Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ghoul, Goblin, Succubi and Other Ethereal Preternatural Beings of Kashmir

Mansa Ram lit a laltain and in its flickering yellow glow slowly made his way up the round mud and wood stairs and into the room on the top floor. Nobody lived in the room anymore. It was empty. But no room is ever empty, or so it used to be said - specially about that room and especially in stories about that room. People told many stories about that floor - they said the room doesn't like having people after dark. And Mansa Ram, the good house help from Orissa was going to become part of one such short story about the room. Mansa ram used to work with the family for six months of Summer and in winter used to travel back to his village somewhere in Orissa. He tired hard to keep everyone happy, he really did, everyone liked him, but that night Mansa Ram unknowingly upset a very powerful resident of the house. Just as he set his foot inside the room, laltain blew out and for no reason his face received a loud slap that set his entire body hurling to ground. With a  buzzing sound still in his ears, his mind badly ruffled by the unprovoked violence, Mansa Ram got up from his crouched position, took a few cautious back steps, turned, groped walls in dark, tripped on the sill, crawled out the door, got up again and ran down the stairs screaming, 'Bhoot! Bhoot!'. In this way Mansa Ram became an unwitting victim of Ghardivtas anger and a character in one bedtime 'true' ghost story that I grew up with. The poor fellow was duly admonished for daring to go up to the floor at night. With out doubt everyone thought they knew exactly what had attack Mansa Ram that night. They had no question about it. Old Kashmiri belief in preternatural was strong.

To be rich, at risk to life, you could try to steal the topi of a Yetch, ancient Kashmiri Yeti.

A couple of years later, just after my birth, part of the house, along with that infamous part, was sold off by the extended clan members who moved down to Indian plains for work, better prospects and a better life. A wall separating the two parts was set up. Rooms were parted, divided. Our side. Their side. The new owner of that part of the house was a ghur-e-wol, the one with the horses. He moved the horses into the rooms next to the house. The place began to stink on damp nights. Every night you could hear the horses neighing and beating on the walls. With their each kick, from the walls fell off caked bits of mud. On many nights as I heard the story of Mansa Ram one more time from my grandmother, I imagined maybe it was Ghardivta playing around with the poor horses, giving them bad dreams. In morning, I would walk up to the wall and put my ear against it and try to hear. Something. Anything. I would only hear an occasional wheezing and thumping of hoofs. Then I would inspect the wall, carefully notice the new cracks and gaps in the wall, pick up a lump of wall mud cake from the floor and munch, pick a piece out from the wall and munch, pick out dry yellow straws from lumps, throw them down and munch the walls of the house.  


Godfrey Thomas Vigne, an Englishman who visited Kashmir in around 1835, in his writing provided an interesting list of preternatural beings that common Kashmiri, Hindu and Muslim. of the time believed in. In a section titled 'Genii of Kashmir' from his book 'Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo, the Countries Adjoining the Mountain-Course of the Indus, and the Himalaya, north of the Panjab with Map, Volume 1', here's the list:

The Jins

"The Jins (geni) are of both sexes and all religions : they are very mischievous, and in the exercise of evil would seem to be almost omnipotent and omnipresent."

"The Gins (geni) are the most universally feared, and Samud Shah [ a local noble and Vigne's guide and host on many occasions] assured me that there were many places where a man could not venture after nightfall, for fear of them. There is an old musjid standing alone on a desolate spot, between Shupeyon and Safur Nagur, near, I think, the village of Arihel, where the gins, as he affirmed, were as thick as sheep in a fold. He once, when travelling, repaired thither for the purpose of saying his prayers ; he heard his own name pronounced, and a gin suddenly appeared in the shape of a jackal, and nearly knocked him down by running against him. He was terribly frightened, and having made his escape, narrated his tale to the first peasant he met, who expressed his astonishment at his having ventured into a place which every one knew to be so dangerous."
The Deyu

"The Deyu are cannibal giants;[...]"

 Believed to live in the mountains.
The Ifrites

"[...]and the Ifrites (elves), who were in attendance once upon Solomon, seem to have been of this nature."

The Yech 

"The Yech is nearly the Satyr of heathen mythology.[...] The Ghor, or Yech, is a feeder upon dead bodies."

Offered fish and rice of a partlucar day.

The Dyut

"The Dyut is the inhabitant of houses ; and to him are attributed all noises, losses, and domestic troubles. They are propitiated with food once a - year; and would appear to resemble the brownie of the Scottish Highlands."


"The Bram-bram-chuk is said to be seen in wet and marshy places, at night. From its description, as a rapidly moving light, it may be pronounced to be a will-o'-the-wisp; but if an account of its personal appearance be insisted upon, and the informant finds it necessary to say that he had seen its shape, it was described as an animal covered with hair, with eyes on the top of its head, and a " bisear bud shukl" (very ugly look) altogether. Its size is said to be about that of a badger; and I am inclined to think that it is the animal known as the grave-digger in India."

The Whop

"The Whop, he said, resembled a cat or dog, and resided in old buildings."

The Mushran

"The Mushran appears in the shape of a dirty-looking and very old man, who seizes a person with a parental hug, and produces thenceforth a wasting and dangerous decline."

The Degins and the Degus

"The Degins are the females of the Degus. It is said that they often seek husbands amongst mortals, but that their attachment is productive of fatal consequences, as its object dies in the course of two or three months."

The Dyn
"The Dyn, who is the witch of Europe, will sometimes carry her malignant disposition so far as to eat a man's heart out."

The Rantus

"The Rantus is the Aal of Afghanistan, perhaps the same as the Tral, or fairy, of Scandinavia, and the Goul of the Persian and Turkish tales. Her feet are reversed, and her eyes placed perpendicularly and parallel to the nose."

The Rih

"The Rih is a nondescript female, said to be very handsome ; but will entice a man into a snare for the purpose of eating him."

The Peri

"The Peri is a being beautiful enough to compensate for all these horrors. Their bodies are made up of the four elements; but fire is the predominant ingredient without consuming the rest. But their amours with a mortal are followed by death from fire.
The attachment of the females is as fatal as that of the other sex ; but they are said to play all kinds of pranks. Their ladies, like Titania, will occasionally become fond of "a lovely boy stolen from an Indian king." And the young Kashmirian girls modestly accuse the fairies of both sexes of stealing the surma (antimony) from their eyelids whilst they sleep; the one from love, and the other from jealousy of their beauty. The old building of Kutlina, on the green slope that overhangs the city lake, is considered as one of their principal quarters, and is also on that account denominated the Peri Mahal, or the palace of the fairies."


"There is another kind of hobgoblin (whose name has been accidentally erased from my note-book) to whose agency all the unaccountable noises and hootings in old buildings are ascribed."


Based on local lore name of some addition beings:

Tasrufdars: Spring elves, guardians of water bodies.


Previously: A modern phenomena known as Trounz

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Mountains, 1920s

Some vintage mountain beauty from 'The Charm of Kashmir' (1920) by V.C. Scott O'connor (Vincent Clarence Scott, 1869-1945).

The birth of a River. Lidder (?)
High Solitudes

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.

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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Old Photographs of Kashmir, 1920

Some more photographs from 'The Charm of Kashmir' (1920) by V.C. Scott O'connor (Vincent Clarence Scott, 1869-1945).

Famous temple of Avantisvami-Vishnu at Avantipura (A.D.854-883)
Poling on the Wular (wo'lar) Lake

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kashmir by Sultan Ahmad, 1920s

Still some more paintings from 'The Charm of Kashmir' (1920) by V.C. Scott O'connor (Vincent Clarence Scott, 1869-1945). These are by an artist named Mrs. L Sultan Ahmad. I couldn't find anything about this artist. In the foreword to the book, the author wrote:

Like Abanindro Nath Tagore, she would reach the spirit that lies hidden behind the glow of colour and the splendour of the world in Kashmir. In the two pictures she has contributed to this volume, there stand revealed the lustre of Day, when the world is going about its business; and the mystery of Night, when the dark Canals are veiled in shadows. They are symbolic of the East, where Life and Death jostle each other, and Secrecy and
Candour go hand in hand.

Day:- The Apple Tree Canal
Night:- The Mar Canal

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Paintings of Kashmir by Colonel G. Strahan

Some more paintings from 'The Charm of Kashmir' (1920) by V.C. Scott O'connor (Vincent Clarence Scott, 1869-1945). These water color are by Colonel G. Strahan, Deputy Surveyor General, Trigonometrical Branch.

The Lidar Valley, Blatkot

The Waning Light
Nanga Parbat: Across The Valley
Lake Land

Friday, May 7, 2010

Drawn by Kul Brahmins of Kashmiri Pandits

A special from Man Mohan Munshi Ji. I remember that Kul Brahmins used to bring little photographs/painting of goddess on the day of Gour'trie (Gouri-tra-itr ?)

In good old days while compiling the horoscopes of the family members of their Yajmans  the Kul  Brahmins(family Purohits)  of Kashmiri Pandits themselves draw/paint pictures of the Hindu deities on the top of the Horoscopes which were not in book form but a huge length of paper rolled into a bundle.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shishar ga'nt, Amarnath, 1968

Man Mohan Munshi Ji shares a unique photograph that he took back in 1968.
Shishar ga'nt (Icicles) hanging from the roof of an ice cave of Mushran Glacier located south east and upstream of holy Amarnathji cave Shrine in Sind valley Kashmir.The photograph was taken from inside of the ice cave in 1968.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rare Photographs of Pandit Nehru

An incredible collection of rare old photographs of Pandit Nehru sent in by Man Mohan Munshi Ji. I have contributed three images - one that i found in 'Letters From a Father to His Daughter: Being the Brief Account of the Early Days of the World Written for Children' and two photographs taken by Homai Vyarawalla that I found in a Catalogue for a Photo Exhibition organized in year 1999 by Press Trust of India celebrating  50 years of its existence.

Update: I am adding some more rare photographs, mostly taken from a picture book on Nehru published in 1964 just after his death. Also I am adding photographs from some other resources too. By the time I am done, this is going to be the single biggest archive of Nehru Photographs on the web. Enjoy! 


Nehru with parents Moti Lal Nehru and Swarup Rani

Yagnopveet (Sacred Thread) ceremony of Jawaharlal Nehru

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Visiting Baba Reshi

Near Ramboh village in Baramulla District, three miles from Tangmarg, on way to Gulmarg, the shrine of Baba Reshi is situated at about 7,000 ft. The tomb (Ziarat) is of an ascetic actually named Baba Payamuddin (Pam Din) and to whom the Chak Dynasty Rulers of Kashmir paid courtesy visits during the Mughal period.

Born around 1411, he is said to have died around 1480. This Reshi, a highborn son of a nobleman but turned ascetic after observing hardworking ants too closely one day, was a disciple of  Baba Zainuddin Rishi (born Ziya Singh or Jaya Singh, some say) of Aishmuqam who was one of the principal disciples of Sheikh Nur-ud-din (Nund Rishi) - the first of the Reshis; the disciples, his four Jewels: 'Buma' Baba Bamuddin Rishi, 'Nasar'  Baba Nasruddin Rishi, 'Zaina'  Baba Zainuddin Rishi and 'Latif ' Baba Latifuddin Rishi.

In  his later years, on the direction of Zainuddin Rishi, Baba Payamuddin moved to village Ramboh, and like others of the order, performed miracles, helped the common people and spread the name. Baba Reshi famously built a daan, a fire place at this place. People came from far and wide to plaster  this daan, to offer sacrifices. They still do. All to have their wishes granted.

In the 90s, this place also faced fire.

On way to Gulmarg, I had no idea we were going to make a stopover here. So it came as a pleasant surprise. After visiting the house that wasn't there anymore, it came as a pleasant surprise from my parents. My mother couldn't stop gushing about the place. I guess she has inherited the devotion to this place from her mother who must have been here often thanks to Nana's job at Gulmarg.

Inside the shrine, in the center of the hall, there is some wonderful woodwork around the tomb of the saint. As I walked around the tomb, circling it, appreciating the art, 'Is it walnut wood?', noticing something strange, I  came to a sudden embarrassing halt. There was something wrong with the place where I stood. One look around and I realized that I had been circling in the outer circle and had unwittingly walked into the women section. There were women sitting all around. The right side of the hall seemed women only. Women praying, crying. Baba Reshi is famous for granting 'child wish'. According to an old tradition of this place, the children thus born, taking a vow of celibacy is attached to the shrine for life and at any given time forty such saints (Reshis) are supposed to serve the shrine.

I traced back my steps and this time started to walk the other side. My mother took up a corner and did her own bit of praying and crying. I walked into the inner circle, taking a closer look at the tomb, 'Is it a tomb?', again I realized something wrong. This time it was the direction. Circling, left to right, I found myself facing a teenage boy coming from the other direction. The boy, praying under his breadth, was cleaning the woodwork using his fingers, measuring the woodwork inch by inch, picking up pecks of dust. An old practice, I have seen Pandits do it at the new shrines of old saints, at Jammu.

After spending some more time inside the shrine, as I started to step outside, I noticed an attendant at the door was handing out something wrapped in Newspaper to the people walking out of the shrine. Prashad? Prasadam? Something sweet? Something to eat?Tabarruk? I too streached my arm for the handout. Walking a distance outside, I opened the paper packet. Inside I found broken down stones and rocks. Others found ash, dust and soot. 

Later someone told me a funny little anecdote. A couple of years ago, a small group of Pandit families had come to visit the shine on the urs, death anniversary, of the saint. A group of separatists was also present. After the common prayers, the separatists raised their hands and asked the saint to grant their wish, 'Kashmir bane Pakistan, Let Kashmir be Pakistan'. The crowd said, 'Ameen, Amen'. The Pandits shaking their sideways, under their breath added, 'Zah ti ne, Zah ti ne, never, never'

Eminent Kashmiri Pandits of the Past

Some incredible old photographs sent in by Man Mohan Munshi Ji. Will keep this post to publish more stuff on this theme.
Pandit Mahanand Joo Dhar   (1828-1908) 
 He took over the land settlement department of Jammu & Kashmir Govt. from Sir Walter Lawrence
Pandit Sat Ram Joo Dhar (1845-1875)
Revenue Commissioner Kishtwar  S/O Pt Mahananad Joo Dhar
Smt. Sonamal Dhar w/o  Pt. Sat Ram Dhar
Pt Mahanand Joo Dhar was the great grandfather and Pt. Sat Ram Dhar was grandfather of Maj-Gen. (retd) B.N.Dhar.

Pamposh, Khelvatar, Pambuch

Sent in by Man Mohan Munshi Ji.
Pamposh ( Blooming Lotus)
Khelvatar  (Lotus Leaf)
Pambuch (Fresh lotus fruit).

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