Sunday, May 23, 2010

Maha Mahadevi Mata Rani Maharani Victoria

There's an old Qurratulain Hyder short story having a minor character of a tribal woman whose most precious piece of jewellery was 'tooria' - a necklace of coins embellished with the image of Queen Victoria.

And I thought nothing could top that. Then I came across something bizarrely interesting in Walter Rooper Lawrence's Valley of Kashmir. Visiting Kashmir in 1889 as the Land settlement officer, he noticed that -


"An interesting fact about the Hindus of Kashmir is that they worship the likeness of Her Majesty the Queen Empress. This prevails not only among the Pandits of the city, but also among the village Hindus. It appears to be their custom to regard as divine the sovereign de facto, but in the case of the emperor Aurangzeb they made an exception, and his likeness was never worshiped, for he was a persecutor of the Hindus."
I tried imagining how that photograph or an etching (or a coin) would have sat in the dark thokur kuth, God room, of the Pandit. It wasn't hard to imagine. Kashmiris were apparently quite happy with the coming of British. After the incompetence of Chak regulars, indifference of Mughal lords, the barbarity of Pathans and in-humaneness of Sikhs, the Queen must have appeared like a Goddess to put an end to all their sorrows. With the coming of British came the post service, the telegraph, the education system, the hospitals, the canals, etc. And it was all done in the name of the Queen. Francis Younghusband writes how easily he found hospitality in the remote North just because of the good work done under Queen Victoria's name. With the British came the British sense of fair-play. It is said that around that time a distressed poor Kashmiri could often be heard saying (often half-meant threats) that he would take his case to the Queen herself and that she shall dispense justice. Talk about Mata ka Darbar. (Isn't it interesting that only Mata Ranis hold darbars?)

Decades later, Tagore wasn't the only one singing odes to British Empire. During World War 2, owing to the lack of enthusiasm among Kashmir Muslims for joining the British Army and to counter the German propaganda that fighting Germany meant going to war against the Ottoman Caliphate since the Turkish forces had joined hands with Germany, Mahjoor, the Kashmiri Bard, was assigned the task of writing a moving qaseeda for the British Empire. Mahjoor came up with Jung-e-German which became a rage in Kashmir (I wonder if Jum'German finds its origins in the popularity of this qaseeda). Mahjoor wrote:

When the liberal, benign and unassuming
British came to aid governance
Our destiny woke up from sleep
Long live our Gracious Emperor!

King of England who rules the world,
Grant him power and pageantry
May his kingdom be blessed
Long live our Gracious Emperor!

The poem also praised the Dogra ruler. He went on to write two more panegyrics praising Maharaja Pratap Singh and his successor, Maharaja Hari Singh. It is safe to assume Mahjoor the nationalist hadn't yet been born, in fact may be that concept hadn't yet taken seed in the Kashmiri mind. Interestingly enough Mahjoor never got any benefit for writing the poem. He was told that since he hadn't brought in any volunteers personally, he wasn't entitled to any special benefits.

-0-
Information about Mahjoor and the lines from Jung-e-German comes from Trilokinath Raina's work on the poet.
Image: A rare image of Queen Victoria laughing. Found it in The People's Almanac presents The Book of Lists (Bantam Edition, 1978) by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace.

3 comments:

  1. Its strange that when the rest of the country was fighting the British WE were singing odes to them. Infact I would say ... the feeling of Indian-ness amongst KPs was only as a result of the migration.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I guess modern Nationalist feelings had a late birth in Indian Sub-continent. And Gandhi and his politics had a great role in that. Maybe I will do a post on Gandhi and Kashmir.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nationalism, as we understand it today,is a modern concept.... a little over 100 years old. In Lawrence's time India was still a nation 'in the making'. Very few Indians (Lord Dufferin disparagingly called them a microscopic minority ) were actually conscious of India as a nation.And even they were not exactly 'fighting' the British. As far as Kashmir was concerned, it was a different ball game altogether. Kashmir was not a part of British India ( This, for me, is a good enough reason for us to question assumptions. Why is it that Kashmiri Pandits think of 'pro - India sentiments' as the most natural thing in the world for a Kashmiri to have?). Allegiance to India ( even if such a thing as India had been in existence) would not necessarily have been a virtue for a Kashmiri and judging by the policies India has been following in Kashmir since 1947 should still not be counted as one. This brings us to the question of the Kashmiri Pandits' allegiance to India. I think this has more to do with relegious affinity ( a sense of fraternity with the hindus of India) than with anything else..... curiously this is precisely what we accuse the Kashmiri muslims of ( a sense of fraternity with the muslims of Pakistan).

    ReplyDelete

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