Sunday, March 18, 2018

Kashmir- As I Know It

Guest post by Pratush Koul on being a young Kashmiri Pandit and growing up outside Kashmir

We, teenagers of the 21 st century see life very differently from our parents. Our life generally revolves around competition, success, fashion, technology, studies etc. which leads to self confinement of oneself thus, the meaning of life has taken out from the picture. In our life generally the value of culture and heritage has diminished.

But, some people are raised in a different way, contrary to the habitable condition, these people, in their childhood suffer and face a lot and are forced to live a dreadful life. These incidents can cause a psychological trauma and can make that person mentally handicap.

Unfortunately, we can find context in various incident of the past and present where children, elders, women and men-folks suffered psychological trauma from an incident that devastated their lives.

Our story is no different.

Talking about me, I was born in Jammu in Gandhi Nagar. It was winter of 1999, nine years after our migration. As a toddler, my mother says, I used to cry a lot over absurd things such as cats, dogs, the moon, fireworks etc. and would always make their lives more miserable. I am told, at that time, there were not many cars and buses on the road. My father used to take me for a ride on his Chetak scooter until I stop crying. Around 2001-02, our house was completely built. A small, one story house in a rather quiet society. I had a small family; me, mom, dad, grandpa, grandma. When I was in my 6th standard, I was first told that you were a Kashmiri; This was taught to me when I asked my parents that, if people of Punjab are Punjabi, Bengal are Bengali, then what are we?

When I heard it, I took a sigh of relief, as I had thought I would never liked to be called a “Jammuee” (This was the word I thought I might hear.) As all my cousins were in Delhi and Chandigarh and I was a single child, its quiet obvious to deduce that I had a lot of lonely time. At that time, I used to sit with my grandparents and they would recite me stories from Gita, Ramayana, and Mahabharata which I enjoyed.

My grandfather used to read two newspapers daily (one English and one Urdu). I would some time ask them, pointing my tiny fingers to any random line on the Urdu newspaper, “What is this?” They would answer me with a smiling face. My grandfather often used to tell me about their childhood, how they used to study and also about their house. Once they told me about how, they were appointed for a job that was in Muzzafarabad and how their refusal saved them from the wrath of partition. It was 1947, they just had completed their matriculation exam and were asked by their father that there is a post of teacher in Muzzafarabad, which he should take, in order to earn for the family (he had a lot of siblings). Call it their ignorance or they forget, he couldn’t join the office which proved to be a blessing in disguise. They also showed me their matriculation certificate, after much requests.

In school, there was this one incident which happened to me in 8 th class. There was a boy, who used to annoy everyone; no one was spared from his mockery. One day he decided to annoy me. After much ignorance, I shouted, “Shut Up”. He had expression, totally opposite from what I was expecting, he was laughing with joy, and then he said, “Hath Me Kangri,Muh Me Choley, Kaha se Aaye Ye Kashmiri Loley”. I didn’t know how to respond to that. This was something I had never heard, and something I didn’t expected from one of my classmates. Other classmates interrupted and calmed the situation. I didn’t tell this to anyone at home, only kept it to myself at that day; I came across this question “DO I belong here?” it got me thinking for days until in school, I did a musical performance with my friend, it was a Dogri song, and after we sang, the sound of applause from the audience answered my question.

In my family, my father is a Kashmir lover, my mother on contrary, isn’t. no doubt, she has created an environment in the house by which one could easily identify her love for the culture and heritage of that land but when the statement “let’s go to Kashmir this summer” is said by dad, the expressions of my mother’s face changes. She always says that there are more places to go then just Kashmir, She avoids going there, main reasons being the recent turmoil caused by the miscreants and the previous experiences of migration.

Talking about my parents, my father lived in Habba Kadal, a locality having majority of KP families residing. He had his schooling from national high school Karan Nagar and then he went to Baraut for his in agriculture. He shared various incidents of his college life, how they, with a group of kashmiri boys used to live together in hostel, prepare Roganjosh and Haak using homemade Kashmiri spices and have a feast in their hostel rooms, with even giving a plateful of that to guard so that the feast goes on uninterrupted.

My mother is originally from Bandipore, but she too shifted to Habba Kadal after the demise of her parents. She had her schooling from Bandipore.

The best part of family gatherings is different for different people. For some, it is food, for some it is playing cards, for some it is singing, but for me, it was listning to discussion held by older people, discussion being about incidents from past, stories, jokes, family secrets etc. I was a member of that group, not a speaker but a listener. Some people would ask me whether I was able to grasp and connect with the kath-darbaar going on here, I would nod my head, not breaking the rhythm, not breaking the flow of their tales. By such stories, I learned a lot about things, places, people, historic events, funny incidents, all related to Kashmir. But apart from all that, after the fun and laughter of the past, came the sad ending; Migration, Exile, Exodus, Azaab, Pain, Homesickness, sometimes it would end with teary eyes and people would leave for their home, a home that is just a house now, not a Ghar. I sat there in the empty room, all this events revolving inside my brain, forming the story.

Such a story was their when my uncle told me that it was because of migration, you are in this world. I was totally awestruck and confused and even thought for a moment that he might be drunk! He told me that once he went to see my father in 1989, to check if he can be a suitable match for my mother, he went to his house, meet him and left. Before any further talks could proceed, the wrath of migration befallen on them and they were forced to leave their home my uncle lost hopes of finding him in the large commotion of people roaming across all over India in search of shelter. They too left Kashmir and came Jammu. One day, he had gone to Geeta bhawan to meet his friend who, like others, was waiting in line to get registered as a migrant and get a migrant ration card. And there, he saw my father, too waiting in line. They meet and hugged each other and two years later, my parents got married.

I was fortunate enough that my family didn’t had to suffer the wrath of migration camps and further atrocities caused by the gloom-ridden tent life, but that doesn’t imply we had a smooth life, the psychological trauma was with us too, in our minds.

In my childhood, I remember going to Mishriwala, Muthi camps with my mother. She, working in social welfare department, had been given duty to collect data of the migrant families for some government purposes. I don’t remember quite much of the details involved but I do remember the conditions and environment where the people were living, it was too pathetic to even describe that place in words. At present, I have a lot of friends and relatives living in Buta Nagar and Jagti camp and I often visit them. Apart from their present financial conditions, one can witness that none of them show a lack of discipline, values, hospitality and respect. Even in toughest time, they held their moral status perfectly.

Another quality, which I have recently encountered in my college life, is of the traditional attachment of Kashmiri Pandits which leads to the formation of small groups. Pune, Mumbai, Haryana or Florida, UK, Germany where ever KP’s are present, there exists a Community/Group. This helps, in my case in keeping the bond between the Kashmiri brethren and also helps one to quickly adjust to the new environment as you will have people from your community surrounding you.

In Conclusion

I think that the teenagers/millennial/youth of KP have inherited a void, a void of Kashmir, the real Kashmir, that Kashmir whose stories we used to listen from our parents, that Kashmir where Lal-ded fed Nund-reshi with her milk, that Kashmir where after a prayer to Shankaracharya Temple, one paid homage to Hazratbal Shrine and that Kashmir also who is still waiting with his blood soaked chest, waiting for his long lost children. I may have visited Kashmir five times, but only as a tourist. I wish that this generation pass down its legacy, a legacy more than thousand year old, praised by all from Nilamat Puran to Walter Lawrence; to its rightful descendants.

I may have not got the chance to be born or raised in Kashmir, but my wish would be that each part of my body would embrace and get absorbed into my motherland, just like a plant who grows from the land and is, at last, diffused back into it. Only then my soul would find solace and finally I will reach my home.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Abhinavagupta on last word

Bollywood is a fantastic flytrap that captures all kind of wonderful cultural specimens. It does so intentionally or unintentionally.

In Masala Bollywood movies, there was a favorite formula involving a dying muslim. The rule was: if the film has a do-gooder muslim character, and if the character is dying, his last dying words are going to be "Laa ilaaha ill-Allaah". In his last moments the guy has to remember God. The formula is repeated in countless movies, repeated often enough for us to know that if the character dies without completing the sentence, the hero will close the eye lids of the dead man and complete the line for him and then continue with decimation of the villain.

The dying words. It's an interesting concept. The Muslim tradition comes from Hadiths. A good muslim is to die remembering God and be assured of a place in heaven. Even Kafirs may be given this option so that they may face less trouble in hell.

Meanwhile, we have the (fanciful) stories of Gandhi dying with "Hey Ram" on his lips. Where does the "holiness" of this idea come from? Why did it matter what his last words were? As a kid, I remember reading those booklets by "Hare-Rama-Hare-Krishna" people. There were chapters dedicated to the subject of death. A good Hindu is to remember God in his dying moments. And just like in case of Muslim, not just remember, but God's name is supposed to be the last word uttered so that one may be assured of a place in Vaikuntha.

The idea comes from Gita which goes even further, the last thought, the last word, it lingers and has consequences. If your last words are of anger, you might get stuck in angry state. It is like dying last wish. According to Gita, in the last dying moments whatever the mind seeks, it gets. A teenage mind wanders, even back then the idea sounded frightful. What if someone dies in sleep, dreaming of dinosaurs? Or, worse still if one dies of diarrhea and shit is all one can think of? What if dying man dreams of Kashmir? Should everyone die dreaming of Kashmir? Is that what is happening?

Again in Bollywood, the concept is put to hilarious use in a little know film called "Bollywood Diaries" (2016) (by K.D. Satyam, writer of Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz). In the film a terminally ill guy who wanted all his life to be an actors comes up with the simplest plan to have his wish fulfilled. In his last days he surrounds himself with posters of films actors. In his last moment he remembers Amitabh Bachchan.

A religious text has propounded this theory. And the theory has obvious flaws which put a believer in awkward position, that too at the last defining moment of his believing life. If someone is dying, he should not be worried about these things. Even among Muslims, the flaw in the idea was obvious, so later commentators do say do remind the dying but don't force the guy into saying "Laa ilaaha ill-Allaah" lest the poor guy gets irritated and ends up saying something worse like "Laa ilaaha Laa ilaaha", and yet just make sure that his last words are "Laa ilaaha ill-Allaah" even if he previously said "Laa ilaaha Laa ilaaha". The exact last words matter.

In most medieval commentaries on Gita, the importance of last word is emphasised. However, the flaw in this thinking was explored by Kashmiri Shaivite philosopher Abhinavagupta (c. 950 – 1016 AD). In his commentary on Gita, Abhinavagupta also asked the same questions: " The moment of death can be devoid of happiness, sorrow or delusion/ What if the the man dies in sudden accident and has not time to think of anything? What if the man remembers cold sweet water of the village river? What if in dying moments the man thinks of his wife? Does the wife also die instantly and he gets to be with her forever? Or does his sole become one with his wife? "

These are doubts he had and these are questions he sought to answer.

Abhinavagupta's answer: "At that very last moment (one who had been remembering God throughout his life) will remember God as a result of the impression created through continuous meditation and will be united with Parmaesvara. This is because he becomes free from the binding influence of time."

Basically, Abhinavagupta believes that for a man who spent his life remembering God, the last critical moment is immaterial because time is a relative term. This answer to these queries may or may not matter sound rational. But, the fact that he sough to answer these questions means that people even back then could be rational about religious texts.It is amazing that people have spent so many centuries pondering over these issues borne of divine speech and texts.
Reading the English translation of Abhinavagupta's Gitartha Samgraha by Boris Marjanovic

Friday, March 2, 2018

No, Didda did not kill her Grandchildren through black magic

Didda was saved from Sati by a man who she later forced into committing suicide. From the text it is clear that she guarded her position like a paranoid maniac. When she was giving she could be very giving (even got a matha dedicated to the potter lady who used to carry her on her back) and when she was in taking mode, Kalhana called her Durga. A lot is written about her character, some in glowing terms and some not so glowing. Particularly, it is always remembered that she killed her grandsons through use of "blackmagic". But, did she?

That is what the translations tell us, that is what Stein wrote ("witchcraft") and that is what everyone wrote and that is how we know. 

[I do not know sanskrit]

Now, let us revisit the original sanskrit text. In the sanskrit text of Kalhana, the word in place of "witchcraft" is abhichar. And the word is used not in relation to death of her grandsons, but in describing the dead of her old enemy Mahiman. Abhichar is often used in tantric context, Atharveda has sections on it. Abhichar however is not just some death inducing ritual, in language it can also be used to mean "ill means". In fact, in some text "abhichar" is mentioned as second nature of some women. In Rajatarangini, if a King or if a person used the services of someone who knew actual abhichar kriya (rites), then the name of  the sorcerer is often specifically mentioned. Such a powerful man is always found worthy of a mention by name. However, in case of Didda, there is no mention who was performing the rites for her.

As for death of grandchildren, the text does not seem to have word abhichar anywhere. Stein seems to have made a mistake in reading or translating, a mistake that has been copied over and over again. 

In the original text, just before giving the account of death of the three grandchildren, word vyabhichar, is used to describe Didda's nature. Word vyabhichar is used for someone who indulges in illicit sexual activity, something that Kalhana repeatedly accuses Didda of. As for how her grandchildren's death, here is how the last death is described by Stein: "

Then the cruel [queen] put without hesitation her last grandson, Bhimagupta, on that path of death which bore the name 'throne'."

"Path"/course is the operation word here. The writer says that Didda caused the death just by putting her grandson on throne. Throne bore the name death. Later when the actual torturous death of Bhimagupta  at the orders of Didda isis describ, Kalhana reminds the reader that Bhimagupta infact was not the son of her son. Not her grandson. He was a scion member of Abhimanyu's wife's family. Abhimanyu's wife had secretly passed him off as her son. So, techincally Didda had no blood relation with him. It is here the reader is told the people believed Didda had killed off the previous two young kings too.

For the death of first grandson, we read: 

"On the twelfth day of the bright half of Margasira in the year [of the Laukika era four thousand] forty-nine (A.D. 973), he was destroyed by her persisting on her unholy course". The second grandchild died of the same cause.

"Course"/path is the operational word here. The writer means to say that Didda caused the death of the child because she continued on her path of vyabhichar. Just after the death of his beloved son (a son she kept protecting from wars, she was a loving mother), in mourning although she did a lot of pious acts of building mathas (64 no less) and giving donations, just a year later she reverted back to her old "wicked" ways and thus in a (karmic) sense caused the death of her grandchildren. And it wasn't like these men died overnight, they actually died on the throne, each ruling a few years. Her acts made the throne cursed. According to Kalhana they died due to the character follies of her grandmother. The world of morals that Kalhana lives in, all this makes perfect sense. The verses preceding the section about death of these kings, Kalhana mention timi-fish of sacred waters eating its own (which may have given the wrong idea to the translators, caused a bad auto-suggest or a bad inception), humble peacock eating snake while meditating,  heron eating unsuspecting fish. The reason Kalhana mentions this all is because he wants to illustrate that one never knows when good can turn to bad.

If one omits the word "witchcraft" from Stein's translation, the true word-craft of Kalhana's sanskrit becomes clear.


Vinayak Razdan


Shonaleeka Kaul, the author of "The Making of Early Kashmir: Landscape and Identity in the Rajatarangini" (2018) did agree that my reading of the word is correct. The text mention vyabhichar.

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