What We Inherited, What We Have

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Sushil Kumar Kaul, Arazbegi

Kashmiriyat is a word which has been used extensively both in the national & international media over the last few decades to refer to the communal amity & religious tolerance between the two religious communities in Kashmir.

I recently read a Study Paper issued by European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Amsterdam, in December, 2017, titled “Kashmir’s Composite Culture: Sufism & Communal Harmony – Kashmiriyat”, which is quite balanced & informative study about Kashmir’s composite culture. I have reproduced certain excerpts from the paper for the benefit of my readers. I acknowledge & thank the authors for their excellent study & also for including certain portions of their work in my compilation here.

We Take Pride In Our Culture

Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims have always been aware of their religious differences. But despite these religious differences, Kashmir was probably the only place in the Indian sub-continent where it was hard to differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim, by only looking at the last name. Kashmiri people take pride in their culture as the society is deeply influenced by Sufi mysticism.

Sufi Saints won over the hearts of Kashmiris on account of their piety and sincerity by employing methods of persuasion, humanity and discourse. Sufism served to promote a common way of understanding the world, thereby forming the cornerstone of the unique Kashmiri culture that transcends religious boundaries.

Kashmir produced great thinkers and spiritual practitioners in the ancient and medieval period whose contributions have been articulated in Sanskrit language. Kashmiris lost their hold on Sanskrit after the advent of Islam around 14th century owing to changing social, religious, linguistic and political arrangements of the society leading to a hiatus between pre-Islamic Kashmir and Islamic Kashmir.

Lal Ded

Lal Ded, one of the earliest mystic poets of Kashmir, proved to be the significant historical bridge that connected the two religious communities. She revolted against all the oppressive edifices, right from the secondary dependent status allotted to women to the educated elite of Sanskrit academia who were the custodians of knowledge and tradition. She articulated the spiritual path and message in Kashmiri, the language of a common man irrespective of caste, creed or individual belief system. “Oh! Fool, right action does not lie in fasting and other ceremonial rites. Oh! Fool, right action does not lie in providing for bodily comfort and ease. In contemplation of the self alone is the right action and right council for you” – Lal Ded.

Nund Rishi

In Kashmir the Muslim Rishi movement was started by, Nuruddin Nurani (1377-1440), by moulding the pre-existing Rishi tradition for the spread of Islam, using local institutions to make Islam more comprehensible to the people of Kashmir.

The Hindu followers remember him as Nund-Reshi or Sahaza-Nand (The blissful one). Nund Rishi alias Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali was greatly influenced by Lal Ded, the female rebel Hindu Saint; a revolutionary woman mystic of 14th century Kashmir, who is known through her poetic verses referred to as ‘Lal-Vaakh’.

Lal Ded or Laleshwari was known as Lala Arifa by her Muslim followers. She used Kashmiri language to spread the message of brotherhood through her sayings (Lal-Vaakh), which made Nund Rishi quote that she is, “The Divine Manifestation for us”, which makes her the undisputed founder of contemporary Kashmiri literature. “That Lalla of Padmanpore, who had drunk to her full the nectar. She was an avatar of ours, Oh God, grant me the same spiritual power” – Nund-Rishi.

Nund Rishi’s teachings can be described as thoughtful critiquing the society and his loyalty was with the Kashmiri peasantry, the poor lot and his Shruks (taken from the Sanskrit word shlokas) consistently attacked the caste system.

He attached importance to yogic practice and breath control for communion with God. He preached a disciplined life like: “Desire is like the knotted wood of the forest. It cannot be made into planks, beams or into cradles; He who cut and tilled it, will burn it into ashes”. He considered rosary as a snake and favoured true worship: “Do not go to Sheikh and Priest and Mullah; do not feed the cattle Arkh or leaves – do not shut thyself up in mosques or forests – enter thine own body with breath controlled in communion with God”.

Universal Language Of Love

Unlike the Saints of mainland India, instead of criticizing Hinduism or Islam he affirmed his relations with both, the Quran and Hindu-Buddhist thoughts, promoting the universal language of love. He taught how people of different faiths could live together without any faith-based conflict.

The people of Kashmir chose not to project their distinct spiritual identity which is neither absolutely Hindu nor Muslim. This culture and spirit of singular identity irrespective of individual religious beliefs, sometimes confuses people outside of Kashmir, but Kashmiris with pride refer to it as ‘Kashmiriyat’, in simple words ‘Kashmiri-ness’.

Kashmiriyat is a term attached with deep emotions, communal harmony, hospitality, behaviour, non-violence, mutual accommodation, good will and love that people of Kashmir have for each other. This tradition flourished due to the mutual efforts towards coexistence, embraced by adherents of both religions.

Peaceful Coexistence

Some of the festivals in Kashmir which had originated in the Hindu mythology attained a secular character and both Pandits and Muslims celebrated them. The humanistic philosophy of Kashmiri Sufis and Rishis played a prominent role in building the Kashmiri ethnic identity.

With the rise of Pan-Islamism and almost three decades of violence, religious extremism, uncertainty and instability, the ethos of Kashmir has been altered. One wonders whether the same culture will ever prove to be a binding force for the people of Kashmir again and thereby, perhaps, be the stimulus for the resurrection of Kashmiriyat

The traditional communal harmony that once existed in Kashmir enabled the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus) and other minorities.

The Kashmiri society evolved to be more open to various beliefs, under the influence of Islamic Sufis and Saints of the Rishi order. “Shiva (God) abides in all that is everywhere, then do not discriminate between a Hindu and a Muslim. If you are wise seek the Absolute within yourself. That is true knowledge of the Lord” – Lal Ded.

The people of Kashmir, bound together by their unique Kashmiri language, celebrate their seamless culture and collective identity, ‘Kashmiriyat’, which transcends the religious boundaries, further strengthening the bedrock of exquisite bond between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits.

The fluidity of religious boundaries and the presence of syncretic religious culture are both integral parts of Kashmiriyat – Chitralekha Zutshi, Kashmiri Historian.

Phased Exodus

In 1947, the Pandits made up about 6 percent of the Kashmir Valley’s population. By 1950, theirpopulation declined to 5 per cent as many Pandits moved to other parts of India due to the uncompensated land redistribution policy, the unsettled nature of Kashmir’s accession to India and the threat of economic and social decline.

Simultaneously, after 1947, when the State of Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India in the wake of a Pakistani invasion, the political developments started drifting away from secular, progressive and nationalist framework. But the common masses irrespective of their separate identities, continued to cherish their common beliefs, feasts, values and reverence for Sufis and Rishis.

During the current times, when the people of Kashmir are going through ineffable yet palpable miseries, both inside and outside Kashmir, the magnificent metaphysical and mystical ethnicities enriched by Reshis and Sufi saints do bring solace, though facing their greatest challenge due to the Wahhabi brand of Islam designed to destroy Kashmir and its century’s old ethos.

Kashmiriyat received a major blow since the outbreak of Pakistan sponsored terrorism in 1989 and its adherents in the Valley. There was mass violence, destruction of property and massacre of innocents by the Kashmiri youth armed and trained by Pakistan, leading to the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and thereby rupturing the secular soul of Kashmiri society by using religion as a catalyst.

The Islamic terrorist organisations worked in line with Pakistan’s objectives of destroying the secular and pluralistic fabric of Kashmiri society, and thereby inducing religious extremism.

Consequences Of Turmoil

Today’s Kashmiri youth are a product of turmoil while the Pandit-Muslim dissonance has engulfed the Valley. A major trust deficit, emotional upsets and grudges are felt by both the communities. The Kashmiri Pandits have historically left Kashmir on numerous occasions, when confronted with despotic Muslim rulers. But the recent exodus of 1990 has no comparable precedent.

Religion always had a strong presence in the Valley but people from different faiths were bound together by their mutual and unique ‘culture’. With the rise of Pan-Islamism and almost three decades of violence, religious extremism, uncertainty and instability, the ethos of Kashmir has been altered and one wonders whether the same culture will ever prove to be a binding force for the people of Kashmir again and thereby, perhaps, be the stimulus for the resurrection of Kashmiriyat.


(The Author is a retired Corporate Executive who has also written an autobiographical book – Kashmiriyat Healing The Soul. It was well-reviewed and received by the Kashmiri community. The above piece is a excerpt from the Book)



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