Kashmiriyat as a concept traces its roots in the history and legacy, which is specifically indigenous to the region of Kashmir. It fully encompasses in itself the inter-cultural syncrasy finely interleaved together amongst the populace of Jammu and Kashmir. During 1947-48, when the whole of Indian sub-continent was withering with bloodshed and violence due to partition; Kashmiriyat showcased the shining example of religious pluralism in those pressing times. It prompted Mahatma Gandhi to declare that he sees ‘a ray of hope in Kashmir’ in spite of communal discord present in rest of the sub-continent. In the latter half of 20th century, Kashmiriyat appealed to the local masses and thus gained significant political momentum, irrespective of prevalent religions in the land.
Kashmiriyat has often been taken as a synonym for its political connotation only. However, this term imbibes in itself the varied phenomena associated with ordinary life in Kashmir. Kashmiriyat has been a common thread connecting the collective psyche of the populace from a time immemorial. The essence of Kashmiriyat has been omnipresent since it first manifested in the collective conscience of the people during 1970s. In the contemporary times, the need for its assimilation in our day to day affairs is felt more than ever. The present transforming times have brought many changes in people’s outlook and behaviour towards the ground realities. But the appeal of Kashmiriyat still reverberates in culture and tradition of present-day Kashmir.
Cultural assimilation has been a unique trait of the Kashmir. Due obeisance is accorded to the saints, rishis or peers of the land, who in their respective times served the masses and left us with the rich cultural legacy to be preserved and followed. Hence Kashmir is also called as Rishvaeer or Peervaeer (means, a garden of saints). The people pay a visit to the shrines of saints who are revered by one and all. The shrine of Nund Rishi at Charari Sharief has been the iconic building of Kashmir for long. As a founder of Rishi order in Kashmir, he is bestowed with the title of “Alamdar-e-Kashmir” (flag-bearer of Kashmiriyat). Rishi aka Saint tradition of Kashmir dates back to antiquity. It is this version of Kashmir which holds the notion of togetherness in it. It gave us Lalla Ded aka Lalla Arifa who had a very deep spiritual influence on Nund Rishi aka Noordin Noorani. Such has been the inclusion and acceptance among the Kashmiri populace that the common mystics and saints were given names as the people deemed fit. This inclusive character of people had evolved over the passage of time. This resilient character of people endured and safeguarded the notion of Kashmiriyat in the times when the region came under the domination and heavy influence of foreign powers and invaders. It is these common cultural traits and their firm conviction to pluralistic beliefs which held the populace together.
Pluralist Kashmiri culture has given us a best possible collection of Music, Literature, Historiography, Architecture, etc. From the times of Pandit Kalhana to the times of Jnanpith awardee litterateur, Prof Rehman Rahi; the Kashmiri culture has produced numerous giants in the fields of Literature and Music. Several of the Kashmiri people are awarded Padma awards every year. There have also been commonalities in rituals and customs among the Kashmiri folk. Biggest common legacy is the ‘Kashmiri’ language, which spoken by all in Kashmir with small regional variations giving diverse color to it. The Kashmiri Language is a unique blend, incorporating in it several Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi words and phrases.
Kashmir has a glorious history of Buddhist traditions which reached to its zenith during the reign, of Emperor Ashoka. It is Emperor Ashoka who established the city of Srinagar. He was instrumental in organizing 4th World Buddhist Council in Kundalvan, Kashmir. Kashmir has also been the graced by Shri Adishankara who laid the foundation for Tantric traditions Kashmir-Shaivism. Recently in a scientific study published it has been depicted that the first known documentation of supernova in pre-historic anthropological finds lies in Kashmir’s Burzahom village famous of its human pit-dwellings. It is also believed that the Emperor Lalitaditya, regarded as ‘Alexander of Kashmir’ had empire ranging from Kamrup (Assam) to Central Asia with Parihasapora as its capital. There are several other common historical facts which make the land of Kashmir, an origin point of several philosophical thoughts as well.
Kashmiriyat has been a pillar for social assimilation too. The Kashmiri people share the common eating habits, language and lead a way of life which is distinct in itself. Kashmiri food habits have also evolved over the time. It comprises of many Central Asian recipes and cooking methods. Kashmiri bakery is very unique and Kashmiri culinary ‘Wazwan’ is best known for its non-veg recipes. It is savoured and liked by all. Further traditional apparels & dresses like pheran (a woolen long gown) are worn by all men and women alike which gives Kashmiriyat a visual tinge.
During post-World War II period, the Leftist movement was at its peak globally with the USSR leading the communist revolution. Kashmir also witnessed the rise of Leftist movement which catered to the aspirations of agricultural labourers, rural folks, and general masses. To overthrow the Dogra Monarchy which was ruling Kashmir at that time became the mobilizing factor. It provided a common platform for political movement. No religious affiliations were sought; Kashmiri Hindu and Muslim participated equally with the common goal of overthrowing autocracy and ending feudal structure of administration. The naming of Common Square in central Srinagar as Lal Chowk shows the impact of the times when all people shared a bond together. This sense of Camaraderie and brotherhood gives us the firm ground to build the foundation to create a common shared path for inclusive Kashmir.
In 1927 the then Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh sanctioned a special provision which was to define the distinct rights of permanent residents of the state of Kashmir from non-state subjects. It was a blessing in disguise, which further strengthened the concept of Kashmiriyat. Thus helped safeguard the distinct culture and traditions of Kashmir from foreign influence. This rule stopped non-permanent residents from settling permanently in the Kashmir state and barred them from acquiring any immovable property, taking any state government jobs, educational scholarships or aid of any kind. It is said that the Maharaja acted at the behest of Kashmiri Pandit intellectuals in his Durbar. It is they who sensed the grim situation prevalent due to the continuous influx of people from neighboring Punjab and adjacent states. Jawaharlal Nehru also shared the same concerns about the Britishers and outsiders who possessed no eligibility to settle in Kashmir. He feared that British with enormous financial resources at their disposal would settle in Kashmir, could cause demographic change and gradually own the state resources, which will at the end render local populace slaves in their own land. This narrative also points to the fact that there have been several instances in the history that became a common rallying point for Kashmiriyat to survive and thrive in the times of need.
However, the noble cause of Kashmiriyat has taken a hit in the current times of continuous turmoil and political instability. Instead of glorifying the diversity of Kashmir and addressing the political divide. The young generation is brought up, not knowing the ethnic diversity of Kashmir. They have evolved a skewed mindset, often vulnerable to religious radicalization. It has rendered a great disadvantage for the Kashmir, Kashmiri, and Kashmiriyat. The need of the hour is to seek the truth by accessing the real goals and orientation of present-day political movements in Kashmir. Islamic radicalization and extreme religious fostering etc, which are alien to Kashmiri culture is to be checked.
The innocent Kashmiri people often fall prey to the political propaganda and fake news which often in the guise of harsh realities on the ground, camouflage the real politic behind every event occurring in Kashmir. Further, it has to be borne in minds and hearts of common Kashmiri that it would be disadvantageous to establish a mono-cultural uni-religious political entity. It would rob Kashmir of its soul and will shred Kashmiriyat into bits and pieces. Shared common traits and customs often acted as an insurance for the survival and common good of the community.
History of mankind is riddled with the battles which were fought for the glory of one’s identity. However, its impact on society has been negative and resulted in an unending conflict for eternity. In present times, the battle for identity has surpassed the idea of survival. It has emerged as a tool for a political bargain and it will have far-reaching ramifications if turned into a territorial conflict. There are several instances worldwide where nurturing the schisms has been the leading cause of conflict. For instance, the conflict between Iran-Saudi Arabia, Israel-Palestine, Chechnya-Russia, Xinjiang-China etc. Similarly, Kashmir also has a possibility to fall into the same trap, but what can safeguard it from falling into such conflict is the concept of Kashmiriyat which has stood the test of times.
Nurtured by generations of peers, fakirs, rishis, rustic folks in the form of fables, tales, and folklore, with wanwun, ladhishahs of the yore; the all-encompassing inclusive pluralistic concept of Kashmiriyat is the only insurance cover an ordinary Kashmiri can have. Each section of Kashmiri society must act together to preserve, promote and propagate this legacy of rich inclusive culture for which Kashmir has always stood for. It will be the guiding light for strengthening the foundations of peaceful cohabitation and harmonious living for all times to come.
(The author holding M.Tech, and B.E. degrees is a Ph.D. Research Scholar with Centre for Rural Development and Technology, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi)