Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gazelles, Rhinos and Sea-Elephants

An abridged version of it appeared in this months issue of Down to Earth magazine for their cover story on literature and Environmental concerns.

Whatever exists in whatever Mandala of the earth, exists in its quintessence in Kashmira, Whatever exists in Kashmira Mandala, exists within the waters of the Vitasta.” —Nilmatapurana, Story of Nila Naga, 6th-9th century AD

The story of Kashmir usually begins with its birth in water: Gods and Supermen emptying a primordial lake to let humans inhabit it and granting them rights to the land and its riches. The story was retold in various ways in Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic eras of Kashmir’s history. Though the story gradually changed with each retelling, the belief that life came out of water remained. Dwellers of the valley saw Kashmir’s water bodies, the rivers and the springs as the source of life. The change of seasons and the dramatic impact it had on environment were all too obvious to the valley’s dwellers. They marveled that their valley brimmed with beautiful life in the harsh Himalayan environment. Out of this awe of nature and its transformational powers came their first metaphors.

When matters of morality and ethics were given a thought, when earliest oral stories were put into text, much like the people in other parts of the world, like people living in other mandalas, the people of valley put their words into the mouth of animals and let them talk like wise sages. People, their lives still tied to a wild world over which they didn't have full control, understood and appreciated these primitive literary devices. Until a few decades ago, an average Indian child's introduction to wildlife were the stories from Panchatantra. It was a work that made the young mind conscious of the not so otherness of other beings on this planet. One of the primary sources of Panchatantra, as it is available to us now, is Tantrakhyayika, a work of 11th century prolific Kashmirian poet Kshemendra.

The stories and the storywriters from Kashmir became travellers. From pit-dwellers man had evolved into a modern man, an explorer of text and world. Stories now were intertwined in languages from various distant land and yet the metaphors derived from nature remained. 11th-century Kashmiri poet Bilhana was born in a rural Kashmiri village Khonamuh about 15 kilometres south of Srinagar. The English translation of his love verses, Caurapâñcâśikâ, are quoted extensively in John Steinbeck's Great-depression era American novel Cannery Row (1945), In his work Vikramankadevacharita, an eulogy dedicated to Western Chalukyan king Vikramaditya VI, the poet gives us a description of Khonamuh, a birth place of ancient legends, some say even of Brihatkatha the lost work that forms the source of Somadeva's 11th century work Kathasaritsagara (Ocean of streams of story), the pieces from which can even be found in Arabian nights and in writing of Salman Rushdie. About his birth place place Bilhana writes (trs. Georg Bühler):

"What shall I sing of that spot, the ancient home of wonderful legends, the sportive embellishment of the bosom of Himalaya? One part bears the saffron in its native loveliness, the other the grape, pale like a cut of juicy sugarcane from Sarayu's bank. […] When (Bilhana) took from Kashmir the pure lore of all Sastras, he, forsooth, made the qualities of the snowy mountains his own. Else, how could he, when angered, have reduced, in every land, the faces of disputants to the likeness of lotuses blighted by hoar-frost?"

In these lines not only do we find one of the earliest description of a Kashmiri village but also the way the metaphors born in Kashmiri's unique eco-system continued to be employed by a writer born in Kashmir and living as a immigrant in mainland where he was picking up new metaphors of a distant land where Sarayu was the source of life and metaphors. The influence of water, of rivers and springs on human life was too immense for the writers to ignore.

When the dwellers of the valley chose to tell their history, poetry was the medium and river the metaphor. So, the 12th century poet Kalhana titled his work Rajatarangini or ‘The River of Kings’. We read about formation of new cities after humankind’s triumph over unruly rivers, giving order to chaos. It tells us “that during the reign of Avantivarman (855 AD-883 AD), one Surya engineered alterations in course of rivers to control frequent floods” and “made the streams of Indus and Jhelum flow according to his will, like a snake-charmer his snakes.” River was a divine serpent that man had finally managed to master. Or, so he thought.

Literature produced in Kashmir, till then, was mostly in Sanskrit. But there is evidence to suggest that people in the Valley were multilingual. It was an ideal environment for a new language to emerge. In Rajatarangini, we hear the first echo of this new language. The line ‘Rang’assa Helu dinna’ (village Helu be given to Ranga) by a Domba singer named Ranga, around 10th century, is the first written record of spoken Kashmiri language.

The story of the birth of modern Kashmiri literature begins much later with the arrival of mystic poet Lal Ded (Granny Lalla) in early14th century just as Islam made its first appearance in Kashmir. However, Lal Ded’s life story was first written as late as 16th century and that too in Persian chronicles. In the intermediate two centuries, Kashmiri language was born out of oral traditions of ‘sayings’. Lal Ded narrated in a format that came to be known as vakhs, literally “spoken words”. In her words too, the story of Kashmir goes back to water (and would probably end in water?).

trayi nengi sarah sar’e saras
aki nengi sars arshes jay
haramokha Kausara akh sum saras
sati nengi saras shunakar

(Three times do I remember a lake overflowing. Once do I remember seeing in the firmament the only existing place. Once do I remember seeing a bridge from Haramukh to Kausar. Seven times do I remember seeing the whole world a void.) 
This collection of her vakhs was translated to English by Nilla Cram Cook, an American linguist and a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi and published in The way of the Swan.

In her vakhs, Lal Ded was reimagining the Valley. She was weaving metaphysical ideas with objects in physical world, a literary exercise that had fascinated the Kashmiri Trika poet-philosophers of yore. Lal Ded’s words were often cryptic and yet the common folk followed them. Take for example the lines:

It is a lake so tiny that in it a mustard seed finds no room.
Yet from that lake everyone drinks water.
And into it do gazelles, jackals, rhinoceroses, and sea-elephants
Keep falling, falling, almost before they have time to become born

Lal Ded seems to be describing a karmic play in which all beings on earth come from the same source, a source that is inconsequential and infinite at the same time. She holds the attention of Kashmiris by mentioning familiar objects like gazelles and jackals and sets their imagination afire by mentioning the unfamiliar: rhinoceroses and sea-elephants. But why does she mention rhinoceros, an animal most of her listeners must have never seen? What are sea-elephants and what do people nestled in the Himalayas know of them? The lines, in fact, are a riddle from Lal Ded whose simple answer is: mother’s teats.

Kashmiri, for centuries, was an oral language and Lal Ded’s saying survived in popular parlance because her vakhs were passed on from generation to generation, as riddles for children. Though Lal Ded presented her personal experiences and thoughts in cryptic manner, her advice to people was always lucid:

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 recognise thy body is but food for forest crows.

This idea of a moderate life was extended and built upon by her spiritual and literary inheritor, Nund Rishi. Born in Kaimuh village of Kashmir in 1375(/7) AD to a weaver family, Nund Rishi’s sayings uttered in a format called Shruk, were to become the moist soil on which the Kashmiri language later bloomed. Love of nature, trees and animals was going to be one of the main teachings of this mystic poet and of the rishis that followed him. These teachings still form the core of environmental concerns of a common Kashmiri.

It is not uncommon to still hear some Kashmiri utter Nund Rishi’s words of advice: Ann Poshi Teli Yeli Van Poshan (Food shall last till forests last) This saying, in fact, is the first instance of a Kashmiri uttering environmental concerns. While most of Nund Rishi’s literary predecessors described Kashmir as a land of abundant natural beauty with ever-flowing rivers and great garden retreats, Nund Rishi’s environmentalism seems all too sudden and dramatic. To understand it, we have to understand the era in which his sayings gained eager ears.

Shivara’s Third Rajatarangini suggests that 13th-14th century was a period of not just political and religious unrest but also a period of intense growth in terms of urban population and economy. New cities and towns cropped up in Kashmir. Most of these were at the spots where modern towns and cities of Kashmir are still expanding. This urbanisation probably started during Lal Ded’s time. In one of her vakhs she tells us:

“My wooden bow shoots
only arrows of grass
This metropolis finds
only an inept carpenter”

Lal Ded compares the helpless imperfectness of human body to an ugly metropolis (Razdan’e) designed by a greedy human mind.

By the time of Nund Rishi, this urbanisation had intensified. Houses, bridges, shrines, all were made of wood. Even Kashmir’s crafts depended on wood and animals. All this could only mean an additional strain on Kashmir’s ecology. It was during this era that Nund Rishi, also known as of Sheikh Noor-ud-din, preached the need for preserving nature to rural agrarian people who could easily relate to the metaphors he employed.

During this turbulent era, Nund Rishi gave Kashmiris an ominous vision of future:

Dear Nasar,
listen to the words of Guru
The crown of hog shall bear
a crest of peacock
River Vyeth shall run dry
sewage drains overflow
Then you shall see
the chaotic Simians rule.


Holidaying and Trekking in Kashmir (1969) by N. L. Bakaya

The free book released this month under SearchKashmir Free Book project is part of a legacy of Biscoe School where a special emphasis was laid on familiarizing the students with the local geography. The school was famous for its trekking tours.  Over the years, after the British left, some of these students went on to become the advocates of the importance of such activities in overall growth of an individual. One of such persons was N. L. Bakaya.

"N.L. Bakaya born in 1892, received education at the C.M.S. Tyndale Biscoe High School and later at the S.P. College, Srinagar. In 1914, he joined the Biscoe School as a teacher and retired in 1954 as Headmaster. It was at this school that he developed a passion for trekking and climbing, besides water and other sports.
As Sports Secretary, he organised regattas, tournaments and other sports. Every summer he organised parties to climb prominent peaks and treks across the charming side valleys of Kashmir. He has also travelled widely all over India as well as Burma.
After retirement in 1954, Bakaya was asked by the State Government to organise sports for the State and was appointed Special Sports Organiser for five years. In this capacity, he organised youth camps and put physical education in the State Educational Institutions on a sound basis. He is one of the founder members of the Kashmir Olympic Association and the Kashmir Football Federation."

What this book offers is clear precise details on how to proceed about trekking in Kashmir. 
Some maps from the book:

Map of Srinagar City
Sketch Showing Treks from Pahalgam

Sketch Showing Trek From Sonamarg to Gangabal
Sketch Showing Treks across Pir Panchal

Thursday, June 19, 2014

House at Ishber

February 21, 2014

Yaseen gave a tour of his new office. It's an old Pandit house. Yaseen's family and the previous owner have been friends for decades. In fact, the old owner still has a space reserved for his summer visits.

The suburb around Nishat-Ishber cropped up around late 70s and early 80s. The families that had seen an economic growth had started to move from traditional old Kashmiri houses in the conjested interiors of old Srinagar . Joint households were splitting and each micro inhabiting a new space of their own. The houses that came up around this time were a hybrid of faux European and Kashmiri style. The wood was still part of the design, instead of sand, mud was still used to bind the bricks, the entrance was still on a raised platform, but the interiors were more lavish and even offered the luxury of an attached toilet/bathroom with running water (thanks to a revolutionary product called 'Sintex').

Yaseen asked the name of that metallic hood thing at the top. Apparently, it was typical of Kashmiri Pandit houses to have it. I couldn't tell. I thought he was asking me about the bee hive.

Brick Work with Sand
Yaseen told me this funny story about a Pandit house in this area that sold of 6 Lakh Rupees, and then resold for 35 Lakh Rupees and finally sold again to a NRI Pandit for 75 Lakh Rupees.

teak wood 

After renovation.
Two view from the window. Zabarwan.
Sintex Tank
Old Belongings.
Inside Zoon Dub. Moon Room. Best part of a Kashmiri house.
Brair-Kani. Cat's Attic.
I wanted to be inside these two spaces for the longest time.

Among the traditional obligation that a Kashmiri Pandit was required to fulfil after building a house was 'Krur Khanun', digging a well. Most of the old houses came had a Krur. Yaseen's house came with a 'naag' (spring). For Pandits a house was a living entity and so was as spring. There is still some life left in the spring even though it got badly choked on trash during years of neglect. The new owner plans to re-dig and revive it.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

History of Jammu State

Extraction complete

History of Jammu State
J. Hutchison and J.Ph.Vogel
Journal of the Panjab Historical Society
Volume 8, No.2

"As already mentioned the ancient name of the State was Durgara, as found on two Chamba copper plate deeds, and of this name the terms Durgar and Dogra, in common use at the present time, are derivations. Till the discovery of the copper plates several other derivations were assigned for the origin of the name. One of these was Dugarta or Dvigarta, that is, "the tract between two rivers," viz., the Ravi and Chinab - in analogy with  Trigarta or Kangra. By some the name was supposed to refer to the two sacred lakes of Saroin Sar and Man Sar, and the country around them. These derivations of the name must now be regarded purely fanciful. The name Durgara is probably a tribal designation, like Gurgara, the original of the modern "Gujar". The names Durgar and Dogra are now applied to the whole area in the outer hills between the Ravi and Chinab, but this use of the terms is probably of recent origin, and date only from the time when the tract came under the supremacy of Jammu.

The chronology of Jammu is a blank down to the early part of the tenth century, when it is referred to under the name of Durgara. This reference establishes the fact that the State then existed and was ruled by its own chief, called the " lord of Durgara." At a considerably later date the references in the Rajatarangini to two Rajas of Babbapura, if accepted as applying to Jammu, enable us to fix approximately the subsequent reigns. We may assume that Vajradhara, who was in power in A.D. 1114-18, succeeded about A.D. 1110, and the earliest authentic date after this is that of Raja Parasram Dev (A.D. 1589). Between these dates twenty Rajas ruled the State, giving an average reign of about twenty-five years. There may have been omissions of names in copying the Vansavali which would reduce this average, indeed one such name is found in the Akbarnamah. Again, from A.D. 1589 to A.D. 1812 there were twelve reigns, giving an average of nearly twenty years. These averages are in keeping with those of many other hill States.

As in other parts of the hills, Jammu State was probably preceded by a long period of government by petty chiefs, called Ranas and Thakurs. The traditions relating to this Thakurain period, as it is called, are less definite to the west than to the east of the Ravi, but in the historical records of most of the States in the Jammu area there are fairly clear evidences of such a political condition. These traditions, however, are least definite in the oldest States, having probably passed into oblivion through lapse of time. The foundation of some of the States is distinctly associated with the conquest of one or more of these petty barons. There are no references to the Ranas in the Jammu Vansavali, and it is unusual to find such references in the case of very ancient States, but in the folklore of the people traditions of the ancient polity are common.We may therefore assume that for many centuries after Jammu State was founded the outlying portions, which at a later period became separate and independent States, were under the rule of Ranas and Thakurs, possibly with a loose allegiance to Durgara.

The Dogra royal line trace their descent from Kus, the second son of Rama, and came originally, it is said, from Ayodhya. Like Chamba and many other royal families of the hills, they belong to the Surajbansi race and the clan name is Jamwal. Probably there was an older designation which has been forgotten.

The Manhas Rajputs, a large agricultural tribe found along the foot of the outer hills between the Ravi and the Jehlam, claim to be descended from the same ancestor as the Jammu royal clan. The tradition among them is that from an early period some of the younger members of the royal clan took to agriculture, and as following the plough is opposed to Rajput sentiment, they thereby became degraded, and are looked down upon by those who adhere to ancient custom. Most of the Manhas, it is said, can trace their descent from chief of the various States under different offshoots of the 'Jamwal royal clan. It is improbable that Jamwal was the original name of the tribe as suggested by Ibbetson. The name can date only from the time when Jammu became the capital and it is applied only to the royal clan and its offshoots.

The early history of the State is lost in the mists of the past and even common tradition is silent. The first Raja, named Agnibaran, is said to have been a brother or kinsman of the Raja of Ayudhya. He came up into the Punjab by way of Nagarkot (Kangra), and after crossing the Ravi settled at Parol near Kathua, opposite to Madhopur in the Gurdaspur District. According to the records this, if authentic, must have been at a very early period. His son, Vayusrava, added to his territory the country of the outer hills as far west as the Jammu Tawi. Four other Rajas followed in succession and the fifth was Agnigarbh, who had eighteen sons, of whom the two oldest were Bahu-lochan and Jambu-lochan. Bahu-lochan succeeded his father and founded the town and fort of Bahu, on the left bank of the Tawi, opposite Jammu, and made it his capital. In seeking to extend his territories towards the plains he fell in battle with Chandarhas, then Raja of the Punjab (Madhyadesa) whose capital was probably at Sialkot. The reference is interesting and probably historical. The war with Chandarhas doubtless was the outcome of an attempt on the part of the hill chief to enlarge the State boundaries towards the plains. Tradition affirms that in former times the territory extended much farther to the south than now, and the Raja of Sialkot would naturally oppose such encroachments on his borders.

Sialkot has been identified with the ancient Sakala, the Sagala of Buddhist literature, which is thus proved to be one of the oldest cities in the Punjab. In very ancient times it was the capital of the Madras who are known in the later Vedic period, and Sakaladvipa or " the island of Sakala " was the ancient name of the doab between the rivers Chandrabhaga (Chenab) and Iravati (Ravi). In somewhat later times (c. B.C. 200) Sakala was the capital of the later Graeco-Indian kings of the house of Euthymedus, who ruled the Eastern Punjab, and it was the residence of Alenander who has been identified with king Melinda, who is known from the Buddist treatise called "The Questions of Melinda." His date was about B.C. 150. At a still later period Sakala was the capital of Salavahana, whose son, Rasalu, is the great hero of all Punjab tradition, and after the invasion of the Hunas (Huns) in the latter part of the fifth century A.D. it became the capital of Toramana and his son Mihirakula, who ruled over the Punjab and also probably over Kashmir. As Jammu is only thirty miles from Sialkot, and the boundary even at the present time is within seven miles of the latter place, it is evident that frequent disputes must have arisen in former times, similar to that referred to in the Vansavali.

Jambu-lochan followed and continued the war with Chandar-has in which the latter was slain. He is then said to have founded the town of Jammu. The story is thus related: Jambu-lochan on becoming Raja wished to found another town as ^ his capital and name it after himself. With this in view he went out hunting one day accompanied by his officials, and crossing the Tawi he saw in the jungle a deer and a tiger drinking at the same tank. Being surprised at the sight he returned to his tent and calling his Ministers enquired the meaning of such a strange occurrence. They replied that the explanation lay in the fact that the soil of the place excelled in virtue and for that reason no living creature bore enmity against another. The Raja therefore came to the conclusion that this was just the kind of site he was in search of and founded a new town, calling it Jambupura.'

The spot on which the tank was found is now called Purani Mandl,'- a locality in Jammu town, where the Rajas on their accession receive the rajtilak, or mark of investiture at the time of installation. The Purani Mandi marks the spot where the palace originally stood, and the Rajas resided for centuries. It is near the small temple of Raghunath (Rama) called " Maharani ka Mandir," founded by the Bandhrali Rani of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. A great number of people are daily fed there, and receive each one pice in cash in name of the rani. The present Purani Mandi buildings are said to have been erected by Raja Mal Dev, probably in the fourteenth century. The present palace is modern and was erected by Maharaja Gulab Singh.

Jammu has no ancient buildings or remains, nor anything to indicate that it is a place of great antiquity. The temples, which are generally a sure evidence of age, are all modern. The place has a large population, but its prosperity is of recent date. The earliest historical mention of Jammu is in connection with Timur's invasion in A.D. 1398-9. In the Tarikh-i-Kashmlr-i-Azami (A.D. 1417) a Raja of Jammu is referred to and the town is spoken of as then about five hundred years old. We may therefore conclude that it was founded about A.D. 900. It is quite possible, however, that Jammu may date from an earlier period, as the legend says; though it may not have been a place of any importance and did not become the capital till a later time."

Get the complete article here at

Tawi. Jammu. Spring.2013.
Gulab Singh's fort [by the side of Chinab?]. 1847. By James Duffield Harding during 1846 visit to the Kingdom by Charles Stewart Hardinge, the eldest son of the first Viscount Henry Hardinge, the Governor General of India.
[via: British Library]
Map of Jammu City. Company Period Punjab. 1880-90 A.D.
[from an exhibition at Kala Kendar Jammu]
Dogra Man 1944
“Nautch fencing dance before the Prince of Wales at Jummoo”,1876.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Lull in midst of a Storm, 1947

An extract from 'The leaf and the flame' (1959) by Margaret Parton (1915-1981), staff correspondent of the New York Herald Tribune. Paints a vivid picture of Kashmir just before the invasion in 1947 as the flames of partition finally starting reaching Srinagar.

June 17

The first time I came to the Vale of Kashmir I was disappointed. Perhaps I had subconsciously confused the words "Vale" and "Veil". I had expected a lush ravine with great ferns, towering pines, and soft veils of rainbow-glowing mists from the sprays of waterfalls.
Kashmir is nothing like that, at least in the valley. It is a wide, gently-rolling plateau- five thousand feet high - set about with bare and craggy peaks. Back in the mountains there are indeed the kind of ravines and vegetation I had pictured, but unless one goes trekking one does not see them. One sees instead the bare mountains all about, the great stretches of artificial lakes near Srinagar, and the tumbling wooden town itself.
Gradually, running many visits since then, the quiet beauty became powerful in my eyes; the enchantment of Kashmir penetrated my heart. Now, sitting on the flat roof of our houseboat and staring across Dal Lake at a sunset-reddened range of noble peaks, I wonder how I could ever have thought them ugly that first visit, that time which now became almost legendary in my mind. And now, peacefully, I wish to re-live that fevered time.
It was October, 1947. The brat partition riots, which took perhaps a million lives and made twelve million people into homeless refugees, were barely over. We had seen too much murder and bloodshed in both India and Pakistan to be able to take sides any longer; we were weary of refugee problems and talk of revenge. Perhaps when you have spent many months looking at the mutilated corpses of murdered babies you reach a point beyond an understanding of revenge, when only an emotion of universal grief seems appropriate. We needed a little time for peace and restoration, and so, because we were in Rawalpindi, we went to Kashmir. There had been no riots in Kashmir. Kashmir, everyone said, was quiet and beautiful. the Hindu Maharajah had not yet decided whether to join India or Pakistan, but no one seemed to be hurrying him.
At that time the only road into Kashmir from the Indian sub-continent led from Rawalpindi in Pakistan up past Murree, through the mountains of Western Kashmir up onto the plateau, and past Baramula along the Jhelum River to Srinagar.
Still on the Pakistan side, we drove along beside a river which formed the border of Kashmir and saw hundreds of people crossing the river towards us, riding on logs or crude rafts. One young man lay on an inflated goatskin and paddled across with his hands and feet to the bank where we had stopped the car. Dripping, he climbed up the rocks and spoke to us.
"We have been driven from our homes by the Maharajah's troops," he announced."We have brought our women and our children to safety in Pakistan, but we are going back to fight. I myself have only come over here to get a gun and ammunition."
It seems strange to me now to think that this little rebellion in the western district of Poonch has been so completely forgotten in the surge and confusion of later events. It was certainly a small wave of history swallowed almost immediately by a larger one.
On the Kashmir side of the bridge from Pakistan we had to stop the taxi and go though customs. Although the population of Kashmir was largely Moslem, the Maharajah and the ruling class were Hindus and, therefore, worshippers of the cow. Our baggage was carefully searched for forbidden beef as well as for firearms. The officers finished with us quickly and then turned to two large wooden boxes which an old Moslem in the front seat was taking to a doctor in Srinagar; the young clerk pried open the lids and recoiled when he discovered both boxes contained live leeches.
"Search them. They might be hiding guns," ordered the customs officer. The clerk picked up a stick and began poking unhappily among the leeches. The custom officer, a thin Hindu pundit, leaned against a railing above the river and, in the way of all educated Indians, talked politics.
"We Kashmiri pundits are the third most intelligent people in India." he said. "Only the Bengalis and the Madrasi Brahmins are smarter than we are. That is well known.
"If Kashmir joined India there would be two other peoples ahead of us. But if we joined Pakistan, we would be able to dominate them, because we would be more intelligent than anybody else."
Wondering how democracy is ever to succeed in Asia, we drove on another hundred miles, through the Jehlum gorge and up into the Vale. Once, we stopped beside a field of early winter wheat and spoke to a peasant boy. He was wide-eyed and shy, and he spoke softly.
"No, there is no trouble here, Sahib," he said."All is peaceful. I do hear in our village gossip that the government is fighting itself, but what is that to do with me?"
On the outskirts of Baramulla, a pleasant little town at the edge of the Vale, a crowd was massed near a stone bridge. A haggard young man was auctioning off clothes one by one. While we watched he sold a pair of pink-satin Punjabi trousers for three rupees.
"Those belonged to his wife who was murdered," explained an old man standing nearby."He, like so many others, us a refugee from the West Punjab, without money and forced to sell everything. Hindu refugees have come here to Kashmir because they know it is peaceful and they will not be persecuted, although most of us are Moslems."
Within a week, the custom officer, the peasant boy, and the young refugee were probably all dead.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hasan Shah and the 'lost' Kings of Rajatarangini by Pandit Anand Koul

Dar gaya, darbar gaya;
Ab dishit mar gaya.

It went to court, it went to court;
(And) on seeing the water it died.

A Kashmiri riddle, answer: Kagaz

That story goes that Moulvi Ghulam Hasan Shah (1832-1898) of village Gamru near Bandipur once visited Rawalpindi to procure a copy of a Persian History of Kashmir written by one Mula Ahmad of village Pindori. The book was said to be the translation of an ancient work called Ratnakar Purana that contained account of 47 Kings of Kashmir not mentioned in Kalhana's Rajatarangini. During Budshah Zain-ul-abdin's (1422-1474) time a search was launched to look for old Puranas and Taranginis so that an updated version of Kashmir could be brought out in other Persian by Mula Ahmad, the court poet of Zain-ul-abdin. They had names of about 15 different Rajataranginis but only four could be traced: those of Kalhana, Khimendra, Wachhulakar and Padmamihar. Out of these Khimendra's Rajataranginis was found to be grossly unreliable, but using the other a translation of Rajatarangini was prepared. However, a few years later some birch bark leaves of an old Rajatarangini written by one Pandit Ratnakar, called Ratanakar Purana was found by one Praja Pandit. From these leaves an account of 47 'lost' kings of Kashmir was made known, and these were added to Mula Ahmad's History of Kashmir. Later, Ratnakar Purana was again lost and survived only in Mula Ahmad's translation.

It is said Hasan Shah was able to obtain a copy of Mula Ahmad's translation from a Kashmiri immigrant in Rawalpindi named Mulah Mahmud. Hasan Shah later incorporated it into his three volume 'Tarikh-i- Hasan'. However, he was to later lose the Mula Ahmad's History of Kashmir in rather odd circumstances. He was traveling on a boat with the book when the boat capsized. Hasan Shah was saved but Mula Ahmad's book was lost forever. In 1902, kashmir Durbar tried to procure a copy of Mulah Ahmad's copy but Mulah Mahmud had since died and his family had moved to Kabul at the invitation of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, Emir of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901. So the only source for the 'lost' kings of Kashmir comes from Hasan Shah, seventh generation progeny of one Ganes Koul.

In the history of Kashmir written by Westerners in English, the first mention of Hasan Shah comes from Walter Rooper Lawrence, the Land settlement officer in Kashmir from 1889 to 1895. Lawrence was taught Kashmiri by Hasan Shah. He acknowledged:

"What else (Kashmiri language) I learnt, I owe to Pir Hasan Sah, a learned Kashmiri, whose work has entirely been among the villagers."

When Lawrence became Private Secretary to Viceroy of India, he invited Hasan to be presented to the viceroy. But by the time invitation arrived, Hasan had been dead for a few days. 


The above piece is based on a brief biography of Hasan Shah written by Pandit Anand Koul for Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1913. Anand Koul  also gave us an account of eight 'lost' kings (from A.D.s) based on Hasan Shah's writings. A few years earlier, in 1910 for the same journal Pandit Anand Koul wrote a long (contoversial?) piece titled 'History of Kashmir' based on Hasan's writing and presented account of of 47 kings (from B.C.s). Here the line of missing kings is linked to Pandavas. And as an additional proof he brings up Pandit belief in Pandav Lar'rey, belief that Mattan was built by Pandavs.


I have compiled the two pieces together and are now available here:


A biography of Kashmiri historian Hasan Shah and History of Kashmir by Pandit Anand Koul for Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal vol 9 (1913)
History of Kashmir by Pandit Anand Koul for Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal vol 6 (1910)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Letters of Boatmen

February 21, 2014

I spent the afternoon at Yaseen's office where he showed me bits from his family history, letters belonging to three generations of boatmen. We had Kehwa, we ate buttered Telwurs and we leafed through fading tattering pages of history.



At that time Miss O'Connor ran a successful housing lodging setup for British visitors. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

fellow Mulla bellow

Mullah dyuthum narai bharan,
Dolah guharan paran kyut;
Alai balai panas niwaran,
Amrit chhakan biyan kyut.
Malan asan hanga phut shubali,
Pakan alit walit ket;
Khewan gusht kasam nali,
Katshi tali tsalek patila het.
Rotsan nah tah khiwan balbali,
Achan tahtsalan katsi tali het.
Yusa ror chheh saran sangaran palan,
Sui kunih piyin malan yit!

I saw a priest blowing out fire (and)
beating a drum to others;
All evils presenting to himself,
Nectar sprinkling to others.
The priest have nice big turbans on their heads;
They walk about daintily dressed.
Dressed in priestly robes they indulge in mutton.
They run away with the cooking pots under the arm-pit.
They pretend that it does not agree with them (yet) they go on eating.
They watch and run away (with the food) under their arm-pit.
Whatever noise rolls in lakes, hills and rocks,
May it come and fall on priests!

~ Nund Rishi (trs. Anand Koul,1930)

While in Lal Ded's sayings the criticism of orthodox religious establishment of Brahmins was sharp, her silence on the orthodoxy of 'mausulas' ('Muslims' of Pandit Shrivara) is perhaps understandable, that particular orthodoxy was not yet primal at the source of power, and it was not her concern. This criticism came only after her time, when the religion of the state completely changed, it comes from sayings of Nund Rishi. In the above given verses, he presents a caricature of a muslim priest, a Mulla.

Interestingly, the only oft quoted clue to Nund Rishi from Jonaraja's Dvitīyā Rājataraṅginī is about arrest of a certain popular Mulla/Moulvi Noorud Din during the time of Ali Shah (Zain-ul-Abidin's elder brother) time for being a rebel.


Purshiyar Riddle

Clues to a place in a riddle

Hapat kandur; breth pandit; talim poni hyur khasan; breri brahman; gagar suts; kashuri parimil shal gadah-hannz; thapal sarraf.

Bears (are bakers); stupid people (are) pandits; the lower waters flow up; cats (are) brahmans; rats (are) tailors; Kashmiris (are) Panjabis; jackals (are) fishermen; usurpers (are) bankers.

The place to the left. From Habba Kadal

Ans: Purshiyar, the name of a ghat in Srinagar city just below second bridge.

From: Kashmiri Riddles by J. Hinton Knowles (1887)

thirty-six windows [and] thirty-six doors

A riddle:

Shiyitrah dari ta shiyitrah bar chis;
Shiyitrah gaz bhar panah chus.
Rezas watshayo rats wasana
Tajas peth suna mana chus

It has thirty-six windows [and] thirty-six doors
It is thirty-six yards in width.
The king happened to get a good impulse [i.e., to build it].
There is a maund of gold on its spires.

And: the Jami Masjid


Lal Ded and Nund Rishi by Pandit Anand Koul (1921-30)

Finished extracting.

'Life Sketch of Laleshwari - A Great Hermitess of Kashmir'
The Indian Antiquary
November, 1921

This work came after George Grierson and Lionel D. Barnett published 'Lalla Vakyani' (collected primarily from one Dharam Dasa Darwesh of village Goosh, near Baramulla) in 1920 which introduced the sayings of Lal Ded to western world [available here]. Anand Koul didn't give the source of this life sketch but it can safely be assumed to be based on the lore popular among Kashmiri Pandits. In this work, he also mentioned collection some additional saying of Lal Ded which are not available in 'Lalla Vakyani' of Grierson and Barnett. These he published much later in 1930, offering 33 additonal sayings of Lal Ded.

Some additions to the Lallavakyani
(The Wise Saying of Lal Ded)
The Indian Antiquary

June, 1930

I have complied both the articles into a simple pdf and the works are now easily accessible here:


'A Life of Nand Rishi' 
by Pandit Anand Koul
The Indian Antiquary, in three parts in October 1929, December 1929 and February 1930.

This was the first time someone had presented an English translation of Nund Rishi's Nurnama. The life story of Nund Rishi is interspersed with accounts from Pandit lore, bringing in an undercurrent of a conflict that extends into metaphysical space where legacies of the saints too gradually will end up fuelling conflict. 

What we get is typical Kashmiri play: eulogize mystic sayings and yet not miss a chance to indulge in childish game of one-upmanship over whose saint had a bigger halo. It's a pattern that is now all too set in all such writings on these topics. 

The three articles are combined together and available here:


Saturday, June 7, 2014

191 Kashmiri Riddles

Finished extracting

After his 'A Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings: A Classified Collection Explained and Illustrated from the Rich and Interesting Folklore of the Valley' (1885) [here] and before his mammoth 'Folk-tales of Kashmir (1888)', in 1887 Knowles also compiled a list of Kashmiri riddles based on his interaction with locals, both Pandits and Muslims of various class. The work containing 140 riddles was published in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, No. III, 1887.

Kashmiri Riddles by J. Hinton Knowles (1887)

[now available at]


92. "Abah gan gan, babah gan gan, kapar kichih kichih," son sikah bachah sairas drav. 

(It cries) "abah gan gan, babah gan gan, kapar kichih kichil " (and) our Sikh boy goes out for a walk.

Ans. Yindar, a spinning-wheel.

The words in inverted commas are supposed to represent the sound the wheel makes when revolving. A Sikh boy is here mentioned became the top and bottom of the yandartul, (the little wheel of the spinning- wheel on which the thread being spun is wound) are fastened together with long hair ; and a Sikh boy has long hair.


A collection of 51 Kashmiri riddles presented by Pandit Anand Koul in February 1933 issue of 'Indian Antiquary' magazine. Among other things, the interesting bits in this work are the sayings of Lal Ded which were popular as riddles. It was this simple act that helped preserve the legacy of Lal Ded in popular Kashmiri culture.

Kashmiri Riddles By Pandit Anand Koul (1933)
[now available at]



Baras peth kala-shahmar
Lat ta as milavit;
Ora ayas kenkalat,
Lat ninas gilavit.

A black snake is on the door
With tail and mouth joined;
A lizard came up;
It twisted away its tail.

Answer: padlock and key


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