Bud Shah, the Great King-I

Greater Kashmir

For Kashmiris he is simply a name unforgettable

Even after six centuries, the name Bud Shah among all Kashmiris evokes a feeling of admiration and reverence. Even now when boatmen drag their barges along the Jehlum River or labourers push heavy loads, they recite the words, “Bud Shah, Pad Shah”. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly called Bud Shah, Pad Shah, and the most revered King in Kashmir’s history ruled from 1420 to 1470. One of the most absorbing and detailed accounts of his reign is given in the History of Kashmir by PNK Bamzai. A summary of this account reproduced here can be a good blueprint for our present rulers if they care to follow it! Known in his younger days as Shahi Khan, Zain-ul-Abidin was the second and the most favourite son of Sultan Sikandar but was unlike his father in many ways. The period of his father is remembered for persecution of Brahmans, a large number of whom had migrated from Kashmir. It has been pointed out by some historians that Sikandar was not so cruel as has been depicted but it was his minister Sahu Bhat who was the real culprit to bring a bad name to him. Kashmir has many Central Asian influences especially in Handicrafts but not many know that the moving spirit behind these was Bud Shah. He had received a good education at home but the luckiest break came when he got an opportunity to travel abroad. Timur Lang or Tamerlane after conquering Persia and Turkistan came to India. Sultan Sikandar through a message acknowledged him as the supreme ruler. Timur was pleased by this expression of allegiance and sent him a number of gifts. In return Sikandar made arrangements to meet Timur at Attock on his return but missed him. To express his gratitude he sent Shahi Khan with all the presents to Samarqand. He successfully reached Samarqand. Timur was very much pleased by his arrival and bestowed many favours upon him. He stayed at Timur’s Royal Court for 7 years. During this long period Shahi Khan acquainted himself with many arts and crafts of Samarqand which was at the peak of its glory during that period. It was only after the death of Timur that Shahi Khan was able to return to Kashmir.
On ascending the throne of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin found the whole country in chaos. The administration had broken down. Corruption was at its peak and there was no semblance of any law and order. Criminals were ruling the roost. The first and foremost task for him was to bring some order to chaotic conditions. For this he motivated the old class of officials, the Pandits, to return to Kashmir giving them every facility and guaranteeing them religious and civil liberties. (Incidentally a similar situation prevails in the present day Kashmir but it is doubtful whether Pandits would be able to help us now?) The King severely dealt with all corrupt officials to ensure corruption was completely rooted out. He dealt ruthlessly with all types of crime and most of the known criminals were put behind the bars. Realizing that the unemployment and poverty resulted in commission of crime, he took a number of steps so that suitable employment was guaranteed to all eligible persons in different fields.
Due to long period of lawlessness and insecurity of life and property, the farmers had left most of the land uncultivated. Zain-ul-Abidin’s first great reform was the revision of land assessment. He reduced it to a fourth of the total produce in some places and to a seventh in others. The farmers were further protected from the harassment of revenue officials by enacting a law which prohibited latter from accepting any gifts from them. He also introduced a proper system for registration of documents to prevent fraudulent transactions in property. He also enacted a code of laws for his people, which were engraved on copper plates and displayed in public places and halls of justice. Sultan abhorred all killing and bloodshed and would avoid capital punishment wherever possible.
However, his leniency and mild temper did not encourage any crime in the country because of his complete impartiality as a judge. According to Jonaraja, “Though the King was kind-hearted yet for the sake of his people he would not forgive even his son or minister or a friend if he were guilty. Mir Yahya, a great favourite of the King, while drunk, had killed his wife. Although he was very close to him, yet he was held guilty and executed.” (One wonders if such justice can be meted out to the guilty of the recent scandals in Kashmir? Alas, we would need a Bud Shah to do that! Do we have one?)
Sultan was a great builder. Remains of his numerous towns, villages, canals, and bridges still exist and bear his name. To increase agricultural production, he utilised the fertile but dry soil of the karewas for which purpose he built numerous canals such as Utpalapur, Nandashaila, Bijbhira, Advin, Amburher, Manasbal, Zainagir, and Shahkul at Bawan. This gave a tremendous boost to agricultural production in the valley. He built many bridges including the first wooden bridge in Srinagar still known as Zainakadal (now replaced by a concrete bridge). One of his engineers, Damara Kach constructed a paved road which could be used even in rains. Sultan was very fond of wooden architecture and built the palaces of Rajdan and Zain Dab in Zainagiri. These were very beautiful and artistic buildings. The former was twelve storeys high with numerous rooms, halls, verandas, and staircases. The latter was burnt down by chaks. He also built rest houses for travellers and laid many beautiful gardens, prominent being Baghi Zainagiri, Baghi Zaina Dab, Baghi Zainpur, and Baghi Zainakut. The layout of these gardens depicted influences from Samarqand and Bukhara. Zain-ul-Abidin had great love for learning, music, and dance. He established many schools, colleges and a residential university. He was keen that the land of Sharda should once again shine forth as the fountain of knowledge and learning. He patronised Sanskrit scholars like Jonaraja, Srivara, Soma Pandit, and Bodhi Bhatt. Among the Persian and Arabic scholars names of Maulana Kabir, Mulla Hafiz Baghdadi, Mulla Jamal-ud-din, and Qazi Ali Mir are very prominent. Soma Pandit who held a high post in the Translation Bureau wrote an account of Zain-ul-Abidin’s life in his book, Zaina Charit. Sultan established one of the greatest libraries in Kashmir at a huge cost which remained in use even 100 years after his death when it was unfortunately destroyed. About Sultan’s love for learning Srivara writes, “The meritorious king Zain-ul-Abidin for the purpose of earning merit built extensive lodging houses for students and voices of students studying logic and grammar arose from these houses. The king helped students by providing teachers, books, houses, food, and money and he extended limits of learning in all branches. Even the families which never dreamt of learning produced men who through the favour of the king, became known for their erudition. There was not a branch of learning or arts or literature or fine arts which were not studied.” He also patronised vaids and hakims, prominent among them being Shree Bhatt and Karpurra Bhatt. Many hakims from Central Asia came to his court. Sultan also maintained a number of charitable institutions and distributed free food among poor and infirm. Sultan reorganised his army and made it into formidable force which he used to reconquer Punjab and Western Tibet. He sent his ambassadors to Khorasan, Turkistan, Turkey, Egypt, and Delhi.

–To be concluded
(Author can be mailed at ashrafmjk@gmail.com)