Part II - Literature that Crowns India

The story of Kashmir’s literature is a journey from Shaivism and Buddism infused in the Sanskrit poetry of great poets, to the advent of the doyens of the Persian language conceiving the unique blend of Sufism with the Shaivite culture in the Kashmiri language. Let us continue from where we left off in the first part with the advent of the Shah Mir dynasty.
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Collage created in Canva: Top-left in clockwise direction: Paintings of  - King Zain-ul-Abideen, Saint Lal Ded, Ranjit Singh and Saint Shaikh Noor-ud-Din;           Source: JKbose, Newsonair, Kashmir.net and Wikimedia.

The chronicles of Rajatarangini add to the historicity of the great literature that emerged in the mediaeval valleys of this Himalayan kingdom. They have recorded the ascension of the Shah Mir dynasty relating to the most prominent ruler of this dynasty, Zain-ul-Abidin. The Shah Mir rulers bought Persian script to the banks of Vitasta that permeated with the prevalent Sanskrit when they officiated the language for administrative and literary works including chronicling. Zain-ul-Abidin commissioned Mulla Ahmed to translate the entire series of Rajatarangini chronicles into Persian for the royal library known as the Bahr-ui-Asmar. Unfortunately, we have lost this gem to the ravages of changing kingdoms, but the Mahabharata was also translated into Persian by Mulla Ahmed. The Sultan was a connoisseur of aesthetic expressions and so lent his patronage to many poets of all three (Sanskrit, Persian and Koshur) prevailing languages during his reign. He justified the title given by the citizens of his kingdom as the Buddha King or Budshah. He is also referred to in history as the Akbar of Kashmir.

The transcendence of languages brought Sufism as a form of spiritual expression which marked the establishment of a harmonious blend of Shaivism and Sufism uniquely inherent among all the classes of Kashmir’s society. From this spiritual blending evolved the unique language we identify today as the Kashmiri or the Koshur. The fusion literature in the Kashmiri language continued throughout the rest of Kashmir’s history. Meanwhile, the dynamics of power kept changing hands from the next Chak dynasty, the Mughals, and the Afghan rulers until the Sikhs too arrived from Lahore when Ranjit Singh defeated the Afghans in 1819. But, as Persian was also the official language of the Sikhs, it continued to bloom simultaneously with the Kashmiri language. Down the lane of this part of history, Sanskrit faded away, just as it did in the rest of the sub-continent. It was Ranjit Singh who defeated the Afghans ruling the valleys in 1819 initiating the Dogra Rajput dynasty ruled by the governors from Lahore that lasted till 1848. It was under this dynasty that Jammu and Kashmir were officially clubbed into one state which included some regions that now come under the flag of Pakistan.

The Kashmiri language originated from the Indo-Aryan language of Iranian descent under the sub-group of Dardic languages. Based on this language, the literature is divided into 3 phases by the historians of literature of which the first Old Kashmiri period started in 1200 CE and flourished for the next 3 centuries. Literary experts have found that before 1200 CE the Indo-Aryan Prakrit and Apabhraṁsa languages co-existed though the prominent was Sanskrit. Two sets of works are believed to belong from before 1200 CE – the first is Tantrasāra by Abhinavagupta comprising 76 verses distributed in a few sections or anhika, each of which ends with a verse in a sort of apabhraṁsa language. The next one is Mahārtha mañjarī by Maheśvarānanda comprising 71 distichs in the Prakrit language.

The oldest compositions in the Kashmiri language are Chumma-sampradāya with 74 verses and Mahānaya prakāśa by Śitikaṇṭha Ācārya written in quatrains of 94 lines, and the language of this composition is quite archaic like Sanskrit.

It was during the 14th century that Lalleshwari or Lal Ded, a female Saiva saint, become well-known for her short poems or vakhs that were seeped in her mystic devotion to Lord Shiva. Her wandering Sanyasi renditions are popular even today as oral literature among the Kashmiris. The fusion of Sufism with Shaivism was catalysed when she met the great travelling Sufi saint and preacher Shah Hamdani from Iran. Both of them were mutually respectful of each other’s mystic expressions and faiths. The vakhs of Lal Ded were translated into English by many, of which G.A. Grierson first attempted to translate 110 poems out of the 285—which baffled the literary experts for its unique quality of mystic expressions like —

With a rope of loose-spun thread am I towing / my boat upon the sea

Would that God heard my prayer/ and brought me safely across!

Like water in cups of unbaked clay / I run to waste.

Would God I were to reach my home!

With a rope of loose-spun thread am I towing / my boat upon the sea

Would that God heard my prayer/ and brought me safely across!

Like water in cups of unbaked clay / I run to waste.

Would God I were to reach my home!

Kashmiri literature gained another golden period with the poems of the great mystic poet, philosopher, and saint Shaikh Noor-ud-Din-Wali. The saint was famously known as Nund Rishi and his Shrukhs reflected faith in love, liberal sentiments and views of life mixed with devotion and love for the Almighty. His renditions became a part of every festive or important occasion in mainstream households and have been prevalent till today irrespective of religion and creed. The only epic in the Kashmiri language is the anonymous poetry assembled under the title Bānasura-vadha. Utthasoma was another prominent composer during the great Sultan’s reign who wrote was the biographer of his patron, wrote Manaka — a treatise on music and compiled a lyrical series. Unfortunately, some gems of Kashmiri literature are mentioned in various other texts and records but are completely lost today. Like Jaina-carita, the biography of Zain-ul-Abidin by Yodhabhatta and also his drama Jaina-prakasa, the composition titled Jaina-vilasa by the Persian scholar Bhatta avatara.

Sanskrit must have faded away in the script form, but its archaic spirituality and purity of rendition transitioned into a new language ornamented with the depth of nuances in Persian words and perception even in the second phase of Kashmir’s literature. The Kashmiri language continued its streak of profound poets and erudite scholars to enrich the pages of its history and literary heritage. Keep reading for the next two phases of this glorious literature.

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