Remembering Kashmiriyat, One Month, Eight Days after a Clampdown
Poetry reflects the pain and suffering of the Valley
September 16, 2019
Image courtesy: Sabrang
The military lockdown and communications blackout imposed by the Government following the abrogation of Article 370 last month seems unending. Seeking solace, many Kashmiris in different parts of India have turned to social media. An account on Instagram (@alleyeson.kashmir) carriesa series of posts on voices and stories from the people of Kashmir, their pain, their poetry, their strength and resilience. One such post encouraged a conversation about the woman poets of Kashmir. Kashmiris fondly recalled rich stories of their poets, the most revered being Lal Ded. Born in Kashmir in the early 1300s, her verses are remembered more as oral tradition in the form of “vaakhs” than the written word. Married off as a child, she renounced her marital home in her mid-twenties and became a disciple of the Shaiva saint Siddha Srikanta, and her verses reflect her spirituality of Shaivism and eventually Yogacara Buddhism, and her experiences with Sufism. At one point in time, her popularity reached a level where people started considering her an incarnation. Also known as Lalleshwari, Lal Ded practised Shaivism throughout her life and was revered by Hindus and Muslims alike as “Mother Lalla”. She bridged the various religious and spiritual beliefs of her time with her poetry. An excerpt from one of her poems reads (translation):
“I, Lalla, entered
the gate of the mind’s garden and saw
Siva united with Sakti.
I was immersed in the lake of undying bliss. Here, in this lifetime,
I’ve been unchained from the wheel
of birth and death.
What can the world do to me?”
As one of her contemporary translators, renowned poet Ranjith Hoskote says, “She represents ‘a Kashmiri identity’ if not ‘the Kashmiri identity’ characterised as an instrument of mobilisation and consolidation (as Benedict Anderson put it)”.
Syncretism has been an essential part of spirituality practised in Kashmir for centuries. The Sufi tradition which came to be known as “Kashmiriyat” lies in the philosophy of brotherhood, mutual love and respect, as propagated by one of the valley’s Sufi pioneers, Bulbul Shah, commonly known as Bulbul-e-Kashmir. During the time of Bulbul Shah three distinguished religions Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam were being practised in South East Asia and he propagated the synthesis of all three faiths and introduced the message of peace acceptable to all, signalling an era of peace enshrined in Sufism.
The presence of coexisting spiritual traditions and religions particularly influenced the unique style of Kashmiri Sufis. Sufism- all over the world- is real, individual, and unorthodox, claiming for the individual the rich power of faith with the Sublime and Only One, unrestricted by agency or definition of which form of divinity is the sublime One. So too was the case of Kashmiri Sufis, thusfor some, they are "Muslim rishis”, a rich manifestation of the “Sufi Bhakti” tradition in the Valley. Nund Rishi (aka. Sheikh ul Alam) is considered to be the founder of the Rishi order of Sufi saints which influenced mystics like Hamza Makhdoom, Resh Mir Sàeb, and Shamas Faqir. Lal Ded was his contemporary and had a great impact on his spiritual growth. He has in one of his poems prayed to God to grant him the same level of spiritual achievement as God had bestowed on Lal Ded. His poetry preached a message of peace and tolerance. One of his famous poems begins with,
“Does wrath become a Muslim?
Should you display anger, you'll
Jeopardise your purpose.
Wrath'll prove to be a robber
Of your treasures!”
Persia, Kashmir, Sufism inter-meshed and interacted for centuries, and we have the Kashmiri weaves and designs of the exclusive Kashmiri carpets. During the 14th century, Mir Sayyed Ali Hamadani visited Kashmir multiple times travelling back and forth to Iran. It was Hamadani who brought various crafts and industries from Iran into Kashmir; it is said that he brought with him 700 followers, including some weavers of carpets and shawls, who taught the craft of Pashmina textile and carpet-making to the local population. The contribution of Mir Sayyed Ali Hamadani to Kashmiri society is everlasting and infinite. He not only brought a social revolution by preaching the tenets of Islamic social justice, fraternity, love, and equality but also wrote a political treatise Zakhiratul Maluk for the guidance of kings about how to rule. His literary works and teachings showed his connection to both the Quran and Hindu-Buddhist thoughts thus promoting the universal language of love that preached how people of different faiths could live peacefully together.
The traditions of Sufism andsyncretic poetry continued through the years to come. Poetry, after all, is the focal point of the message of love throughout the world. A popular story refers to a poem written by a Kurdish governor Ali Mardan Khan in the 17th century, about his sighting of God Shiva. It is believed that as the Governor was strolling in Shalimar Garden, he caught sight of Mahadeo peak and felt that he had seen God Shiva. He went on to describe this experience in a poem (originally in Persian), excerpts of which remain popular as songs in present day Kashmir:
“I saw a strange renouncer, my lips uttered – Namoh Narayan
I kissed the dust flying off his feet, that night
He looked deep into me with his shining eyes
I saw his house in the uninhabitable infinite, that night”
Poetry still thrives in the present-day Kashmir with young poets at the helm, creating powerful verses of love, loss, peace, and resistance. The team behind Instagram account @alleyeson.kashmir told Sabrang India, “Even under curfew and lockdown, words flow and inspiration comes from scant food, black balloons, blood on the streets, burning tyres, and even just the lack of milk.The poetry emerging from Kashmir is also an archive of an enormous sadness manifest in news of blinding of children, the wailing of mothers who have lost their sons, unexplained disappearances, and the madness of frustration of not being able to counter the media narrative of the state of things on the ground as can be seen in the current situation.
They say that it is the poet’s burden to fight against forgetfulness. That’s what Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet of resistance argued.The new generation of poets in the Valley say the same. From Sheikh ul Alam to Lal Ded to Habba Khatoon to Samad Mir to Rasul Mir, the folk Ladisha (satirical ballads), Chakar (Kashmiri folk music), to the slogans and songs and elegies that echo in the streets of Kashmir, the history of poetry in Kashmir is long and reflective of Kashmir’s journey.
As Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney said in his acceptance speech- To begin with, I wanted that truth to life to possess a concrete reliability, and rejoiced most when the poem seemed most direct, an upfront representation of the world it stood in for, or stood up for, or stood its ground against. This is the principle contemporary Kashmiri poets like Uzma Falak, Mohammad Tabish, Omair Bhat, Huzaifa Pandit, Ather Zia and more, are taking forward. They are bearing witness.”
An excerpt from Uzma Falak’s poem Echoes of a strangled song reflects the same sentiment-
“From the land of witnesses—our home,
you carry souvenirs for you know me well, my obsessions.”
Mohammad Tabish writes these gut-wrenching and distinctly Sufilines in his poem Stone–
“I am no son of Abraham;
No Isaac, no Ishmael
No archangel fell to
Witness the holy in me.
I have no name;
I am many men, and
All of us, helpless
– sentenced to death.”
It is heart-breaking to read some of these poems, which is why it is even more pertinent that we do. As Kashmir lies silent entering the second month of its communication blackout, we hope poetry is still being written and spoken in the valley. We hope the Kashmiris are still singing Lal Ded’s vaakhs sitting with their grandmothers, we hope Kashmiriyat still breathes, and always will.
But when will the Indian dispensation recognise the true spirit of Kashmiriyat? In the words of poet Nidhi Saxena (translated):
“Let’s see what becomes of this Jannat (heaven)
Will our Kashmiriyat be welcomed again?”
First published in Sabrang.
This article was published on September 14, 2019.
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