Kashmir’s Modern and traditional society

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Presently it is synthetic culture in Kashmir with deep imprint of Persian, Central Asian, Indian

Peerzada Masrat

The culture that at present exists in the Valley is a synthetic culture in which the deep imprint of Persian, Central Asian, Indian, and also European culture are markedly evident.

In 1846, a momentous era began in the history of Kashmir. It was the transfer of Jammu and Kashmir by the British East. This Dogra dynasty led to the foundation of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir State. This historical event was also accompanied by transformations of profound importance in its cultural history.

The English became the virtual masters of the state, especially since 1885 when a full- fledged Residency was imposed on Maharaja Pratap Singh, reducing the ruler to a mere figure-head. This opened the flood gates of the influx of Europeans in the Valley, a process that went on increasing day by day.

Fascinated by its bounties of nature, attracted by its strategic importance and lured by her wealth, they entered the Valley as tourists, envoys, missionaries, fortune seekers and adventurers, apart from ruling the State through its Residents. Not only had the Europeans, the people of Kashmir also visited the European countries for trading and learning purposes. The mutual contact resulted in a profound impact on the culture of Kashmir. The European culture left its mark upon every sector of Kashmiri life and it is from this period that the history of the modernization of the Valley’s culture begins.

The Dogra period, therefore, was a transitional period of Western acculturation of Kashmir, through which it had to pass before reaching its present stage. The present study attempts to explore Kashmir’s response to European culture with special reference to the changing life style in Kashmir.

Among the most crucial problems that immediately confronted the European visitor, who was either an adventurer or a missionary or a state guest, was the absence of suitable accommodation.1 The problem was compounded by an increasing flow of Europeans into Kashmir, majority of whom belonged to the upper strata of society. Therefore, the primary requisite for ensuring their proper stay and utilizing their services was to arrange accommodation for them, preferably similar to ones to which they were accustomed. In this way, the housing of Kashmir was one of those primary sectors of Kashmir which felt the first hand need of remodelling its structure after the European fashion.

Thus, European architecture had a profound influence on the style of construction in Kashmir. Slowly and steadily, old type houses got replaced by European type bungalows with corrugated tin sheets or shingle roofs.20 The nature of the material for the construction of buildings also changed. Cement in different proportions began to be used with sand for construction purposes.21 Raised plinths became the order of the day.22 Chimneys were built for the outlet of smoke from the hearths.23 The houses were constructed with arrangement of rooms for different purposes like drawing room, dining room, dressing room and bedroom, etc.

Till the late 1930s, the houses did not contain anysanitation. Even Nedous Hotel did not boast of this amenity.25 By the 1940s, only one or two houses had sanitary fitting including Shergari, the palace of Maharaja.26 The insanitary conditions and the haphazard way of constructing houses were pronounced features of Kashmiri social life. Even the capital city, Srinagar was no better placed in this respect. It was in 1886 that the first Municipality Act was passed to overcome the problem of sanitation in Srinagar.27

But, it was greatly hampered by conservative people. However, by 1922 some wise and intelligent citizens joined the Municipality and supported the President in his arduous task of tackling prejudices and age old customs.

Thus, the construction of colonies away from the densely populated areas, with sanitary and other amenities of life, a common feature of present day Kashmir, owes its introduction to the Europeans who built their quarters.(Ends)

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