“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

KASHMIRIYAT: Is it a long forgotten concept?

COEXISTENCE BY NIDA RAFIQ SHIEKH

(Ms. Nida Shiekh, 22, was born in Srinagar. She passed her Matriculation from the Presentation Convent High School and completed her 12th grade from the Mallinson Girls High School, both with distinction. She recently graduated from the Women’s College, Srinagar, and hopes to pursue a Master’s degree in mass communication. She is presently a free lance writer who likes writing about the Kashmir issue and other topics like communal violence that have torn apart the Kashmiri society with tragic consequences. )

Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri-ness) is the ethno-national, social consciousness and cultural values of the Kashmiri people. The concept emerged long back but developed approximately around the 16th century and is characterized by religious and cultural harmony, patriotism and pride we Kashmiris have for our homeland.

According to a Hindu legend, Kashmir was once a vast lake called Satisar, inhabited by the Nagas, the snake people. Once upon a time, a demon, Jaladeo, began terrorizing the Nagas, so they beseeched their father, Sage Kashyap, to help. Kashyap, deciding to evoke the gods, performed such severe penance that the heavens shook. Finally, Shiva descended from Mount Kailash, his abode in the Himalayas, and rented the mountainside with his mighty trident. All the water of Lake Satisar drained out. Then Vishnu’s consort, the goddess Laxmi (called Sharda in Kashmir), took the shape of a Hari or a mynah bird and dropped on the demon’s head a pebble, which penetrated his body and grew to the size of a hill, encasing him in the rock. Thus, the hill came to be known as Hari Parbat (Hari’s Mount). In gratitude to Kashyap, the site was called Kashyap Mir or Kashyap Mountain. Over the years, the slopes of the hill became enshrined with Hindu, Muslim and Sikh places of worship. Till the 16th century; Akbar constructed the Hari Parbat fort along the top of the hill, enclosing the city of Srinagar in a citadel.

Even before Akbar built his fort, Srinagar and the whole Kashmir valley was already a citadel nestled securely between the lofty Himalayan range in the north and the Pir Panjal in the south. The 134-kilometer by 40-kilometer oval plane with its meandering rivers and rippling lakes, rolling greens and flower fragrant paths was a citadel of eden, a citadel for a way of life which the world would never comprehend. And Kashmiris call it Kashmiriyat .

Kashmiriyat , when experienced as a culture, is so syncretic that it inspires and epitomizes co-existence: man’s oneness with man; man’s oneness with nature. Kashmiriyat , when perceived as a faith, is an amalgamation of four great traditions: the aborigines’ Shivism, a Hindu monistic philosophy, and the disseminated wisdoms of Qur’an , Buddhism’s Nirvana and Sikhism’s Ek Onkar. Kashmir enjoys a significant ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. The region has historically been an important centre for Hinduism and Buddhism. Islam was introduced in the medieval centuries, and Sikhism also spread to the region under the rule of the Sikh Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Kashmir has a significant place in the mythology and history of all four religions. Kashmiriyat is believed to have developed under the rule of Muslim governor Zain-ul-Abedin and the Mughal emperor Akbar, both of whom gave equal protection, importance and patronage to Kashmir’s different religious communities. Kashmiriyat is believed to be an expression of solidarity resilience and patriotism. It is believed to embody an ethos of harmony and a determination of survival of the people and their heritage. To Kashmiris, Kashmiriyat demands religious as well as social harmony and brotherhood. The culture and ethos of Kashmiriyat was greatly eroded with the onset of the Kashmir conflict, when this region was claimed by Pakistan and India and its territory divided during the Indo-Pak War of 1947. In the political debate on sovereignty over Kashmir, many interpret Kashmiriyat as nationalism and an expression for political independence from both Pakistan and India.

One of the finest examples of Kashmiriyat is in Rajtarangini, which is one of the oldest literature on Kashmir written by Kalhana. It is mentioned that there was an entire period in Kashmir’s history under so many governors and rulers when no major event took place and there was nothing which Kalhana could write about that period. This entire period was characterized by peace and harmony. This capability of Kashmiri people to live in peace and harmony with each other is Kashmiriyat . Also at the time of the partition in 1947, when the entire Indian sub-continent was witnessing bloodshed, Kashmir was the only region in this part of the World which did not witness any communal violence. Mahatma Gandhi had quoted then, “if there is a ray of hope for humanity, it is there on the soil of Kashmir.”

Another question that I was asked in an Indo-Pak youth conference was, “Has Kashmiriyat been redefined because of the armed conflict?” I had never heard of Kashmiriyat in my school but I told them that I did not believe at all that Kashmiriyat has been redefined because of the armed conflict. But rather from the perspective of religion, this idea has lost its essence to some extent because the Pandits (Kashmiri Hindus), who formed one of the basic pillars of Kashmiriyat , are no longer in Kashmir. But, that doesn’t mean Kashmiris have forgotten Kashmiriyat . It is still deep rooted within us. We still believe in religious harmony and peace. We still value our traditional sanctity and cultural heritage. So, whether Kashmiris live in Kashmir or outside Kashmir, the value of peace and brotherhood will always be within them.

It is the responsibility of the youth of Kashmir to keep alive this tradition of Kashmiriyat and to show to the world that Kashmiris love peace. We inherited peace from our forefathers, not violence. Let us promote peace wherever we go and make Kashmir a better place to live in. Kashmiris are facing an identity crisis at present. No place is perfect. We have to make our Kashmir perfect. For this we need to feel proud of what we are and what we have inherited. The youth of Kashmir has to dream of a brighter future and do their level best to attain it at all costs.