What is a Kashmiri Pandit

Text of the Speech of K.N. Pandita, presented at the Convention of Kashmiri Pandits organised by KOA (Kashmiri Overseas Association) in Chicago on July 3, 2006.

What is a Kashmiri Pandit?

How should I answer this enigmatic question?

Behind us, the Pandits of Kashmir, stand a hundred thousand year old archaeological remains at Burzahome and Semthan plus more than ten thousand year old written history, the Nilamata Purana.

Our homeland – Kashmir mandala — sits in the lap of the Himalayas. For many good reasons this particular geographic landmark became the icon of our spiritual and temporal existence. It is the first mark of our identity.

In times immemorial our ancestors gave the trident-wielding supreme deity of the Hindu pantheon, namely Shiva, an abode atop Mount Kailash and let him indulge in the ecstatic dance of creation (tandav nritya). that churned the cosmos. Our relationship with Shiva is the relationship between the ocean and the molecule. Therefore our sages emphasized that death meant assimilation not destruction. It is eternity.

Intensely intertwined with pristine physical nature, the Pandit stands steadfast to the conviction that defilement of the elements, air, water and v is anti nature and hence a sin. This becomes a recognised component of our cultural construct.

Broadly linked to and drawing from the Hindu civilization fund, the Pandit carved out his own cultural identity, which, in turn enriched the Hindu pantheon…In Kashmir mandala, the Pandit created the Ganga at Gangabal and Prayaga at Shadipore, sparing himself and his progeny the travails of a long and arduous journey to Kashi and Pryagraja. Not content with this cultural ingenuity, he localised a thousand holy shrines in the length and breadth of Bharata at Kotitirtha in Varahmula where a dip in the Vitasta cleansed a devotee of sins and impurities. , The Pandit did not let Shiva rest in trance in his Mount Kailash retreat but prompted him to manifest himself in Amreshwara cave in the deep recesses of the Himalayas through the symbol of an icy lingam. Such was the care and concern of the Pandit for water — the element out of which life sprang—, that he gave a name to each and every spring (naga), stream (nadi) and oozing pond (pokher), to each and every mountain, hill or height (udar) and associated them with his gods, goddesses, angels, kings. princes, princesses, sages and savants. This exciting saga of camaraderie between man and nature explains what a Pandit is.

In temporal sphere, the traditional Pandit cast his life into a mould of ritualistic plurality tending to become more and more localised. This perception necessitated raising temples and formally consecrating them to his gods and deities. The imposing ancient Pandit stone architecture reflected today in the massive ruins of Martand (dedicated to the Sun God) , or in the Vishnu temple complex of King Avantivarman at Avantipora, or in the ruins of temple complex of King Lalitaditya at Parihasapora or the Shiva temple at Wangat or the Pandava temple at Bonyar, all endorse the truth in the statement of a curator in the British museum that ancient Kashmirian temple architecture could be comparable to the great Greek architecture in style and stature. Vagaries of time and vicissitudes of history deprived the Pandit of the pride of his creative art in the history of world architecture. This is the third mark of Pandit identity.

Learning has been the main profession of the Pandit. That is what the term denotes. This is the fourth mark of his identity… Sanskrit remained his medium of expression. Kalhana hints in Rajatarangini that Kalidasa originated in Kashmir. The famous devotional hymn of the learned Shaivite, Abhinavagupta, composed and recited while he entered a cave retreat at the head of seven hundred staunch Shaivite disciples remains a unique piece of poetry in the entire field of Hindu doxology. (yafta charachar bhairavanatham…) The first real history ever written in India and in Sanskrit is Kalhana Pandit`s Rajatarangini (12th century A.D).. A Pandit is one who has three books under his pillow; the Bhagwat Gita,, the Rajatarangini and Jagmohan`s My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir. This is yet another identity mark of a Kashmir Pandit.

Rise and fall of empires, kingdoms and principalities is part of human history. Kashmir Hindu kingdom fell in A.D. 1339 owing to external and internal reasons. Intensely ritualistic socio-religious formulation plus a depleting economy could no more sustain a vast but land-locked Himalayan kingdom around the beginning of the 14th century..

The rise in Arabian peninsula of a youthful, innovative but aggressive faith around 7th century, propagating a borderless and classless society for its adherents, gradually expanded eastward to Iranian and Central Asian lands of Aryan and Turko-Mongolian ethnicities. It swept before it the ancient and fabulous empires of the Iranians, the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians. When in the region of Trans-Oxiana it wrested the control of the famous trading route of the ancient East called the Silk Route around 9th century, Kashmir’s trading channels in Central Asia were choked and her economy strangulated. With that began the gradual decline of the Hindu Kingdom of Kashmir. Three centuries later, the nascent faith of the Saracens, fiercely propagated by hosts of rabid crusaders, was crossing the Hindu Kush and the western flanks of the Karakorum. Its mission was to liquidate the Kingdom of Kashmir and decimate her millennia old civilization.

At this point of time, the Pandits were faced with civilizational tsunami. With the kingdom fallen apart and state disintegrated, with defence in disarray and economy in shambles, the Pandit found his civilization pushed to the brink of catastrophe. He stood exposed to severe punishment, more on cultural than on physical count. Subjected to forcible mass conversion to a faith diametrically opposed to his own, he was to abandon the very basics of his religious philosophy and submit to monotheism that enjoined upon its adherents eradication of even the smallest vestige of the indigenous faith and culture. In that war of civilizations, the Pandit would ultimately lose his identity. Few communities have been as much hostile to their indigenous history and civilization as the proselytised Kashmiris in the aftermath of the disastrous socio-political transformation.

Those who weathered the cataclysm were small in number only to degenerate into a minuscule religious minority. But how this small minority tenaciously clung to its age old faith, tradition and social construct for next six centuries remains a poignant saga of struggle for survival. How this politically, economically and socially ostracised minority managed to steer through the roaring storm that had engulfed them should also explain what a Pandit is.

From 1339 to 1946 A.D, a period of six centuries, the Pandit could steal just one century of comparative security to his life and culture. This was the century of Hindu Dogra rule (1846 – 1946), which actually drew strength from the then Sikh kingdom of Lahore. Emerging from the huge debris of history, the Pandit, during this period of respite, made a feeble attempt to preserve what had remained of his devastated faith, culture, tradition and ethos. However, one century was too short a period to retrieve what he had lost.

But this respite was not to last long. . In the aftermath of India’s independence from the British colonial rule in 1947, the fate of the Pandits once again hung in balance… Never did one anticipate that the freedom of India from the British colonial rule would mean enslavement of the Pandit to his own compatriots and former co-religionists. Dismally inadequate knowledge of traditional Islamic politico-religious dispensation that stands diametrically opposite to the Westminster type of democracy, makes it difficult for casual commentators to understand the concept of dhimmitude in a Muslim dominated regime.,

Between 1947 and 1986, no fewer than four Accards were signed between the Indians and Kashmir majority leadership. In each accord India promised to concede additional measure of self- rule to the ruling majority group in Kashmir. Yet at the end of six decades of accession to the Indian Union, Kashmir separatists and secessionists are running into their 16th year of armed insurgency aimed at putting an end to Indian presence in Kashmir. They consider Pandit the symbol of Indian presence in Kashmir and hence target number one.

What then is the Kashmiri Pandit today? With the entire community extirpated from its homeland, and Kashmir cleansed of this indigenous ethnic group, the Pandit is a homeless and in a sense country-less figure, a passing episode in the history of the sub-continent His millennia old culture, tradition and societal structure have been rent asunder. In a couple of decades from now the Indian demographic monster will suck him into its vortex lock, stock and barrel. Soon he will be lost to history and to himself.

Is there a w ay out?

Yes, there is a way but only if we accept the reality howsoever harsh it is, and respond to the exigency of situation. First let us sum up the prevailing situation.

a) In the type of democracy India is adhering to, vote bank politics will have its way for a long time to come. That means bulldozing of aspirations of smaller groups notwithstanding their history and antiquity.
b) Indian political class will not concede any privilege to non-Muslim minority groups any that may have a bearing on the present or future interests of the biggest minority vote segment viz. the Muslims in India.
c) As long as the Indian democratic arrangement goes on conceding one after another concession to the Muslims of India, the Muslims need not overtly accelerate their pan-Islamic movement.
d) The Indian State is fine with a communalised Kashmir remaining a part of secular India in letter. if not in spirit It means Indian secular philosophy has no qualms of conscience in compromising with localised Islamism.
e) Pandits can never regroup in order to revive their identity. Gradual assimilation in the Indian social milieu is inevitable.
f) Homeland demand of Panun Kashmir will meet even stiffer resistance from all national level political parties and broad segments of Indian civil society because it is tantamount to a frontal assault on their vote bank related power politics.
g) Pandits should understand that India is not a Hindu state even if the majority of population is of Hindus. Nothing will be more unrealistic than to expect any concession from any Indian government on the count that it is the exclusive Hindu community that has been victimised in Kashmir.

With these harsh realities in sight, the best that the Pandits can do is to align themselves individually or collectively to a national level political party of their choice and learn to go with its principles, policies and practices right or wrong. Unless they make deep inroad into the political establishment of the country, they will continue to cool their heels on the sidelines consigned to the non-descript components of the silent masses of India It is also important that the Pandits break into the bureaucratic establishment of the country and streamline Pandit community’s assimilation into national mainstream..
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar)

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