Kashmir in ancient times was ruled by kings and queens who were born to be so and in the recent times we have had democratically elected kings but right now we have none!
Traditionally, Kashmir from the earliest times has been ruled by Kings and Queens. The most authentic and interesting historical account of the Kings and Queens of Kashmir from the ancient times till twelfth century is the Rajatarangani written by Pandit Kalhan. It means in English the River of Kings. It truly is a descriptive River of the Kings and Queens who have ruled Kashmir in the earliest of times. There have been all types of Kings. Some were great builders while some were great conquerors. Avantivarman was a builder while as Laltaditya Muktapid was a great conqueror. Avantivarman’s period is remembered because of his illustrious minister Hakeem Suya who saved Kashmir of those times from devastating floods. After the devastation of the last flood one intensely wishes we had someone like Hakeem Suya in the present times! Laltaditya can be truly called the Alexander of Kashmir because of his conquests and forays into lands all around Kashmir. He even tried to conquer Tibet but his entire army perished in the freezing snows of Ladakh on their way to Tibet. Then we had Kanishka during whose reign the Fourth Buddhist Council which changed Buddhism from the strict Hinayana School to more moderate Mahayana School was held in Kashmir. The famous Chinese Traveller Huien Sang visited Kashmir during his time.
Among the Queens, there are two famous ones, Queen Didda and Kota Rani. Queen Didda is supposed to have been very ruthless and vicious. She ruled with a strong hand. According to a historian friend, Indira Gandhi was supposed to have been her re-incarnation! Kota Rani was the last Hindu ruler and she committed suicide after a forced marriage to Rin Cin Shah, a Ladakhi prince who had usurped the thrown of Kashmir. In fact, after being refused entry into Hinduism by the local Brahmins, he converted to Islam and became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir as Sultan Sadr-ud-Din.
In the recent past, Kashmir has had two very illustrious and intelligent rulers. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin popularly known as Budshah and Queen Habba Khatoon. In fact, the latter was a de-facto ruler. She was the wife of the last ruler of the sovereign and independent Kashmir, Yusuf Shah Chak. One need not recount the story of Budshah. Even a child is familiar with the name. As regards Habba Khatoon apart from being an intelligent companion and advisor to her husband, she was a famous poetess. She in fact started the romantic school of poetry in Kashmir which till her time had mostly the Sufi or the spiritual poetry. Her songs still reverberate in the valleys of Kashmir. Apart from being a de-facto ruler, she had rendered timely advice to her husband asking him not to trust Akbar but he disregarded it and ended up in exile and loss of Kashmir’s sovereignty!
The departure of the British in 1947 from the sub-continent brought freedom to many oppressed people. However, Kashmiris due to their ill luck failed to get back their sovereign status even after four centuries of external rule. When the whole sub-continent was witnessing the rise of the new Sun of freedom and emancipation, Kashmiris were getting entangled in the worst possible political mess in the history. A special King arose who got them entangled in such a knot which appears to be impossible to disentangle! These were now new type of Kings who were installed by outside powers to keep the people under a new kind of imperialism. One could call these so called democratically “selected” Kings. Even though they fought so called elections yet their installation was by the will of the outside powers. In spite of the end of the monarchical system of heredity Kings and Queens, the new line also tried to follow the hereditary process in a so called democratic way.
The present situation when Kashmir is without a King or a Queen reminds one of a similar episode described by Kalhana. It is said that at one time due to continuous internecine warfare, the people could not get a King to rule over them. The courtiers ultimately decided that any person who is first to enter the Kingdom from outside on a particular day would be crowned as a King. So on the chosen day the courtiers waited at the entry gate of the valley and as soon as a person came in, they pounced upon him and told him that he was the King of Kashmir! Well, seeing the present state of affairs we may have to resort to a similar practice and get a King or a Queen to rule over us! Anyhow, sometimes it is better to be without a King or a Queen. The state runs on its own in a much better way!