Friday, May 29, 2009

Eagle


I was taught: Do not look at the eagle flying overhead, it will pluck your eyes out clean.

I was taught: A Batta is one who can steal an eagle's egg clean from underneath the bird of prey sitting high in its nest.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happenings of 1951 as recalled by a Kashmiri Goat




Here's an interesting image from LIFE magazine  photo archive.
According to the caption:
Taken in Kashmir on December 1951 by photographer Howard Sochurek.

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Somewhere in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, on a pleasantly warm and sunny December morning, while standing on a single wooden peg dug deep into the dusty soft ground, in total control of his four limbs and a head and a tail too, listening to the soul-stirring music emanating from the distant bagpipes of mighty military men, the Goat was deep in thought, contemplating the happenings of the year that was about to end. The happenings delighted him to no end.

"1951 turned out to be interesting...quite interesting, not too bad! ," he thought and then in no particular sequence - in a very stream of consciousness manner - recalled some of the interesting News concerning the State that had reached his pair of attentive ears that year.

Tribal of Waziristan pledged to defend Pakistan. Good for them. Afridis pledged not to take part in any Jehad...if even there is need for one in Kashmir. What is Jehad? Is it good for the goats? They make it sound like some old form of warfare? Do they play bagpipes while fighting?  Do I get to listen to music all day? May be I will take part in it. Everyone is already taking sides. Sheikh Abdullah pledged support to Pakhtoons in their common struggle against Pakistan. Very smart Sheikh Sahib, very smart. I like Sheikh Sahib, I really do. Too bad for me, my misfortune that he is likely to jump his gun if he even as much overhears the word "Bakra'. I am too ashamed of the fact that supporters of Sheikh Sahib call his enemies, those Jamaatis - Bakras. What can I say, these nasty people do go around carrying a beard like me. If you see one, and find yourself in doubt, try this sure short way to tell if he is a real bakra or not: Request him to bleat. And a real bakra will bleat better than a goat. And you will know that you are not supposed to eat him - Can't Halaal or Jatka this bakra. But the lion is really keeping them busy these days, pardon my expression, but he is really milking those goats. I like Sheikh Sahib, he really is a lion, and I am not even supposed to like a lion, me being a goat and he being a lion, one can say it's against nature. But in this State anything is possible, I have heard that an ancestor of the erstwhile Maharaja of the state, the one who was caught in a Paris hotel in bed with a gori mem ....BBBLLEEEAAAATTTTTT... once saw a goat and a lion drinking water from the same place together. What can I say? Jammu is a dry, dry place...can happen in majboori of summers. The current Yuvraj Prince is surprisingly a humble fellow! Almost too happy to loose the Crown. Siyapa Mukla for him ji. Yet somehow The Praja Parishad people there are always bleating (but no one dare call them bakras). I don't think they are too glad about the end of Dogra rule. Now they don't even want to be part of State election (no way can they win the entire State anyway. They don't have my vote!). They also want India to come to Kashmir completely, full-time, nothing doing. Does that mean more Army and more music for me? I support that. And then there is this guy, a balding Bengali, who keeps telling Panditji to get back his one third of Kashmir from Pakistan. Panditji, a smart fellow (some say mistakenly think it's in his genes...I suspect its the High company he keep), tells him basically something like this, "Hey Man! You have no idea how we are holding on to the rest of this land. What will you do with the rest?" I think this Bengali chap is not very happy with the situation, I think he is taking it all very personally. He needs to relax, slowdown and may be come down here and see the situation for himself. Enjoy some Kashmiri hospitality. If nothing else, this place will at least do his health some good. He may even find Swarag here. But it must be that the news from Jammu worried him. There were some tribal raids in some part of Jammu and some part of Kashmir. India lodged protest in Security Council. Hindu and Sikh refugees from Muzaffarabad are being settled in the State. Panditji is worried about Kazak influx into Kashmir. What the hell do Kazaks want with Kashmir? Panditji took certain steps to take care of it. Even opened a school for them. Good. Shiekh Sabib also helped.  East Pakistanis pledged support to Kashmiris. Syrians and Malaysian also want resolution of Kashmir (read: better if it's with Pakistan). Kashmiri Pandits - quite a tribe I tell you - pledged support to National Conference of Sheikh Sahib. Panditji, also one among that esteemed tribe, was very happy and congratulated them. Pakistan called Kashmir elections a fraud. They also believe India wants to stop the great rivers of the State. Reminds me...these military men always make me take dump near the river. I think it's deliberate. I need to protest. It's a clear provocation. Liaquat Ali, their PM, told Kashmiris, 'Wait, we will free you!'  Sheikh Sahib told him that Kashmir was Baap ki jagir of forty Lakh Kashmiri Muslims. Poor Mr. Liaquat died the same year of an unknown assassin's bullet. What a waste! Earlier this year he had also offered a five-point peace plan and asked Pandit Nehru to come down to Karachi for discussion. Fatima Jinnah told Kashmiris to fulfill her great brother's last wish and join Pakistan. Achha ji, you get your 'K' and what do we get! "A moth-ridden Pakistan" - isn't that what her Craven A smoking illustrious genius brother called Pakistan. I am a goat. I need grass. Moths can't be good for me.  Do they really have that much moth? Why don't they do something about it? There was also a strange report that Pakistanis want to kidnap Sheikh Abdullah and take him to the other side of the LOC. Of course, they denied these reports later as mere fabrications. I think the Pakistanis too are taking it all too personally. India offered non-aggression pact to Pakistan. No sound. Kashmir is now not a place, but an issue. The white goralog of UK and the USA, quite decent looking folks, but I am told they don't bath often, and are often cunning, are really working hard on the issue. They are sending people, Generals, high officials and the good journalists. They keep coming up with solutions, plans and, India keeps rejecting the plans, finding faults and Pakistan rejects the plans, finding faults. Kashmir Kisan Mazdoor Conference, Jammu Kisan Confrence, Socialist Party and Democratic Union, all Communist sounding parties (according to whom - all goats own all grass unfailingly, I gather. Good. Too good to be true. I sometimes suspect I too am a communist.), want foreign troops out of the State, they predict a bleak future otherwise. Don't they remember that Gen. Cariappa (what a melodious name! CariappaCariappaCariappaCariappa) promised that Indian Army would move out of the State the day Kashmiris want them to. In other news, General secretary of Communist Party of UK thinks Kashmir should be with India. Someone named Jayaprakash doesn't want Sheikh Abdullah to campaign for Congress in India. Sheikh and his man-friday Bakshi, nevertheless, campaigned for Congress in Punjab. Congress believes J&K is setting the best example of Secularism. The Papers. Wah the Papers!  London Times wasn't happy about the Kashmir Constituent Assembly elections. Observer's New Delhi correspondent thought Kashmir dispute had reached a dangerous point. New Statesman and Nation are sure that a full-scale war will end up destroying Pakistan, they want Briton to take care more of the situation. Manchester Guardian believes The solution lies just around The corner. A case of molestation of Kashmiri women came to light. Shocking!  Dawn claims Congress is conspiring to eat up Kashmir. Syrian Al Shaah  supports Pakistan. London's Truth thinks Kashmir is awaiting justice. Students in Lahore want solution to Kashmir problem, they demonstrate. Jammu Praja declared that the assembly does not represent them.  Washington Post thinks Sheikh Abdullah will win the plebiscite hands down. Pakistan banned a book 'Kashmir and Conspiracy Against Peace' written by one Mr. Vijay Kumar. Looting in Azad Kashmir, people shot dead.  Lot of changes in government there, I hear. People there also want land reforms.

What can I say! I eat akhbaar as a digestive after breakfast, lunch and dinner of plain grass. I am tired now! The vibes here do sometimes turn morose. Yes I can pick up 'vibes'. I can do so all the time. I can feel things. Sometimes I feel it's all touch and go. Big war and then the end. Jatka and then Halaal too. At moments like these Foreign journalist start hovering in the valley. But I don't think much about these things. I can't. It's just too much. I am just a goat what am I supposed to do. I was told to stand on this peg and I did so dutifully. You ask me to climb Apharwat mountain just on my hind legs and I will go twice, twice up and twice down and not once complain. I am a simple goat ( okay a beautiful Kashmiri goat one no less, and you should see my eyes, so round, perfect marbles I say. So innocent.). I try to live in the present. And yes, I almost forgot, a Swedish firm agreed to set up a wood mill in our state. Mill should be good. Not for the trees though! Haha! Bleat! Bleat! But we have too much trees here in any case. Should last us a thousand years.  Ah yes...where was  I...Yes...I try to live in the moment - the present. Like this moment right now. Here I am at peace standing on this bloody peg...the band is now almost here. I can hear the wonderful pipes clearly now, here they come. I would love to give them a salute. Let me try. Steady. Okay see this funny looking gora with his camera. On his knees, he is. You want me to hold still. No movement. Okay. You don't want  me to look into the camera. You want me to look straight ahead. Why? Don't like my eyes! Ok! Here you go. Is this fine? What you want is a Yogi pose! I will give you a Yogi. How's this? Oi! my tail is standing out, rigid, upright, too instinctive, it's trying to help me hold the posture. It must not be looking good. Have to bring it down. Damn tail. get down. I must be looking like a wild animal. Me a well trained cultured goat. Caaan't brrring it down...think Yogi...Stand still...BBBLLEEEAAAATTTTTT...be a Yogi...this moment....right here...hold....

Click.

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"Kashmir has been wrongly looked upon a prize for India or Pakistan. People seem to forget that Kashmir is not a commodity for sale or to be bartered. It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future. It is here today that a struggle is being fought, not in the battlefield but in the minds of men."

- Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi on June 11, 1951.

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The events, bizarre as they sound, are all true and are taken from a chronology presented at the end of the book 'Bonfire of Kashmiriyat' written by Sandeep Bamzai.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

brair-kani and zoon dub / Cat's Attic and Moon-View Window


Brair-Kani and  Zoon Dub.
June 2008. Khar Yaar, Habba Kadal.

Brair-kani: the attic built beneath the roof and used for storing grains and wood.
Zoon Dub:  the pyramidal roof.

Man, Children at Kharyaar

Wal sa yoor, ti tul sa photo
Come here and take a photograph

Kharyaar, Habba Kadal
June 2008

Bhagwaan Gopinath Ji Ashram, Kharyar, Srinagar



The centenary postal stamp released on July 3, 1998 by Government of India in honor of Kashmiri saint Bub 'father' Bhagwaan 'God' Jadadguru 'World Teacher' Gopinath Ji (3rd July, 1898 - 28th May 1968).

[Official web site: bhagavaangopinathji.org ]








Photographs of Bhagwaan Gopinath Ji Ashram situated at Kharyar near Habba Kadal, Srinagar, Kashmir. (Dated June, 2008)





A recently re-built ashram of Bhagwaan Gopinath Ji in the premises of the Durga Mandir at Kharyar.














A Kashmiri Pandit family has donated its house to be used as an ashram.

I was told that a Haenz Bai, a Muslim fisher woman, started to take care of the ashram when the situation was really bad in Kashmir.











An old desolate looking house to the left on entering the ashram.The house right in front of it is used as a guest house for pandits families who might want to stay at the ashram for a couple of days.











View of the opposite bank of Jhelum as seen from the ashram.














Habba Kadal as seen from the ashram.

Boats on river Jhelum near the ghat next to the ashram.











Houses (mostly pandit) right next to the ghat.














The central hall on the first floor of the ashram housing the statue of Bhagwaan Gopinath Ji.














The original marble statue of saint was installed in June, 1972. Similar statues are now placed in the ashrams located at Jammu (Udaiwala Road, Bohri) and Delhi (Opp. D-43, Pamposh Enclave, G.K-I).

















View in front of the statue




















View from the left window of the hall on the first floor of the ashram.















The house is used as a living quarter for the security men guarding the ashram. Interestingly the presence of security men here is not overbearing as against the situation at the nearby Ganesh temple of Ganpatyaar









View to the right and from the top floor of the ashram.






















Kashmiri Muslim house to the right.














Passage that links the ashram to the main road.

Friday, May 22, 2009

a rope of untwisted thread, home, Lal Ded

Ami pana so'dras nAvi ches lamAn
Kati bozi Day myon meyti diyi tAr
Ameyn tAkeyn poniy zan shemAn
Zuv chum bramAn gara gatshaha.

With a rope of untwisted thread am I towing a boat upon the ocean.
Where will my God hear? Will He carry even me over?
Like water in goblets of unbaked clay, do I slowly wast away.
My souls is in a dizzy whirl. Fain would I reach my home.

Lalla-Vakyani Or the Wise Sayings of Lal-Ded - A Mystic Poetess of Ancient ...  By Sir George Grierson  (1920)

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I was told Kashmiri Muslims attribute this saying to Lal Ded's contemporary Nund Reshi - the founder of Reshi cult of Kashmir.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kashmiri Proverbs borne of Chinar Tree

These proverbs and their meaning have been  taken from the remarkable book 'A Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings' by James Hinton Knowles (1885).

1.

Kentsan rani chhai shihij buni, nerav nebar shukul [Shuhul] karav.
kentsan rani chhai bar peth huni, nerav nebar tah zang kheyiwo.
kentsan rani chhai adal tah wadal; kentsan rani chhai zadal tshai.


Some have wives like a shady chinar, let us go under it and cool ourselves.
Some have wives like the bitch at the door, let us go and get our legs bitten.
Some have wives always in confusion, and some have wives like bad thatch upon the roof.

- Lal Ded

Salman Rushdie used the first line from this proverb in Salimar the Clown but didn't trace the line's orgin to Lal Ded.*

2.


Panah san kheyih buni tah jits san kheyih huni

He will eat the chinar tree- leaves and all, and he will eat the dog with the skin.

A regular cannibal, not satisfied with enough.

3.

Preyaghuch buni nah thadan nah lokan nah badan.

The chinar of preyag neither become taller, nor shorter, nor bigger.

A poor sickly child, who does not grow or become fat.

An explanation about the Chinar tree of prayag that can be found in the book:

This chinar tree is in the middle of a little island just big enough to pitch your tent on, in the midst of the Jhelum river by the village Shadipur. The Hindus have consecrated the place, and a Brahman is to be seen twice every day paddling himself along in a little boat to the spot, to worship and to make his offerings.
This chinar tree at Shadipur  is believed to be the (sangam) confluence of rivers Indus (Sind) and Jhelum (Vitasta) and is called `Prayag' by Kashmiri pandits - alluding to Prayag that is Allahabad where Yamuna and Ganga meet up. Kashmiri Pandits used to immerse the ashes and remains of their dead at this spot.

[More about Chinar and Kashmir here ]
[Image on left: The Chinar tree at Shadipore in a photograph by Fred Bremner. 1905 ]
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*The poets wrote that a good wife was like a shady boonyi tree, a beautiful chinar - kenchen renye chai shihiji boonyi - but in the comman parlance the imagery was different. The word for the entrance to a house was braand; stone was kany. for comical reasons the two words were sometimes used, joined together, to refer to one's beloved bride: braand-kany, "the gate of stone." Let's just hope, Shalimar the clown thought but did not say, that the stones don't come smashig down on our heads.
 - Salman Rushdie trying to work linguistic acrobatics in Shalimar the Clown. Although a deft performer of the art, his text here seems to stay flat on trampoline, or so it may seem to a Kashmiri reader. The jump from 'Boonyi' to 'Braand' to "the gate of stone" seems disjoint.

A newly wed women was often referred to as Braand-kany. The imagery it is supposed to invoke is that the woman is the base of the house and the family. A Braand-Kany actually consists of a small stone stairway that leads to the entrance of the house. If the stones in this stairway were too loose, ill-fitted or just too slippers, often, passage to the inside of the house could become quite hazardous for the visitors. And the visitors were to remeber this house for its bad Braand-kany, a bad reflection on its inmates.


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roz'eya na roz'eya. Song.

3:41 AM April 2009

I was told that the lyrics for this song were written by great Kashmiri poet Moti Lal Saqi

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Shade of Chinar Tree

A Chinar tree at Khir Bhawani.

 June 2008.

Batt'e rovmut/ Pandit Lost. Again

Got off the phone. It was all this and that. Yes. No. Weather, Summer, Sun, Temperature and all. And then I heard it has happened again. Again. An old Kashmiri Pandit reported missing in Jammu. The elderly man went out in the morning and didn't return home for lunch. Everyone is convinced old man probably lost his way. Happens all the time. It happens every odd year. Mostly in summer. It has been so since last many years.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

tin-tin wallay / Temple singers of Jammu


The temple singers of Jammu, easily identifiable by their typical headgear, sing stories from Shiv puran. On the day of Shivratri their troupes can be found singing in he courtyards of Ranbireshwar Temple of Jammu. They always take coins in the cavity of their bells.

Monday, May 18, 2009

poo-poo wallah / Toys and Balloons seller




You might know him Khilone walla, but I also knew of him as poo-poo wallah because of the signature sound that he would use to call out to waiting children.

Tumbaknaer


Probably the most popular of Kashmiri folk instrument...maybe because anyone can try their hand on it. We kids used to fight on who will get to play the extra Tumbaknaer at wedding.

The sound -

Ladakhi Bead Necklace / Mokh'te Maal


The beads come from Ladakh. They are actually supposed to be much  more grainy...like rice grain.
As time goes by, they start to resemble green rotten teeth. Or my memories are just mixed up.
At one time, these Bead Necklace were quite popular among old Kashmiri Pandit women.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Origin of Fantastical tales about Yus Asaf of Rozbal also known as Jesus of Kashmir

Photograph from
'The tomb of Jesus' by Mutiur Rahman Bengalee (1946).
Bengalee was instrumental in bringing
Ahmediya movement to North America in the 1930s.  
According to the fantastical stories the rod of Moses was also originally kept at the grave of Yus Asaf of Khanyar but was later moved to the shrine of Sheikh Zain-ud-din at Aishmuqam, that there is another grave the real grave underneath the present one kept at the location. And so on. The stories are fantastic. Recently some one even wrote a thriller around the stories titled 'Rozabal Line' inspired by the'Rose Line' in "Da Vinci Code".

I first read about - 'Rozbal, Jesus in Kashmir, grave of Yus Asaf (Kashmiri Jesus) at Rozbal Khanyaar...and so on', many years ago as a teenager when one afternoon I discovered a tattered old thin book (don't remember its name) in the Ranbir Singh library of Jammu about the Kashmiri Jesus. I was certainly intriguing, especially at that age. Now I am intrigued by interest of people in this tale. And since then, having read some original sources, I have learnt some new things about it the origins of this Jesus.


These fantastic stories about 'Jesus in Kashmir stories' first started doing rounds towards the end of 19th century and were spread and started by Ahmedias. It actually had more to do with power tussle among the Muslims.

Muslims believe Jesus Christ was not crucified but rather ascended straight to heaven. They also believe that his second advent would signal the end of world... that would be Qiyamat (the Day of Judgement). As opposed to this Ahmedians have their own concept of the last Messiah. Ahmedians believe Christ, wounded and in an unconscious state, was removed from the cross at the last moment and moved to a secret burial altar . Special ointment (marham-i-isa) was applied on his wounds and over days he eventually got better. But then he came out of the burial vault and traveled to the holy land of Kashmir where he taught the lost tribes of Israel, became known as Yus Asaf, lived until the age of 120 and was finally buried at Khanyaar.

Today's the start of 20th century thee stories were picked by visiting foreigners who were already fascinated by the 'Jewish' looking Kashmiris and now by these interesting tales about Kashmiri Jesus.

Sir Francis Younghusband, Resident of Kashmir for three years starting 1906, about these Jesus in Kashmir stories, wrote in his book 'Kashmir' (1911):
"Other interesting types of Kashmir Mohamedans are found among the headmen of the picturesque little hamlets along the foot-hills. Here may be seen fine old patriarchal types, just as we picture to ourselves the Israelitish heroes of old. Some, indeed, say, though I must admit without much authority, that these Kashmiris are of the lost tribes of Israel. Only this year there died in the Punjab the founder of a curious sect, who maintained that he was both the Messiah of the Jews and the Mahdi of the Mohamedans; that Christ had never really died upon the Cross, but had been let down and had disappeared, as He had foretold, to seek that which was lost, by which He meant the lost tribes of Israel ; and that He had come to Kashmir and was buried in Srinagar. It is a curious theory, and was worked out by this founder of the Quadiani sect in much detail. There resided in Kashmir some 1900 years ago a saint of the name of Yus Asaf, who preached in parables and used many of the same parables as Christ used,as, for instance, the parable of the sower. His tomb is in Srinagar, and the theory of this founder of the Quadiani sect is that Yus Asaf and Jesus are one and the same person. When the people are in appearance of such a decided Jewish cast it is curious that such a theory should exist ; and certainly, as I have said, there are real Biblical types to be seen everywhere in Kashmir, and especially among the upland villages. Here the Israelitish shepherd tending his flocks and herds may any day be seen."
The founder of the sect (Ahmedian) was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian who died in 1908.

The really interesting thing is that at the root of these stories was a Russian Jew converted to Greek Orthodoxy, a man named Nicolas Notovitch ( believed to be the inspiration for the character of Great Game Spy in Rudyard Kipling's Kim).

In 1887 Nicolas Notovitch, visited India and Tibet. Notovitch claimed that during his travels in the Himalayas, at the monastery of Hemis in Ladakh, he came to know about the 'secret life of Jesus' through a 'Tibetan gospel' (that he translated as) "Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men." In 1894, Notovitch got this 'unknown gospel' published in French as La vie inconnue de Jesus Christ. And it later became famous 'The Unknown Life of Chris'.

According to this text Jesus at the age of thirteen ( start of his lost years ) traveled to India and learned the local religions of Jains, Hindus and Buddhists and preached to them.

And so the stories goes on.

Now, here's the interesting part.

In 1887, Nicolas Notovitch wasn't the only one traveling in that region, another great gamer - Francis Younghusband was also on a journey that took him from 'Peking to Kashmir via the Gobi Desert, Kashgaria, and the Mustang Pass'. The two men met on the edge of Zojila Pass somewhere between  Srinagar and Leh. Nicolas Notovitch was on his way from Kashmir and Francis Younghusband was on his way to Srinagar.

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband was himself very much interested in the 'new' and strange ideas of 'Easter Mysticism', 'Spiritualism' - 'the Occult', Madame Blavatsky kind of ideas, the one in which world was run by secret cult of masters living in Tibet (again an idea first conceived in 1870s ). Younghusband certainly toyed with these ideas, especially in his later years - often to an absurd level, one can even call him the 'Grand Daddy of Hippies'. At one time he did mingle with Theosophists of Blavatsky.

And yet in his book 'The Heart of a Continent: A Narrative of Travels in Manchuria, 1884-1894' , published 1896, Francis Younghusband wrote:
"A march or two after passing Skardu, the chief place in Baltistan, I met the first European on the south side of the Himalayas. He was not an Englishman, but a Frenchman, M. Dauvergne; and in his tent I has the first good meal and talk in English I had had for many a month. A few marches further on I met another European. This one at any rate, i thought, must be an Englishman, and I walked up to him with all the eagerness a traveller has to meet a countryman of his own after not seeing one for nearly seven months. But this time it turned out that the stranger was a Russian! He announced himself as M. Nicolas Notovitch, an adventurer who had, I subsequently found, made a not very favorable reputation in India. I asked M. Notovitch where he had come from, and he replied that he had come from Kashmir. He then asked me where I had come from. I said from Peking. It much amused me, therefore, when leaving he said in a theatrical way, "We part here, the pioneers of the East!"

The same M. Notovitich has recently published what he calls a new "Life of Chirst," which he professes to have found in a monastery in Ladakh, after he had parted with me. No one, however, who knows M. Notovitch's reputation, or who has the slightest knowledge of the subject, will give any reliance whatever to this pretentious volume.
But the stories were already travelling and there were many takers, there always are.

In fact according to one view, Notovitch actually took inspiration from an idea that was already in the air. This idea came from a fictional work of Blavatsky titled Isis Unveiled (1877) in which a traveler with the broken leg is taken to Mount Athos in Greece where, in the monastery library, he discovers the text of Celsus' True Doctrine . The idea of Jesus' flight to India was also inspired by a particular statement in Isis Unveiled that alludes to his travel to the Himalayas. She wrote:
Do what we may, we cannot deny Sakya-Muni Buddha a less remote antiquity than several centuries before the birth of Jesus. In seeking a model for his system of ethics why should Jesus have gone to the foot of the Himalayas rather than to the foot of Sinai, but that the doctrines of Manu and Gautarna harmonized exactly with his own philosophy, while those of Jehovah were to him abhorrent and terrifying? The Hindus taught to return good for evil, but the Jehovistic command was: "An eye for an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth."
 - Isis Unveiled, Vol. 2, Page 164

 And the story found a pioneer taker.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Sheetala Mata of Yore. Or Jyestha Devi of Zeethyaar.

Pierre Sonnerat (1748-1814), a French naturalist and explorer, between 1769 and 1781 traveled deep into southeast Asia and documented the religious practices, sciences, arts (and birds) of the places he visited.

In 1782 the account of his travels was published in two volumes under the title (french) 'Voyage aux Indes Orientales et a la Chine, fait par ordre du roi, depuis 1774 jusqu'en 1781. Dans lequel on traite des mœurs de la religion, des sciences & des arts des Indiens, des Chinois, des Pégouins & des Madégasses' ( Journey to the East Indies and China, Undertaken at the King's Command, from 1774 until 1781: In Which the Religious Mores, Sciences, and Arts of the Indians, the Chinese, the Pegouins, and the Madegasse are Discussed. )

Volume 1 was completely dedicated to India and Volume 2 covered the far east including China, Burma, Madagascar, the Maldives, Mauritius, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), Indonesia, and the Philippines.Volume 1 has some wonderful illustrations of Hindu deities (probably based on original bronze works)and Volume 2 had lot of illustrations of 'new' birds.

The book is available for free download at Google Books (Vol 1, Vol 2

A finer and more detailed copy of these  books was recently made available at the The World Digital Library - A UN funded project that let's you browse the various cultures of the entire world, region by region, using many such scholarly old books. [You can check out Pierre Sonnerat's work here]

As I browsed through the book, looking at masterly work of art, quite a few of the images turned out to be too tricky to identity the god depicted.

A post on my other blog details some of these interesting images and includes a slideshow of rest of the images of Hindu Gods from the old book.


The image on left, depicting an ancient goddess that the book captioned as Mou Devi, proved to be the most difficult and certainly the most interesting illustration of the set. It's trail, much to my delight, led me to an ancient goddess temple in Kashmir, simply called Zeethyaar - located somewhere between hills of Shankaracharya and Mughal garden of Chasma Shahi. .

As I looked at the image of Mou Devi, I thought maybe it's the goddess of measles or smallpox. But that's Sheetala.

The french cation 'déesse de la Discorde et de la Misere' translates (thanks to google) as 'goddess of discord and misery'

Has to be Sheetala of North, Harita/Hariti - 'the green one' - the goddess of smallpox from Gandhara art Kushan dynasty, the demon goddess  of 500 children who was reformed by Buddha.

Mou Devi, who is this goddess - the one riding a donkey, and carrying a crow banner, the one not particularly 'beautiful' ?

Pierre Sonnerat, in his book, (again) mentions Moudevi and 'Churing of Sea' and (in this version) how it produced three goddesses - Saraswati (claimed by Brahma), Laxmi (claimed by Vishnu) and Moudevi (unclaimed).

Southey's Common-place book added that Moudevi is often represented green.

 A book called 'Roles and Rituals for Hindu women' by Julia Leslie (1992), that in details mentions a goddess named Jyestha, offered final clues.
 Jyestha is often in Tamil called Kakkaikkodiyal (crow-bannered) the one who ride a donkey (Khararudha). Crow is the bringer of bad luck and femine. And the goddess often carries a broom.

In some parts of India, particularly North(in south as Mariamman?), she is identified as Sitla or Sheetala (Aha!) who also carries a broom and rides a donkey.

(Julia Leslie wrote her book, ''In none of the images at my disposal is Jyestha shown with a 'vehicle' or mount". 1992, internet was in infancy. )

So who is Jyestha ' Elder' - 'Misfortune'?

The story , most of them lead to Sagar Manthan or Churning of the  Sea. Apparently, she was the second thing that came out of the sea, just after poison, and finds herself unwanted as she is inauspicious. According to another story, she is in fact Mohini, the female seductress form of Vishnu who saves the Amrit (elixir) from Asuras (demons).

Religions de l'antiquité, tr. refondu completé et dévelopé par J.D. Guigniaut [and others] by Georg Friedrich Creuzer, published 1825, (french had a lot to say about Moudevi) also talked about 'Moudevi' and gave her alternate name as "Mahadevi and "Bhoudevi", born of churning of sea, second wife of Vishnu.

But, Julia Leslie, in her book, did not link Moudevi with Jyestha. In fact, the name 'Moudevi' is not mentioned. Julia Leslie also mentions Lingapurana according to which Jyestha, the first one born from Sagar Manthan and married off to a hermit who couldn't control her unreligious beliefs that make her, feel at ease among "the false mendicant (bhksubimba), the naked Jain monk (ksapanka), and the Buddhist (bauddha)."

According to some other traditions, Jyestha was taken-in by Eshwara (Shiva).

As I read about Jyestha and Eshwara, I remembered the Zeethyar temple of Srinagar that I visited in the summer of year 2008. The place, picturesque spot surrounded by hills, has a spring dedicated to Zeestha Devi. here also the story of her origin mentions churning of the sea.

The temple, where meat (particularly goat liver) offerings are still the norm, is situated at  the foothills of Zabarwan in the vicinity (a mile) of famous Shankaracharya Hill spot of Shiv temple dedicated to Jyesthesvara. [Connection between two spots discussed in a previous post]


[ Images on the left: 1. An old photograph of Zeethyar showing a pandit standing next to the holy spring. The place now has a small temple in the middle of the spring(image 2), just like the one at Khir Bhawani, but the idol of Zeestha Devi, is certainly of recent date with a modern convention hindu look given to the goddess]


As I tried to look for stories and lores (thursday is her day) linking Smallpox and goddess at Zeethyar temple, the trail instead lead to another Goddess, the one seated at Hari Parbat.

Sir Walter Roper Lawrence (1857-1940), in his book  "The Valley of Kashmir" (1895), documented the curious custom of Kashmiri Pundits regarding Smallpox treatment. He wrote:
It is a sad fact that the occurrence of smallpox has become one of the accepted customs of Kashmir, and the Hindus have regular ceremonies which must be observed when the disease attacks their families. When it appears that a child is sick with the smallpox, the first thing to be done is to sew rupees into his headdress. He is then placed in a separate room, and is surrounded by clay toys of horses, elephants, palankins, fans and sugar-cakes, water-chestnuts and shells. Until the pustules are developed the child is kept on rice and curd, and no salt may be given to the child or used by the mother or wet-nurse. A little fish or a piece of meat is always hung up in the sick room chhai ratan*, but while the smallpox lasts no meat may be eaten and no prayers may be repeated in the house. When the disease abates the rupees are taken out of the headdress, and are spent on rice boiled in milk, which is distributed to relations and friends. The room is cleaned and the toys and a plate full of rice are flung into the river. If the smallpox is very severe, Sitla Mata, the smallpox deity, must be propitiated, and offerings of sheep, goats, horses or donkeys, and eyes of gold or silver are made to her priests on Hari-Parbat. Forty days after the smallpox first makes its appearance chat jihun**, rice boiled in milk is again distributed to relations and neighbours.
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*chhai ratan: Sh'ai Ra'tin (act of picking the sick spot) or is that Jaay'e Ratin (to pick a spot)
**chat jihun: Tchath'ji'hun (one who reached forty) 
Shoe'til (word usually among Pandits) / Sho'e'tij(word usually among Muslims): Smallpox
Shoe'til 'musil - the disfiguring marks left by Smallpox

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I was 12 when I got my bout of Chicken pox - Mata, as it is called universally in North. Sure enough, I was confined to a  corner of a room, an entire corner, a rare luxury as we only had two rooms for the family of seven. Then on the fortieth day, Khir - rice prepared in sweet milk - was prepared and distributed to the neighbors.

After I read about those Smallpox rituals mentioned by Walter Roper Lawrence, I talked around...but everyone instantaneously only recalled the Khir part. The practice of dead fish or meat being hung in the room, now certainly forgotten. Practice of feeding Shooshnaer (windpipe of sheep or goat), liver and heart of sheep to eagles at Hari Parbat is still acceptable, albeit often debated. However, no one associates the practice and the place with Smallpox - a disease whose governing goddess in her time was all power because of the death and destruction that she could bring, a disease so black that people would curse it upon their enemies.

In summer Kashmir is a paradise

View from a Shikara floating on Dal Lake.
Photograph taken by me in June 2008. 

What's wrong with this picture?
Inspiration: a wrongly uploaded photograph of Sal by James Burke.
Is the frame upside down?
Cross posted at my other blog

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Garmiyon may Kashmir jannat hai

In summer Kashmir is a paradise
- from "A dictionary of Hindustani proverbs: including many Marwari, Panjabi, Maggah, Bhojpuri, and Tirhuti proverbs, sayings, emblems, aphorisms, maxims, and similes" by S. W. Fallon, Richard Carnac Temple, Dihlavi Fakir Chand. Originally published: Benares : E.J. Lazarus & Co., 1886.



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gyav Tchot


Gyav Tchot - Roti made in Ghee. Naturally, best when had fresh.

The back side reveals its oven origin.

Mummy iskay peechay kala kala hai!

Kandur Waan / Kashmiri Bakery / Naan Wai

And we carried our bread and bakery with us.


These Hindu bakehouses, usually operating from rented shop spaces near localities with sizable population of Kashmiri Pandits, are mostly run by Hindus of Kistawar.

Often near the oven, you can find a sketch of a pooch-bellied woman, Lal Ded. Pooch belly a cover for her nakedness.

Kashmiris tell a strange story in which this woman dived into a burning oven of a Kandur on seeing a 'man'.  Some say it wasn't like that. Nonsense! Bring the baker to the witness stand.

Don but such apparel as will cause the cold to flee.
Eat but so much food as will cause hunger to cease.
O Mind! devote thyself to discernment of the Self and of the Supreme,
And recognize thy body as but food for forest crows.
- Lal Ded

Another bakery at night.
All breads, and kashmiris have variety of breads, have shrunk in size. Lavaasa now come in size of Girda and size of Girda is inching towards kulcha. And all of them seem to have too much baking soda.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Video of 'Bach Nagma' and more about this Kashmiri dance form

Count the number of times Dil is mentioned, you can tell it's a love long.


Notice Chakkar pirouettes, round spins, somewhat like Chakar of Kathak and the fast footwork meant to produce music from ghungroos ankle bells, somewhat like tatkar of Kathak.

Here's something interesting:
Tatkar is also mentioned in a 13th century AD work on music called Sangeeta Ratnakara (The Ocean of Music) composed by one Sarangadeva, a Kashmiri Pandit, son of one Sodhaladeva of Kashmir.
“ A monumental work came to be written in 13th century AD. This was the Sangeeta Ratnakara(The Ocean of Music) penned by Sarangadeva, an emigrant from Kashmir, who became the Chief Accountant of Raja Sodhala, a Yadava king of Devgiri in South India. A work so stupendous in depth and extent is it that it is difficult to believe that it could have been scribed by the one man. The Ratnakara gives in great detail description of scales, raga, talas, musical forms, instruments, and many other subjects. Of greater significance is the fact that it is, perhaps, the first major work dealing with Northern and Southern musical systems. It is opined by many scholars…that it was during this period Indian music got bifurcated into the two systems of North [Hindustani] and South [Karnatak.]”

-  Bigamudre Chaitanya Deva, An Introduction to Indian Music (1973), p.74.

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Tree of Life - "Star of David", Kalpavriksha and...

proponents of "Jewish origin of Kashmiri people" can have a field day looking at the image.

It looks like some sort of Star of David and some sort of Tree of life.


After the bridal shower, the Devgon havan - a fire ritual, is performed.

To the left of the fire, drawn in sendir vermilion sindurah on a rectangular cardboard, can be found a Kapavriksha wishing tree, celestial tree of life, spurting out of two interjecting but oppositely inverted  equilateral triangles, a figure having only four corners.


To the right of the fire are kept two bricks, up-right, side-by-side, in front of which burns an oil lamp.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wanvun - that old chorus song of old ladies

Wanwun, a type of traditional Kashmiri chorus singing, always performed by women - usually old women and usually meant for marriage, religious ceremonies and any other festive occasion.




Don't let anyone say we didn't sing for Matamal, the bride's maternal family. Look we are singing the old songs. He is from the Matamal side. So what did we say! Bless him! May he get his sacred thread soon, may we sing for him. Here comes the bride's mamaji. Sing for him. Singing. These Uncle and Nephew/Niece relations are very delicate. One must have brains. Singing. singing. Singing. Not that passage right now, we haven't reached there yet. Reading (the girl has had her bridal shower on the rock...). singing. Singing.
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Previous evening.
The booklet of Wanwun lyrics costs around Rs.60. The old women talked with respect about women, women, who could still sing these songs from memory. I tried to read. It's Kashmiri written in Devnagri. I couldn't. My grandmother breezed through the text.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bach'a Nagma Dancer


The dancer is known as Bacha, the Kid - usually a lithesome (at times, effeminate) boy/man who dances, sometimes comically, always attired like a woman in a multi-colored frock-like dress. The song-dance proceeding are known as Bach Nagma Jashan - Kid Dancer's Celebration. Presently, the most popular song-dance for marriage celebrations.

In older times, another kind of  celebration was more popular - Hafiz Nagma, 'Female Dancer's Song'

In this performance, just like in case of Bach Nagma, songs were usually set to Sufi lyrics or Sufiana Kalam, but the dancer who performed on these songs was always female and known as - Hafiza. These dancers were much celebrated at weddings and festivals.

In 1920s, Hafiz Nagma was banned in Kashmir by the ruling Dogra Maharaja. The Ruler felt this dance was losing its sufi touch and was becoming too sensual, de-based and hence amoral for the society. Now, songs being the same, in an odd parody, female Muslim dancers were replaced by young Muslim boys who dressed like women. It came to be known as bacha nagma and remains a popular for of celebration at Kashmiri weddings. Hafiz Nagma also survived but in an increasingly Islamic going society, kept losing ground.

This wasn't the first time that Kashmiri people had a brush with effeminacy. Kashmiris believe that Mughal Emperor Akbar, after his conquest of Kashmir, in an attempt to counter manly valour of its people and remove any possible future trouble, decree-forced Kashmiri men to were feminine gown like dresses - pheran.

Kashmiris love their pheran. Kashmiris love Bach Nagma.

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Bach Nagma Jashan on the night of Maenzraath

in swirls





Like a singing woman


Hands up- Hands down. Shoulder up-Shoulder down. On his knees.

thumka thumka

Even some Punjabi bhangra with young guys. 

More people he manages to get on the dance floor, the more he is showered with money. When I got dragged to the dance floor, he started doing something like Kathak with his feet, really working those ghungroos. Only problem, his feet were hidden under his frock, and I had no idea what he was doing. What was I supposed to do. Made a fool of myself. I just followed his step.

Around 11:30 and already a sleepy audience.

Time to get them ladies dancing.
That what the bacha does, he is supposed to get everyone to dance. Someone from the family secretly and often overtly points him in the right direction.

In between folk song, a funny song to wake up people, it starts something like this:

Aav ai Aav ai Rajesh Khanna/Syeeth-Syeeth Dimpul Khanna (Chorus)
Aav ai Aav ai Rajesh Khanna/Syeeth-Syeeth Tinkle Khanna (Chorus)

Here comes Rajesh Khanna, Here comes Rajesh Khanna, along comes Dimple and Twinkle Khanna.

 (Then the singer say's that he has seen many beautiful woman. All of the beautiful woman, ladies and girls. But...)

Korayv kor kissai tamaan/ Korayv  kar'e bhumaye fanah 


Girls put an end to the tale/ All girls purged their brows away.

(Then the singer sings about Men and purged turbans, Daughter-in-law and purged Mother-in-law, Mother-in-law and purged Daughter-in-law, and so on. and so forth. What's Rajesh Khanna and his family doing in it all? Don't ask me! )

 Hikat.

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Video to be posted soon.
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Update
Videos of Bach Nagma dance:

Video 1, a Kashmiri love song
Related Posts with Thumbnails

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