Kashmir- The Historical Background

The great historian, Kalhana is attributed to have recorded the first historical treatise in the subcontinent (1148-50 AD) named ‘ Rajtarangini’ (The stream of Kings). Besides this, Nilmat Purana also throws light on the past of Kashmir. With its strategic position and proximity to Takshashila, Kashmir was a seat of Hindu and later Budhist learning. This is confirmed by Yuan Chwang (631 AD) who wrote that “learning in Kashmir is of high order”.Even Alberuni who accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni wrote that Kashmir is the high school of Hindu Society. We hear names of Patanjali, Chandracharya, Ksheraswamy, Jayaditta, Vamana Bhatta etc during the period.

The history of Kashmir can be broadly divided into following periods;1) Hindu and Budhist Period 2)The Muslim Sultans 3) the Mughal Period 4) The Afghan Period 5) The Sikh Period 6) The Dogra period, and, 7) The post-Independence period.

As per Rajtaranginin, there have been a succesion of inefficient , lascivious and promiscuous kings who ruled Kashmir like Mihirkula, the barbarian; Sikander, the iconoclast; and, Jabbar Khan, the tyrant bigot. Periods of respite have been brief under the benevolent kings such as Ashoka, Lalitadiya, Avantivarman, Zainulabdin, and Akbar.

To Kalhana, a Kashmiri is a loquacious person with fickleness and rumour-mongering as his traits. This is later confirmed by Sir Walter Lawrence as well.The reasons for this nature are not far to seek, given the tyranny and subjugation he was subject to during both indigenous and foreign rulers. The society as per Kalhana comprised the Landlords (Damaras), the Officials (Kayasthas), the Merchants and the Brahman Priests. Kashmiris were heavily taxed and indentured labour (Begar) was common which reached an extreme in the reign of Avantivarman’s son Shankarverman (883-902 AD).   It is noticed that over a period of time all other classes got eliminated and converted to other religions such as Budhists and Muslims leaving only a handful of Hindu Brahmans (Kashmiri Pandits) at the end of twentieth century.

Islam was introduced into the state as a result of treacherous manipulations of Ramchandra, the minister of Simhadeva who was aided by Rinchen Shah, a fugitive Tibetan Prince and Shah Mirza(Shah Mir) of Swat.The efforts of Udayandeva and Kota Rani, who ultimately stabbed herself to death so as not to fall prey to the designs of Shah Mir, proved short lived and futile. In 14th century , the ascendancy of Sikander, the Butshikan assisted by a recent Hindu convert Sahaz Bhat rechristened as Saifuddin, unleashed an era of forced conversions and tyranny over the Hindu subjects. It is said that 5 hundredweight of thread worn by Brahmans was collected from them and burnt at the time they were converted. Only 11 Brahman families are reported to have remained in the valley and many of them fled away to the plains.However,in 1420 Zainul Abdin, the second son of Sikander, influenced by a benefactor minister, Shri Bhat, reversed the policies of his father and laid the foundations of a welfare state and therefore was rightly called ‘The Badshah’. Mirza Haider Dughlat in his Tareekh-e-Rashidi records the ascendancy of Chaks and the Mughals under Akbar later on. Afghan period from 1752-1819, starting with Ahmad Shah Durrani,  is known for extortion and persecution of Hindus by governors such as Asad Khan, Madad Khan and Atta Mohammed Khan. Jaziya was enforced, women were molested and raped and Brahmans who showed some resistence were tied in couples and thrown into Dal Lake. The Story of Birbal Dhar who travelled all the way to Afghanistan to report these excesses to the Afghan ruler without caring for the outcome and miseries his family may have to face back home is well documented. It is also reported that the Kashmiri Pandits who had fled from Kashmir during The Afghan Period  led by Kripa Ram complained to Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikh Guru who helped them settle back in the valley. Notwithstanding the coercion and forced conversion in various periods, proselytisation on account of religious preachings of great Islamic missionaries cannot be overlooked. It is the effort of these missionaries that resulted in development of a syncretic cult of Rishis (Sufis) who held sway over the masses irrespective of the religious beliefs.

It has to be noted that Jammu and Kashmir , though a political unity at the time of partition of the country, has never been so in the ancient past except for brief periods when imperial kings of Delhi extended their frontiers to include this state as well. A few emperors of Kashmir such as Lalitaditya (725-61 AD) too had extended their boundaries of their empire both in north and south. Kashmir has, however, maintained its cultural distinctiveness from the rest of India due to the insulation and isolation afforded by inaccessible mountains for most part of the year. Yet it has not been an island amongst other cultures. The currents and cross currents of Indian subcontinent had a marked influence on the valley and at times it became the confluence of these streams.

Neither Nature nor Rulers have been kind to Kashmiris. Through the ages , Kashmiris were persecuted , overtaxed, meagerly paid and often unpaid after being drafted for State work (Begar) to remote and proverbial places like Gilgit and Bhunji.They often sought shelter in plains of Punjab where they were often looked down upon and nick named as ‘Hathos’, the labourers.

Floods , famines and fires have often ravaged the valley causing poverty , pestilence and destitution. For Kashmiris life has been a continuous drudgery , extortion , indentured existence, a perpetual slavery and indebtedness. No ruler has ever pitied their lot irespectivce of the religion he belonged to. As per Prem Nath Bazaz, “Infact it was Mughals who forbade recruitment to Armed forces to break the martial spirit of Kashmiris and deprived them of land by making the emperor as the sole proprietor of land in the valley.”

As per Pearce Gervis, “Kashmir is ….a land where the finest silks and softest wools are spun and woven into cloth, yet most of its people are clad in rags; a land where precious stones are to be found, yet few of its people possess any; a land in which the men are strong and the women are fruitful as the soil.”

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