Kashmir: the land of Nund Rishi and Lal Ded shall conquer dark forces

IOK - Indian Occupied Kashmir Jammu & Kashmir

By Amir Suhail Wani

Kashmir has been the cradle of religious diversity, multiculturalism, and ideological inclusion for ages. The coexistence of Buddhism and Hinduism before the arrival of Islam followed by the Muslims and Hindus including followers of Kashmiri Shaivism living together is testimony to Kashmir’s rich legacy of peace and respect for pluralism. It’s on this land that, Vijay Kumar Malla, a Hindu, sang soulful hymns in praise of Prophet Muhammad and Maestros like Gulzar Ganai, Tibet Baqal and so many others sung some very popular and cherishes Bhajans and Leelas – devotional songs dedicated to Hindu deities.

Mir Ghulam Rasool Nazki, scholar and poet explained to his Hindus the subtleties of Shaivism and Hindu Philosophy. People of all religions and faiths thronged the lodges of Sages like Krishan Joo and Laxman Joo Razdan for spiritual guidance and blessings.

Despite the travails of time, Kashmir continues to preserve its cultural and religious pluralism and offers the world lessons in coexistence. The juxtaposition of the temple of Sharika and the shrine of Sheikh Hamza Makhdoomi on the hillock of Hari Parbat also called Koh-e-marra challenges those trying to paint Kashmir in negative colours.

Even during the 1947 partition of India, when the communal forces were active in the rest of the country, Kashmir represented coexistence and peace. It made Mahatma Gandhi say, “It is really difficult for me to distinguish between a Hindu Kashmiri and a Muslim Kashmiri. You people speak one language and have one culture. While the rest of the country burns in communal fire, I see a ray of hope in Kashmir only”.

The reason for Kashmir always upholding communal amity was that people there practiced spirituality and mysticism. Whatever religion people followed, the mystical undertones always ruled their hearts, and spiritual enlightenment was given priority. Therefore, it is natural for such people to be peace-loving; have empathy, and not nurture feelings of revenge and animosity toward anyone. This trend evolved and fostered a unique strand of spirituality, which is popularly known as “Rishism”. The philosophy of non-violence and holism was so assiduously practiced and preached by the Rishis that most of them gave up hunting animals for food and took to leaves and other natural and frugal foods.

With the arrival of Islam, the Kashmiri Rishi cult absorbed the best elements of Sufi Islam. However, despite the advent of Islam, Kashmir’s overall religious texture remained unchanged. The Central Asian mystic preachers who came to Kashmir were deeply drawn towards Rishism. The historical meetings between Lalleshwari – a celebrated Shaivite mystic poetess of the 14th century and Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani – the patron preacher of Islam in Kashmir – show the mutual respect offered by one religion for the other and also set the precedent for centuries to come.

Though Islam came to Kashmir with a sociocultural vision to replace Hinduism, the subsequent evolution shows that both religions influenced each other and thus emerged a phenomenon of religious pluralism. In this evolution, one does come across the religious acts of exclusion by the Muslim rulers practiced towards their Hindu subjects, but these were largely political. These sporadic episodes in no way represent the history of Hindu-Muslim coexistence and celebration of pluralism in Kashmir.

Since the rise of insurgency in Kashmir that led to the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits from the valley, the legacy of pluralism has been betrayed. It also helped external powers to flame communalism and tear apart Kashmir’s legacy and repertoire of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. An atmosphere has been created in which Hindus and Muslims, who yesterday shared their meals, and participated in one another’s festivals and mourning are scared of each other. With the rise of separatism in Kashmir combined with the political developments, and the religious discourse, the reins of the ideological movement fell into the hands of religious extremists including Salafis, Wahabis, Jamat e Islami, and others.

They seeped into the fabric of Kashmiri society and lured youth into their fold. It’s no secret that the Wahabi ideology had earlier eroded Arab society and Jamat-e- Islami made extremism the order of the day in Pakistan. In Kashmir, they tried their crooked methods to rend apart the fabric of peace and coexistence; influencing many into thinking of other religions as false and condemning their co-religionists. Both Jamat e Islami followers and the Wahabis labeled their mystic brethren as heathens and polytheists and issued Fatwas against them.

Muslims were scared of fellow Muslims – neo-converts to extreme Islamic ideology. The spirit of Kashmir that was hitherto nourished by the writings of Rumi, Saadi, Hafiz, Ibn I Arabi, Lal-Ded, Sheikh Ul Aalam, was suddenly infused by the works of Maulana Maudoodi, Abdul Wahab, Ibn I Taimiya, etc. The literature of the latter espoused the agenda of hatred and animosity.

A survey of the literature that started to pour into the valley in the 90s clearly shows this trend. This was the period when the lessons of saintliness and sagacity were subverted by the spirit of fighting and zeal of killing others under the guise of “Sacred War”. This eroded the fabric of pluralism and inclusion in Kashmir and ushered in an era of exclusion, intolerance, barbarism, and incivility. The scars inflicted by this period are fresh on our collective memory and each attempt to bridge the gap between the communities is thwarted by the same dark forces that once set us apart.

Kashmir perpetually recalls its beautiful past and the golden age of pluralism and the conscientious souls crave for the days when a Kashmiri Hindu climbing Hari Parbat used to pay obeisance at the shrine of Sultan Ul Arifeen and Muslims reciprocated the same feelings by participating in Hindu festivals like Hairath (Maha Shivratri).

Religious extremism has not only harmed our minds but bruised our hearts too. It divided us into a hundred thousand pieces, sowed in our hearts the seeds of distrust and enmity, and extracted from our veins the sap of love – the core and essence of any religion. We may not be able to undo the past, but we can surely improve upon our future and that improvisation has to come from the realization that Kashmiri Pandits are our organs and we as Kashmiris are a single body. If we can’t celebrate the differences, at least we must not stretch them to the point where they turn into abscesses. Separated by the chasm of space and time as the Hindus and Muslims of Kashmir are – they must not forget that they share a common ancestry of Rishi Kashyapa, Nund Reshi, and Lal Ded.__awazthevoice