Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Game of Thrones Kashmir Connection

My wife doesn't like that I end up tying everything to Kashmir. But, I can't help it. It is true. Yes, everything is tied to Kashmir. Even Game of Thrones.

High Sparrow and his faith militants

[Randhir Bhan wondered] Is our good old Pheran in Game of Thrones?

Quite possible, as the designer April Ferry has worked on Ashutosh Gowariker’s upcoming firm 'Mohenjo Daro'. 

But, but...the tale it seems is more interesting. That costume was introduced to the series much earlier season. The character "High Sparrow" and his faith militants might have an even more interesting Kashmir connection.
D.B. Weiss, the screen writer for the TV series had in around 2008 written a script for a film called "Kashmir". The story revolved "around three ex-mercenaries who stumble upon information as to where a wanted terrorist will be for a short period of time. They decide to brave a trip into the volatile region between Pakistan and India to catch the terrorist and claim the $30 million bounty on his head. Each man has a different motive for taking the dangerous journey, and their loyalties are tested when the going gets rough."


Saturday, May 28, 2016

fine stay, Ulley Ethic Resort, Ulleytokpo

It is one of those resorts where you can do the "vicco vajradanti"....you know...pick the apple straight from the tree and eat.

View of the resort

view of Indus from the resort

Night Sky. You can catch the milky way.

One of the finer rooms.

View from the room window.


My stay at the place was complimentary of Banjara Camps

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Arigom Inscription

In 1896, a Brahmin living in village Arigom accidentally came in possession of an curious inscribed ancient stone. The stone had been in a piece of uncultivated land near the Masjid Malik Sahib by a farmer  during a dig. The farmer sold the stone to the Brahmin. The Brahmin kept the stone with him for sometime and believing it to be a religious relic, did puja to it. People told him the message on the stone probably was a treasure map and that the Maharaja of the state may be the rightful owner of the stone. Afraid that he might lose it, the Brahmin hid the stone under the wall of his house and later threw it into a pit at the entrance of his cowshed, covering it up with cow-dung. The place from where the stone was found also offered signs of an ancient temple. The local called the place Ganesvara which just less than 50 years ago was known as Gangesvara.

In June 1908, Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri heard about the existence of a rare inscribed stone of Arigom and decided to visit the place on the insistence of Norweign indologist Sten Konow who at the time was visiting Kashmir on an epigraphical tour.

The inscription on the stone were found to be Sanskrit in Sharda script. On deciphering the inscription, it was found that the inscription was a material proof of an episode mentioned in Kalhana's Rajatarangini and a proof the Buddhism lingered on in Kashmir till 12th-13th century.

The old name of Arigom was Hadigrama.

In the reign of King Jayasimha (A.D. 1128) Hadigrama was burnt down by one Sujji. The inscription was from a new building built in bricks replacing an older wooden Buddhist vihara.

The inscription (now supposed to be at SPS museum) read:

Salutation to the exalted noble Avalokitesvara.
Salutation to thee, the Lord of the World, who hast become a light to the three worlds,…who destroys transmigration, the moon of delight to the world.
Formerly the vaidya Ulhnadeva by name made a spotless vihara of wood, an abode for the Lord of the World, in the vicinity of the Gangesvara (shiv temple). After this, by the will of fate, has been burned by king (Jaya) Simha. Ramadeva, the son of Kulladeva, who was devoted to him (Avalokitesvara), made yonder (vihara) excellent with burnt bricks.
Samvat (42)73, the 5th day of the bright (half) of Marga (sirsha)

Sunday, the 16th November 1197.

Source: Arigom Sharda Inscription, Sten Konow, Epigraphia Indica, Vol. IX.1907–08.
[To imagine the way that old wooden vihara dedicated to AvalokiteĊ›vara must have looked like, we can look at Alchi]

Lal Ded Vakh recitation

video link

Voice: R.K. Rawal
Occasion: my marriage


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Question Answer on Pandit Re-settlement in Valley

Originally written for Economic And Political Weekly as a web exclusive, 21 May, 2016

The Pandit Questions

There are areas in Kashmir where Shias live.
There are areas in Kashmir where Sunnis live.
There are areas in Kashmir where Sikhs live.
There are areas in Kashmir where Armies live.
There are areas in Kashmir where Terrorists live.
Areas marked and divided like compost bin.
Some houses there are even for Tibetan, Uzbek, Afghan and Iranian refugees.
They all have houses in Kashmir from which we often hear talk of war and peace.
Now, if you ask, "But, where do Pandits live in Kashmir?"
"I have heard three live about a mile from here, two a mile after that, seen them with my own eyes and the remaining—they all live in our heart."
So lease me your big heart for a minute or two, I need to use the loo.

I recently had a long question and answer session with Michael Thomas of Pipal Presss on the “Pandit” question. He is working on a small docu-book based on his experiences of Kashmir. He has brought out similar books on his travels in Kutch and Chhattisgarh.

I met him in Kashmir and we did some travelling together. We have been discussing Kashmir a lot and given the current direction in which the ruling party is approaching the question of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs), the usual Pandit questions came up.

Michael: Is the “Migrant Immovable Property Act” of 1997 still in force? On my last visit I saw a number of large empty Hindu houses and the wrecks. I wonder if others have been sold by agreement to Kashmiri Muslims and perhaps squatters occupy others.

Vinayak: The act is still in place. But people have found a legal loophole. Most of the sales that are happening now are essentially not sale, but transfer of ownership using guardianship of the property. KPs are transferring the "power of attorney." Payment is usually done in cash. Which means it is mostly “black money.”

Also, a lot of property has been illegally occupied, with the Pandits getting almost no redressal and support from government, local police and lawyers. Most cases are tied up in lengthy paper work. All that one has to do in court is prove that the person is not a “migrant” and the sale is considered legal. Given that a lot of offices in the 90s were burnt down by terrorists, papers about ownership are often reported "lost" by various departments. I have relatives who are facing this issue.

Michael: It seems that Narendra Modi wants Pandit Hindu families to return to Kashmir as they are Kashmiri by birth. There has been talk of resettling in their old homes and the formation of three “colonies” (ghettoes in my view). It has been suggested to me that this is the propaganda of Bharatiya Janata Party/Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the background) but on the other hand, that Pandit Hindus really wish to return to their homeland provided the terms are right. It strikes me that a lot of time has passed since the diaspora and things are different as families have settled in Delhi, the Middle East and in the United States. What is your opinion?

Vinayak: Yes, definitely the push is coming from the RSS. A lot of Pandits would like “colonies.” I would like the “colonies” to be there. But, what is a “colony”? If a Bengali moves to Delhi, he would know Bengalis stay around Chittaranjan Park, and in the beginning would prefer living there. If a Gujarati goes to the United Kingdom he would know the areas where he would be comfortable...he would seek Wembley. Sikhs will be in Southhall. Pakistanis would be in Bradford.

But, no one would say British are doing it deliberately. Or, that these are ghettos. It is the way societies work. Why else would there be a Jew town in Kochi, which incidentally now has a lot of Kashmiri Muslims. And yes, eventually, people move out.

But somehow when Pandits talk about living together in certain areas, the cause is seen as “insult” by Kashmiri Muslims because it would means Pandits are “distinct” and not comfortable living with Muslims. It is kind of ironic that those opposing “colonies” think Pandits to be Jews who displaced Palestinians.

I am not some third generation Kashmiri who wants land to live in Kashmir, I was born there. Yes, with time not many would be able to make this claim.

Those in Kashmir who oppose the move know this. They do not care if the colonies are “composite” or “exclusive,” the word “colony” rattles them, as if confusing it with colonisation.

And these Kashmiris are the same people who on moving to Delhi would prefer living in a Muslim majority area and not in an area where someone like Praveen Togadia is worshipped. And they want Pandits to move back to their old houses and keep the head down when a hate speech is made from the local mosque.

Given the recent history of the two communities, one cannot blame Pandits for not wanting to immediately live among them. I am okay with separate colonies, even as I would personally prefer to live in a mixed society. No one has the right to dictate to Pandits where they should live in Kashmir.

Michael: Recently I saw an article, which described Kashmir as a “junction of conflicts.” This fits with my emerging view and I can see no way out. It is as if Kashmir has a hand on the self-destruct button and would not compromise so that it can let go. It follows that India will continue to “control” Kashmir. Any comments?

Vinayak: I agree. Every party to this conflict has convinced themselves they have already invested too much and now are unable to step back. Conflict is now an industry in Kashmir. Too many people are profiting, from power hungry politicians, greedy bureaucrats, crazy Mulla religious heads, theorising academicians and “4th Estate.”

India is not going out of Kashmir. Indian security apparatus can be moved out. Army can be moved back to borders, a truth and reconciliation process can be started but both sides have to accept they have been unable to change the stance of the other party.

Kashmiri people need to stop confusing freedom with Sharia. Pakistan needs to stop its Jihad factories. India needs to reign in on its band of justice. If the history of the subcontinent tells us anything, it is this—there is only one idea really worth striving for in these lands and that is the idea on which India was founded.

Michael: If Modi is proposing three new colonies it sounds as though they are exclusively for Pandits, which would be a ghetto in my view because of its exclusivity. Do you think that is what he is proposing and if so do you think it is a good solution?

Vinayak: I think what they are proposing are "exclusive" townships. It will include Hindus and Muslims who were forced to migrate. Anyway, the concept of exclusivity is not new to Kashmir. Article 370 ensures that only Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir. Hasn't that exclusivity already made Kashmir a “ghetto” inside India?

I think what Geelani and his ilk are preaching to fellow Kashmiris is that if Pandits are settling in an exclusive area, even if it is very small, in the long run there will be more Pandits living in Kashmir, living in a certain area. Given that they are ready to keep the conflict going for a very long time. In the eventual solution of Kashmir, the Pandit area would mean division of Kashmir along religious lines...something akin to the two-nation theory that led to Pakistan. It is this fear that makes them oppose it.

This parallel with the two-nation theory is what is also stopping RSS to fully back Pandits on this. This would in a way be their approval of Jinnah's theory. So, they are just using Pandits as a stick for beating Kashmiri Muslims.

I do not support “exclusive” townships but I do believe it is not for the majority community to dictate the terms on which we would return.

Michael: Finally, can you define “goondaism” for me please? I have a rough idea which is probably wrong!

Vinayak: By “goonda,” we mean in India essentially a person who will have his way purely based on his power to create violence. “Goondaism” is the way the majority community would like to have its wishes fulfilled by issuing threats of violence. They should not dictate to Pandits which kind of pandit is allowed back in Kashmir and which is not allowed.

In 1990, the Pandits that moved out were all kind of people, there were RSS supporters, there were communists, there were secularists, there were “Kashmiriyatists,” there were farmers, there were civil servants, there were religious conservatives and there were even atheists. Now, Geelani and his tribe are saying only good Pandits, the Pandits who would essentially keep quiet about political matters is the only kind that can survive in Kashmir.


When Pandits return, the people who return would be the same mixed set. Even though I have no love for RSS or BJP, but even their supporters have the right to return. “Goondaism” will only beget “goondaism” and it should in no way be encouraged.

Michael: One final question. If your family wanted to repossess the family home can they? That is to say, is the “power of attorney” reversible?

Vinayak: Legally, they do not have a purchase deed, so I guess it is reversible. There is even an extra piece of land which we just left with another good old neighbour without any paperwork...and that was a decade before 1990. I cannot think of moving any of them out and repossess the land. It would be another forceful displacement, this time for another set of Kashmiris.

If exclusive colonies are a bad idea, moving existing owners out and putting Pandits in their old house for the sake of creating mixed colonies is a worse idea. There would be a lot more bad blood among communities. But, returning of property that is forcefully occupied is another matter.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Hero Stone", Mattan

I must have been 6 or 7 when I first visited the spring at Mattan. My Nani took me there. She told the old story about the royal fish with golden earring. I saw people swimming in the spring, swimming to a platform in center of the pool and praying. From a distance, I never could see what exactly was in the center besides the Shiv Ling. I couldn't swim. This year I again visited the place. The fish were there. No swimmers. Winter. I still can't swim. But, now I could see. In the center, besides the Shiv Ling, is another slab. When I was a kid no one could have told me what it was. Yet, now I know. It's no god. In the center is another one of those anonymous "Hero Stones" of Kashmir, memorial in honor of death of a warrior in battle. Somehow, there is not a single academic research paper on study of memorial stones still strewn all across Kashmir valley.


"Hero Stone" in Arin

A recently discovered "Hero Stone" in Arin, Bandipore. Images generously shared by Yaseen Tuman. Hero stones used to be put up at the spot where a great warrior died. For a detailed study of these stones found all over the valley, do check: Sati Stones of Kashmir

Yiyem Nate Hai Maaras Paan

Bharti Raina sings kalaam of Rahim Saeb Sopori. She learnt this song as a kid from her music teacher Indira Kachroo, who used to live near Regina Cinema, Baramulla. She had last sung it in 9th standard while on an all Girl's guide camp to Harwan. That was a long time ago.

video link

Monday, May 2, 2016

Biloreen saaq,

Biloreen saaq, seemeen tan, samman seena, sareen nasreen,
Jabbeen chuy aayeena aayeen ajab taaza jilaa, Jaa'noo

~ Rasul Mir, 19th century

Crystal Legs
Body Mercury
Jasmine Bosom
Daffodil Butt
a wondrous
my love

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Those Stones of Burzahom

The is the last piece of 2nd set of my Kashmir travelogue. 3rd set to start soon. 

First dig. Burzahom
Many a discoveries in Kashmir were purely accidental. Among the many is the discovery of Burzahom.

In 1932, Helmut de Terra arrived in Kashmir valley on a geological study tour. On a clear spring day, he undertook an excursion on the river Jhelum. Travelling along the river bank, at one place, he noticed a strange object emerging from the river bank. On close inspection he realized it was a stone knife made of volcanic rock and fashioned like old Paleolithic Levallois blades. It was the first such discovery in the valley, in fact, first sign of Stone Age man ever found in the Himalayan region.

De Terra was to return to Kashmir many times looking for more signs. In 1935 , De Terra with T. T. Paterson as part of Yale-Cambridge University Expedition, finally arrived on the curious stone mounds atop Yanderhom Karewa about 10 Kms north-east of Srinagar, just above the marshy flood-plain of the river Jhelum. To the discoverers it was obvious that the stones were menhirs. In subsequent did, stone axes, pestles and bone tool were found.

The flood plain is now where people live. While the stones still stand, next to a cricket field.

Road to Burzahom 

The burial pits discovered in 1960s 
Burial pit. Burzahom. 1962 . From 1960 to 1971 extensive digging was carried out by T.N. Khazanchi to discover the cultural remains of a civilization.

The people who live around the area believe the pits to be dwellings of Jinns and consider the place to be haunted. Some people come and tie threads on the steel mesh, making wishes.


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