In this series, we attempt to redress the glaring academic and political neglect of the longue durée historical identity of Kashmir. We do so by delving into essential aspects of 2,000 years of her formative history, which show that early Kashmir was never isolated or insular, as she is made out to be, but open, plural and cosmopolitan; and she was overwhelmingly Indic in her genesis and composition rather than ‘unique’.
Indeed Kashmir is as unique as every other region of India. But the assumption that this uniqueness was based on a seclusion from the Indic mainstream is simply unhistorical. So in particular this series presents the abundant evidence of the connected histories of Kashmir and the rest of India, which the world has conveniently forgotten.
In the previous three parts, we surveyed Kashmir’s early archaeology, historical geography, linguistics, writing systems and political foundations, all of which demonstrated her participation in seminal Indic material, cultural and political formations. We will continue to see more evidence of the same but today let us turn to the remarkable historical process that seems to have underlaid this intense connectivity between Kashmir and the rest of India. This is a process crucial in history yet virtually ignored by scholars of Kashmir, namely, migration.
Of course we often hear of the influx of groups from West and Central Asia as late as the 14th–18th centuries, bringing Islam to the Valley and shaping what is understood as Kashmiri popular culture today. What we never hear of is the fact that long before this, people from different corners of India travelled to and settled in Kashmir over some two millennia.
We saw last time how a number of kings and queens of Kashmir were drawn from other parts of India, as near as Punjab on the one hand and as far as Assam, Andhra and Tamil Nadu, on the other. In similar fashion, ministers at Srinagar could hail from Kangra, Mathura, Malwa and even Karnataka. They no doubt brought with them their own customs and traditions.
However, while regional courts attracting men from far and wide may not be exceptional, in Kashmir we seem to be looking at a society-wide phenomenon. For, in the 12th century Rajatarangini, the ‘first’ history of Kashmir, we hear of not only courtiers but commoners, in fact a mixed bag of individuals and groups migrating to Kashmir in pursuit of their vocation. Thus we find students from Gauda (Bengal), traders and baniyas from Rauhitaka and Takka (Haryana and Punjab), magicians from Dravidadesha (South India), graziers from Khasha (Nepal), artisans and horse dealers from the Gangetic plains, and prostitutes “from different regions”.
Kings Jayapida, Lalitaditya, Avantivarman and Harsha (6th–11th centuries) in particular are said to have gathered from many lands various learned men. And of course there are common references to brahmanas and bhikkhus from Madhyadesha (Gangetic plains), as also from Gandhara in one instance, from Dravidadesha, and from Saurashtra and Lata (Gujarat), being settled in numbers by several kings in the Valley or flocking to it on their own.
On view then are not only state but non-state actors in Kashmir’s remarkable prehistory of immigration, and a host of pursuits—education, commerce, pilgrimage, art, employment—that brought them there from other parts of the subcontinent. Not only does this attest to an open and dynamic society, the demographic implications of this little-noted phenomenon may also be fundamental. Who is the Kashmiri ethnically becomes a moot question now and far removed from the exclusionist and separate status that has been claimed in modern times.
What’s more, as if in historical corollary, we see Kashmiris moving to other parts of India as well, though the exact scale remains to be determined. This included, again, kings and ministers who turned India-ward on abdication or retirement to live in cities like Banaras and Prayag. And Kashmiri generals on the one hand, and scholars and litterateurs on the other, who took employment in courts as far south as the Deccan and as far east as Mithila (Bihar). One need only recall the renowned Sanskrit poet Bilhana (11th century) in the service of the Chalukyan King Vikramaditya VI at Kalyan (Karnataka) or Mahapandita Shakyashribhadra (13th century) who headed the universities at Vikramashila and Odantapuri (Bihar). The latter was known as Kache Panchen (‘Kashmiri Pandit’) in Tibet where also he taught Buddhism.
Further, 12th–15th century inscriptions from Srirangam, Chidambaram, Tiruvottiyur (Tamil Nadu) and Kalahasti (Andhra), among other places, fascinatingly speak of resident, landed persons holding high official posts (rayan) there as being originally natives of Kashmiradesha! Beyond individuals, it is also popularly believed that Saraswat Brahmanas migrated from Kashmir to other parts of India, especially the Konkan coast.
Similarly, we hear of Kashmiri merchants plying their trade at Bhrigukaccha, the famous ancient port on the Gujarat coast, while Kashmiri pilgrims frequented the holy site of Gaya (Bihar) for obsequies in such numbers that, the Rajatarangini tells us, a Kashmiri minister in the 9th century sought tax exemption for them from the local ruler there!
This episode perhaps aptly symbolises early Kashmiri identity, which seemed to consist in a distinct regional self-awareness in the midst of an overarching subscription to all-India beliefs and practices. Indeed, as all the evidence in this series suggests, for the first two thousand years or more of their history, Kashmiris never seemed to see a conflict between their local and pan-Indic affiliations and wore both with ease and pride.
(To be continued)
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Associate Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
(The writer is the author of ‘The Making of Early Kashmir: Landscape and Identity in the Rajatarangini’)