Broad Strokes

Delving deep into archaeology, culture, history and heritage of Kashmir to make a compelling case of heritage, identity and a story of struggle

Book: Kashmir: Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle

Author: Saifuddin Soz

Publisher: Rupa Publications India 

Year : 2018

ISBN: 978-81-291-5192-6

Spanning over 5000 years of history and historiography, a timely book by Saifuddin Soz has brought some new facts to life and is much talked in media and academic circles in India and abroad. Starting from prehistoric times the author has put some varied sources in context, be it archaeology, folklore, traditions, travelogues and indigenous literature. Searching for the Kashmir’s prehistoric past the book gives vivid description of archaeological material culture and also discusses results of explorations and excavations undertaken in Kashmir valley from last 150 years. Acknowledging the contribution and strenuous efforts of Sir Marc Aurel Stein in studying Kashmir history and exploring archaeological treasures as well as translating Rajatarangini of Kalhana- the first historical document on Kashmir- the author has made readers available the bygone era of colonial legacy, where the earliest recognition of Kashmir’s rich cultural past was investigated scientifically. The details in this regard are stunning and worth reading as some of the facts have come to light for the very first time. The most recent developments in the field archaeology in Kashmir have also been discussed threadbare and the way forward to do more in the field is strongly recommended by the author. 

With discussions on ample proof of the evidences in Greek literature of earliest references to Kashmir by Herodotous (500 BCE) and Ptolemy (100 AD), the book convinces a reader that Kashmir has been a known geographical entity in the ancient world. The detailed summary of travelogues of Chinese and Arab travelers like Fa-hien, Hieun-Tsang and Alberuni and their travels in and near the confines of Kashmir makes book a source of credible historical narrative. The most valuable part of the book in relation with historiography is a comprehensive narrative of Kalhan’s Rajatarangini. The author has quite vividly gone through the historical documents tracing the Kalhan’s original manuscript and also discusses Sir Aurel Stein’s struggle in translating and publishing it. Giving Kalhana a credit of producing a detailed account on Kashmir’s history and culture, author has also lamented on many occasions about the weak and problematic chronological considerations of Kalhana. By and large, the assessment of Kalhana as great historian has gone through a wide and contentious analysis by the author, which itself shows the integrity of a book.

The chapter on the introduction and spread of Islam in Kashmir is a well balanced narrative of how not by the great warriors and generals like Mahmud Ghazni or Shahabuddin or even for that matter Muhammad Bin Qasim, but a Sufi saint Bulbul Shah whose piety and simplicity invoked a response bringing change in religious matters in Kashmir, seems reliable. The torch bearers of Kashmiriyat Shiekh Nooruddin RA and Lal Ded represent Cultural and spiritual personalities have been given a due place in the book. While analyzing critically the contribution of Sultan Zain-ul-Abdin to the secular nature of Kashmir and its people, the author attributes a reign of peace and prosperity by giving evidences credible to the historians of all ages. The book amazes to the reader having sense of Kashmir’s medieval history pertaining to the frequent visits of foreign travelers like Francois Bernier, George Foster, V. Jacquemont, Hugel, Richard Temple and most celebrated but forgotten Robert Thrope. The accounts related to these travelers and observers who documented the plight of Kashmiri people have been well represented. These accounts explicitly remind the reader of the sufferings and struggle Kashmir has gone through in the Middle Ages. More equally the contributions made by Sir Walter Lawrence and Pearce Gervis have found an ample place in the book.

The book delves deep into the Afghan, Sikh and Dogra rule in Kashmir valley. Quoting the reliable sources and bringing forth the unequivocal picture of the valley and its people the author has done justice to the historical narration of facts and has been choral throughout. The comprehensive depiction of fight against the Afghan, Sikh and Dogra aristocracy and the overall composition and functioning of the administration has been presented with a semblance of narratives worth reading.

The most important chapters on the accession of Kashmir to the Union of India are presented after a due consultation of credible primary sources, no doubt, stirs an unprecedented response from media and academia. From Lord Mountbatten to Alastair Lamb and beyond the description of the events unfolding during the era of uncertainty immediately after 1947 till the start of the armed struggle in 1989, is clearly presented in a robust form. The author quotes verbatim on many occasions from the assertions made by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and others from time to time, which gives credence to the story of Post-Independence India-Kashmir relations and the fallen promises made to the people of Kashmir by Indian dispensation. His close association with the political stalwarts of the time in State as well as in Delhi has made discourse more reliable and irrefutable. The formation of the Muslim United Front, rigging of elections in 1987, the formation of JKLF and the start of the armed struggle in Kashmir valley and its aftermath is of course firsthand information presented in a lucid manner. Musharaf’s formula and the hypothetical perception of people in Kashmir and a response thereof have already stirred the intelligentsia as well as print and electronic media. The coherent approach to the complex problem of the Pandit exodus and the role of Jagmohan in encouraging the Pandits to leave valley has got due attention in the book.

The epilogue has been set as a way forward. The author sees Kashmir as a political problem to be solved politically. The armed militancy, the unrest and the recent turmoil and uprisings are the manifestations of long forgotten promises made to the people of Kashmir. As Prof. Soz points out, “In my opinion, it is futile to look to the UN for any workable help for the resolution of the dispute as the powers holding the authority of veto have all along responded to the situations keeping their own strategic interests in view” (p.205). The humble plea to the current ruling dispensation to solve the problem of Kashmir amicably by bringing all parties together on the table is a message from Prof. Soz.

Altogether author has deeply delved into the archaeology, culture, history and heritage of Kashmir valley and has made a compelling case of heritage, identity and a story of struggle Kashmir has gone through. Deeply rooted into the cultural ethos of Kashmir Prof. Soz has brought out a best concise book on history of Kashmir. The book has been praised for its boldness and factual recognition of Kashmir dispute by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri and Kuldip Nayar. The book is a must read for students of history, culture, politics and Kashmir studies.

Dr. Ajmal Shah is Assistant Professor, University of Kashmir