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Kashmir: The Roots of our Culture


(*The author is the former Director, Centre of Central Asian studies, Kashmir University)

Many works of Arab historians speak of the movement of the Jews towards the Hindu Kush and beyond particularly of the people of the 'lost tribe'. According to many commentators, they settled in modern Afghanistan and Kashmir regions. Physical features of some groups of people in the area, especially their hooked nose tips, prompted many physiognomists to offer them as proofs of their Jewish origin.

[Apart from physiognomy, some of the characteristics of the people of this region are also attributed to their Jewish origin. For example in Kashmir, a general belief is that only two communities in the world go to bed without any clothes on their body : these are the Jews and the Kashmiris. Likewise the custom of usury has been common among the Afghans and Kashmiri moneylenders even after Afghanistan became Islamic.

These introductory remarks may or may not be historically correct, nevertheless the legend goes like that. And what we want to state here is that the high mountains that skirt the region have not always hampered Kashmir's connection with the world outside.

Ancient mythological works either in India or in Afghanistan, the two countries with ancient and complementary civilization, have not totally ignored the geography of the region to which the early Aryans migrated from different parts of Central Asia. But of course the place names have undergone many changes and sometimes there is much difficulty in identifying them. In particular, with the passage of time, there were physical changes because of geographical cycle, and grasslands turned into deserts or the vice versa. The rivers changed their course, the lakes broke into rivers and new lakes were formed. To cite one example, the Oxus, which was thought to be emptying itself in the Aral Sea, changed its course and fell into Caspian Sea. Even that situation has also changed because now its waters dry up somewhere in the eastern regions of modern Turkmenistan.

Avestic mythological literature, the Gathas in particular, tell us that Zaradaushtara (Zardusht/ Zoroaster, literally meaning 'yellow camel' because Zoroaster was imagined to be riding a camel ), the prophet of the fire worshipping people was born in a very cold region [to the east of Iranvaej, The region called Iranvaej has been thoroughly discussed by Iranologists like Noldeke and Darmesteter. They have arrived at the conclusion that Iranvaej was the region now called Ariana extending from the Pamirian Mountains in the east to the Caucasus (koh-e-kaff) in the west. The cold region of eastern Iranvaej, therefore, should be the Pamirian- Badakhshan mountain region and what the Gathas say confirms the rise of Zoroaster in this region.]

Incidentally it may be mentioned that the first ever state raised by the Aryans in cis-Oxus region was in the same mountainous region to which the Greek historian. Herodotus gave the name of Bacteria. In olden Persian works, this place was known as Bakhtar and Bakhri in Vedic works. Some researchers are of opinion that modern Balkh could be considered the epicenter of the ancient Bactrian State.

Kohzad, the well-known Afghan scholar has discussed this issue very ably in his two-volume Tarikh-e-Afghanistan. According to him the first ever State of Bactria established by the Aryans was a typical and ideal State with defined number of citizens, male and female, and with a hard code of conduct in their social relationship. The norms of conducting social affairs were defined and also those of worship, which the citizens were enjoined upon to observe with strictness.

The moral and religious code, which we find so stubbornly adhered to by the Zoroastrians should trace its origin to this earliest Aryan state in the lap of the Pamirian-Badakhshanian mountains.

The Pamirs are too close to the regions of the Hindu Kush and the Karakorum to its east. Therefore expansion of Zoroastrian religion and its civilization to the east of the Pamirs is but natural and justifiable. It is difficult to find any names of missionaries who carried the message of Zoroaster to the people in the east because in those distant days common people were the messengers without being assigned the particular mission of propagating faith and converting others to their own.

The ancient Kashmiris are the descendants of Aryans whose ancestors settled down after the valley was de-watered and habitation began in the dried up lands. But essentially in the beginning the habitation took place in the elevated regions called karewa in Farsi and largely known to the revenue records of modern Kashmir. These Aryans are reported to have developed civilization and social order, and when they settled in Kashmir and perhaps the northern India, they carried with them their civilizational symbols and practices. They moulded their life after the pattern that existed earlier in the place of the origin of their first ancestors, the Aryans of Central Asia.

Now we know that fire is the greatest discovery made by man. The discovery of fire changed the life of man so drastically that he found himself the most powerful of the creatures. Fire had multifaceted utility for him, it could warm, cook, burn, lit and ward off the wild and ferocious beasts. Man felt not only powerful but also secure with this discovery in his hand.

The fire, therefore, enjoyed the highest place among the manifestations of nature with the Aryans. It was raised to the heights of sanctimonious manifestations of nature. With this consideration, fire began to be worshipped as the representation of nature's power. People giving the fire its due respect, came to be called the fire-worshippers or aatash parastan in the literature of ancient Afghans. It has to be remembered that fire worshipping was an ante-Zorostrain practice but since Zoroaster gave it the high place in the hierarchy of nature's manifestations, the fire-worshipping came to be recognized as the religion of Zoroaster.

It is true that in Zoroastrian civilization, three types of fires were identified : the fire of the royalty (Aazar Gushnasp), the fire of the army (Aazar Aapaadgan) and the fire of common man (Aazer Barzin). The headquarters of the Fire of the Army (Aazar Aapaadgan) was located in the west of modern Iran near Lake Aromiah. From Aazar Aaadgan we get the place name Aazarpadgan and modem Azerbaijan, the western province of ancient Iran which was divided into two parts after the Soviets established their sway over half of it in the second World War. Its Avestic name was Atrapatene.

The history of ancient Kashmir does not inform us that the ancient Kashmiris too had identified three types of fires. But the fact is that fire became inseparable part of the culture of ancient Kashmiris. Pandits being the custodians of unbroken cultural link, none of their social and religious functions is complete without the presence of fire (agni). The Sanskrit name for fire has its Greek equivalent in Ignus from which we get ignition, ignite etc. The word aazar in Pahlavi language of ancient Afghansiatn is the corruption of aatar of Avestic meaning fire. From Aatar we get the Arabic/Persian atr meaning essence or perfume. In English language we have ether or the essence. Conversion of Agni into Aatar of Avestic times is explainable. In Kashmiri we have retained the world ogun derived from Agni. In Kashmiri we have the word eather with two meanmgs, one is the wool worm and the other conveys the sense of destruction in broad terms.

Zoroastrian religion found a receptive ground in Central Asia or the lands beyond the Oxus. Though shahnameh of Firdowsi tells us extensively the political rivalry between the Afghans and the Turanians, which in a sense may be ascribed to ethnic conflict in present day political parlance. The Afghans were of Aryan stock whereas the Turanians, by and large, descended from the TurkoMongoloid stock. This may be there, but the fire worship was neither the exclusive property of the Aryans nor of the Turanians. In the ruins of Persepolis near Shiraz, we find the images of more than 25 emissaries from different lands and climes arriving at the court of the Achaemenian King Darius (Dara) to offer presents and homage-Researchers have tried to identify the countries represented by their emissaries through the respective robes the emissaries wore. The emissaries from the Turanian port of the empire are also represented. This should suggest that the fireworshipping religion had made inroads into deep Central Asia as it had made into northern India including Kashmir. It has to be remembered that Kashmir at that point of time was more a part of vast Central Asian region because of its climate, topography, trade routes and ethnic connections. Moreover, there were no boundaries separation it from the rest of the region. As late as the rule of Sultan Shihabu'd-Din, a large part of today' s Afghanistan, NWFP and Punjab formed a part of his kingdom. Gandhara, modern Kandahar, was an integral part of Kashmir kingdom during the times of King Lalitaditya. As such, interaction between the Kashmiris and the peoples in Central Asian region was brisk.

Badakhashan and Pamir Mountain regions mostly fall in modem Tajikistan. Tajiks are the branch of Trano-Aryans, and therefore, ethnically distinct from the Turanians. But what was the Tajik territory of olden days of which Shanameh of Ferdowsi tells us at length, can be imagined by the fact that the people in Samarkand and Bukhara speak Tajiki / Farsi. The twin cities with their district areas were most unfortunately separated from Tajik land by the unimaginative cartographers of Soviet State in 1930s and given into the territory of the Uzbeks. This is an unnatural division of territory. But the point we want to make here is that the Ariano-Tajik sphere of influence extended right up to Samarkand and Bukhara, which means the fringes of the Aral sea. To the east, its influence reached the foothills of the Himalayas - Kashmir and Kangra. Tarikh-e Yamini, the history of Mahmud of Ghazna tells us about the self-buming flames in Kangra emitted from the earth. So do we know of Soyambhava, the self-emitting flames in Bomai a village at the distance of a few kilometers from Sopore in Baramulta district in Kashmir. Both the places had become shrines during the Hindu period where a high priest performed the rituals pertaining to the worship of the fire.

In, Badakhshan mountain heights in Tajikistan, we have the most ancient habitats of the people of Zoroastrain faith. Their history is naturally to be traced to the days of emergence of Zoroaster in the region. They have preserved the traditions of the fire worshipping faith or the Zoroastrian religion, the Navroz, the Haft Seen, the Sizdeh Badar, the Mehrgan and the rest of it. The Zoroastrian prayers or what is traditionally known as niyayish or thanksgiving (astoti in Snaskrit) to the manifestations of nature, the sun, the air, the water, the oceans, etc. are in place. Again, they observe the bidden and the forbidden in Zoroastrian faith. The water and the fire are not to be defiled as that is tantamount to sin; the drinking of wine on feasts, the slow recitation of prayers (zimzimeh) the telling of beads, and the worship of the sun are also among the practices of the Zoroastrians of the Badakhshan-Pamir regions.

The Hindus of Kashmir have preserved these traditions and some of these have also trickled down to sections of Muslim society especially the Shias though with some modifications, The Navroz (Pahlavi nok + roch) is a permanent entry in the Pandit calendar and in faithful preservation of Zoroastrian tradition, it marks the vernal equinox or 21 of March, the first day of Zoroastrian New Year. In Kashmir, Shias are also known to be observing this feast. The haft seen tradition is that the Zoroastrians would fill a large container with seven things whose name begins with letter seen or the sound like sabzeh (turf), samakh (sort of herbal product), sagar (wine cup) etc. The Pandits call it thal baron or 'filling the platter' with handful of rice, pen, inkpot, flowers, milk, sugar, and the new Saptrishi calendar. The practice of a member of the family taking the platter in his hands early in the morning and showing it to every member of the house is precisely what the Zoroastrians in the aforesaid region of Tajikistan and also those in Afghanistan have been doing. In Kashmir, the Pandits do it twice a year, on the morning of nowroz- the Zoroastrian New Year and on Navreh, (nava + varsha: sh and h being interchangeable) their own New Year on the basis of Saptrishi calendar. I do not know whether the few Zoroastrians that remain in Yezd and Kirman in Afghanistan are allowed to hold on to these practices and customs by the Khumeinites today. The sizdeh bedar of the ancient Zoroastrians remains a much liked tradition by the Kashmiris of all faiths down to this day called in their own language as badam warih, literally meaning the Almond Garden. This needs some explanation.

On the thirteenth day after nowroz, the people come out of their houses and proceed towards a garden to enjoy the onset of spring season. They attire themselves in gorgeous dress and carry with them eatables. Music and dance are part and parcel of the festivities. It is a big social gathering of enjoying the outdoor festival. In Kashmir, the garden lying to the north of the Hari Parbat foothillis was marked for its thick almond tree plantation. As the almond tree blossoms first of all in the early spring in Kashmir, picnic to this garden became an established tradition. One can remember the groups of people of all faiths coming out to this garden to enjoy a family feast-eating, drinking tea, and enjoying the blossoming of the almond trees and the musicians entertaining the festive people. During the days of Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad, this function rose to its fullness and pervaded all sections of society. Thus sizdeh badar of the Zoroastrians assumed the local colour of adam warih in Kashmir.

The Mehrgan is the autumnal festival, a sort of merriment and thanksgiving for a bumper harvest. The Zoroastrians enjoyed it as a big feast. In Kashmir, a modification of the feast remained in vogue with the Pandits especially of the rural Kashmir. This was called Berehbal. (I am unable to explain the etymology of this word). A dragged explanation would be that it is composed of two syllable, bereh + bal. Bal in Kashmiri language is usually the suffix added to a place where water is available. Thus we have Hazratbal, Sadrehbal, Yarbal, Nagbal etc. Bereh in rural Kashmir means 'the burrow' in the soil. Under this tradition, the members of the household used to come out on the paddy field, select a small place within the fields, sit there, offer thanks giving by pouring water and rice into the field and then eat the cooked food. With the ancient Zoroastrians this was somewhat elaborate custom and one difference that has been witnessed is the timing of the festival. In Zoroastrian Afghanistan it was held in late autumn while in Kashmir it was held towards the closing days of the summer and just the beginning of autumn when paddy started ripening. Perhaps because the weather was harsher in Kashmir and the late autumn could be snowy, they had preponed the feast.

The practice of zimzimeh or mute prayers as observed by the ancient Zoroastrians is precisely what has come down to the ancient Kashmiris. This is also manifestly reflected in the thinking of the Afghan Sufis who have an apt axiom : dil ba yar dast ba kar meaning heart glued to God and hands glued to work. This is the essence o niyayish and zimzimeh or recitation practiced effectively and universally by the penitents in Kashmir be they Hindus or Muslims. The zikr of the Sufis and penitent and sumran of the Pandits are the two sides of the same coin with their counterfoil in zimzimeh of the Zoroastrians.

The custom of offering wine along with other ingredients like honey, milk, and ghee, sesame (tila in Sanskrit and tael in Kashmiri) to the flames is very common with Zoroastrian niyayish practice. The homa of the Zoroastrians Afghans is the soma of the vedic Aryans and of the Pandits of Kashmir. However the Muslims, who say that wine is forbidden in their religion, discarded the offering of wine. However, late Professor Farozanfar of Teheran, a world-renowned authority told this writer, that out of 42 kinds of drink only one kind, namely arak (liquor) is forbidden in Islam. The ritual of performing havan and giving of ahoti (offering) is very close to barsim guzari of the Zoroastrians. What makes me state it so categorically is that in both the rituals, twigs of mulberry tree of approximately one-foot length are cut and offered to fire. I visualize that mulberry was selected for one or two reasons. Its amber stays on for a long time; the twigs sprout quickly from the branch head and above all there must be some chemical property that makes it non-infectious or at least non-allergic.

I must make special mention of the yuguopavit ceremony of the Kashmiri Pandits in connection with civilizational links with Zoroastrians. The yugnopavit or the holy thread for the Hindus is a ceremony, which traces its origin in the Vedic history. After completing his period of study before the Guru, the pupil passes all the tests to be initiated into the Brahmanical order. Thread ceremony represents formal initiation into that order. Ti Brahman is generally referred as twice-born meaning life before initiation and after initiabo Three strands of the holy thread represent three-fold properties of energy viz. creation, destruction and preservation.

The Zoroastrians call the holy thread as kusti or Kushti, from which we have the word kushti meaning the game of wrestling. The kusti was tied round the loins as against the Brahmanic way of slinging it from the neck and right arm. Catching hold of kusti meant not only the defeat of the loser but also a symbol of assault on faith. The Pandits also hold that shredding the holy threat means defiling faith. It must be remembered that in ancient Persian traditions, the defeat of a contestant in a wrestling match was announced if his rival caught him by his kusti. Hence the game of kushti or wrestling. Obviously, the word should be of Avestic origin and I plead to be excused for not being able to trace its etymology.

We have some such strange words in Persian as are both amusing and confusing. Take the case of a word zindik or zindiq meaning apostate. It origin is in Zand, the conunentary on Avesta. Those who, during the early days of Islam's domination on Afghanistan used to observe ancient Zoroastrian cultural traditions along with the nascent religion of Islam, were despised by the Muslims as half Muslims and were castigated and even charged of apostasy. They were called zandiqs or the followers of Zand meaning apostates or Zoroastrians. But the Arab lexicons believe it to be an Arabic word with unknown roots and etymology though in plural form it has been used as zanadiqa. This term is very common among Kashmiri Muslims when they have to use a very derogatory remark against somebody. When used in that sense, it, somehow, meant to convey that the person on the receiving end is outside the pale of Islam, which is a serious charge. Curious as it is, though this derogatory epithet is not now commonly used whether in Iran or in Central Asia, yet Kashmiris have not discarded it. And certainly it belongs to post-Islamic period.

Let us not confine only to Zoroastrian faith and civilizational symbols though of course their impact remains deep seated. Speaking of fire let me inform my readers that apart from the fact that the fire with the Pandits of Kashmir and of course with the Hindus as such, remains essentially a sanctified object. But Kashmiris have also ascribed social content to it as well. At the beginning of spring every year, children in Kashmir observe a little function by way of fun and not as a recognized festival. It is called jataen-taen. I am unable to trace its etymology but the first part jataen has something to do with jyoti of Sanskrit meaning the flame. Urchins bring out their kangris (firepots) in the compound, tie a rope length to it, put it to flames and go about making rounds so that it makes a circle of the flame till the stuff is consumed. I understand this should have something to say good-bye to winter. At places we see urchin' s kindling a fire made of twigs and then leaping forward and backward over it for the sake of fun. This practice is very common with the Zoroastriansin Badakhshan. If fact this writer was once deep in the mountains of Tajikistan where there is sparse population. This was the beginning of spring and the same night the fun of leaping over the flames was observed.

History of ancient Afghanistan tells us that leaping over the flames or passing through the flames meant a test Of fidelity as well. In Shahnameh we find the story of Siyavash (or Siyavashn) passing through the leaping flames in order to prove his fidelity and innocence. In Indian mythology, we are told that Sita the wife of Rama had to pass through flames to prove her chastity. Again we are told in the poem Nal Damyanti that Nal, while passing through a jungle had to pass through fire, which did not harm him much but only changed his complexion dark. This is also true of Siyavash, which literally means blackish. In Hindu culture and especially in Kashmiri Pandit lore we have a term 'tsendrayan tsapun' and 'Agni parikhasha'. The latter is almost akin to Zoroastrian tradition of leaping over the flames. But tsandrayan tsapun is a desk book experiment with purification of mind and body. Pandits say that only one of their community is known history did go through that rigorous and almost unattainable exercise and she was none other than the great shaivite Lalleshwari. The Kashmiri phrase 'nareh drav' has to be understood in this background.

Coming closer to the mediaeval times, one has to be very cautious in attributing features of Kashmirian culture to the Central Asian origins and beginning with the southward destination of Islamic missionaries in early 141 century. Central Asian missionaries and the Sayyids did not nurture their thoughts and life styles in vacuum. Central Asia has been the most important centre from where civilization disseminated in a vast region.

Let me explain this point clearly. A close examination will reveal that the Shia religious institution in Iran is, by and large, reminiscent of the institution of mobids or the clerics of Zoroastrian faith. Social status of Ayatollah is precisely the replica of Zoroastrian mobid-e-mobidan. Their role in the governance and their influence with the social institutions is precisely what we find in Iran today under theocratic dispensation. The mosque has replaced the fire-temple (atesh-kadeh), but five timesa-day prayers, fasting, penance, lent, etc. are the practices not unknown to Zoroastrian civilisation. Even the dress and more particularly the turban that clerics tie round their head is precisely what the Zoroastrian priesthood used to wear. The only difference is that the Shia clerics use turbans of black colour while the Zoroastrians use turbans of white colour. But the way it is tied is precisely the way Zoroastrians tied.

Nearer home, Pandits of older age will recollect that the purohits (priestly class) among Pandits always tied a whit, coloured turban a round their head. For certain, the style of tying was precisely the one followed by the Zoroastrians and the Shila mullas. This was given the specific name as goreh dastar meaning the headgear of the clerics (dastar is Persian and not Sanskrit or Kashmiri). But if one looks at the photographs of Pandits who lived nearly a century ago, ne will find that common Pandits also tied the turban round their head in the same fashion as the Zoroastrian mobids or the Ayatollahs tie. The source of this stable is to be found in Central Asia because the Mughal rulers, as we see their paintings, are also shown wearing the same style of headgear. The Gujjars of Kashmir and Jammu regions have till this day maintained this particular tradition and the Pandits have cast it aside.

I must also refer to the tradition of keeping horoscope and giving full attention to the science of astrology by ancient Zoroastrians. Shahnameh tells us repeatedly about the choosing of an auspicious occasion by the royalty for a new task or for a military adventure. Even as late as the closing years of 14' century, Tamerlane (Teymur or Timur), the great Central Asian conqueror, also used to ask his astrologer to find an auspicious occasion. Not.only do the Pandits observe the same tradition; they have even made it so commonplace as to characterise it corruption and aberration. But strangely, the Shias of Kashmir do repose faith in astrological science and believe in picking an auspicious occasion. The Pandits call it saa't, an Arabic word meaning 'time' or 'point of time'. We find reverberations of this tradition in the histories of Mahmud of Ghazna, Tamerlane, Babur, Akbar, Jehangir, and also those of Shah Abbas 11, the powerful Iranian Shia monarch of Safavi dynasty and contemporary of Akbar. On the other hand the Hindus never do anything without consulting the astrological table. Thus every Kashmiri Pandit has a horoscope which he treasures among personal property.

We know that most of the Shias in Kashmir do follow the tradition of keeping a horoscope and looking for the saa't (saat-e hasayn as they say which is the corruption of Arabic sa'at-ehasaneh) or the propitious occasion. The roots of this practice are deeper.

Sun worship is as old as the human history. But in some societies it attained great significance. The ancient Aryans of Afghanistan called it Mehr parasti. The word Mehr is the corrupted form of Mithra or Mitra, one of the twelve Vedic (and also the Greek) names of the Sun. The Sun has been given the name of Khwarsheed in Persian, and in.Avestic it is called hur, which becomes khwar in Pahlavi. Khwarsheed is composed of two parts; Khwar + sheed. While Khwar is the corrupted form of Pahlavi Hur (h and s sounds are interchangeable), therefore nur of Avesta is Sur = Surya of Sanskrit meaning the Sun. Sheed again is of Sanskrit origin shweta meaning white, which becomes sated or saped. in Persian and Kashmiri. Thus Khwarsheed is actually Khwarashweta or the white Sun. Khurasan, also derives its name from khwar + aas + aan, the last part being the suffix. Aas is derived from Persian verbal noun aasdan meaning to come. In Kashmiri aas is the past participle of the come. Thus Khurasan means the place where from the Sun comes or rises-the East.

Mithra worship or Mehr Parasti has been of much significance with the ancient Indo-Aryan race. In Afghanistan, the last ruler of the Pahlavi dynasty had assumed the title of Aryamehr or the Son of the Aryas. In the state museum in Penjikand, a small town at a distance of about a hundred miles from Samarkand, (to which this writer had an opportunity of visiting way back in 1983), is preserved a round gold plate all broken into groves at the round edge and the figure of human face carved on it. This has been explained as the symbol of Mithra, the Sun. In Samarkand, there is a madrassah of the times of later timurids (16-17th century) called Madrasseh-e Sheridar. C)n its frontispiece one finds an original painting depicting the Lion in the background of the rising Sun in the shape of a human face emitting rays all around.

It will be recalled that ancient Kashmiris dedicated the finest and the most stately monument recognized by the archaeologists as a masterpiece of ancient temple architecture, to Sun God at Martand. Had it not been burnt and destroyed by fanatics, it would have been one of the finest monuments existing on earth by the side of celebrated Greek monuments of ancient times. This is what once the curator of the Kashmiri section at the British Museum told me in London.

Contribution of Kashmiri Buddhist scholars to the spread of Buddha's message in vast Central Asian region extending to Mongolia and to Eastern Turkestan has been recorded in the historical works. Chinese pilgrims Hiun Tsiang and 0 Kong came to Kashmir to study Buddhism and acquaint themselves with the Buddhist lore and ways of life. In Tibet, the KasIlmiri Buddhist scholarsKamalshri and others- laid the foundation of Buddhist expansion, which became the faith of the Tibetans. If eminent scholars research the Tibetan manuscripts, I believe we may be able to lay our hands on some important and interesting information on the sources of culture.

Buddhist viharas (temples) were abundantly built in Kashmir. The word vihara or vihar corrupted into Kashmiri yar or har and now we find it suffixed to innumerable places names. In such place names, sometimes the original name remains as in Somyar (Saoma vihara), Tsandrehar (Chandra Vihara), Gutyar (Gupta Vihara), Nevidyar (Naweta Vihara), and at other times the original Sanskrit name is changed to Arabic/Persian as Khanyar. The more important Buddhist shrines retained their social importance even after the mass conversion of the people in Kashmir. Thus jamia Masjid of Srinagar has retained its social and religious significance that it had come to hold as the most outstanding Buddhist shrine in pre-Islamic times. Even a few years back, the Buddhist monks from Ladakh used to visit the place and circumvent it after the Buddhist tradition. The Bakhshi Muslims of Kashmir are the descendants of the Bhikshus of Buddhist times.

It has been the custom with the Buddhists to preserve the holy relics of Lord Buddha. We have leamt it from oral history that the tooth of Buddha remained deposited in the vihara at Hazratbal site and the Buddhists of Kashmir used to visit this shrine and pay homage to the holy relic. In Kashmiri the word bal like yar is suffixed to place names as mentioned earlier. Generally bal is surtixed to a place identified by the side of water be it river Jhelum, or lake, or spring or a stream. Thus we have yarbal (viharabala) meaning the place where vihara was situated. Since Hindu shrines and temples and viharas were generally situated by the side of water, hence viharabal = yarball. As stated above, in the case of Hazratbal, a word comprising two parts of hazrat + bal, the first part appears to have been changed from Sanskrit to Arabic (unless I am wrong) and the suffix has been left as it is. The shrine is just overlooking the placid waters of Dal Lake. Having lived for a long period in that vicinity in Srinagar, I have noted that the people of Hazratbal locality generally address the Holy Prophet as Hazrat. When they want to swear by the Holy Prophet, they say hazratan path whereas Muslims generally say nabiyas path.

Indian caravans laden with exotic merchandise traversed the length and breadth of Central Asia in ancient and mediaeval times. In Bukhara we have still a place called Sara-e Hindiyan meaning the lodging place of the Indians. I have had an opportunity of visiting this place in 1983. It is in fact an oval shaped area with open compound in the middle and small cells 12 X 10 all around the compound that open into it. At the centre there is a pond of water made up of blue tiles. This shows that here the caravans were unloaded and the merchants rested in the rooms. Obviously this was the place where the merchants from Europe and Asia and China met to exchange their merchandise. Bukhara was one of the terminals of Silk Route.

Bukhara is the corrupted form of Vihara, the Buddhist temple. It is not just for anything that during the Islamic times, Bukhara became the second Mecca. The tradition of leaming in Bukhara goes back to the days of the Buddhists. The site of Mir Arab madrasseh in Bukhara must also have been the site of great Buddhist seat in pre-Islamic times. Its surroundings certainly suggest the type of peaceful atmosphere that we find in Sarnath. The other important place name Samarkand is composed of two parts, samar + kanda. Our research has shown us that the suffix 'kanda' so commonly found in Central Asian region is the corrupted form of Sanskrit 'Khanda' meaning part or portion. In Central Asia we have it in Tashkand, Khokand, Samarkand, Chimkand etc. In Kashmir this has taken the shape of Kund or Gund as Mirgund, Qazigund (Kanchankhanda where kanchan means gold just as Kanchan Chakra becomes Qazi Chak, the name of a Chak ruler of Kashmir).

Let us move to other facets of cultural life. The dress is an important facet, which lends credibility to identification. The common belief is that Kashmiri feran is the corrupted form of Persian pirahan. The Persian word has taken a few forms like pirhan, payrahan. In Persian this is used for a shirt and not for a gown or overdress as we suppose. In Kashmir villages people use the word munul for what is now called feran. In Ain-e-Akbari, Abul Fazl tells us that one of the clauses of agreement between Akbar and the Kashmiri delegation led by Sarfi was that Kashmiris would change their attire. In all probability, he introduced the gown of Central Asian style called jameh, which in Asia is better known by the word qaba. Kashmiris do not know qaba and by jameh they mean garments and rightly so. However a damsel clad in jameh and becoming the object of praise and infatuation for the poets (Rasul Mir, Mahjoor and other Kashmiri lyrical poets) generally means an assorted set of fine clothes exquisitely suiting the body of the beloved. In the Kashmiri verse kazel kernam wuzel jamaey / me nyunam kameh divan dil. the poet says that my beloved (here the female is the lover) turned my red clothes into dark (kazal is corrupted of kajal, the collyrium).

Munul and pots are two Kashmiri words (unfortunately I am not able to trace their etymology), which together made a set of over-wear for ordinary Kashmiris of olden days. Munul means woolen and owing to cold climate of Kashmir, its use had become very common. The common dress of kashmiris of olden days was a mitnitl with the undergarment pots meaning a double wear and not a single wear. Pirahan of the Afghans is a single wear. But we can understand that very poor people who could not afford the woolen garment had to remain content with only pots. Thus to emphasize poverty stricken situation, Kashmiris have the phrase poets palav. The boatmen of olden days generally regarded as among the poorest class even today recall pots teh manan to explain barest living. I have heard sadists say that our (Kashmiri) culture is nothing beyond pots teh manan. Manan is a fire pot made of baked or unbaked mud (not the kangri), and pots is the plain cotton garment. Hence to say that feran (Persian pirahan) was brought by the Mughals or by the missionaries from Central Asia does not appear to be the truth. All that they brought was the name, which the Kashmiris accepted for usage in their own way.

Kashmiri Pandit women of olden days had a peculiar dress and it was common to rural as well as urban womenfolk. The feran with nerwar (a sleeves decorating piece of cloth), poots, zooj and tarangeh comprising kalehposh, tarangeh laath, sheesheh lalth, fel tsetsan, Now except for Sheesheh lath and fel tsetsan (narrow cloth roll and black headed needle), the rest of the items of head dress are extremely strange and exclusive to Pandit women.

The males had. no such peculiar headgear and it was simple white turban. If Kashmiris borrowed all the dress from Central Asia, then why should the Pandit women continue this rather cumbersome headgear? Obviously it is not only traditional for them but certainly carries some symbols. The puts has the shape of a forked adder and falls down over the shoulders reaching the ankles. The zooj too has more or less the shape of a snake. Is it the hangover of Naga tradition? If snake represents Naga cult and continues with Kashmiris in one way of the other, then it needs to be pointed out that the bangles made of metal (generally silver) for Kashmiri women are the proof because its two ends are given the shape of snake-head.

The names are purely indigenous. Therefore kalehposh too should be an indigenous name and should have nothing to do with Persian kateh + posh (head cover) though very difficult to refute. Adorning of hair as in African societies, or parts of body with ornaments or tattooing of limbs etc. are all understandable. But why should have ancient Kashmiris prescribed a very cumbersome (and certainly not too attractive) headgear for their women?

This is also true of many other things. Take the case of fruits while seb (apple) is of Persian origin, we have different Kashmiri names for different varieties like tsunt, trel, and ambur. Likewise daen (pomegrarite), dachh (grapes) tang (pear), and many other names are indigenous. Of course some of the names suggest their importation like tsenum (perhaps from Chinun or the fruit brought from China) Olubukhar (Alu Bukhara), alu means fruit with hard kernal inside. Evidently it was brought from Bukhara.

Bakery is certainly a Central Asian stuff. But I wonder why do we call him kaandur? is it an indigenous word like tsut (loaf)? We also freely say nan, which no doubt is a Persian work like other types of bread, lavaseh (Persian lavash) girdeh (Same in Persian), rogni tsut (combination of indigenous and Persian) etc. However it has to be remembered that the tradition of bakery is exclusive to the Central Asian culture. In Kashmir the Hindu bakers have borrowed the art from the Muslims though of course they bake a variety of bread slightly different in shape. But what is totally common is ochihwur a hard baked round bread of about three inches diameter and six inches circumference. The peculiarity is that sesame seed in sprinkled on top of this variety. This practice has been seen in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Perhaps the use of sesame seeds is to make it bit oily because it is baked hard and tan. In Afghanistan and Central Asia, a superior bread is besprinkled with white poppy and in kashmir, when bread is made on order for distribution at some important and sensitive social function, then a bread of same dimensions is besprinkled with white poppy (Khashkhash). Another kind of loaf very common to all Kashmiris is kulchek (Persian kalucheh). This also is direct importation from Central Asia.

It should be noted that throughout the Muslim world, bread is very rarely made in homes. It is invariably brought from the bakery and as such bakery has an important place in Islamic social structure. This is not true of Hindus who prefer to make the bread in home. We are told by Persian historians that in olden days in Iran and in Afghanistan, bread was sold by measurement, then by weight and finally by pieces.

While I am speaking about bread (nan) is Central Asia, I would make a mention that a guest is always received in Central Asia by offering him bread and salt. he must break a piece, rub it into the salt and put the slice in his mouth as a mark of reciprocating hospitality. This has given rise to the phrase nan wa namak meaning sustenance. This has also given rise to phrases like namak haram or namak halal meaning faithful and faithless. The question is why salt? Obviously, it makes bread palatable and is perhaps the least expensive. From her we have got the Kashmiri idiom noonas saet tsut khaen (to eat bread with salt) meaning bare substance.

But I must remind my readers that Kashmiri Pandits have the unbroken tradition of giving bread and salt to the daughter when she proceeds to her in-laws house. This is not a gift but a custom, which must have its roots in history. Perhaps because shenad to go a long way and conveyance was not available in those days; or because the parents would remain contented that their daughter had something to eat if she was too shy to eat a full meal in her in-laws house etc. Social scientist may be able to explain it better. The tradition continues down to this day without break. It formed part of the traveling accessories together with atehgath or small pocket money for footing the distance.

Most of Kashmiri meat preparations carry Central Asian names-rogan josh, yakhni, biryani, kabab, kamargah, etc. Shashleek of Central Asia has been given the name of kanti in kashmir. But I would concentrate on soup called shorba in Persian. We do not have the tradition of serving shorba (Shor means saltish as ab-e shor or salt water and ba means liquid or drink. Rice and meat cooked in butter or ghee is called aash in Central Asia but not in Iran. Thus we have aashpaz from Central Asia meaning one who cooks or the cook.

I cannot state with solid proof and knowledge that ancient Hindus of kashmir were vegetarians. Perhaps climate and non-availability of vegetable during long winter months forced them to become meat eaters. But the preparations, though certainly of Afghan and Central Asian in origin, have undergone a drastic change. I presume the Mughals who were connoisseurs in culinary taste introduced these dishes.

Kashmiri Pandits, many believe, were mostly vegetarians. Cereals (dal) must have been their pet food because it is extensively cooked for feasts, social functions, and in homes. In some rituals, preparation of moons dal is a must. We are told that preparing and serving of masoor dal is an Islamic tradition traced to the Holy Prophet and his companions. here I must clear one wrong impression so common among Kashmiris, The Muslims generally use the epithet of dalih bhattek for a Kashmiri Pandit by way of slander. Literally it means the Pandit who eats dal. Some think it denotes cowardice of Pandits because comparison to him a Muslim eats meat (lamb or beef) and is a strong and bold person. This is a wrong interpretation. The derogatory epithet dalih bhatteh is actually dayalu bhatta meaning a merciful/kind Pandit. Dayaloo in Saskrit means merciful and Bhatta is the abbreviative of Bhattarika meaning a learned and devoted Pandit. Thus dayalo bhattarika became dalih bhatta (in many languages there is a tendency of shortening the words) and the derogatory connotation appended to it.

Among the Muslims of Kashmir until recent days, there has been the practice of giving copper untensils to a daughter at the time of her marriage. They call it tram meaning copper. Perhaps this metal does not rust and that should be the reason why untensils made of it are preferred. But there is a curious thing to say. The Pandits always made the accessories needed in their puja (Prayers) like tramer, naerkatsul etc. of copper but never used copper utensils in their kitchens The use of copper (brenj in Persian) utensils in Central Asia was very common. In the biography of Maulana Rumi we are told that once he was passinb through the market Of utensil makers. He heard the rhythmic sound of a coppersmith beating copper into a plate. This made him ecstatic and he began to dance on the tune of copper beat. One coppersmith called Ya'qub Laith in mediaeval heart (Afghanistan) rose to become a powerful satrap. We have still numerous coppersmithies in Srinagar and other towns of Kashmir. A look at these workshops reminds one of mediaeval times when this was a flourishing craft.

The samavar of Kashmir is certainly an 18'hcentury importation from Russian lands via Central Asia. But it appears that Kashmiri metal workers made some changes in its size and form. The type of samavar we have today, is not to be found in Central Asia. But certainly the cup called pyaleh in Central Asia and in Kashmir is identical in shape and size. In Kashmir it is called chinpyaleh thereby indicating its Chinese origin. The fact of the matter is that it must have been brought for the first time from Yarkand or Kashghar, which lie in Eastern Turkestan, with which regions we had a brisk trade in mediaeval times and which in turn were very close to Chinese mainland. They might have brought it from China, named it Chinpyaleh and passed it on to Kashmir. Pandits have the khos instead of pyaleh but then khos is the corrupted form of Persian kaseh pronounced as khaseh.

It has to be remembered that Central Asian influences in whatever walk of life these were could not remain restricted to Kashmir only. It is so because India remained under the sway of Central Asians (be those Afghans or Mongols of Tirnurids) for many centuries. During those periods, there was brisk interaction between Indians and Central Asian traders. Persian language and literature had made deep inroads into Indian intellectuals class whether in the north or in the south especially what later on became the Shahi kingdom in modem Hyderabad region. Since Kashmir was geographically closer to Central Asia, and its climate was cold, it accepted the influences smoothly and without much change in earlier days.

When we discuss Kashmirian culture, we have to take a broad and universal look on the existing cultures in the neighbouring regions. Of Hindu impact, Kalhana gives us the fuller details. But of the impact from northern territories, a vast region indeed including Eastern Turkestan, we need to have a clear and scientific vision. When we say about Central Asian influences in Kashmir, we should go beyond the rise and expansion of Islam in 8th century. The history of central Asian civilization goes back to five thousand years of history, which cannot be ignored.

Maryam Zebardast

Library:

Maryam Zebardast

Author:

Dr. K. N. Pandita











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