The question of Heritage and Identity
Kashmir history does not start with Muslim period only
COUNTERPOINT BY AJMAL SHAH
This refers to the article by columnist Z. G. Muhammad, ‘Talking Identity’ (GK, April 23). The author has made a compelling case of Kashmir identity, which he strongly believes was born in fourteenth century. Though he has made an individual case by referring ‘who am I’, but the article in general reflects his representation of Kashmiri culture and identity by and large. It seems that the author has been influenced by the particular brand of ideology and has followed it vehemently by referring to some books on Muslim identity, which in my opinion could not be appropriate in light of the Kashmir history and identity, which is an offshoot and amalgam of many nations, tribes and religions.
Past, at any cost, cannot be detached from the present. It is a continuous process which shapes the culture and history of a nation. It is very true that in the fourteenth century, especially with the arrival of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (RA), Kashmir witnessed a large scale development in every walk of life, but it is also true that before his arrival Kashmir had flourished as a centre of art and craft from centuries and had witnessed great upheavals in social, political, cultural and religious spheres. There is a general notion among scholars and laymen that art centric activities in Kashmir started with the Muslim period only, while as this thing should be seen only as the revival of the age old traditions, though in a much uniformed pattern as well as on a large scale.
From the 10th century AD, till the emergence of the Muslim rule the artistic activities could not sustain due to the lack of patronage from the ruling elites. There are many evidences to prove this assertion that from the first century AD, Kashmir was known for its artistic activities in many parts of the world. If we look into the archaeological evidences, we have such an art available in Kashmir valley for which there is no comparison in whole of the Indian sub-continent as well as in Asia. One can look into the tiles of Harwan and many other sites in Kashmir valley and see the artistic skill of the people of Kashmir during the first few centuries of the Christian era. These tiles were never produced beyond the geographical boundaries of Kashmir valley. At the same time (1st - 5th century AD), Kashmir was the centre of art and had made an excellent advancement in shawl industry as well. This fact might be unknown to many readers but there is a mention that Kashmiri shawls were known as far as Roman Empire (1st century AD) and was considered a priceless possession. The trousseau of the bride, the product of the looms of Kashmir, was remarkable for its splendor, and was considered worthy of special mention in the pages of Mirkhond (Persian historian).
A Kashmiri shawl, the first ever seen in Europe, had already excited the admiration of the Romans. It formed a part of the presents with which the Sassanian monarch Varahran-I (AD 272-75), the timorous ally of Zenobia, attempted to avert the anger of Aurelian (Roman Emperor) after the capture of Palmyra (AD 274). And Aurelian considered it so valuable that he dedicated it in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. On inquiry, Aurelian was informed that these shawls were common in Persia, suggesting an active commerce between Persia and Kashmir in 3rd century AD.
It is not appropriate to think that Kashmir identity was born in fourteenth century and its founder was Mir Syed Ali Hamadani RA. These assumptions are quite true if we look only into the Islamic history of Kashmir. But Kashmir history does not start with Muslim period only. Archaeological Heritage across Kashmir valley bears the testimony of the times when many other religions were propagated, developed, and finally declined or sought refuge in far off corners of the globe. Before Kashmir passed to the Muslim yoke, it was ruled by the Scythians, Indo-Greeks, Kushans and Hunas, all foreign tribes seeking their future made their way to Kashmir due to the political turmoil in nearby regions. Kashmiri culture was highly influenced by these tribes and we still have the cultural traits of our ancestors deeply rooted in our traditions and customs.
The question of Kashmir identity has remained a bone of contention among scholars. There have been diverse theories on the identity which Kashmir imbibes, but none has acquired the distinction of being based on the concepts and tools provided by the emerging paradigm of thought on archaeology and identity. The archaeological evidences offer stimulus to those who seek their identity. The need of the hour is to change the perception and think globally to reach a consensus, instead of ignoring our own rich past spread over millennia of history. Thus heritage is the only corridor to look into the past (identity), where one can peep through the window and realize where it all began!
(Ajmal Shah is a Research Scholar at Department of Archaeology, Deccan College, Deemed University, Pune and has represented Kashmir archaeology at National and International conferences in India and abroad. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 27 Apr 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 27 Apr 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 28 Apr 2012 00:00:00 IST
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