INSHA-I-DARAB | In search of Persian Legacy in Kashmir

Persian-heritage of Kashmir is enriching: Saleem Beg
“We at INTACH Kashmir are committed to celebrating our cherished common heritage with the community at large,” cultural activist and convenor, INTACH, Kashmir, Saleem Beg, told Greater Kashmir.
“We at INTACH Kashmir are committed to celebrating our cherished common heritage with the community at large,” cultural activist and convenor, INTACH, Kashmir, Saleem Beg, told Greater Kashmir.Intach Kashmir

Srinagar: Prominent cultural conservation organization, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is aiming to bring back the lost legacy of Persian heritage-celebrating Kashmir’s cultural legacy—urging people to identify the Persian treasure across the Kashmir region.

According to the organisers, the weeklong exhibition, Insha-i- Darab, is scheduled to be held at Amar Singh Club, Srinagar. The event is being organised by Nighat Shafi Pandit in association with Help Foundation and Drabu Family. The event curators have urged people, especially those who are culturally sensitive to preserve and share their family archives.

“We at INTACH Kashmir are committed to celebrating our cherished common heritage with the community at large,” cultural activist and convenor, INTACH, Kashmir, Saleem Beg, told Greater Kashmir.

Genesis of Insha-i- Darab 

Recollecting the genesis of the Insha-i- Darab, Beg says that a call from Nighat Shafi Pandit somewhere in early this year was an eye-opener as she had gotten a hand on a cache of manuscripts, which proved intriguing.

The manuscripts forgotten and locked in an old rusty suitcase had been acquired by her from the family of Khwaja Muhammad Amin Darab some years back.

“Though the trunk had already been examined before my visit, yet somehow had failed to excite the interests of the examiners. Yet, she persevered, safe in the knowledge that the trunk at the very least enshrined a cherished memory,” he says.

Beg along with expert Pirzada Muhammad Ashraf while revealing the archives of the last major Persianate poet of 20th century Kashmir, Khwaja Muhammad Amin Drabu, say it was a treasure trove “INTACH found this personal archive to be rich cultural value and a memory that unfolded the life and times of Darab Saheb, his scholarly pursuits, interest in educational and craft merchandise,” Beg says. “We mined into the collection and examined folio after folio and assembled a selection into a thread that gives an insight into his life and also the times and the then prevailing cultural and literary landscape.”

Beg further says that it brought into limelight his way of engaging with the community, scripting for their invites, writing marsiya on the passing away of eminent persons and verified tarikhs on deaths qita-i tarikhs or inscribing the verse on the inauguration of a shrine or mosque. religious and educational activities.

Khwaja Muhammad Amin Darab 

The first half of the twentieth century marks a steady eclipse of Persian in Kashmir, after its prominence as the language of the court, religion, literature, historiography and elite culture for more than five centuries. In this world of steady decline, Khwaja Muhammad Amin with the takhalus under the penname ‘Darab’ emerges as one of the last transmitters of traditional Muslim learning, grounded in Persian adab (literature).

Born in Narwara, Srinagar, Darab belonged to a prominent Kashmiri family of traders and landowners: the Drabus. His father, Khwaja Nur-ud Din, aside from being a trader in the city, was also well versed in Persian adab, as is evident from the qitah-i-tarikh (chronogram) he wrote in Persian on the birth of Darab. Moulvi Ibrahim in his short sketch on the life of Darab, postulates that the father must have also served as the first tutor of his son. This is a tradition which we also observed in other literary families of Srinagar, especially in the nineteenth century. The last quarter of the 19th century marks a transition in Kashmiri society, with the colonial education system of teaching in English making headway in the city, especially through schools run by Christian Missionaries. To counter this, Mirwaiz Rasool Shah (d. 1909) opened a madrassa, which in the early part of the twentieth century took the shape of a High School. Though the Darbu family had emerged as strong followers of the Mirwaiz family and would remain so, yet we have no account of Darab getting enrolled in any school. His education was based on the traditional maktab system operating in the city, though from his letters it emerges that he also acquired a working knowledge of English.

“Darab’s lifelong interest in Kashmir’s contribution to Persian adab is best highlighted in his meticulous documentation of the works of one of Kashmir’s greatest Persianate poets, Ghani Kashmiri,” Beg says. “Published in 1980 under the title “Diwan-i Ghani”, the volume reflects Darab’s desire to preserve and promote this historical link between Kashmir the land and Persian the language.”

Persian in Kashmir 

According to Professor Mufti Mudasir Faroooqi, among several centres of Persian learning that emerged in the Indian subcontinent following the establishment of Muslim rule, Kashmir enjoyed a distinct position. “Kashmir’s cultural ties with Persia, as some archaeological findings suggest, date back to ancient times. But it is with the beginning of the Muslim rule in the fourteenth century that Kashmir became a great centre of Persian scholarship, creating a fertile ground for the growth of native writers and attracting distinguished men from Iran and the rest of India,” he says. “Because of its strong cultural, religious, literary and even climatic affinities, Kashmir came to be known as Iran-e-Sagheer (little Iran). During Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin’s rule (1420–70) Persian received an unprecedented impetus. Himself a poet and a great patron of learning, he is credited with establishing a daar-u-tarjama, or a translation bureau, where scholars translated texts from Sanskrit and other languages into Persian and from Arabic and Persian into Sanskrit and Kashmiri.”

Pertinently Persian also gained immense importance with the arrival of Sufis and preachers from Persia and Central Asia, who poured into the Valley to disseminate the Islamic faith. The most important of these was Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani, the famous Sufi saint and missionary who, in the words of Allama Iqbal, laid the foundations of this ‘little Iran’. From the fourteenth to the late nineteenth century, Persian was not only the language of administration but the primary language for all kinds of writing: historical, literary, religious and political. Kashmir can rightfully boast of its poets, theologians and historians who produced great masterpieces in Persian. From Muhammad Amin Uwaisi (d. 1484) known to the Kashmiris as Woosi Saeb to Muhammad Amin Darab (1891-1979), Kashmir’s Persian poets have made a rich contribution to literature and many have been acclaimed for their craftsmanship in Iran too. It was with the beginning of the Mughal rule in Kashmir in 1589 that Persian reached its zenith. Many Iranian poets travelled to different Mughal courts and some, finding the Indian climate appallingly inclement, visited and settled in Kashmir.

It may be recalled, INTACH Kashmir, has been involved in mapping, documenting and preserving the cultural heritage of Kashmir for over decades. Some of the major programmes that we initially engaged with related to the built heritage of the region. These include the Conservation of Aali Masjid, Amar Singh College, and Mughal Gardens as well as the reconstruction of the Dastgir Sahab Shrine, Khanqah-i-Maulla and other projects of similar nature.

“Nevertheless, despite its limited resources INTACH has actively engaged in efforts to preserve and promote both Tangible as well as Intangible Heritage of this culturally rich land,” Beg says. “Additionally, to promote a better understanding of the past, numerous exhibitions were curated on Calligraphy, Urban Spaces, Sacred Architecture and Manuscripts in Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi. We have been on the lookout for the archival, oral and textual material which to our understanding though scattered and undocumented, is available in individual or institutional possession. This material is an important resource that helps in unravelling the rich cultural legacy of Kashmir. The present exhibition is a significant effort in this direction.”

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