Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mansur al-Hallaj in Kashmir?

Burning of Mansur al-Hallaj.
A leaf from an illustrated manuscript on poetry
Kashmir, 19th century.
via: christies

"Mansur hangs because pen is in the hand of tyrant"
~ Rumi

There is a widely and newly found belief in Kashmir that Mansur al-Hallaj (857-922) visited Kashmir in 896 AD.[1]

The source of the claim comes from "The Passion of Al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam by Louis Massignon" translated and edited by Herbert Mason (1982/94).

In the section "Other Regions travelled" under the section of India it read:

"The capital of Qashmir [Kashmir] is the only sure point on Hallaj's itinert, around 283, in the northwest of India, which we know he reached by the way of the sea, either via Daybul (near present-day Karachi), or via the balad al-shirk, to the east of Gujrat, between Bihruj and Qanbaya. Via Daybul, he went directly up the valley of the India via Mansura-Multan, Muslim towns."

It is an interesting claim because just over a hundred years later, Al-Biruni, the scribe of Mahmud Ghazni during his visit to India in 1017 A.D. writes: " former times, they used to allow one or two foreigners to enter their country, particularly Jews, but at present do not allow any Hindu whom they do not know personally to enter, much less other people."

What Al-Biruni testifies here is that Kashmiris had closed their gates to foreigners in 11th century just as Islam was making inroads all around them. Biruni does mention that previously a few foreigners could find their way into Kashmir, however, the question is was Hallaj one of them?

Boston University scholar of Islamic studies Herbert Mason (1932- 2017) was the first one to make the claim based on his abridged translation of French pioneering scholar of Islam Louis Massignon's  "La passion d'al-Hosayn-ibn-Mansour al-Hallaj : martyr mystique de l'Islam, exécuté à Bagdad le 26 mars 922" (1920).

Louis Massignon, a Catholic, is widely credited for getting Islam accepted as an Abrahamic Faith. It was his work on Islam that ensured that Catholics and the wider world got a version of Islam in which it was seen in a more positive light. Prior to his work, Islam was seen as a "forged "version of Abrahamic religions. He made peace with Islam. It is no surprise that he was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and in 1930s set up Amis de Gandhi [Friends of Gandhi] association in France.

It was Massignon that brought Hallaj out of obscurity and into public consciousness as prominent figure of Islamic history. So, what does the original 1920 book by Massignon say about Hallaj's visit to Kashmir. Here's in French the section Le passage en Qashmîr:
"il est probable qu'ai Hallâj passa directement de l'Inde en Khorâsân, en remontant vers le nord, d'abord par la vallée de l'Indus, ensuite parle Cachemire, alors païen. C'est du moins ce qu'on peut inférer de l'apologue suivant:"

The operations word he uses is "il est probable", "c'est du" and "l'apologue"

The translation:

It is probable that Hallaj passed directly from India to Khorâsân, going up north, first by the valley of the Indus, and then Kashmir, which was then pagan. It is at least what can be inferred from the following apologue.

Massignon unlike Herbert Mason is more cautious about the claim. Mason in his edition casually translates "probable" as "only sure". Since a reader is least likely to get his hand on original French edition, most people like Kashmiri writer Mohammad Ishaq Khan have gone ahead assumed that Massignon is saying it with surety. There are many reasons why Massignon is cautious as the theory is based on an l'apologue or a fable found in a 13th century work "Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā" (Biographies of Saints) by Attar of Nishapur (1145). In this book Attar had given biographies of various Sufis and ends with the death of Hallaj. Attar of Nishapur died a violent death in 1221 at the hands of Mongols who were out to seek revenge on the city after Genghis Khan's son-in-law died in the city. Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā is the only prose work by Attar that survived and proved to the source of most of the tales of Hallaj that we now know. 

Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā was the primary source for the biography of Hallaj drawn by Massignon. Massignon used multiple sources (including a late work Hallaj Nama published in Lucknow and its source Abel Pavet de Courteille's Tezkereh-i-Evliâ. Le Mémorial des Saints (1890) based on a Uighur manuscript) for piecing together the story of Hallaj but the primary source (including for the section on Kashmir) was manuscript published and edited by English orientalist R. A. Nicholson in 1905. 

According to Attar's account of Hallaj as translated by Massignon to French, this is how Kashmir figures in the story: 
Un jour, le shaykh 'Abdallah al Toroûghabdhî ,de la ville de Tous, avait étendu la nappe, et rompait le pain avec ses disciples, quand Mansoûr Hallâj arria de la villede Kashmîr, vêtu d'une qabà noire, tenant en laisse deux chiens noirs.
[Using Google Translate]

"One day, the Shaykh 'Abdallah al Torughabdhi, of the city of Tous, had spread the tablecloth, and was about to break bread with his disciples, when Mansour Hallaj arrived from the city Of Kashmir, dressed in a black qabà [robe], holding on leash two Black dogs."

From here comes the famous story about dogs and Hallaj. Disciples of Torughabdhi are shocked that he gave his seat at the table to someone who eats and walks with dogs (something that would still not taken kindly in Islamic societies, including in Kashmir). And then comes the famous reply, "these dogs were his nafs, they remained outside him, and walked after him; while our dogs remain within ourselves, and we follow them ... His dogs are Outside and you can see them; Yours are hidden. "

The entire theory of Hallaj visiting Kashmir is based in this line - "quand Mansoûr Hallâj arria de la villede Kashmîr/ when Mansour Hallaj arrived from the city Of Kashmir" to Toos.

Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā also informs us that Indians wrote to Hallaj addressing him as"Abu Moghith" [succorer/helper].

In Attar's 13th century work Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā, Hallaj is said to have travelled to India to learn magic tricks so that he could bring in more people into Islamic fold. Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) writing in 13th century about his travels with Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan mentions that the Khan had Kashmiri conjurers in his court [probably Buddhist Bakshis, which appear in 13th century Ilkhanid mongol empire of Iran as mongols turn to Islam from Buddhism] . According to him Kashmiris could "make statues speak, change the weather, and bring darkness."

In Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā, Hallaj is seen to be performing many miracles and it is said that people in Mecca accused him of dealing with Jinns. In western terms, Hallaj is the most famous "witch-burning" case from Islamic world.  It seems Nishpur at the time was under control of Hanafite adversaries of Hallaj so he was visiting Toos

In his footnote to the section, Massignon does mention the curious claim by Al Beruni about restrictions on visiting Kashmir. Massignon understood that tales of Sufis are often exaggerated and was cautious while presenting the story. 

We can't be sure if Hallaj visited Kashmir, can't be sure if people believed it in 13th century when Attar wrote his biography because it is equally possible that Kashmir appeared in a later manuscript.  We can be sure that some Kashmiris would like to believe it to be true, at least since 1994.

In all this long tale of Hallaj in Kashmir what is really worth noting is that in the same 13th century Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā of Attar, a Kashmiri also makes an appearance. But, no one seems to have noticed it. Or found it worth mentioning. Perhaps because Kashmiri appears as a salve. In the biography of Abu Uthman al-Hiri of Nishpur, a contemporary of Hallaj, in a story, we are casually hold he had four slaves: a Greek, an Ethiopian, a Turk and a Kashmiri.

The question: What were Kashmiri slaves doing in 10th century Iran? Or, what were Kashmiri slaves doing in stories told of Sufis in 13th century Iran? 

Isn't this first mention of a Kashmiri in a Sufi tale?


1. Kashmir's Transition to Islam: The Role of Muslim Rishis, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Century (1994) Mohammad Ishaq Khan



La passion d'al-Hosayn-ibn-Mansour al-Hallaj

Friday, July 14, 2017

Timeless worshipper of idols am I, Dina Nath Walli 'Almast

pit temple, Bijbihara

Aasytan aabad khwaaban hanz yi mahfil aasytan
Aasytan beyi zindagiyi han'dy mod mushkil aasytan.

Life's vicissitudes may be forbidding, I care not;
Only let my dream-land flourish and prosper.

Naavi myaane aavalanisay manz chhu vwony naachuk saroor
Aasytan vwony door yaa nazdeek saahil assytan

Caught in the whirlpool, my boat experiences the exaltations of a dance;
Let the shores be near or far, now I care not.
Intihaaye shok akh kaafee chhu saamaane safar
Husnasay taany ashkasay sath sadar haayil aasytan.

Let the time be in a still greater haste, tell it,
My zeal shall pause only when I reach my goal.

Shokasay myaanis chhu dam hyon manzilas pyeth waatihay
Vaktasy vanytav tamis ami khota ti taajil aasytan

Sufficient for the aspirant is only his intensity of urge,
Seven seas may stand between beauty and love, it matters not.

Kaarvaanav gamakyavay kar myaany tanhaayi khatam
Aasytan beyi krooth ami khwota zyooth manzil aasytan

The caravan of my sorrows, have put an end to my solitude,
The goal may be far and the path beset with difficulties, I mind not.

Dubrahaaray myaani dilachiy chham mye shoknk zerubam
Manzilas taany poshnuk ath fakhar haasil aasytan

My heart-beats are the rhythm and harmony of the music of my urge,
Let these have the glory to last till the goal is reached by me.

Kaarvane shok sapduy kahkashaanas kun ravaan
kyah karee asi asytan dunyah tangdil aasytan

The caravan of my zealous urge has started towards the galaxies,
Let the world be narrow-minded, I care not.

Kyaah chha kath veglaav niy kany chhus bo azalay butparast
Gam ma bar Almasta ami khwota yaar sangdil aasytan

Timeless worshipper of idols am I, smelting of stones is no problem, for me;
Worry not Almast, let the beloved be stone-hearted.

~ Dina Nath Walli 'Almast' (1908- 2006) who was more known for his paintings.

Written in October 1962.

Complete work "Sahraavuky Posh/ Desert Flowers" (1978) 


Sunday, July 9, 2017

House of Kaws, Maharajgunj

In this guest post, Avinash Kachroo shares the story of a house in Srinagar

Pt. Swaroop Nath Kaw from Vicharnaag, was the eldest son of Pt. Sahajram Kaw. He was employed as a teacher in a village further away and had to travel a fair distance everyday. He would make a pit stop along the way - which must have been a popular one with people from all walks of life, wool sellers, weavers, embroidery craftsmen etc also crossing roads. Over some time he learnt that the popular shawl/carpet trade was not integrated and artisans only did specific tasks making money at each step. Contrary to his father's wishes he invested some money in trading and made a neat sum, sufficient to convince his father to accept his decision of diving into the business fully and thus giving up his "cushy" teaching job.

Pt. Swaroopnath made a good fortune and decided to move to Maharajgunj in Srinagar - a hot bed of trade those days. He built a house which comprised of four buildings right on Jhelum, a few homes down from Khanqah. While the first building had his dewankhana where he met visitors, the second comprised family quarters and subsequent ones even had a carpet factory. There is neighborhood folklore of how some subsisted on the pashmina wool waste that was disposed off from the factory. Pt. Swaroopnath had his brother Pt. Madhusudan Kaw help him with managing the accounts while he sent off his youngest brother Mukund Lal Kaw to Lahore to gain a degree in medicine. Dr Mukund Kaw came into being one of the earliest medical practitioners of the valley and eventually stayed in the first building of the house. 

Here is a photo of the Kaw family with Pt. Sahajram in the lower row center, his left being Pt Swaroopnath, his right Pt Madhusudhan and top right Dr Mukundlal. The young boy seated in the lower row is Pt Harikishen Kaw, Pt. Swaroopnath's son along with Pt Madhusudan's daughter Batni.

My maternal grandfather Hari Krishen was born in 1920, he looks about 5-6 years old here. So this photograph should date around 1925.

[...]this is very much our house and my father Pt. Hari Krishen Kaw standing at the entrance door after he returned from California in 1988. He is holding a cane and right leg slighted due to his surgery here in San Jose after an accident. In 1990 I met a Cal Berkeley Professor Randolph Langenbach (Also my facebook friend now) in Late Kulbhushan Gupta,s house in Oakland on a Christmas Party. After introduction and pleasantries, he inquired where I originally hailed from. Upon hearing Srinagar, he informed me about his spending two years there as Consultant on environment to Jammu and Kashmir Government and that his speciality was earthquake proof housing. He thought Kasmirian and El-Salvadorian housing were the best earthquake proof housings in the world. He explained something to do with Daji-Deewari, Viram (The long staff) and ductility etc. Upon parting he asked for my address so he would send me his research paper on the subject, he published.Three days later, a tight vanilla envelope arrived by mail and upon pulling the journal slowly from the envelope, the first thing what appeared on the glossy cover of the journal was "American preservation technology journal", further thrust pulling the magazine out revealed the whole glossy cover page with journal name and this particular picture on the front page. [...]

And BTW the house in question has been demolished by people who bought from us and a brand new structure erected taller than 4 stories house we lived in, informs my nephew Avinash Kachroo.

Avinash Kachroo:

The particular building of the group which formed the original household and works of Pt. Sahajram Kaw's sons pictured here ceased to stand when I visited the very spot from where the picture was taken, in 2014 - effecting whatever little closure I needed on Kashmir (having born and raised out of Kashmir). The front building long dispossessed still stood, though extremely dilapidated.
The flight of stone steps had gone and kids stared with a mix of intrigue and curiosity at my intrusive presence

The original river facing building of the household still stood on the very banks which used to be once full of life

My family comes from the Raghunath Temple area of Fateh Kadal. Interestingly, I never visited the temple when we would visit Srinagar during summer each year until my extended joint family sold off that property and we moved out to a new house in Chhanapora. However in 2014 when I visited Srinagar after 25 years, I wanted to visit the temple after the customary visit to the ancestral neighbourhood. We took the kocha to the side door that was closer to our house and was the one my father would take as a kid. However we found that entry had been walled off. We asked some onlooker muslim women who were monitoring the unusual activity and they said the main door from the front was also shut. So we scaled the temple compound wall and found the iconic temple compound and temple building deserted and in absolute mess. The garbha gruha (sanctum sanctorum) doors were missing and so was any trace of the statues. What shocked me was that there was no news of what happened to the temple and why was it in this state. Disappointed, we left the neighbourhood with lots of questions. Any picture of the down town Srinagar is incomplete without Parbat, Khanqah and Raghunath temple - yet this was to befall the landmark.

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