Fida Hassnain: Taking forward the legacy of historians

I want to learn about those people and their civilization. And this is one thing which I want to accomplish,” Hassnain said in his quivering voice to a standing ovation.

Haroon Mirani
Srinagar, Publish Date: Feb 13 2016 9:49PM | Updated Date: Feb 13 2016 9:49PM
Fida Hassnain: Taking forward the legacy of historiansFile Photo

At a recent public interaction when renowned historian Fida Mohammed Hassnain was asked whether he was satisfied with his life, a life full of achievements, or still wanted to accomplish more, he replied; “the contemporary history of Kashmir emerged after Noah’s deluge some 7600 years ago. But who lived here before that great flood.

I want to learn about those people and their civilization. And this is one thing which I want to accomplish,” Hassnain said in his quivering voice to a standing ovation. 

It is this passion for research that has continued to keep Hassnain full of life even at an advanced age of 93. Even today despite issues with his old age, Hassnain keeps on working. His new book Precious Stones of Kashmir is one, which everybody is waiting for, is said to contain a wealth of information on a rare subject. As writer Dr Farooq Fayaz, who happened to see some portions of the book, says, “the book will give a new boost to economy and tourism of Kashmir. It contains geography, geology culture, history and other aspects in it.” But for Hassnain this is just one more book.

Hassnain was born on 22 January 1923 in Srinagar in the house of a teacher Raja Din Mohammad Khan Khokhar. He traces his lineage to Sialkot, Pakistan wherefrom the family had migrated to Kashmir during the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. “After my secondary education at SP School, I went to Lahore for B.A. Thereafter I finished my Masters in History and LL.B from Aligarh Muslim University,” said Hassnain.

It was at Aligarh that Hassnain got fixed to history of Kashmir. Back home he became lecturer at SP School and College where he taught history. He practiced law for some years too. Seeing his rare expertise in history, the government appointed him as Director Archives Archaeology, Research and Museum in 1953, the position he held till his retirement in 1983. During these thirty years of service he discovered, preserved and promoted the history of Kashmir in every way he could. “During this period I tried to collect every bit of information about our history in the shape of artefacts or manuscripts, and store the same for our posterity,” said Hassnain. He was instrumental in establishing two more government repositories in Kashmir and Ladakh. The first one was already established at Jammu. “They became the store houses of our historical records,” said Hassnain. As of now the repositories contain lakhs of files.

Kashmir has always maintained a central point of focus in his research and he gives the valley prime importance. “After the Noah’s deluge when the waters receded, the first land that emerged was Koh-i-Suleman, and from here life started again,” said Hassnain. He often cites the work of some Japanese researchers who according to Hassnain term Kashmir as the ‘Mother of The Earth.’

During his tenure as the director, Hassnain travelled every nook and corner of Kashmir to documents whatever has remained aloof. “We are the only people in the subcontinent who wrote their own history accurately. It was our own Kalhana who started the trend and even before that we have Nilmata Purana. Be it Punjab, Hyderabad or other states nobody has the distinction of writing its own history,” said Hassnain. “As far as I am concerned I have just kept the tradition going.”

In addition to being a writer, Hassnain is an expert archaeologist, who conducted several excavations and discovered unknown aspects of past civilizations. Hassnain was also instrumental in bringing to life unsung heroes of Kashmir like Robert Thorpe, Subhan Hajam, and Rasool Galwan with his research.

Almost all the books written by Hassnain have some new element of Kashmir in it. His first book was Buddhist Kashmir which got published in 1973 followed by British Policy in 1974, Ladhak Moonland in 1975, Hindu Kashmir in 1977, History of Ladhak in 1977, Gilgit in 1978, Heritage of Kashmir in 1980, Kashmir Misgovernment in 1980, The Abode of Shiva in 1987 and Freedom Struggle in Kashmir in 1988.

Hassnain shot to international fame with his work on Rozabal Shrine. With his evidence, Hassnain proposed that the Rozabal was resting place of someone from present day Israel who had come to Kashmir 2000 years ago corresponding to post crucifixion period of Jesus Christ. “The saint buried at the Shrine is named Yuz Asaf, which is not a Muslim name. It is more of a Hebrew name. Secondly a stone with feet imprints at the shrine has signs of crucifixion, which adds a new dimension of the possibility of Jesus Christ being buried there,” said Hassnain. “There is no final word in the domain of research. That is why it is called re-search. Until more research is done we will never know what is the reality,” he adds.

Hassnain’s theory received sharp criticism from historical experts, scholars and even religious leaders. But the least bothered Hassnain continued his work. His 

The Fifth Gospel (1988), A Search for the Historical Jesus (1993) and Roza Bal: The Tomb of Jesus (2008) are the most sought after books in the world on the subject. 

He has appeared as the key expert in number of documentaries that have been made on subject.

Hassnain’s books on other subjects are equally popular particularly the ones dealing with mysticism. He is perhaps the only writer in modern Kashmir whose work has been translated into Russian, French, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Spanish and Arabic.

The multi talented Hassnain is a painter and poet too, who has penned down many poems. Besides he has read palmistry, astronomy and esotericism too. With his acquired knowledge on all the religions, Hassnain has made a comparative study of the major religions of the world. When asked about religions, Hassnain often says, “Trust in God, respect all religions.” Hassnain who started learning the holy Quran at the age of three was once given the charge of Imam at Tral. 

His achievements fetched him the title of Doctor of Indology. In 1986 he was given the title of Rastra Sanskriti Samrat.

Hassnain has traveled widely in Europe and Asia. In many Japanese universities he has remained decorated visiting professor for years. He is a member of many national and international organisations pertaining to philosophy, mysticism, history, anthropology and culture. After retirement, he immersed himself into the Sufi way of living and he has conducted number of Sufi meditation sessions as a therapy in number of European countries. He is an acclaimed Sufi Healer.

Hassnain is also highly critical of New Delhi for having tricked Kashmir in getting the precious historical manuscripts. “It was during the time of G M Sadiq that when Maulana Azad, the education minister of India flew to Kashmir and asked Sadiq to handover the Gilgit Manuscripts as they are in a danger from Pakistani invasion,” said Hassnain. “After they took the manuscripts, there was no invasion. But when we demanded them back, they never returned it. Instead they sent us Photostat copies of those manuscripts.”

 

Though Hassnain feels pained at the mis-governance that has plagued Kashmir, but when it comes to some good steps he never shies away from recognizing it. “During Maharaja Hari Singh’s era, two things had a lasting impact on Kashmir. One was the Jabri School, wherein children were forced to go to school and second was abolition of prostitution,” said Hassnain. “We should be proud of these two steps, otherwise situation would have been different.”

For future historians, Hassnain has a message “the first and foremost thing a would-be historian requires is his dedication and knowledge of his own nation-society. If he doesn’t know about his own nation then what kind of historian will he make. And he should never get tempted to write from mere hearsay.”

Despite so many books on Kashmir, Hassnain feels the real Kashmir is yet to be discovered. “Go to Munich or Scotland and see how many rare books they have on Kashmir. In comparison, we have done nothing and the field is for us to explore.”

Hassnain is the recipient of numerous awards. He was conferred lifetime achievement by state government in 2009 and Maharaja Gulab Singh Award 2015.

haroonmirani@gmail.com

 

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