Scrutinizing the question “Who we are?”

By K N Pandita

Cheers to Farooq Abdullah for raking up a pertinent question “Who we are” while releasing a joint statement of six parties or Gupkar Declaration – 02. This is at the root of the politics of Kashmir Valley.

The first leader of the Valley who practically resolved the enigma of “who we are” was Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. And when he lost the direction the mantle fell on the shoulders of Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad in 1953. When the Bakhshi was close to fortifying the Kashmirian real identity, the pseudo-Sultans in Delhi pulled the rug under his feet. Little did they understand that they had signed the hundred-year war in Kashmir?

The real motivation behind Sheikh Abdullah’s rejection of two-nation theory and accession to democratic secular India was his answer to the fundamental and crucial question raised by his son. Historians may try to dig into this decision of the Sheikh from various angles, but the reality is that he had calmly made deep introspection about his identity in the background of Kashmir’s antiquity and came to the conclusion that in totality he had inherited a solid, ancient and vibrant identity. he was a part of a fabulous civilization. He also understood that the ethos of that identity had gone deep into his person and his people and the vagaries of history had not succeeded in demolishing the fundamentals of that identity.

The people in Pakistan are told that their history begins with the conquest of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim, the Arab invader in 712 A.D, and those in Kashmir are told that their history begins with the rise of Sultan Shahmir in 1339 A.D. For the two peoples, the history did not begin prior to these two dates. Disowning the past unwittingly resulted in the fossilizing of a split personality in either case.

No historian will care to tell the two peoples that they should look beyond those two dates. But if they are inquisitive they will find strange and perhaps stunning narrative unfolding on them. Perhaps Farooq never asked his illustrious father “who we are”. We do understand what he means by asking that question but he does not know what hurt he inflicts on his own people by posing that question. Therefore, let us talk history with our flamboyant leader, Farooq Abdullah, to make him understand “who we are”.

After the martyrdom of Imam Husain, many followers of his faith left Baghdad to escape repression by Hajjaj, the Governor of Baghdad appointed by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid. These Arab refugees came to Dabul and were given shelter by Raja Dahir of Sindh. When Hajjaj came to know of it, he dispatched a commander named Muhammad bin Qasim with a strong force to punish Raja Dahir brazenly ignoring that the same Raja had allowed hundreds of his Jat warriors proceed to Baghdad and support Hajjaj in consolidating his control over Basra. Hajjaj then deputed his commander Muhammad bin Qasim to lead a strong naval expedition against Raja Dahir. In the battle of Sindh Raja Dahir was defeated and killed and Muhammad bin Qasim sent his princesses along with hundreds of Sindhi Hindu girls to Hajjaj as a gift. The Arabs established their sway over Sindh and went on destroying Hindu temples and shrines.

It was King Lalitaditya of Kashmir who commanding a large force of Kashmirian warriors, preceded on a massive expedition of the South, attacked the Arab forces in Sindh and routed them in a battle. They were forced to run away to their homeland in Iraq and Arabistan. In this way, Sindh was cleared of the invaders and the companions of Imam Husain were sent back to their place with honour and dignity.

Kashmir valley leadership should be proud that they have inherited the glorious legacy of their warrior-king Lalitaditya Muktapida the Great. This historical event answers the question of Farooq viz. “Who we are”.

The same great king of ancient Kashmir ordered the construction of the world-famous sun temple known as Martand Temple in Anantnag district. The ruins of this temple speak of its grandeur and glory. In terms of architecture, the temple is renowned to be a mix of Greek and Achaemenian styles closely resembling the world-famous Persepolis or Takht-e Jamsheed situated at a distance of about thirty miles from Shiraz, the famous southern city of Iran. Takht-e Jamsheed was the royal seat of great Achaemenid (Iranian) Empire (550–330 BC). On both walls of the steps of the enormous stairs leading to the Apadana or the Royal Court of the palace, we find stone carvings depicting rulers and ambassadors of different countries including India carrying in their hand’s rich presents for the Achaemenian emperor Dara. Similar stone carving images of satraps and warlords of Kashmirian kingdom of Lalitaditya were to be found on the entry walls to the Martand Temple.

And Sultan Sikandar, the Iconoclast (butshikan) of Kashmir (AD 1389 – 1413) ordered the destruction of this temple under the prompting of Muhammad Hamadani, the son of Sayyid Ali Hamadani, a foreign (Iranian) missionary at the Sultan’s court. Tohfatul Ahbab tells us that when the massive stones could not be broken a huge dump of firewood was stored under the doom of the temple and then set ablaze. The dome and the walls collapsed owing to excessive heat. This provides an answer to Farooq’s question “Who we are”.

Ancient Kashmiris showed much appreciation for the Buddhist teachings when brought to them by the missionaries of King Ashoka in around 220 BC. Those ancient Kashmiris became ardent Buddhist missionaries and monks and spread Buddhism in the entire Kashmir kingdom with borders touching on western Khurasan of those days. At Balkh, (Bhakri in Rig Veda) now in North-West Afghanistan, the Kashmirian bhikshus built a magnificent vihara which attained fame in the western parts of the Caliphate. It was given the name of Nava Vihara which corrupted into Navbahar with Iranian and Arab historians. The high priests of this Vihara came from a prominent Kashmiri priestly clan called Pramukh meaning the prominent. The forces of Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad captured Balkh and also the grand vihara of Navbahar and its high priestly family of Prmukhs. They were forcibly converted to the Islamic faith, taken as a captive to Baghdad and produced before Caliph al-Haroon. After his interface with the Pramukh high priest and knowing that he had been converted to the Islamic faith, al Haroon called him Barmak and gave him the name of Abu Sahl. The Arab historians called him Abu Sahl Barmaki. (The word Barmecide in English is derived from this origin) and finding him extraordinarily intelligent, sharp and sophisticated made him his vizier. A great patron of learning, Abu Sahl Barmaki raised an academy of science called Baitul Hikmat in Baghdad where he brought polyglots from the entire Abbasid Caliphate and assigned them the task of translating Greek into Arabic the renowned works of most outstanding Greek philosophers especially Aristotle, Plato. Galen, Longinus Plotinus and others. The translators were not only Muslim polyglots but Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews and Freelancers as well. In this way, and under the patronage of the Barmaki minister of Kashmiri origin (Pramukh) the rich fund of Greek philosophy and sciences was transferred into Arabic wherefrom it was carried to the Roman Empire where it generated the Renaissance movement of 15th century in Europe and ultimately became the harbinger of the age of reason in the West. This may explain to Farooq Sahib “Who we are” and also we can take full pride in being who we are.

But it is also among our activities that apart from destroying the ancient temples in Kashmir, some tyrants ordered the destruction of ancient valuable fund of manuscripts which were ultimately heaped up to make an embankment of the Dal. This reminds us of a parallel historical occurrence.

When Arab Commander ‘Amr ibn al-’As conquered Alexandria in A.D 641, there he found a huge library containing hundreds of thousands of precious manuscripts. He wrote to Caliph Omar asking what to do with that fund. Omar replied cryptically. “Muslims have the heavenly book Quran, which contains all knowledge. If the books you are speaking about contain more than what is in the Quran, we don’t need it, and if it is less we don’t need to keep them. For six months of winter, the water of bathhouses in Alexandria was warmed by burning these books as firewood… This historical event also explains “Who we are”.

Queen Didda (A.D 980-1003) of Lohara ruling house derived her lineage from Bhima Deva, the Hindu Shahi ruler of Kabul which al-Biruni has also stated in his historical work Indica. The shrine at Bumzu near Matan in Anantnag district of Kashmir was built by the same Bhima Deva and dedicated to Shiva as Bhimakesava. The shrine is situated on a small island made by the streams of Liddar flowing by. The Matan/Martand Mahatmaya mentions Bhima deep meaning Bhima Island. In Kashmiri, an island is called Zu, and hence the village where the shrine is situated came to be called Bhumazu. During the rule of the Sultans of Kashmir, Sheikh Nnoorud Din Noorani (Nund Rishi) took a number of his followers with him, headed towards Bumzu, desecrated the temple by flinging a cowhide on the idols, forcibly converted the high priest and ordered the construction of a mosque at the site of the temple. (See Reshinamah by Bahau’d Din Mutto published by the J&K Cultural Academy). And Nund Reshi is venerated as the foremost among the saints of Kashmir. That is what we are.

Didda, the queen-regent of Lohara (Lohren in Parnotsa or Poonch district) ruling dynasty, became the Queen Monarch when her husband died and she took the control of the kingdom in her hands. Thus Queen Didda assumed the rule over both the kingdoms of Lohara and Kashmira. The Kashmirian Damaras and warlords hatched conspiracies against her. The intrepid queen assembled a strong force of the Lohara highlanders and led an expedition of Kashmir. After quelling insurgency, she returned to Lohara but left-back many of her commanders in the Tangmarg-Gulmarg sector to keep a watch on the movement of Kashmir warlords. These Lohara commanders occupied lands and raised their jagirs. After their conversion to Islam about three centuries later the proselytized Lohara commanders came to be known as highlanders with their settlements around Tangmarg-Afarwat region in Kashmir. During the days of the British rule, a British military officer who had settled down in Tangmarg area married a girl from the progeny of one of the ex-Lohara commanders. Farooq Abdulla has descended from this matrimonial alliance. We hope that this should conveniently answer Farooq’s question “Who we are” and he may rightly take pride in who he is.

Farooq Abdullah lives on the slopes of Gupkar hill wherefrom he issued the two Gupkar Declarations. To answer his question “Who we are”, may I venture to tell him something of the hill Gupkar where he has his abode.

The guitar is the name of the village raised by King Gopaditya of Kashmir (426-365 BC). Raja Sandhiman of Kashmir (2629 to 2564 BC) had built a Shiva temple atop the hill and King Gopaditya repaired and renovated it as part of Jayeshtheshwara shrine (zethyaer in Kashmiri). With that, the hill got the name of Gopadri. The temple atop Gopadri was further repaired by King Lalitaditya of Kashmir (A.D 697-734).

“Stein tells us,” In Gopadri we have the ancient designation of the conspicuous hill now popularly known as Takht-e-Suleiman. The guitar is the name of the village situated between the hill and the Dal Lake. Actually, it was the Jayeshtheshvara shrine and connected with the sacred site and may have once occupied the same place on the top of the hill. The Gopa agraharas (shrine land and sites) were situated in the fertile plateau at the eastern part of the hill.” The Durganag shrine located at the foot of Gopadri hill and the road leading to the bungalow of Farooq Abdullah was a huge Buddhist monastery with large agrahara (endowment land). The monastery was razed to the ground in cataclysmic times but in the mid-19th century, some Acharyas mustered courage and built the temple at the site though they could not retrieve the land of the agrahara. It is called Durganag because an idol of Durga was recovered when the ruins of the monastery were dug.

While Farooq sahib retains the name of Gupkar as the site of his private residence, his people have given the name Takht-e-Sulaiman to the hill and the temple atop originally built by the Kashmirian king Sandman 4649 years ago.

We do not mean that Farooq Abdullah or his people should revert to the roots. Our only purpose is recounting the history so as to uncover the roots remaining invisible under a thick green sheet. Maybe it will help him see what proud stuff lies deep at the roots of our identity. This should provide the right answer to his query “Who are we”? He and his people in Kashmir have a right to be elated on knowing “who they are”.

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