Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kashmiri Identity

Kashmiri identity right now has been reduced to a laminated identity card. At the present moment an ID card is the most precious possession of a Kashmiri within or outside Kashmir. However, the real identity of a Kashmiri has been given many names including the worn out cliché of Kashmiriyat which actually is a colonial concept, has been moulded and evolved over few thousand years. If we go by historical discoveries, the first Kashmiris started living in Kashmir right from the new stone age (Neolithic period of human evolution). The only definite and irrefutable scientific evidence about the beginning of human civilisation in Kashmir is the Neolithic (New Stone Age) dwelling sites in many parts of the valley out of which Burzahom site is the most studied and well known in the scientific community. But the significance of the site is not so much known among the people at large. Burzahom Neolithic Site is on a Karewa in the neighbourhood of Shalimar-Telbal road. It has a beautiful location. On one side in the distance is the Dal Lake while in the backdrop is Mahadev peak. The site is famous because it was the first such site discovered in Kashmir. It has dwelling pits, burial pits and some megaliths. The Neolithic (or the New Stone Age) Period of this site dates back to around 3,000 BC. In a way the place represents the site as well as the period where from the first inhabitants of our beautiful valley came. They could be termed the original Kashmiris who started inhabiting this valley like their counter parts in many other areas of the world.The other places where these sites were discovered are Begagund, Gofkral, Hariparigom, Olchibag, Pampur, Panzgom, Sombur, Waztal and Brah. In the dwelling pits human skeletons, fireplaces, and many implements were discovered. However, as has often happened, all these discoveries were stolen from us and taken to Delhi and as usual we were left with empty pits full of rain water! So much for our basic identity! Subsequently many incursions of tribal people took place and Kashmir evolved into a tribal society. The earliest recorded book of history in the sub-continent, Kalhana’s Rajatrarangni describes in detail the tribes who inhabited Kashmir in ancient times. Most of the incursions came from the west and there was very little interaction with the east. Kashmir is mentioned in Greek, Chinese and Arabic literature from the earliest times. Greek chronicles especially Ptolemy’s geography mention Kashmir as Kaspeira. The place of famous foot-walkers! Compared to all these references, there is a lamentable lack of exact geographical mention of Kashmir in general Sanskrit literature.The most specific piece of information regarding Kashmir that Sanskrit literature outside the Valley furnishes is in the term Kasmira or Kasmiraja that designates Saffron and Kustha for which it was famous since ancient times. Historically, Kashmir has passed through various epochs of Hinduism, Buddhism, again Hinduism and then finally Islam. All these faiths have had a peaceful and voluntary transition. In fact, Kashmiris have accepted all these changes without giving up some of their historical traditions of the ancient times. Kashmiri Hinduism based on Saivite trika philosophy is different from the Vedanta Hinduism of the north India. Buddhism itself was completely reformed and changed from the strict Hinayana School to moderate Mahayana School in the fourth Buddhist Council held in Kashmir. Finally, Hazrat Bulbul Shah and Mir Sayed Ali Hamadani brought Islam to Kashmir as the most humanitarian and positive religion. There is no doubt that they introduced many other things apart from the religion and gave a completely new way of life to the Kashmiris. However, Kashmiris are great assimilators. We do not convert but adopt everything to our traditional way of life! For last four centuries we have lived under Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, and Dogras. But, there is no distinct trace of these races anywhere in Kashmir as we assimilated all in our own society and evolved a composite identity of a Kashmiri! Unfortunately, this identity has been attempted to be eroded since 1947 when we got entangled in a messy conflict between two neighbouring countries. Each one is trying to pick up only that part which suits it. None is prepared to accept the total composite identity of a Kashmiri, moulded by a rich Hindu and Buddhist past, and the most tolerant Muslim present. Kashmiris take equal pride in both Laltaditya and Budshah. There is only one way to way to preserve our true identity. We must preserve and propagate our language and study our long and rich history. Kashmir has been a seat of learning from the ancient times. Unfortunately, during last few decades we have lost the distinction between learning and literacy. We have thousands of literate young people but very few really learned ones! They are the least educated about our past especially about the identity. If we are honestly concerned about our identity, we must, as the saying goes, begin the charity in our homes. We should make it a point to talk to our public school going kids in Kashmiri. We should also not shy away from addressing gatherings where the majority is of local people, in Kashmiri language. We should rather be proud to speak in Kashmiri whenever and wherever possible. In case we fail to begin at home, we may be unfortunately left with the identity of a laminated identity card only!

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