Sunday, August 23, 2020

Ghat Temples and Pandits, 1948


1. People watching Nehru's Boat procession from Ganpatyaar Ghat, Srinagar. May 1948.
source: Indian Photo Division
Much confusion if this is Ganpatyaar temple or Purshyar Temple

Kul Razdan, who was there. Identifying his matamaal, mother's house.

Some more photographs from the collection.

Pandit ladies can be seen looking on from the windows

Batyaar Temple near Aali Kadal.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Placing Rama-Krishna in Kashmir History

The idea that worship of Rama or Krishna or that the Vaishnav thought was alien to Kashmir is a unique thought that has taken root in Kashmir in the last few decades. Thus the thrust in Kashmir that Janamastami or Dussehra festival is an alien idea, or the temple of Rama or Krishna is a manifestation of foreign import. These ideas are driven by rather recent politics of Kashmir which is no more than 100 year old.

Krishna-Baldev etched on a rock in Chilas, Gilgit-Baltistan. Dated around 6th century AD. The left figure has a crown on his head but the right one has a crescent-topped headgear. Both of them are holding a club in their right hand. The left figure is holding a plough-topped banner in his left hand and the right figure is having a discus on his left hand. Left one is Balaram and the right figure in Krishna. Kharoshthi inscription in Scythian style accompanying the figures reads: "Of (Bala) Rama (and) Krishna, (erection) of Dhamaputa.' Source: Chilas: The city of Nanga Parvat. By Ahmad Hasan Dani, Islamabad (1983).

To get a broader perspective these thoughts must be analysed in context of Kashmir history. Ramayan is referenced in Rajatarangini as a narrative tool. The story of Hanuman bringing a goddesses from Lanka to Kashmir itself is told in Rajatarangini. Kalhana tells the tale with the humor usually associated with monkeys and Hanuman tales. We find Rama and Krishna their life stories narrated by 11th century poet Kshmendra. Earlier, King Lalitaditya the builder of Martand commissioned temples that were non-Shaivite. Under his rule only one Shiva temple was repaired (not built), that too because he took a loan from the temple trust for his military campaigns. In Rajatarangini we find a mention of an 8th century Island city built in Kashmir and named after Dwarka. Also, Kalhana tells us during Lalitaditya time two idols of Keshava [Vishnu] were excavated and inscriptions on them mentioned that they were dedicated by Rama and Lakshman. These idols were then installed in new temples at Parihaspora. We have Pradyumna Hill in Srinagar, named after the son of Krishna. The hill we now know as Hari Parbat. Alluding to Pancharatras concept popular in Kashmir back then, and out of which modern Krishna takes centre stage now. Much later in 14th one of the Shah Mir Dynasty King, father of Sultan Sikander, in a Sharda inscription is called "a scion of the house of Pandavas".

Rama Laxman Sita, Martand Kashmir
Rama, Laxman and Sita.
S.P.S Museum
via: Narinder Safaya

In 14th century, around which Kashmiri language was taking birth. It must also be remembered that ideas of Bhakti in which Krishana and Rama figure are just as old as Kashmiri language as we know it. We find Rama in sayings of Lal Ded. Some of the earliest surviving written work in Kashmiri language are seeped in Vaishnavism. Thus in 15th century we have Banasur Vadh, Mahanayaprakasa. In 17th century Sahib Kaul writes "Bhakti" leelas in Kashmiri about Krishna. Also, the Kashmiri Ramayan came up not in Dogra time...but in Afghan era in around 1786...just about 200 years after Tulsidas came up with his Ramayana. Kashmiri Pandits have been writing in Kashmiri these devotional Vaishnava poems for at least 300 years...finding greatest expression in poems of Parmananda in 18th century. When a Muslim Fakir told Parmananda that his works were too "Sanskrit" for common muslims to understand, thus depriving them of joy, Parmananda promptly came up with the work in Persian lexicon. The death rituals of KPs are governed by Garuda Purana even-though instead of "Ramnaam Satya hai", among KPs a struti to Shiva is employed. Then there is Gita. From Abinavagupta (11th century) we have a commentary on it. There is a sanskrit text that Bhatta Bhaska gives a Shaiva interpretation of Gita. Even Prem Nath Bazaz in recent times wrote a commentary on Gita. 

While it is true that under Dogras Vaishnava temples got made...but then it only follows the tradition as seen in Rajatarangini that kings built temples based on their personal preference. And it must also be remembered that while Hindus in Kashmir may have started celebrating New should also be mentioned that they had already lost hundreds of festivals that were no longer celebrated. Kashmir had periods in which public celebration of non-islamic festivals was not possible. In accounts of Araqi we have mob violently stopping a musical procession to Hari Parbat that entailed public dancing and music. There Jazia in Kashmir as late as later Mughal rule. One of the last mob violence in this era was because a hindu celebrated a festival publicly in a garden in 1720. The era these new temples came up was also the era when Shivratri as we know it now came into being. In older texts it is not the central festival but one of the many. In this era the whole ritual for Shivratri became properly codified. Shivratri is not mentioned in Nilamata as some sort of central or main festival of Kashmiris. The idea evolved overtime in relatively recent time as the Hindus of Kashmir rediscovered and reclaimed their past in whatever bits and pieces they could based on oral and textual sources. It was also based on this activity of "revival" that the sites of old temples in Kashmir were reclaimed and rebuilt. Thus most of the functional temples in Srinagar (at least) are actually new temples. Some of them in construct no older than the 17th century even if the sites on which they were built were older. The oldest Krishna temple in Srinagar is Amar Kaul temple near Hari Parbat which came during Dogra time.  New tales were created based on past remembrances. From the writings of Pandits of the time, it is clear that they saw the coming of Sikhs and Dogra in religious terms and saw it as a time for them to assert their religious identity publicly again. They thought is was Hindu rule. Thus we see the Chakradhara idol found during excavation of Avantipur temple in 1913 getting installed in new Gadhadara Dogra temple in Shergarhi Palace. It was common back then for such new finds to end up in a temple. 

vishnu gadhadar temple
Catutanana Visnu
9th Century
Found at Avantipur. Kept in Gadhadar Temple.

Krishna idol Kashmir 9th century
Baramulla, 9th Century
[From "Kashmir Sculptures" by J.L. Bhan]

Post-47, the majority thought Hindu rule was over ( and some among them thought still it was not yet Muslims rule again.) The Kashmiri society negotiated an experiment with democracy or rather the NC's understanding of it. 

Somewhere along the way the idea that Kashmiri Pandits are exclusively Shaivites also came up. With the coming of NC brand of "Kashmiriyat" politics which centers on the thought that Kashmiri people and their culture is unique from the rest, a thought necessary for the 20th century ideas of nation states, came to be frequently employed. The idea that KPs are Shaivites, having their uniqueness and thus different from other Hindus, was a sort of tool to explain how KP could still be Kashmiri. At the same time thus we see people claiming Kashmiri Muslims are different than Muslims elsewhere, Kashmir being the "Peerwaer" - the land of muslim mystics. In the splitting of the Kashmiri society post 90s, an interesting thing that has happened is that a person from Kashmir, in a good faith possibly, is still very likely to remind a KP that KPs are different from Hindus elsewhere, but at the same time, for his own community be incapable of saying a Muslim in Kashmir can be different than a Muslim in any other part of the world.

It is also in this ideological meta-context of "Kashmiriyat" that we frequently see articles about "non-veg" Kashmiri Pandits converting to "veg" (not so surprisingly, "Vaishnav" of KPs) Kashmiri Pandits (thus possibly outside of sphere of protection afforded by Kashmiriyat). These all debates subtly tend to be about good KP vs bad KP. By repeating ad infinitum that Rama or Krishna are alien to Kashmiri Hindus, the definition of Kashmiriyat seeks to define again narrowly who among Hindus is a "true" + "native" Kashmiri. Considering how exclusivist Kashmiriyat is, and how sharp its nationalistic edges, and the strange dividents it has brought Kashmir to Kashmir in form of Islamists, all this is not surprise. Kashmiriyat was what Orwell called "Negative Nationalism", it only could define itself in terms of "what it is not" or "what it is against''. What was supposed to be "Naya Kashmir" was built on the fundamentals of "Othering".

A Directory of Kashmiri Pandit Youtube Channels

A lot of Kashmiri Pandits are now running Youtube Channels where some great new content is coming up. The range of topics are as far and wide as: music, comedy, food, literature, language, culture, short films etc.

Given the small number of the community, I see a lot of them struggling for audience and reach. The insignificant number means it takes Youtube lot more time to start recognising and recommending the content to the right people for the community. Result: a lot of them get buried under the general Kashmir content produced in Kashmir. For algo. to recognize the sub-set data, there are some basic things that can be done, and that I see a lot of these channels not doing. Good ol' - networking. Recognise each other, like, subscribe, comment and importantly create playlists. Overtime you will see discovery getting better. Algo. will understand this sub-cultural set better. It will understand this Kashmiri content is not coming from Kashmir. I am actually surprised most of these channels don't subscribe to many Kashmiri channels! Guys, you don't lose anything by subscribing, it just better contextualises your content. Creates a pool of viewers of "similar". 

[And for those who watch - download and whatsapp the content or FB upload to their own personal walls, all is not helping anyone. You may get to be star of your family whatsapp group for it, but this aping just discourages the new content producers. Just be nice and support them on Youtube.]

To help people discover such Kashmiri channels, I am creating a list of some channels which are actively generating content and treating Youtube seriously as a platform. Most of these channels have content primarily in Kashmiri or about Kashmir. This is not a definitive list, and in no order, if you believe you should be on the list, do write in:   

The Kashmir Project

[Channel by Naveen Pandita documents Kashmir. Some videos are hard-hitting and some are pure love of Kashmir]

[On Kashmiri Language]

[Lot of humor and some culture]

[The phenomena Didda. Meanka Handu reviving Koshur humor and some more]

[Kashmiri Pandit poets reciting exile poetry. Massive.]

[M.K. Raina has been persistently working on promotion of Kashmiri language]

[Video Blog of a NRI KID while learning Kashmiri]

[KP rituals + recording of Bhajans recorded live at Hari Parbat in 1970s]

[The poetry of Master]

[Kashmiri Food]

[Probably the first Kashmiri Youtuber couple. Great content!]

[First one to do proper Youtube comedy skits in Kashmiri]

[well made content on KP cooking]

[She keeps bringing in her touch to old Kashmiri songs]

[Ujval Handu helps you get in touch with basics of KP culture]

[early Youtuber who has comedy going in great style]

[a sensational Singer from Jammu singing in Kashmir. Yes, I have produced some of his songs]

[Sunandan Handoo, a gifted young KP doing comedy in old traditional Kashmiri mould but with fresh twists]

[KP cooking ]

[Cooking and workout]

[British Royal family + Koshur. Uniquely funny!] 


[The Master Chef who introduced Australia to Kashmiri food]

Aves n Fauna

[A treat for Birdwatcher. By Romel Mahaldar.]

Kashmiri Language Lessons by Neetu Koul

[from last 1 year Neetu has been uploading videos imparting lessons on Kashmiri language ]


[basically Youtube version of this blog.]

Q and A with Outlook Magazine

Last month had a brief  Q and A with Outlook Magazine on Kashmiri Pandit Literature and exile. 

1. What's the significance of Kashmiri culture for a Kashmiri Pandit? Is it any different to them from say, the significance of Malayali culture to a Malayali living elsewhere in the country? What strikes you the most when you observe Kashmiri Pandit families -- I realise you are one yourself --, their way of living, their food habits, the conversations, etc.?

A: Since you mentioned Malayali and since I am in Kerala for last many years, I can tell you one thing I found common is that both really love the land and culture they belong to. Both think of it as unique and ancient. Both interestingly are mutli-lingual and open to other cultural influences also. However, one big difference is that in case of Malayalis they have a common traditional festival like Onam in which Malayalis from all religious backgrounds take part and it is mass celebrated. In case of Kashmiri culture, the commonality of a festival does not exist. While Kashmiri Pandits take pride in Kashmiri culture, they also emphasise the fact that within it, their own culture is a subset. A Malayali living elsewhere in the country may have personal fears of losing out on culture but the actual culture is only thriving in the land of birth. In case of Kashmiri Pandits, exodus from Kashmir has meant that most of their culture is now diasporic in nature and concerns as reflected in the literature and art produced by them. There is constant fear that the culture is dying, so all the activities eventually tend to be self-aware acts about preservation. 

2. Loss is arguably the single most defining theme of literature produced by Kashmiri Pandits post the exodus. Are there other themes too? What was the literature about before the exodus?

Prior to 1989, literature produced by Kashmiri Pandits had concerns similar to artists belonging to other places in India. Post 47 and till 60s...bulk of popular writing was part of Progressive movement influenced by the left movement. We have Poet Dina Nath Nadim and his concerns for the common people. In this period a lot of literature was about communal harmony also. By 1970s, we have short story writers like Hari Krishen Kaul, still writing in Kashmiri but inspired by Western writers like Kafka. In this period, the concern deals with modernity and how it was changing the old Kashmiri society. Also, all this while we have a lot of devotional songs and music getting produced by the community. Poet Master Zinda Kaul's main theme was devotional and spiritual. The theme spiritual is probably most popular in Kashmir and is most common in Kashmiri Muslim culture also. So we have a lot of mystical poets, even till half a decade ago, and their works celebrated by both communities and publicly sung. AIR was the hub of culture and lot of Kashmiri Pandits like Pushkar Bhan and Pran Kishore were involved with radio. Meanwhile, we also had writers like Sarvanda Kaul Premi who apart from writing poetry in Kashmiri were also translating Tagore into Kashmir. By 1980s, we see a crop of Hindi poets and writers also active in cultural scene. Novelist Chandrakanta belongs to this era. Her concerns in early work also deals with modernity and how Kashmir was changing.

Post exodus, bulk of Kashmiri Pandit writing has been in languages other than Kashmiri and the major tone has been nostalgic and longing for home. Initially it was mostly Hindi but in the last few decades English has become the language for capturing the experiences. I think in a few years in the community we will see new writings on how the community was changing and how they adapted, carried multiple cultures. Writing from people who are either comfortable or struggling to be comfortable with the past and present.

In the 90s we do have a lot of Kashmiri Pandits writing in Kashmiri about the loss of home. There are writers who only a few years ago were writing in Kashmir and writing about other themes and now find themselves out of Kashmir and just remembering Kashmir. The reach of these writers was limited. So, now some work on translations is also happening. There are people working on preserving the Kashmiri language among the community. Latin script for writing Kashmiri is gaining acceptance for the simple ease of use. But, arriving at a standard remains a challenge.

4. Do you write yourself too? If yes, what do you write? Would you mind sharing something please?

I do write. Some of the pieces have been published on various online News portals. I am co-founder of Game studio in Kerala and for last 10 years I have been running a blog "SearchKashmir" that archives bits of Kashmiri Culture. This involves telling stories that I have heard, personal stories of other people, folktale, history, old photographs of Kashmir, music, films, books, arts and artists. It is basically a collection of personal discoveries as I try to dig into the past. It started with a family visit to Kashmir in about 2008. I realized I knew very little about the place I belonged to and the kind of things about the place that interested me were not there online. So I went about cataloguing. Overtime, more people started sharing their own stories too.

3. Which poet/writer's work do you relate to the most? What's so profound about them?

Strangely, or not so strangely, like most Kashmiri Pandits of my generation my introduction to Kashmiri literature was quite late. In my teenage years, work of Ritwik Ghatak spoke to me. His understood exile like few in India could and successfully captured it on screen. Manto resonated. The violence, the odd-balls caught in history and the occasional wry humor. It was only much later, as often happens, I sought and found Kashmiri culture, or rather parts of it. There is Arvid Gigoo and his sardonic tone. There are poems of Prem Nath "Shaad" and Brij Nath Betaab in Kashmir capturing the violence of 89-90 and experience of exile in Kashmiri.

Extracts and quotes from the interview were used in the Magazine:
August 2, 2020 issue 
[What the Pandits Lost: Trauma of exodus and the Kashmiri past of Pandits in the community's art/How Kashmiri Pandits' Loss And Longing For 'Home' Find Expression In Their Literature]

Monday, August 3, 2020

"The Intrepid Kashmiri in the Flying Machine" by Rekha Wazir

Guest post by Rekha Wazir. She recalls how her Grandfather, Tara Chand Wazir came to be the first Kashmiri to fly in an aeroplane in 1921.

The Intrepid Kashmiri in the Flying Machine
by Rekha Wazir

According to Wazir family folklore, my grandfather, Tara Chand Wazir (1893-1979) was the first Kashmiri to fly in an aeroplane. I don’t know if this is factually correct, but this is what I will happily believe till somebody tells me otherwise! Of course, I am only talking about the residents of the Valley –even Kashmiris who migrated to India generations ago were not included in this record-making event. This is the story we were told:
Tara Chand Wazir in Plane, 1921
Tara Chand Wazir, 2nd from left, and Capt. Jackellis to his right, are the two passengers in the plane; in the foreground are members of his family or his fellow performers of the Brazilian Trio. Great Yarmouth Airport, August 1921, photographer unknown.
Photograph of the first ever plane that landed in Kashmir at Tattoo Ground - Chandmari, Batmaloo, Srinagar, 1922
Photograph of the first ever plane that landed in Kashmir at Tattoo Ground - Chandmari, Batmaloo, Srinagar, 1922; in all likelihood the same aircraft in which this historic flight was made. Showkat Rasheid Wani has kindly shared this photograph from his extensive archive of vintage Kashmir photographs and given me permission for its use.

A bi-plane came to Srinagar in 1922, to provide a demonstration for the people of Kashmir. Judging from their reactions, this must have been the first time many of them saw an aeroplane; most regarded it as a monster and were afraid to fly in it. The details would get a bit sketchy in the recounting of the story at this point, but it would appear that my grandfather, and his friend and colleague Sham Sundar Lal Dhar, were daring enough to volunteer for a ride.¹ (If I may insert an interesting aside here, Sham Sundar Lal Dhar was an older brother of my maternal grandfather, Tika Lal Zutshi. He had been adopted at birth in the Dhar family, hence the different surname.) There is a charming story around this flight that I loved to hear from my grandmother, the main teller of stories in my childhood.

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