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This book delves deep into the past for the roots of Kashmiriyat, the identity and culture that has blossomed within the ring of mountains for thousands of years.

Kashmir lies at the edge of India’s borders and at the heart of India’s consciousness. It is not geography that is the issue; Kashmir also guards the frontiers of ideology. If there was a glow of hope in the deepening shadows of a bitter partition, then it was Kashmir, whose people consciously rejected the false patriotism of fundamentalism and made common cause with secular India instead of theocratic Pakistan. Kashmir was, as Sheikh Abdullah said and Jawaharlal Nehru believed, a stabilising force for India. Why has that harmony disintegrated? Why has the promise been stained by the blood of rebellion? The Book shows Kashmir’s struggle in the century to first free itself from feudal oppression and then enter the world of modern India in 1947. Placing the mistakes and triumphs of those early, formative years in the perspective of history, the book says how the 1980s have opened the way for Kashmir’s hitherto marginalised secessionists. Both victory and defeat have their lessons; to forget either is to destabilize the future. Kashmir and the mother country are inextricably linked. India cannot afford to be defeated in her Kashmir.

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The Rishi and The Raja 

History lives in song, in generational memory, in the tale told by a mother plaiting the hair of her young, questioning daughter in the soft afternoon sunlight drifting through speckled apple trees, in the music of a marriage when in the early hours of a grey morning, the singers of the night cluster over a rejuvenated kangri, heads bowed towards the glowing embers and spirits abandoned to invisible swirls of floating sound, the energy and rhythm of the last strain even more vigorous, more in harmony with the ideal than the first. The history of a people is so often reduced to the limitations of a page: knowledge is far more than the decaying fragment of a Sanskrit or a Persian chronicle in the library of a Nawab or a Raja himself reduced to an illusion: or in the vaults of a government building imprisoned by an intellectual bureaucracy. History is more real than footnotes in small type which too often sound like an in-house conversation between willing conspirators. The Ibid Syndrome has its place of value and confidence, but our story could profit by dipping into the Kuttanimatam of Damodara Gupta, the eighth century poem of the Kuttani (procuress) who teaches the prince how to escape the sexual snares of women, even as we pore over the Rajatarangini of Pandit Kalhana, the scholar-poet whose work, written in 1148--49 has been described so picturesquely by the scholar-politician Jawaharlal Nehru in his introduction to his brother-in-law RS. Pundit’s translation, River of Kings (Sahitya Akademy, New Delhi, 1968):

In one long series, as if on a band of gelatine of a cinematograph film, Kalhana brings before our eyes vivid pictures of a bygone age, through episodes which contain the different rasas or sentiments of love and heroism, of pathos and marvel.

Had not Kalhana seen in his own lifetime the tragic intervention of greed, frailty, cruelty and murderous incompetence on the course of human affairs’? RS. Pandit notes of Kalhana:

In his history there are no heroes or heroines and the few persons who might be so described are only functionaries of certain groups and have not been too much emphasized; indeed, whether we love them or not for their virtues, it is their vices which make them unforgettable.

But the history of the Kashmiri mind, of its heart and its sentiments, as against the story of mere kings, lies not in chronological narrative, but in the timeless Vakyas (Sayings) of Lal Ded, or in the Nurnama of Shaikh Nuruddin, whose shrine at Charari Sharif is still burdened each day with the prayers of men and women, both Muslim and Hindu, who believe that the soul of a saint will be at the eternal service of generations of human beings in their incessant search for comfort, for grace, and for aid from the power of the divine.

Time had chipped the name of the ancient city of Puranadhisthana to Pandrenthan by the fourteenth century. It was here, a few miles south-west of Srinagar, that Padmavati was born, Mated at the age of twelve, she suffered the typical fate of a woman in her husband’s home at Pampur. Mothers-in-law, perhaps seeking a catharsis to match the vicious cruelty that once was their lot, have become symbols of the most perverse oppression in Indian society, and-the evidence never stops pouring in whether it be the fourteenth century or the twentieth. Impaled on the umbilical cord, conditioned by the powerful propaganda of maternal fidelity, the son is almost always a willing conspirator in the cruel subjugation of this outsider seeking to invest and invade something as jealously guarded as the circle of love. If Padmavati had been the normal child-wife, she too would have played out her years of slavery until the cycles of age, death and regeneration created a role reversal.

Padmavati found her release not in revenge but in renunciation She went into tapasya in a forest, found herself and returned to the world as a naked mendicant, oblivious of any material attachment, and with a powerful message to the inner spirit, o tile Original Good in every human being layered by the boundless variations of Original Sin. She challenged ritual with a deeper faith. Truth, she said, did not exist in stone, nor in the tyranny of the priest; the stone of the idol in the temple had become a millstone around the neck of the poor, the religion of the age had become an exercise in jugglery and magic to fool the people into subscrvience and exploitation; she demolished the power of those who made every river and every tree and every simple fact of nature into an object of worship to the unending benefit of the middlemen of religion, the traders in ceremony and cant.

Her spirit of reformation inevitably spread into language; she disdained the priestly Sanskrit and gave the tongue of the people, Kashmiri, a new dimension: thirty per cent of Kashmiri proverbs and idioms are said to owe their origins to Lal Ded’s Vakyas. Her own life was a splendid example of purity and passion, and the people absorbed this revolt against the intermediaries like priests and intermediates like idols. Her answer was love, service, the unity of man, the discipline of yoga, the intoxication of faith and the rejection of barriers in the name of religion. She sang:

Shiv chuy thali thali rozan;
Mo zan Hindu La Musalman.
Truk ay chuk pan panun parzanav;
Soy chay Sahibas sati zaniy zan.

(Shiva lives everywhere; do not divide Hindu from Muslim. Use your sense to recognize yourself; that is the true way to find God.)

This synthesis of mystical Shaivism and Islamic Sufism went straight to the hearts of the masses: she became Lalla Arifa for the Muslims and Lalleshwari for the Hindus.

Popular belief can easily establish linkages where formal history might advise caution. In any case, belief plays no less a part in the shaping of a people than clues stuck together into a theory by a disciplined historian. More: belief may reflect a higher truth than arid facts. Who can say with conviction whether Shaikh Nuruddin was in fact suckled in infancy by Lal Ded? And does it really matter that the most beloved of Kashmir’s Sufi-saints, Shaikh Nuruddin, was born, according to the Daud Mishkati, in 1356, and no one can offer a specific date for the birth of Lal Ded? The poetic truth of this tradition says far more about the history of the people of Kashmir, about their minds and hearts and needs and passions than barren dates. Nuruddin’s philosophy was weaned at the breast of Lal Ded; he drank from her; that is the relevant truth. And he too lived in the hearts of both Muslims and Hindus; the first called him their Shaikh, the second referred to him as Nand Rishi—and in fact his order of the Rishis became a powerful influence in the Valley for many centuries; traces of it can still be found in the ‘Rishi’ surname common to Hindu and Muslim alike. Ancient Hindu tradition recognizes seven Rishi Orders: Devarshi, Rajarshi, Kandarshi, Brahmarshi, Parmarshi, Maharshi and Srutarshi. Nuruddin’s Rishi Order was moulded by the arrival of Islam, and sought to build bridges between the ancient religion and the fast-expanding new faith, There was enough in common between Vedantism and Sufism—--the unity of the Divine, equality, rejection of both the ego and materialism, as well as idolatry—to make this possible. But the social purpose is clear enough too: to promote the harmony between the people through the stress on what was common in philosophy and common to the achievement of inner peace, as well as to challenge the priests whose professional aim was the preservation of the power of theft class through the promotion of conflict. Even as these great idealists changed their world for the better, they had the wisdom to reject only elements of the past, not to destroy it completely- They were Indian revolutionaries, not anarchists The symbols of the soil were integrated into their message: it was a perfect harmony which set the imagination of the people aflame. All over the land of India, in an explosive chain reaction, an astounding spiritual renaissance, which has come to be known as the Bhakti movement, occurred, the vision and genius of one saint seeming to feed another across divisions of time and geography, and a melody of love and devotion was heard in qawwali and bhajan—an imperishable element of our Indian heritage. At some point they all touch each other, from Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya to Ramananda and Kabir and .Jayadeva and Nanak and Mira. This brilliant Indian ideology swept past trifling boundaries of kingdoms as surely as it brushed aside the more serious barriers of language and sub-culture. The more sensible kings absorbed its spirit, to their own benefit. When Shaikh Nuruddin passed away, among his pallbearers was a Sultan, Zainul Abidin, whose fifty years of rule is still remembered as a golden age of Kashmir Even four centuries later, an Afghan governor, Atta Muhammad Khan, thought he could soften the hatred of the Kashmiri for the Afghan by minting coins in Nand Rishi ‘s name. Hut the Afghan was only misusing the name in a political gambit; Zainul Abidin lived by the message of his contemporary, a message left for us in the memorable verses of the Rishinama or the Nurnama. The Rishi tells the priest:

Your rosary is like a snake; you bend it only on seeing your disciples. You have eaten six plates of food, one after the other: if you are the priest, then who are the robbers?

Another verse talks of the hypocrisy of the times:

During this iron age, I found liars prospering.
And in the house of the pious I found grief born of poverty.

For true worship of God:
Do not go to the Sheikh or priest or mullah; do not feed the cattle on poisonous leaves. Do not shut yourself up in mosques or forests; enter your own body, control your breath, and commune with God.

He tells the mullah and the pandit:

Having cleansed your face, you have called the believers to prayer But can I know, 0 Rishi, what you feel in your heart, or why you are bowing your head? You have lived your life without seeing God; tell me, who did you pray to?

This message of harmony created a reservoir of humanism which became the ideological fountainhead of the modem Kashmiri mind, gave a unique quality to the Kashmiri identity, provided a conviction which long preserved Kashmir from the unspeakable and unbelievable bloodshed which Indians have inflicted upon each other in this century in the name of religion. It can only be described as the faith of Kashmir, a faith which has been witnessed by anyone who has visited the Valley and had the good sense to see beyond the extraordinary beauty of mountain, lake, forest and glade into something far greater, far more luminous, far more enchanting: the beauty of the Kashmiri heart, the Kashmiri soul. When that spirit has prevailed, there has been peace. When that spirit has been under siege, from within or without, there has been the wailing of a mother beside the most painful coffin in human experience: the coffin of her child, Perhaps it was no accident that Lal Ded gave suck to Shaikh Nuruddin and Nand Rishi was a contemporary of Zainul Abidin. Kashmir has always flourished best when the Rishi has influenced the Raja. Sadly, that has not always been its fate.


Of Human, and Inhuman, Bondage 

The poet did not quibble:

Agar firdaus bar ru-e zamin ast
Hami ast o-hami ast o-hami ast.

If there is a Paradise on earth, he said after seeing Kashmir, it is this, it is this, it is this. One problem, however, with any Paradise is the envy it tends to arouse. Kashmir has been coveted by a succession of armies, at least from the time of the Aryans Many came to conquer, but only a few were able to stay: Kashmir absorbed those few who broke the forbidding defensive wall of the Himalayas. The rawaj of Kashmir, its culture, enveloped the outsider instead of the reverse. The Kashmiri identity was always the dominant reality, making the Emperor Jahangir remark that he could not distinguish a Kashmiri Muslim from a Hindu. But he could distinguish the Kashmiri from the Mughal.

Geography certainly played a significant part in the preservation of this distinct identity. In fact, Kashmir’s geography has often compensated for the naiveté or the ineptitude of its rulers. Its main passes— Zojila and Burzil in the north-east; the Tosamaidan at Pir Panjal; Banihal; or the route through Uri in the Jhelum valley—had the useful merit of being easily guarded, if not always by the valour of the Srinagar infantry then at least by the snows of our familiar interventionist in history, General Winter. Mahmud of Ghazni might demolish and loot where he wanted on the plains of India, but his armies were incapable of defeating Kashmir's mountains and its weather. Jahangir. son of the man who finally brought Kashmir into the ambit of Delhi’s politics, put it succinctly in his memoirs:

Kashmir is a garden of eternal spring or an iron fort to a palace of kings—a delightful flower bed, and a heart-expanding heritage for dervishes. Perhaps nature had to place a purdah around something so beautiful. Pandit Kalhana, the first great historian of Kashmir, adds another dimension to the concept:

The country may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit, but not by the force of soldiers. The inhabitants are afraid only of the world beyond.

Tine. Kashmir succumbed far more easily to Buddhism or Islam than to weapons. Kalhana mentions the legend recorded in the Nilamat Purana about the origins of this lovely land. At the beginning of Kalpa, or Creation, the Valley was a lake hundreds of fret deep, called the Sad Saras, or the Lake of Sati, consort of Kashmir’s preferred Lord, Shiva. In this lake lived the demon Jalodbhav or the One Born in Water, who terrorized the Nagas, snakes who guarded the waters (the word is still used in place names, as in Anantnag). To the human eye, the Nagas either took a plain form, or sometimes appeared as clouds or hailstorms. In the age of the seventh Mane, the Sage Kashyapa. father of the Nagas, learnt about the brutal oppression of his progeny while on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas. An angry Kashyapa appealed to Brahma the Supreme as well as to other gods. It was not a request which the gods could ignore and they took up position on the mountain peaks surrounding Sati Saras. But the demon had one infinite advantage—he was invincible as long as he remained in the womb of water. He simply refused to emerge. The Lord Vishnu then called upon his brother Balabhadra to end the stalemate; he took up his ploughshare and pierced the closed ring of mountains at Baramulla. The waters drained from Sati Saras; Vishnu engaged the demon and slew him with his disc. The pleased sage settled in the dry Valley, and Kashmir was named after him. But when the gods and goddesses saw the Valley they were so enchanted by its beauty that they too refused to leave. And so the gods settled in the mountains of Kashmir, while the goddesses took the shape of the sparkling, abundant, fertile rivers.

Geologists rather spoil the legend by confirming it: by looking at the lacustrine deposits and pronouncing that yes, indeed, a great lake once did exist, a post Ice Age earthquake did shatter the mountains and dry the Valley. There are rinses when science should surrender to poetry.
The gods had opened a gate to Paradise. Inevitably, much more came in through the gate than went out. A chink had been struck in the lofty and exquisite armour protecting Kashmir.

It is reasonably certain that a branch of the Indo-Aryans who took the course of the Oxus and the Jaxertes separated from the main body of migrants and eventually settled down in the Kashmir Valley. Pundit Kalhana begins his history, however, with Gonanda the First, a contemporary-—and antagonist—of Lord Krishna. Gonanda lost his life in battle with the Lord, as did his son Damodara. Krishna himself determined the succession, and made Damodara’s pregnant wife Yasovati the Queen Regent. When the nobles protested against a woman being given power, Krishna admonished them by reciting a verse from the Nilamat Purana:Kashmir is Parvati; know that its ruler is a part of Shiva.

Popular belief insists that after the three Gonanda rulers, twenty-three generations of Pandavas (who eventually triumphed in Mahabharata, the War of the Cousins on the fields of Kurukshetra) ruled Kashmir, the dynasty bring founded by Haranadev. a great-grandson of Arjuna. The ancient temple on the hill of the Shankaracharya in Srinagar is said to date from the Pandava era. However, romantics might feel a trifle disillusioned over the manner in which the scion of the Pandavas seized the throne He entered the service of Gonanda the Second, rose to high office, and then bribed treacherous courtiers to murder the king.

History shifts to firmer ground by the time we reach Ashoka (273 —232 BC) the first of the great monarchs to rule all or most of this vast subcontinent stretching from Burma to Central Asia. The fault for the gap in the record is not Kashmir’s; the manuscripts have perished. Kalhana has rioted the sustenance he took from at least eleven previous historians. And scholarship comes at the top of his list of Kashmiri virtues; in order:Learning, lofty houses, saffron, icy water and grapes.

However, though the Persians and the Greeks certainly knew of Kashmir, even as well documented an event as Alexander’s campaign (327 BC) does not mention its existence. A new power rose in India in the ebb of Alexander’s invasion. One of the princes studying in the world-famous university of Taxila during the Greek advance was Chandragupta of Magadh (322—298 BC.). A brilliant leader himself and doubly fortunate in having one of the truly gifted minds of Indian history, Kautilya. as first his tutor and then his mentor, Chandragupta slowly expanded the frontiers of his rule till he had pushed the Greek viceroys beyond Gandhara. Taxila revolted during his heir Bindusara’s reign, and Susima, the king’s elder son, was sent to quell the uprising. When he failed, his younger brother Ashoka was shifted from Ujjain to Taxila. He not only crushed the rebels, but also brought the Valley of Kashmir into the ambit of the Mauryan empire. Kalhana says that it was Ashoka who founded the capital of Kashmir, Srinagar, which quickly evolved into a flourishing city with “ninety six thousand dwellings resplendent with prosperity.” Still a devout Hindu, Ashoka constructed a string of famous temples, and a son, Jaluka, was born to him after prayers to the Lord Shiva at the shrine of Harmuktaganga.

When, satiated by military conquest after the corpse-strewn victory at Kalinga in Orissa in 261 BC, the emperor turned a Buddhist evangelic, Ashoka made Kashmir the northern crucible of his mission The Buddhist Council held at Pataliputra sent Majjhantika at the head of 5,000 monks to the Valley and Gandhara. But while Gandhara became the conduit for the flow of Buddhism into Afghanistan and Central Asia, Hinduism proved more durable in Kashmir Jaluka, the child born through Shiva’s favours, broke away from the parent empire and established an independent state which, with obvious determination, promoted the worship of Hindu deities, the chief inspiration and example being Jaluka himself.

It took another two centuries for Buddhism to return to Kashmir at a significant level. A nomad people, the Yu-echi, pushed out from their homelands on the borders of China by the Huns, had managed to settle in the valley of Kabul. Around AD 15, the chief of one of the clans of this tribe, the Kushan, Kadphises, emerged as the kind of leader who could unite his own people and conquer others. He brought the whole of Afghanistan under his control and established the base of a great empire. His son, Kadphises the Second, was a brilliant warrior who stretched his domain up to Varanasi in the east along the fertile and rich Gangetic plain. And his son, Kanishka, was to become the most famous of the Kushan kings, ruling from Bengal to the Oxus.

Like Ashoka, Kanishka too was a convert to Buddhism; and of course there is no zeal greater than that of a new servant of any faith. U was entirely predictable that he wanted to eclipse the impact of Ashoka with an even greater contribution—and while comparisons are always inexact, the spread of Mahayana Buddhism can be dated from the Council organized by Kanishka at the Kundalvan monastery near Srinagar. If Buddhism went south to Sri Lanka, Burma, Indo-China and Indonesia from Ashoka’s Pataliputra, then it moved swiftly into Central Asia, Tibet, and from there to China and eventually to Korea by AD 372 and Japan by AD 552 from Kanishka’s Kashmir. It is interesting that the Buddha himself had praised Kashmir as the ideal focal point for the spread of his message; the environment, he said, was made for meditation and for the practice of a religious life. Ananda, the Buddha’s constant companion had a disciple called Madhandina who, said the Buddha, would take Buddhism to the land of the blue forests, subdue the malevolent Husuta Nagas and sit cross-legged, miraculously covering the whole of Kashmir and making its 60,000 villages a haven of peace. As Ashoka had done, Kanishka also gave Kashmir to the Buddhist church. Buddhism did eventually reign over these villages, its essential simplicity a powerful attraction for the ritual-burdened masses. But just as an oppressive priesthood had caused the degeneration of Hinduism, so did the excessive zeal of Buddhist monks create the conditions for the restoration of Shaivism. The vagaries of power also play their role in nudging public opinion in one direction or another, and the decline of the Kushans had its parallel impact on the state religion.

The Kashrnir from which emerged Buddhist missionaries like Kumarajiva. Yasa, Vimalaksha and Sanghabuti, who reached northern China in AD 381; Gautamasangha, who followed in AD 3~4; Dharmayasa, Buddhayasa, Vimalaksha, Buddhajiva. all of whom spent years propagating the faith in China: Gunavarman, who took the message first to Java and from there, on royal request to Nanking: whose scholars converted Tibet and the vast plains of the centre of Asia, was itself destined to return firmly to the fold of Shaivism by the start of the sixth century. It is another matter that the king whose name is synonymous with the restoration is also a symbol of terror: Mihirakula, the Hun.

The white Nuns who had dislodged the Yu-echi Kushans from northwest China did not end their migration there. One branch went towards Europe where its name was soon to strike dread as the tribe of Attila who ravaged both tribal and civilized Europe. Another branch turned south from the Oxus. By the last two decades of the fifth century the white Hum had eaten away huge chunks of the western parts of the Gupta empire. Mihirakula’s capital was at Sakala, now Sialkot in Pakistan. He made a name for himself with a string of victories but his expansionist ambitions were punctured by two defeats which destroyed not just him hut also ended the Hun threat in the subcontinent: the first by the ruler of Malwa. Yashodhavarman, and the second by Baladitya, the king of Magadh. Driven out of his land, he sought refuge in Kashmir, where, like the proverbial eat who went on Haj pilgrimage after eating 900 mice, be set himself up as a champion of Lord Shiva. Whatever his other faults, and they were clearly many, Mihirakula was a good judge of social conditions. It was the right cause to take up at the right moment. And such is the power of religion that by the time of his death he had even begun lobe respected for his devotion to Shiva, This was the man who had arbitrarily ordered the massacre of thousands of families on a whim that there was not a woman chaste enough for him among them. This was the man after whom that dangerous precipice on the Pir Panjal Pass, Hastivanj (the destroyer of elephants) is named. (He was crossing the pass when one of the elephants in his train slipped and fell. The shrieks of the terrified elephant so amused Mihirakula that he ordered a hundred more elephants to be thrown down—all so that he could enjoy those shrieks often-or.) It says something about the ability of tyrants that even such a man, who came only as a refugee to Srinagar, was able to manipulate his way to the throne of Kashmir. Kings best forgotten followed Mihirakula until we come to the Karkota dynasty, beginning with Durlabhavardhana in AD 625. The greatest of this line is Lalitaditya, whose rule of thirty-seven years saw an unprecedented expansion of Kashmiri power to Tibet in the east, Badakhan in the west and Punjab and Kanauj in the south. Pandit Kalhana describes Lalitaditya’s ambition:

For rivers which have set out from their own region the ocean is the limit but nowhere is there a limit for those who are frankly aspiring to be conquerors.

But the keenest ambition cannot expand without a secure base, and that security at home was provided by a policy which is as relevant to the twentieth century as it was in the seventh—a policy which has brought peace and then glory to Kashmir when applied, and caused sorrow and poverty when rejected. The first principle was religious tolerance. The king was a Hindu, but the commander-in-chief of Lalitaditya’s army was a Buddhist, as were many of his ministers. 

Inevitably, in that congenial environment, poetry and the other arts flourished, the Martand temple being an outstanding contribution to Kashmir’s architecture. But this empire fell apart after Lalitaditya’s death during a military expedition to Afghanistan, thanks to self-indulgent successors who quickly squandered Kashmir’s brief tryst with imperialism. There was an occasional flicker of hope, in the form of an intelligent dynast, but one decade of good sense is easily swamped by nine of irresponsibility.

The tenth century saw a rotted polity degenerating with each spasm of ambition, as kings became playthings of powerbrokers or officers with enough loyal (read that to mean regularly paid) soldiers at their call, when they were not victims of their own suicidal vices. It is interesting and educative to run through Kashmir’s history in the hundred years of the tenth century.

It opened with the rule of Gopalavarman (AD 902—904). He was still a child, and power rested in the hands of his mother Sugandha and her lover Prahhakardeva, a minister in the court of Gopal ‘s father Samkaravarman In two years, the boy had been killed by his mother and her lover. An alleged son of Samkaravarman was placed on the throne to camouflage the crime. He survived for just ten days. Sugandha seized power for herself. in two years she was deposed by a tribe called the Tantrins, fighting men who had become the latest achievers in this atmosphere of sleaze. They placed their nominee, Partha. on the throne, and for fifteen years the people had to stiffer the ravages of these marauders. A severe famine resulted in AD 918, but the Tantrins and nobles only made fortunes selling hoarded grain at exorbitant prices to the starving. In Al) 921 Partha was finally removed—by his father, Nirjitavarman. (The topsy-turvy nature of events is already dizzying: worse is to follow.) He lasted just two years. Kings kept changing depending on who bribed whom more successfully until AD ‘936, when one claimant, Chakravarman brought in a non-Kashmiri ally, the Damara king, Samgrama, and captured power. For the people nothing changed: the exploitation of the Tantrins was merely replaced by that of the Damaras.

Chakravarman fell in love with two sisters, Hamsi and Nagalata from the low caste of Dom, and spent his remaining energies on them rather than governing the state. He was killed by his mentors one night in AD 937 while in the arms of Hamsi. His successor, Unmattavanti specialized in vulgarity and debauchery and quickly became known as the “mad king”. Given the fact that his predecessors had not beef) particularly sane, his excesses must have been something to behold. He starved his Imprisoned brothers to death and had his father murdered. Just before lie died of consumption in AD 939 he placed on the throne a child his concubines had picked up from the streets and declared hilt) to be his son and heir. Unmattavanti seems straight our of a sadistic black comedy,such an heir could hardly last. The army marched on the palace, and its chief laid claim to the throne himself The problem of course was of legitimacy, He assembled a group of Brahmins to declare him king: in a decision not without its share of humour, they neatly sidestepped the man who had summoned them and chose one of their own, a poor Brahmin youth called Yasaskara who had left Kashmir some years ago but had returned enriched with an education. His nine years of power were an outstanding contrast to all that had gone before: plundering officials were brought under control, and there was such a sense of security that shops could be left open at night; trade and agriculture prospered. But even he could not change the culture of the court. The most powerful woman in his palace was not his wife but his mistress, Lalla, whose favours were no’ confined to the king. The queen returned the compliment. When Yasaskara lay on his deathbed after a fatal attack of illness. He placed his cousin Varnata on the throne instead 0f his son Samgramadeva since he was convinced Pie latter was a product of adultery.

Varnata lasted for about. twenty-four hours, short even by the volatile standards of the times. Samgramadeva was remade heir when an angry Yasaskara discovered that Varnata did not. have the decency to come U) his bedside to thank him after becoming king. But greater indignities were in store for the dying man: his ministers and relatives snatched away the 2,500 gold pieces on his person in front of his helpless eyes as he lay rolling in his final agony.

Samgramadeva did not last even a year; he was dethroned and killed by the usurper Parvagupta, who died of leproSY after a year-and-half of unmitigated oppression. 14 is son Kshemagupta, who lasted for eight years (AD 950—958), was a drunk, a gambler and a debauch The only memorable thing he really did was to marry Didda. the daughter of the chief of Lohara. Didda was a remarkably amoral woman who was to control the affairs of Kashmir for a long while: First through her useless husband, then through her minor child, and finally directly. Her lusts became famous, whether for the bed or for power. She showed no hesitation whatsoever in killing her young grandsons after her son’s death , and ruled directly between AD 981 and 1003 with the comforting help of her lover,a former buffalo herdsman named Tunga. (In spite of all the rigid casteism, it seems that fairy tale social mobility was still possible) However, Didda did manage to impose some stability in a state riven by misrule; she had that. most sublime of virtues in polities, the ability to survive.

But the rather sordid story of these hundred years proves that the Hindu, dynasties had rotted to the point of decay. and were it not for those eternal protectors, the mountains, Kashmir would have fallen to the virile kingdoms all mound it. The Muslim incursions into the subcontinent had begun by the turn of the century, pioneered by Mahmud of Ghazni, son of Sabuktaqin and one of the great figures of the era. Mahmud headed towards Kashmir twice, once in I015 and a second time in I02I,, both times through the Tosamaidan Pass On both occasions the formidable Mahmud was checked at the Hill fort of Lohkot on the southern slopes of the Pir Panjal range by that well-known strategist and humbler of the mighty, General Winter. Alberuni. who was present during one siege, reports: After a while, when (lie snow began to fall and the season became intensely cold. the enemy received reinforcements from Kashmir.

And the sultan returned to Ghazni. Alter the death Didda, the succession passed to her side of the family, the Loharas, naturally as a consequence of her design. But though her succeessors displayed longevity, sense still eluded the kings of Kashmir. Sangramarga ruled till 1028; his heir Hariraja for only twenty-eight days-he was killed by his mother, Srilekha who modelled herself after Didda. But the nobles prevented another spell of licence, and her younger son Ananta was given (lie crown. lie sat on the throne till 1063. but it cannot be said that he kept his crown on his head all that time. At one point. Ananta, an addict of pan pawned his crown to a betel merchant. Padmaraja-a most telling illustration of the state of affairs, or, perhaps more accurately. of the affairs of state.

The best of K ashmir's kings in the eleventh century. Harsha (1089—-1101) was a Jekyll and—Hyde character, alternating between wisdom, and depravity. Inevitably, the second won the final battle for the control of the king’s mind. The strikingly handsome king whose personally composed songs became immensely popular and whose reputation was built around enforcement of justice and encouragement of the arts (he introduced Carnatic music to Kashmir), soon became a victim of his vices. A liberal he allowed Turko-Afghan influences to fashion not only the behaviour of his court but also introduced their military science into his army by kiting ‘lurk officers. But each innovation escalated into wanton excess. And as the cost of the king’s and the nobility’s pleasures rose, so did (he taxes Kalhana (whose father served Harsha) notes that "even nighsoil became the object of special taxation.” Ruinously expensive, politically foolish military expeditions; defeat in battle; reckless looting (including of temples); maladministration; and ten flood followed by famine--it was downhill all the way His personal habits were hardly worth emulating: the import of expensive Turkish slave girls was only a part of the problem. He seemed a trifle indiscriminate in his sleeping habits, including his sisters, aunts and father's concubines in his pleasures. He died in a popular revolt which ended his colourful reign in 1101.

A Kashmir in this condition could hardly have escaped the attention of the Sultans of Delhi in either this century or the next Were it not for the armour of rock around the Valley, and the preoccupation of the Sultans with territories to the south of them. Even Alauddin Khilji (1296--1316y. whose armies penetrated up to Rameshwaram, left Kashmir alone, But the Mongols were not so generous. Both Changez Khan (1162- 1227) and Halaku Khan had slated Kashmir for conquest in theft plans. It was however left to another Mongol to take the fury of this particular ill-wind to the Valley. Suddenly, in 1320, Kashmir was routed out of its self-defeating, corrupt complacence by the savagery of 17,000 horse and foot. racing swiftly across the Baramulla Pass under the command of a Mongol whose name still haunts memory, Dulacha. Moreover he chose his weather well: early summer.

Kashmir was ruled at the time by Sahadeva, who in addition to the familiar traits of dissipation and neglect had cowardice as an additional individual hallmark. He first sought to bribe Dulacha, but the Mongol was not interested in tokenism when he had a defenceless Valley at his mercy. Sahadeva simply abandoned his people and escaped to Kishtwar. For eight months the Mongols vandalized the grain, the cattle, the gold, and of course the women. Pandit Jonaraja, whose chronicle takes our knowledge beyond Kalhana’s work, describes the land after Dulacha’s appetites were finally satiated:

When Dulacha had left the place, those people of Kashmir who had escaped capture issued out of their strongholds. as mice do out of their holes. When the violence caused by the Rakshasa (Demon) Dulacha ceased, the son found not his father, nor did brother meet his brother. Kashmir became almost like a region before the creation, a vast field with men without food and full of grass.

Kashmir had been forsaken by its kings, hut its gods had not forgotten it yet. Dulacha came at the right time; he left his departure a little lair greed delayed him. And he met his nemesis at the Banihal Pass, where fierce blizzard trapped his whole army leaving no survivors. Kashmir’s winter would not be as easily defeated as its kings.

But those eight months of unspeakable savagery were the final blow The people refused to accept the old order again. They felt crushed an betrayed, and when Sahadeva returned after Dulacha’s departure he found a deep and unforgiving anger.

Kashmir awaited a man who could be king.


"Fratelli di Sangue"
Italian Translated version of Blood Brothers

Fratelli di Sangue
Published by Neri Pozza

The Launch event was attended by M J Akbar, (the author), the chairman of the Group-Gmc Adnkronos Knights of Labour and Joseph Marra, and the Deputy chairman Of the Italy-India Sandro Gozi, the president of 'Ducati Energy' Guidalberto Guidi, the chairman of Piaggio Group Roberto Colaninno and The entrepreneur Maurizio Romiti.

Fratelli di Sangue
Published by Neri Pozza

SBN 978-88-545-0186-7
Pagine 352 Pages 352
Euro 18,50 Euro 18.50
Collana: Le tavole d'oro Series: The tables gold

Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers  by M J Akbar
(Last Published 2006)

Blood Brothers | MJ Books & BB Reviews

My grandfather died while I was playing on his chest, that was my first stroke of luck. My elder aunt, dark, wise, hunched against her corner of the courtyard, promptly declared that his soul, seething with miracles, had passed into me.


TinderBox: The Past and Future of Pakistan
by M.J. Akbar



Tuesday, 11 January, 2011

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