Homeland Security

Kashmir: Historical Background
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 Aug , 2016

“Men do not make their history in isolation from the past. The memories of dead generations hang like a mill stone around the necks of present generations.” — Karl Marx

Kashmiri aspiration for independence evokes a fair degree of support due to a perception that Kashmir was `never’ a part of India. This is a new mythology whose origins can be traced back to the post-Independence politics in India and muddled approach towards national integration rather than any historical truth. However over the period of last sixty nine years, many of these myths are now firmly entrenched in the minds of people of Kashmir. Even people outside the province are, at times, affected by this. This distortion of history is itself part of the Kashmir problem and it is therefore important to know the truth.

In 1947, Kashmir, or more accurately the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was no different than other 560 states, of varying shapes and sizes that formed `princely India’.

Importance of Understanding History

There are two extreme views on the usefulness or other wise of history in understanding contemporary events. One view, historical determinism, asserts that history repeats itself, always and every time. On the other extreme is the theory that each event is unique by itself. The truth lies somewhere in between these two extremes. History as a chronicle of past is a useful guide for understanding trends in thinking of people. Historical trends can be extrapolated to present and future, with due modifications. History of a region also takes care of effect of geography, climate and genetic evolution, otherwise difficult to fathom. But most importantly, history as a collective memory of people serves a major role in shaping perceptions and is a constant reference point for actions and events.

At the level of perception and emotions of the people, history plays a major role in the Indian subcontinent. The reason for this phenomenon is the continuing strength of the institution of family. Most Indians in rural setting, that is the vast majority, grow up surrounded by uncles and aunts and at the minimum grandparents. In such surrounding tradition and historical memories get passed on from generation to generation and form a very important part of makeup of an individual. History in India is therefore a live tradition and not some esoteric academic discipline. Roots of many of the current attitudes can be directly traced back to some historical influence.

In 1947, Kashmir, or more accurately the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was no different than other 560 states, of varying shapes and sizes that formed `princely India’. These princely states had treaty relations with the British and considerable independence to run domestic affairs. The rest of Indian subcontinent was directly administered by the British. In 1947, as British Paramountcy lapsed, these princely States were given a choice to join either India or Pakistan.

Zain-Ul-Abidin was a tolerant and secular ruler who encouraged the study of Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language and kept up the Kashmiri tradition of intellectualism.

Ancient Past

Archaeological finds in the Chenab valley at Akhnoor and in some areas of Rajouri as well as Mendhar date back to the Mohenjodaro-Harappa period of 3500 BC. There is also a school of thought led by the late Prof Wadia, Indologist, which believes that the Kashmir valley and the adjoining areas of Central Asia were the original homes of the Aryans. The struggle between Aryans and Dravidians, then based in Sindh, has been chronicled in the ancient `Puranas’. Unfortunately, unsettled political conditions in Central Asia, resistance of their current Islamic regimes and apathy of the Indian government have all combined and lead to the neglect of research in these areas of history. Till positive and conclusive proof is found this will remain speculation at best, but comparisons of race and genetic mapping could yet prove the ancient link.

A definitive history of Kashmir dates back to the Ashokan era of 3rd century B.C. Later the area came under the Kanishkan empire. Eventoday,coins of the Kanishka era turn up at various sites in Kashmir. Lalitaditya and Avativarman were the most famous Kashmiri kings. Avantivarman ruled from AD 855 to 883. The magnificent ruins of his capital at Avantipura, a few kms. South of Srinagar is a testimony to his rule. In the 13 century, Mohammed Gazni tried unsuccessfully to conquer Kashmir. He failed in the face of stiff local resistance.

Islam came to Kashmir as it did to most of the North-West, in the 14th century. Zain-Ul-Abidin, who ruled from 1420-1470, is the most important Muslim ruler of Kashmir under whom the area prospered. He was a tolerant and secular ruler who encouraged the study of Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language and kept up the Kashmiri tradition of intellectualism.

Except for these three periods, history of Kashmir reads like a chronicle of mis-governance. Weak rulers followed each other in succession.

In 1586, like the rest of northern India, Kashmir was conquered by the Mughals and became a Mughal province. With the decline of the Mughal Empire under Aurangzeb, the Afghans saw their opportunity and ruled Kashmir from 1750 till 1819. By all accounts this was the darkest period of Kashmir’s history. They ravaged the land and exploited its people mercilessly. The desperate people of Kashmir, both Hindus and Muslims, went in a delegation to Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Lahore, the Sikh ruler of Punjab, to seek his help in ousting the Afghans. The Sikhs were successful in ousting the Afghans and thus the area came under General Gulab Singh. On defeat of the Sikhs by the British in 1846, they granted him the state for the help he gave them against the Sikhs. His successors ruled Kashmir till 1947.

Legacy of Internal Chaos

Unlike other parts of the country, Kashmir is fortunate in having an authentic source of written history. Kalhana wrote his work, `Rajatarangini’ between 1148-1149 AD. He not only dealt with his own period but also compiled history based on available oral evidence of the happenings in the past centuries. Being from Kashmir, naturally his work is exhaustive and more complete. Besides Kalhana, Chinese traveler Hsuan-tsang and Arab scholar Alberuni have contributed significantly to our understanding of Kashmir’s past. The most important periods of Kashmir’s history is mid eighth century when Lalitaditya ruled Kashmir. He was a powerful King and launched raids as far down south as Kanauj (in Central India) and also established the towns of Poonch. The Martand temple built by him survives todate. He was a patron of art and science and a just ruler. The next most important ruler of Kashmir was Avantivarman (AD 855-883). It was during his reign that an engineer Suyya widened the gorge through which the river Vitasta (now Jhelum) flows out of the valley. With this brilliant stroke the problem of water logging and flooding in the valley was greatly eased.

The next king of note was Zain-Ul-Abidin who ruled Kashmir from 1421 to 1472 AD. Though a follower of Islam, he was a tolerant ruler and encouraged the ancient arts and study of Sanskrit language.

…despite its abundant resources and impregnable position, Kashmir did not enjoy peace except in patches.

Except for these three periods, history of Kashmir reads like a chronicle of mis-governance. Weak rulers followed each other in succession. Palace intrigues, murders and revolts were common with some kings gaining the throne for barely a month. The country was devastated by bandits and the soldiers and landlords became the kingmakers. In 1587 Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great conquered Kashmir and brought it under his rule. There followed a long period of 200 years of peace under iron rule. Kashmir for the Mughals was a pleasure garden in more than one sense. The Emperors from Akbar to Aurangzeb valued its natural beauty and often traveled there for rest. The Kashmiri women, famous for their beauty were another attraction for the Delhi nobility and many a bride were taken from here into the royal and other lesser harems.

As the Mughal Empire tottered under the blows it received at the hands of the Maraths in 18th century, in 1739, Kashmir came under the rule of Kabul. The Afghan rule was a repeat of chaos and barbarianism of earlier era. A joint delegation of Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus went to Lahore, the capital of Sikhs, who ruled most of Punjab, and sought his help to oust the Afghan tribals. Maharaja Ranjit Singh the Sikh ruler, ousted the Afghans and peace returned to the valley. In 1846 by treaty of Amritsar between the Sikhs and the British, Kashmir came into the possession of Sikh General Gulab Singh, who established the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

It is clear that despite its abundant resources and impregnable position, Kashmir did not enjoy peace except in patches. The only time that peace was established was when Kashmir was ruled by outsiders as a part of a larger empire.

The early Muslim rulers were tolerant ones and permitted the people to practice their own faith. But gradually with the influx of Muslim clerics from outside, Kashmiri Islam began to change.

The happenings of the early 14th century are typical of Kashmir’s history. Jaysimha who ruled from 1128 to 1155 was the last great Hindu ruler of Kashmir. While the rest of North India had succumbed to Muslim invaders, Kashmir remained independent mainly due to the difficulty of approaching the valley through the mountain barriers. After Jaysimha, Kashmir again reverted to its earlier chaos with the landlords asserting their independence and confining the king’s writ to the boundaries of his capital, Srinagar. It was under these conditions that Rinchan, a Tibetan chieftain, captured the valley in 1320. The king Ramchandra was slain and Rinchan ascended the throne and also married queen Kota. Despite his efforts to convert to Hinduism, the orthodox Kashmiri Brahmins spurned the lowly born Rinchan who then turned to Islam. Rinchan died shortly thereafter and his trusted lieutenant Shah Mir instead of crowning Rinchan’s son, invited another Prince Udayandeva and made him a puppet King. Udayandeva married Kota and ruled for a few years before Shah Mir gathered sufficient strength and ascended the throne in 1338. The Queen Kota surrendered on the explicit assurance that she would share the throne with Shah Mir. But a legend that is prevalent has it that on the verge of her fourth `marriage’ the Queen stabbed herself to death.

The early Muslim rulers were tolerant ones and permitted the people to practice their own faith. But gradually with the influx of Muslim clerics from outside, Kashmiri Islam began to change. During the reign of SikandarButshikan, Muslim orthodoxy asserted itself at the prodding of his own minister Suahbhat, a former Hindu and recent convert to Islam. Hindus were prevented from even cremating their dead and the magnificent temples of Martandeya and Avantipora were destroyed beyond recognition.

The story of vanity, barbarianism and backstabbing was later repeated in the twentieth century as well. The periodic frenzy on religious grounds also has its roots in the past.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Anil Athale

former Joint Director War History Division, Min of Defence. Currently co-ordinator of Pune based think tank 'Inpad' that is affiliated with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

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2 thoughts on “Kashmir: Historical Background

  1. Very well written . I wish to add here that Kashmir was visited by Adidas Shankar and he established temples there.
    Namaste Sharada Devi Kashmirapuravasini||
    I bow to you, Goddess Sharada,
    the One who Resides in the Kashmira country !

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