hindu ethos. As there are no fundamental doctrines in Hinduism, except for a faith in the unity of cosmos and the continuous and persistent emancipation of man through various levels of consciousness, fundamentalism is only a reaction to that of Islam. It is time that Hinduism realizes this and takes a proactive stance as has been its age old philosophy in line with scientific ethos and avoids a reactive role that will impede its progress in exploring higher realms of spirituality.
by Prof. Som Shah
COMPLEMENTARY NATURE OF SCIENCE AND HINDUISM
Many decades ago when I started teaching science, a student who was not particularly among the brighter lot, asked me a simple question that threw me off balance. I was teaching the application of principles of gravitation in heavenly bodies which failed to register with the student. He just asked me as to why one heavenly body attracts the other. Since then I have taught lot more science and during my career in research even answered several questions. But all these questions are about how things happen. I have yet to find an answer to “why”. It did not take me much time to realize that while science has answers or can find out answers for “how”, it has no answer for “why”.
Scientific investigation is primarily dependent on input through human senses. All human senses have limitations. Our eyes can see only up to a certain distance and up to a certain size. Our ears have a maximum frequency range from 50 of 20,000 per second while a whole range of sub-sonic and super-sonic sounds is denied to us (and mercifully so or this world would have been a cacophony of sounds). Our sense of smell is the weakest. Touch and taste have also their limitations. Through technology, however, the scientists have managed to expand their sensory perception. Initially it was through mechanical gadgetry like microscopes and telescopes. Lately it has been through electronics and its sophisticated ramifications. Now scientists are able to perceive and use several kinds of waves and rays through technological innovations that are multiplying at phenomenal rate. But the basic principle is that these waves have to be converted either into a visual or an audio format or both so that their input can be received within the limits of human sensory perception. The entire technological gadgetry and instrumentation is geared towards that end. A mobile phone may receive signals through any kind of radio waves of whatever frequency, but unless that signal is converted into sounds that can be audible to the human ear, it cannot be perceived. So whatever technology we use, the inputs we receive are only through the limited range of our senses.
Scientific research is based on logic. Logic itself has to depend on inputs. These inputs can be observational or they may be derivative. Inductive reasoning is usually based on observational data while deductive reasoning is based on a statistical sample survey. The analysis leads to a theory that needs to be tested under different parameters and eventually it may evolve into a law. However, this exercise is not possible unless the scientist knows what he is looking for. Accordingly he has to start with a model or several models. A model is a dream where imagination is allowed a wide field to speculate on the possibilities and then to narrow them down to probabilities. The inductive and deductive reasoning follows only after this exercise.
Hindu philosophical thought does not negate the logical analysis as is portrayed by some ill-informed religious die-hards who try to separate Hindu way of life from the scientific thought process. In fact most Hindu scholars,rishis as they are called, have used tark which is the Sanskrit equivalent of logic for all their deductions. Had it not been so, the hard core Hindu rishislike Arya Bhatta, Bhaskaracharya, Vatsayan and a host of others could not have come up with astronomical, mathematical and behavioral scientific treatises based on observation, modeling and analysis. But the Hindu philosophy adds another dimension to the scientific method of observation that is not through sensory inputs, which needs some elaboration.
It is now widely admitted that there is lot more to human mind than what appears at the conscious level. Psychologists have shown that the conscious part of the mind is only the tip of an iceberg while the subconscious bears lot more not only by way of memory but also an analytical capacity. The miracles of hypnosis, clairvoyance and telepathy have been experimentally demonstrated. There are many inexplicable aspects of the subconscious mind and its capacity that psychologists are attempting to unravel through psychoanalysis and other techniques. The apparent disorganized pattern within the subconscious mind is probably because it does not follow the logical pattern of science. The understanding of subconscious has opened a whole new area of investigation that is both challenging and intriguing. What baffles the mind is that most of the inputs that go into the sub-conscious and the reactions there from are not through sensory perception. The mechanism of these inputs is not well understood and it is euphemistically referred to as sixth sense.
Scientific thought has only recently veered to the idea of the possibility of inputs other than those through sensory perception. In the early days of scientific advancement following Renaissance, there was arrogance in science because of its rapid and miraculous successes. But as the vastness of the universe and unlimited possibilities dawned on the scientists, they sobered down and are ready to test all models, however, bizarre they might appear. The Hindu sages and saints have always maintained that human mind is lot more than what appears at the conscious level and training the subconscious to unravel its potential and thereby evolve into a higher plane of consciousness or chetna should be the goal of every human being. This is the basic philosophy of Patanjali’s Yoga that has caught the imagination of the entire world in recent years.
Chetna has no equivalent synonym in English language. It is the consciousness within that governs and regulates all physical, metabolical and mental processes and is the only permanent feature of a human being throughout his life time. While all old body cells keep on dying and new cells keep on replacing them and the physical body continuously changes through the life span, the chetna is persistently in control of the body functions and mind and keeps on evolving and not degenerating as in the case of the physical body. The philosophy behind Yoga is that it should be possible to accelerate the positive process of evolution of chetna towards a higher consciousness where the sensory perception would be only a minor factor and inputs from the universal chetna or paramchetna of the cosmos would be directly received and the human being can be in consonance with the universe as an indivisible part of the cosmos and not as an individual and distinct from the rest.
Hinduism has the emancipation of chetna as its ultimate goal. For this purpose Hinduism prescribes to look for the answers from within and not without. Lal Ded has aptly stated the process in simplest terms and claimed success. Guran won nam kunui watchun, nebra dopnam andar atchun, sui me Lalli gav wakh tai watchun, tanai hetum na hangay natchun. (Guru gave me this one advice; he asked me to go from without to within; that became my watchword and since then I am dancing and celebrating in elation.) With this ultimate goal and model in mind, Hinduism prescribes several approaches, each one meant specifically for a different set of people according to their aptitude and preference. These approaches are elaborated at length in various Upanishads and are available in a summarized and simple version in Bhagwat Gita. It is true that in the course of time due to the degeneration of Hindu psyche in medieval times the basic philosophy took a back seat and ritualism related to the approach took over. As a result the spirit of Hinduism got lost in the process and only the letter remained that gave rise to several grotesque practices, but about that we would discuss in the following chapters.
While science is aiming to find answers for all intricacies of universe and is discovering the exciting and miraculous processes in nature, all its answers are related to the question “how”. It is Hinduism which is adding a new dimension to this inquiry and attempting to find an answer to “why”. In this attempt, unlike other religions, it is not laying down any bounds to the thought processes and speculations and allowing an open field for introspection. That is how science and Hinduism are intimately related and have a symbiotic relationship.
Powered by Company Name Company Name