Kashmir and Central Asia - Links and Legacies

Kashmir and Central Asia
- Links and Legacies

*- Dr. Satish Ganjoo
Hindus were offered three choices-death, exile or conversion. Some of them fled Kashmir, many were executed and most of them were converted to Islam. In fact, there was mass conversion. About seven maunds of sacred thread of the massacred Brahmans were burnt.

The sacred books of Buddhism and Hinduism were either destroyed or thrown into Dal Lake. It is said that there virtually remained only eleven Hindu families in Kashmir.

Ignoring the geographical impediments and natural ramparts, Kashmir had maintained close relations with the adjacent Khanates1 of Central Asia since ancient times. The Buddhist missionaries from Kashmir, which stood a great center of Buddhism, extended their work beyond the Hindukush2 in Central Asian territories, China and Tibet. They traversed the difficult routes for the propagation of the Buddhist philosophy in these lands. Modern researches reveal that most of these missionaries, who worked in these regions, hailed from Kashmir or were educated in Kashmir. We have the evidence to prove that Buddhist scholars from different parts of Central Asia, Tibet and Afghanistan were provided schooling in Kashmir.

In Tibet, Buddhism made compromise with the traditional “Bonism” and formed “Lamaism”, which today dominate the whole area including Ladakh region of India.The Buddhist scholars from China and Iran also came to Kashmir in search of truth and salvation. Afghanistan was once a stronghold of Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. In the 7th century A.D., HieunTsang4, the Chinese pilgrim, found the traces of Buddhism there. Even today, the huge but neglected statues of Lord Buddha are found in the different parts of that country. It was with the conversion of Kafiristan, now called Nuristan, to Islam in A.D. 1895 that Afghanistan became completely a fundamentalist Islamic country.The commercial relations were maintained not only with the important trade centers of Central Asia like Yarkand, Khotan, Samarqand, Bukhara and Khurasan; but also with China, Bhutan, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Nepal and Iraq. Sericulture was introduced in Kashmir from Tibet. However, with the downfall of Karkota dynasty (A.D. 950), these relations received a severe set back.Dulacha or Zulju, a Mongol from Turkistan, invaded Kashmir in A.D.1320, shook the Hindu power and paved the way for the establishment of Muslim rule.

With the foundation of Sultanate in A.D. 1339, the whole strategy about Kashmir changed. It became the magnetic attraction for the Muslim missionaries, sufies, saints and ulema from Central Asia- who propagated the message of Islam in the region. The territory was formally connected with the Islamic world. Central Asian culture, customs,habits, usages, manners, dress, diet, language and ideas penetrated into this little Valley; which brought a sociocultural change here. This ascendancy was so vigorous and dominating that it could not be washed off for centuries; and is reflected even today. The food habits in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir are almost same.The credit of islamising the society of Kashmir goes to Iranian saints,sufies, artisans and other men of letters. The internal turmoil and Timurid incursion in Iran and other parts of Central Asia compelled these emigrants to abdicate their native land and move towards Kashmir.

In Kashmir,Buddhism was being replaced by Saivism- the worship of Lord Siva.The Muslim missionaries had a direct confrontation with Saivism. However, the Muslim emigrants exerted every effort to create a Muslim society in Kashmir. The great saint Sayyid Ali Hamadani, who planted the sapling of Islam in the Valley, was from Hamadan in Iran. Baihiqi Sayyids, who came from Baihiq (Khurasan) were received with great respect and provided prestigious positions.But due to their involvement in the local politics, they were exiled,then resettled and finally slaughtered.The intellectuals and scholars from Iraq also found Kashmir as the best springboard for their activities.

The scholars were encouraged and even provided “Jagirs” in Kashmir. Mir Shams-ud-Din Iraqi, who visited Kashmir twice, was the founder of Nurbakhshiya order, a sect of Shiaism, in the Valley.The mission of Mir Shams-ud-Din was to strengthen the roots of Islam here. In the mid-16th century A.D., the relations between Kashmir and Iran suffered due to the sectarian frenzy between Sunnis and Shias in the Valley. Mirza Haider Dughlat, who ruled Kashmir from A.D. 1540 to A.D. 1551, sowed the seeds of discord between these two sects of Islam for his selfish political motives.

This religious rivalry between the two sects even continue today; and the so called religio-political leaders-who are bigoted with ultra-Islamic mentality, exploit the situation for their own personal and individual interests. The present political turmoil in the Valley of Kashmir, which started in A.D. 1989, is also the creation of these so-called leaders and guardians of society.Kashmir, which was a great center of Buddhism and Saivism in the past, cosummated a dignified place in the Islamic world when in A.D. 1699, during the reign of Aurangzeb, the Sacred Relic of Prophet Mohammed arrived here. The Sacred Relic was brought by Nur-Ud-Din Ishbari, an affluent Kashmiri merchant, from Bijapur(Deccan) and lodged in Hazratbal Mosque at Srinagar.With the advent of Islam in Kashmir, an interwoven Hindu-Muslim culture emerged. Both communities influenced each other. The newly converted Muslims never gave up their Hindu customs. The Hindu shrines and spots of pilgrimage were considered sacred by these converts. Even intermarriages took place in the upper classes. The Muslim rulers married Hindu ladies and allowed them to profess their own religion. Hindus learnt Persian and became great scholars. However, Sanskrit learning remained confined to Hindu community. But Islam could not dominate the traditional society of Kashmir.

The people of Kashmir are cognizant and perspicacious. They established a separate identity for themselves since ancient times. During the reign of Timur in Samarqand, close relations were maintained between Kashmir and that country. The policy of Timur towards Kashmir was quite contrary to what it was towards India. In A.D. 1389 Timur sacked Delhi, but at the same time he sent two envoys alongwith presents to the ruler of Kshmir, Sultan Sikander. Both the rulers had great mental affinity and were sworn enemies of the Hinduism. Sultan Sikander- the Iconoclast, destroyed the grand and old temples in the Valley; and used their plinths and friezes for raising mosques. The stones and bricks which once configuarated marvelous and splendid temples or monasteries, now hold up mosques. 

Hindus were offered three choices-death, exile or conversion. Some of them fled Kashmir, many were executed and most of them were converted to Islam. In fact, there was mass conversion. About seven maunds of sacred thread of the massacred Brahmans were burnt. The sacred books of Buddhism and Hinduism were either destroyed or thrown into Dal Lake. It is said that there virtually remained only eleven Hindu families in Kashmir.

Sultan Sikander flattered himself that he had extirpated Hinduism from the Valley. Whatever was left, got destroyed during the tyrannical and oppressive rule of Aurangzeb (A.D. 1658-A.D. 1707) and the Afghans (A.D. 1753-A.D. 1819).Now the crimes of genocide in Kashmir have forced the extirpation of half a million Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley .Sultan Zainul Abidin of Kashmir (A.D.1420-A.D.1470) made a request to the ruler of Samarqand, Mirza Shah Rukh (A.D. 1405-A.D. 1447) to send men and literary works. Contemporary sources reveal that gifts from the different parts of Central Asia to the Sultan of Kashmir included the Arab horses, Bectrian camels, mules, dromendaries and artifacts. The great monarch responded to this friendly gesture by sending saffron, paper, musk, rose scent, shawls etc. to different neighbouring kingdoms. Scholars from Kashmir, like Shaikh Yakub Sarfi, visited various places of learning in Central Asia such as Khurasan, Bukhara and Samarqand.

The great king, Sultan Zainul Abidin’s chief glory was his tolerance towards his Hindu subjects. He manifested every desire to repair the wrongs inflicted on the Hindus by his father, Sultan Sikander. Zainul Abidin fostered the study of Hindu literature and philosophy. He also got Mahabharata and Rajatarangini translated into Persian language. Scholars, who crept into the Valley of Kashmir from Bukhara-the holy city of Muslims in the medieval times, found Kashmir as the best place to propagate Islam. Kashmir, which once was a great seat of Buddhism & Saivism, became the center of Islamic studies. With the influx of Muslims in this miraculous Valley, the trade & commerce of Kashmir received tremendous boost. Home industries of Bukhara and Samarqand-stone polishing, stone cutting, bottle making, window cutting and gold beating; were introduced in the Valley.

The merchants from Kashmir, alongwith their merchandise, used to proceed to Yarkand, Kashgar, Samarqand and then Bukhara. Silk, musk, carpets, hides, herbs and paper were the chief exports to Khurasan from Kashmir. The art of paper-making came to Samarqand from China, and then it was introduced in Kashmir. Carpet weavers from different parts of Central Asia were welcomed in the Valley. These merchants and artisans made a deep impact on the society of Kashmir. The cultural ties were strengthened. The commercial relations were also establish with Kashgar & Yarkand, but there were little cultural intercourses with these principalities. The shawl & silk industries of Kashmir depended much on the raw material imported from Kashgar and Tibet. Architecture of medieval Kashmir borrowed much from Central Asia. Brick work had become special feature and stone was replaced by timber. Jamia Masjid, Khangah-i-Mulla, Mausoleum of Zainul Abidin’s mother and Mosque of Madin Sahib in Srinagar are specific specimens of architecture.The fascinating Valley of Kashmir has great social and cultural affinity with Central Asia. Now after the crumbling down of Soviet empire, this traditional relationship can provide a commendable base and even open new vistas of mutual reciprocity between India and the Central Asian states.

1.”Khanates” were the principalities of Central Asia ruled by “Khans” – the title of rulers and officials in the 19th century. These Khanates included Bukhara, Khiva and Khoqand. Now these territories contour Turkmenia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizia and Kazakhistan. There is also the Chinese part of Central Asia-Sinkiang.

2. “Hindukush” is formed of two parts: Hindu + Kush. “Kush” is the later from of “Koff” of old Persian from which we have got “kooh” in lranian and “koh” in Indian prononciation. Thus the word means Hindu koh or Indian Mountain, which divide India from Central Asia including Afghanistan. The earlier reference to the range of mountains is to be found in Metrologica of Aristotle under the name Parnasos. After the Alexander’s invasion of India in 326 B.C., the Greeks called it Paropamisus and then as Indian Caucasus.IBn Batuta, who crossed the mountain range in A.D. 1334 on his journey of India says that the name Hindu-Kush or Hindu-Killer is derived from the fact that so many of Indian slaves died on the passage of this mountain because of severe cold and snowfall. These slaves were being taken away by the Arab Muslim invaders when they attacked India in A.D. 712 and after then.

3. Zoroastrianism was the religion of the Persians before their conversion to Islam.It is traditionally derived from its great Prophet/Zoroaster (Zarathustra) and its sacred Iiterature is Zend-Avesta. The religion teaches that Ormazd, Lord of Light and Goodness, wars ceaselessly against Ahriman and the hosts of evil. Ormazd created man to aid Him, and finally the good kingdom will be attained.


4. Heiun Tsang, also called Yuan Chwang, was a Chinese Buddhist monk; who came to India in A.D.630 to collect the sacred Buddhist literature, stayed here for about 13 years. He also visited Kashmir in search of truth and reality. He left a detailed account his observations on persons, places, customes and manners of people.

*- Dr. Satish Ganjoo was born on May 1, 1956, to Shri Omkarnath Ganjoo and Smt Sheela Ganjoo in the Saffron Valley of Kashmir. He obtained the coveted academic degrees of M.Phil (1983) and Ph.D (1987) in Modern History and International Relations from the University of Kashmir. He held the distinguished faculty positions in various colleges in Kashmir. Dr. Ganjoo developed the excellent potential for research and published a number of books on diverse topics of history, politics, international relations and Islamic studies. Besides Dr. Ganjoo was involved in different interdisciplinary research projects, participated in several seminars and wrote about sixteen research papers. Presently working as Senior Faculty Member at the Post Graduate Dept. of History, Ramgarhia College Phagwra (India),
Books authored & edited
Afghanistan's Struggle for Resurgence, Soviet Afghan Relations, Dictionary of History, Kashmir Politics, Muslim Freedom Fighters of India, 3 vols, Economic System in Islam, Prophet Muhammad, Glimpses of Islamic World & Wailing Shadows in Kashmir
Images and graphics by Deepak Ganju
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