The Pandits of Kashmir - III

Greater Kashmir

Historically speaking, they have been Kings without a Kingdom

Outside Kashmir the situation is no better. Numerous organisations and associations have been set up. Each one is claiming to represent the displaced community. The most important task for the community is to survive as a distinct racial group existing for thousands of years. From the earliest times they have been living in Kashmir as the elitist group supposedly directly descending from the ancient Kings of Kashmir.
There was a time when they would not even consider marrying their daughters outside their clan. All the Brahmins of India would deem it a proud privilege to give their daughters in marriage to a Kashmiri Brahmin and vice versa. This is slowly disappearing and over a period of time they may get absorbed in the societies in which they are now living thereby losing their distinct identity.
It is very unfortunate for all of us that the Pandits have sold 70 per cent of their properties in Kashmir, opting for greener pastures of other States where they are offered better prospects. In Kashmir valley itself the departure of Kashmiri Pandits has created a vacuum. The society does not seem to be right. Every one misses the cultural exchange and the day-to-day interaction between the two communities, which was the most important part of our daily lives.
On the famous festival of Shivratri, Muslims would eagerly wait for the walnuts, which had been kept soaking by their Pandit neighbours in earthen pots well in advance of the festival. Muslim fisherwomen would bring fish in large quantity on the streets of Srinagar for sale as Pandits considered it an essential item of food during this festival. On the occasion of Eid, Pandits would visit their Muslim neighbours and sometimes share a feast with them in the evening. The folk tales of “Himal-Nagrai” and “Akka Nandun” were common to both the communities. Kashmiri Pandits have contributed a lot to different fields of activities. They were the part of the efforts of Tyndale Biscoe to introduce modern education in Kashmir.
Masters like Samsar Chand Kaul, Nand Lal Bakaya, Chandra Pandit not only contributed in educating people but also introduced outbound activities, which gave leadership qualities to their pupils. Kashmiri Pandits also excelled in journalism, arts and other social activities. The names of R.K.Kak, J.N.Sathu, Pran Jalali, Sham Kaul, Somnath Sadhu, Pushkar Bhan, Bansi Parimoo, Autar Raina and so on are just a few stalwarts in their individual fields. There are dozens of others in various other sections of the society. It will be a tragic loss for the community if Kashmiri Pandits get ultimately absorbed in different societies.
There is only one way to ensure that these descendents of the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir do not disappear and that is to bring them back to Kashmir. However, they cannot be brought back as prisoners to be kept in guarded “prison colonies”. They have to come back with honour and dignity to their own ancestral homes, which they left more than a decade ago. They must all be missing the “Moj Kashir”. The Kashir of “Nud Reshi” and “Lal Ded”. All of them must have developed a strong “Lol” for it. There is no equivalent word in English for “Lol”. It is the love, which grows in separation from ones beloved. Some sort of a very strong longing.
In Kashmir there is a saying that at one time only 11 households were left. This signifies times of some very major calamities when people migrated en masse leaving only 11 households. These days also in the event of a natural calamity, Kashmiris use this remark to signify that we have suffered worst calamities in the past and the present one will also pass over.
The history of Kashmiris closely resembles that of the Israelites. After the destruction of the Third Temple, they were dispersed all over the world. There were twelve tribes of Israelites. It is said that eleven tribes have been located in different parts of the world but there is a missing twelfth tribe. There are many theories that this tribe came to Kashmir through Afghanistan and settled here. The purest remnants of this tribe if it had truly come to Kashmir and settled there would be Kashmiri Pandits. According to Holger Kersten, “the Kashmiris are different in every respect from other peoples in India. Their way of life, their behaviour, their morals, their character, their language, customs and habits are all of a type that might be described as typically Israelite. Like present- day Israelis, the Kashmiris do not use fat for frying and baking; they only use oil. Most Kashmiris eat smoked fish called fari, which is eaten by Israelis in remembrance of the time before their Exodus from Egypt. Butchers’ knives in Kashmir are in half-moon shape typical of the Israelites, and even the rudders and paddles of the boat people (Hanjis) are of the similarly typical heart shape.
The men wear distinctive skullcaps on their heads. The clothing of the old women of Kashmir (Pandtanis) is very similar to that of Jewish women, and like them they also wear headscarves and laces. Married Pandit women wear “Deiji Hor”, which is also worn by Jewish women. Like young Jewish girls, the girls of Kashmir dance in two facing columns with linked arms, moving together forwards and backwards to the rhythm. They call their songs rof. After bearing a child, woman of Kashmir observes forty days’ seclusion for purification; this, too, is a Jewish custom.”
In case of Jews it is sometimes said that they brought the retribution on themselves by their own actions. This may also be true in case of Kashmiris. Will this separation ever end? Will the “Lol” of Kashmiri Pandits press them to return to the “Moj Kashir”? Will we ever regain the peace and tranquillity of the Kashmir of “Nund Reshi” and “Lal Ded”? These are questions, which no one can answer with certainty.
However, there is hope that we have survived 5,000 years of history and bounced back from the 11 households, which were the only ones left at one time. We never threw up our arms. If we have done it earlier, we can do it again. There is only one rider. We have to think and act as Kashmiris and nothing else!

–Concluded

The author can be mailed at: ashrafmjk@gmail.com