“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

Parsees Enrich Kashmir’s Heritage … but you would not know it from the narrative gripping the valley today

by | Sep 1, 2013 | Blog

Zubin Mehta, a Parsee, is bringing his orchestra to Kashmir for a special concert in the Shalimar Garden on Saturday, September 7, 2013. The 90-minute concert, reminiscent of musical programs in the garden from the days of Mughals, will be telecast live in over 50 countries. While the entire civil society of Kashmir has exposed its myopic character by denigrating the musical concert organized by the German Government, thank heavens for people like Saleem who look into the same canvas and recall the connection of Parsees with the valley

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem Beg, 62, was born and raised in Srinagar. He was educated at the S.P. College and the Gandhi Memorial College, receiving his Bachelor’s degree from the latter. He was awarded a EEC fellowship in 1998 which allowed him to attend study courses at Universities of Luven, Belgium, and Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Beg entered the State government service in 1975 and retired in 2006 as the Director General of Tourism. In the 31 years of public service (which included two deputation assignments in New Delhi), Mr. Beg promoted local arts and crafts, and raised public awareness of Kashmir’s rich heritage and architecture. He was a leading figure in getting Srinagar listed as one of the 100 most threatened heritage cities by the World Monument Fund in 2008. Mr. Beg has traveled extensively and has attended numerous conferences, including the 1997 UN Special Session on Environment in New York, and the 1997 Kyoto Convention on Climate Change in Japan. His articles and essays have been published in various publications. Since retirement, he has remained active as the Convener of the J&K Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage – INTACH.)

Parsis and Kashmir

The forth-coming performance of Zubin Mehta, born in 1936 in a Parsi family in Mumbai, has rekindled our interest in a very rich but lesser known Parsi presence in Kashmir. Parsis or Zoroastrians are the followers of Zoaraster known as Zartusht in the Islamic world. Muslims are intimately acquainted with this religion as it is the only non Arab belief that finds honourable mention in Holy Quran. Islam equates pious followers of zartush, mentioned by Arab name Majusi, to the men of piety from semitic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Zartusht lived some time in 6th century BC in Middle Asia, then comprising Iran and Afghanistan with a lineage tracing to a spiritual family from Balkh, Afghanistan.

The close affinity of Zoarastrians with the semitic religions, especially Islam is well documented in the literature of the two religions. Majusis, like Muslims, believe in one ness of God, Ahur Mazda, and offer prayers five times a day. The only surviving monotheistic belief at the time of prophet of Islam (pbuh), it therefore evoked keen interest in this religion from the Muslim saints and scholars. The first Majusi who came in contact with the prophet (pbuh) and converted to Islam was Hazrat Salman Farsi. Recognizing his superior spiritual prowess and piety amongst the believers, Prophet (pbuh) showed great affection towards him and called him among the Ahl bait, a distinction bestowed to no other Muslim. Salman Farsi made great contribution towards establishing a just, honest and egalitarian society in the formative years of Islam. The Zoarastrian thought and philosophy was integrated into the larger fabric of Muslim society in the form of what is known in history as the Iranian influence. This subsuming gave Islam and the world the great Abassi empire, the zenith of Islamic faith, art, and culture.

The research on the forgotten parsi presence in Kashmir has an interesting and revealing backdrop. In 17th century a pathbreaking book surfaced which took the religious and temporal scholarly world by storm. The persian book was known as Dabistan or Dabistan-i- Mazahib (treatise of religions). This book gave a fair and unbiased description of the faiths of the time, the details of which were mostly obtained from the followers of the respective faiths. At a time when the religious scholarship was plagued with contestations, this book evoked tremendous interest. The book was attributed to Mulla Mohsin Fani (d 1671), a poet, renowned Islamic scholar and a popular figure in Kashmiri literary world. Fani seems to have been much ahead of his time and must have gone against the then prevailing traditional ethos. He was declared murtad for committing blasphemy by his co religionists (Sufi, Kashir). Subsequent historic writings attributed his being declared murtad to the book, Dabistan-i. mazahib, purported to have been authored by him. The book was first published in Calcatta in 1809 followed by a lithographed reprint by Ibrahim ibn Noor Muhamad, Bombay in 1875. This historic fallacy needs separate treatment by someone who is more into the concept of irtidad and the persian scholarship in Kashmir, a subject that has received scant attention from our historians.
Dabistan, for reasons of its great importance in understanding the religio-political environment of 17th century, has been put to some genuine scholarly scrutiny. Professor Athar Ali, Prof. Of History AMU, Wilson fellow, Wilson Woodrow centre for scholars (d 1998) took up this honorific task. He has come up with astounding facts about the authorship of the book. He has categorically established that Dabistan was authored by a parsi, Mobad, a disciple of Mobad Hoshyar, a parsi spiritual personality who lived in the company of other saints and mystagogues of his time.
Here we enter into a hitherto lesser known world of parsi mystics of Kashmir. The author comes to Kashmir some time in 1630, where he records intellectual contacts exclusively with parsi priests who were living as a community in sects and sub-sects in Kashmir. This revelation has also opened up vistas for further research about our parsi heritage. He records his meetings with another mobad Hoshyer, mobad Sarosh, Pilazar, a follower of Shidragi sect of Parsis; Raham of paikari sect, and Andariman belonging to Alari sect and Shaidab of akhshi sect. He also meets yogi Ishar kar. Interestingly his first contact with a muslim mystic has been when journeying out of Kashmir, Arif Subhani in NWEP. Later on he meets Mahmud fal Hasiri in Kashmir who narrates a story about a parsi saint, disciple of farshad who again had lived in kashmir and who was known to Hasiri. He also meets ashur Beg, a sufi, who narrated a personal encounter with a parsi divine, Farzana Bahram.

We all know that Mian Mir whose disciple, Mulla akhoon was the spiritual master of Dara Shokoh for whom Dara built a sarai, madrasa and a hammam in the mughal city in Srinagar, Nagar Naagar. Mobad also meets Mulla Ismail sufi, another disciple of Mian Mir in Kashmir. While in Kashmir he also meets followers of Akhshi, a parsi sect whose followers had assumed muslim names. These saints were well versed in persian and Arabic and had extensive knowledge of persian literature, Islamic beliefs and mystic thought. Dabistan reveals substantial presence of parsi saints from different sects who found this land conducive to their spritual amd mystic urges revolving round the tenets of their indivisual faith and belief. These revelations, brought to light by Prof. Athar Ali, open up new vistas and a need for delving deep into the period literature using Dabistan as reference point. A new definition for resh waer, the land of saints as kashmiris call their country,is awaiting some masterly treatment so that this rich mosaic is exposed and presented to the world at large in the form in which it evolved and flourished here.

Reverting to the concert of Zubin Mehta at Shalimar on 7th Sept, it is very well known that the spirit and influence of music patronized by sufis and mystics resulted in music becoming the integral part of all flourishing muslim societies. Many great philosophers of Islam, including al –Kindi (d866), Al-Farabi(d950), Ibn Sina(d1037) wrote profusely on the theory of music and encouraged its performance. Al-Kindi argues that music can turn anger into calm, grief into joy, avarice into generosity and cowardice into bravery.

One is reminded of this treatise when one looks at the great work Zubin and his brother are doing in occupied territories of Isreal where they are lighting the tender hearts and souls of Palestinian children in villages like Nazareth and Shawaram by treating them to music therapy. The concert has been named Ehsaas-i-Kashmir. We hope it will measure up to its title and present the feelings of Kashmir through the medium of music.

The following urdu couplet points towards the expectations from the concert.

 ‘Kya zulmatoon main geet gaye jayein gey
Haan, zulmatoon main zulmatoon ke geet gaye jayein gey’