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.
Martand
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 festivals...it 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
Vasudeva
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".
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1 comment:

  1. This is the most profound thing I've read in a while. The last line is especially strong. I have often heard these things at home. So and so is not a Kashmiri, they're gujars. Nehru knew what he was doing, the other side doesn't really have Kashmiris. It's hard to think of other places within India, where not only do you need generations under the ground, you need a lot more to be seen as a Kashmiri. Framing it as 'othering' spoke to me. I had not articulated it like that in my head.

    Also reminds me of how "Rakshabandan" is a foreign festival, and some people simply don't celebrate for that reason.

    ReplyDelete

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