The Languages of Kashmir
‘Koshur’ is Kashmiri, the language of Kashmiris called ‘Kaeshir’. Although there are two different views about its origin, yet a dispassionate and scientific analysis will show that it had developed from the language of the Vedas. Thereafter the syntax, vocabulary and idiom of Sanskrit enriched it. During the Pathan and Mughal rule, when Persian became the court language, it adopted a number of Persian words. During the rule of the Sikhs, the language of the Punjab also influenced this language and later, with the adoption of Urdu as the official language by the Dogra rulers, it had to borrow from Urdu language as well as from English. There are references in various chronicles that during the Buddhist period some religious books were written in local Prakrit, which has to be Kashmiri but these books are extinct although their translations are available. The initial glimpse of this language is had from the verses written about the love life of the queen of Raja Jayapeeda during 8th century and in the Sanskrit work, ‘Setu Bandh’of King Praversen, who established Srinagar as the capital of the valley. This language was then referred to as ‘Sarva gochar Bhasha’ or the language of the masses. The Sanskrit writers used to write in this language side by side with Sanskrit. But a systematic literature in Kashmiri starts from ‘Mahanay Prakash’ written in thirteenth century by Shitikanth in the same Vakh form, which was used later by Lal Ded. Kashmiris had evolved a script of their own and this is called Sharada script. It largely follows the pattern of the Devanagari script in the matter of the alphabets and combination of vowel sounds with consonants and appears to have been developed from the old Brahmi script. Unfortunately this script did not get official recognition for obvious reasons and has gone in disuse. It may not be out of place to mention that even Ghulam Mohd. Mehjoor, the eminent poet was in favour of retaining the Sharada script. The official script is based on Persian script with some modifications. Because of a large number of vowel sounds and shades in this language this script hardly meets the requirement. It is time that the alternative script based on Devanagari alphabets, with two or three modifiers is also given recognition. It may be mentioned that such a script is currently used by all the publications and journals issued from Jammu and Delhi. Lately two of the modifiers have been replaced so that the Kashmiri language can be fed into a computer also with ease. The Devanagari script thus evolved will be scientifically accurate and viable from technological point of view also.
Spiritual Literature : Kashmiri language is very rich in literature, particularly in poetry. The prominent forms in which poetry has been written have been taken from Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian and English. From Sanskrit we have adopted Vakh and Shruk or ‘Vakya and Shloka’ as also Vatsun or ‘Vachan’. Hindi has given us Geet and Urdu Ghazal, Qita, Nazm and Rubai. From English we have taken Sonnet and Free verse. Lal Ded and Nunda Rishi of the fourteenth century are two great names who have written mystic and spiritual quatrains. Our poetry starts systematically from Lal Ded whose Vakhs were first translated into Sanskrit by Bhaskaracharya and then into English and many other languages. These Vakhs are dipped in Shaiva philosophy and enjoin upon us to go inwards in order to attain the reality. ‘Gorun dopnam kunuy vatsun, nebra dopnam ander atsun my preceptor advised me in nutshell to go from without to within.’ Nunda Rishi wrote Shruk, which are replete with mysticism. He has praised Lal Ded in these words; ‘Tas Padman Porechi Lale, Yem gale amreth chyev, Shiv Tshorun thali thale, tyuth me var ditam Deevo Lala of Padmanpura drank the nectar and perceived Shiva in everything. O God, give me a similar boon (so that I see the Divine in the similar way).’ These two poets are great names in our spiritual and mystic poetry. Whereas Lal Ded has propounded Jnana and Shaiva philosophy in her Vakhs, Nunda Rishi has put forth the mystic ideology in his Shrukhs. All the Kashmiris hold both in high esteem. During his itinerary, Nunda Rishi reached village Tsrar. He is reported to have spontaneously uttered these words there, rhyming with the name of the place, ‘Tsrar Vola zuva yati prar let me wait here till the last,’ and it is here that he left his mortal frame.
Romantic Literature : While this spiritual writing must have continued as a sub-stream, in the sixteenth century we suddenly see emergence of a new theme in the poetry of Zoon, later known as Habba Khatoon. She has sung songs of love, separation, and ill treatment at the hands of the in laws and other human feelings. The Kashmiri poetry thus came down from the spiritual heights to the mundane human level. Her lament was, ‘Varivyan saet vara chhasno chara kar myon malino ho I am not at peace with my in-laws, would somebody come to my rescue from my father’s side?’ Arnimal further strengthens this human romantic and love poetry in 18th century. Her diction and selection of words and the musical meters used by her are exquisitely beautiful. She had profound knowledge of classical music and is believed to have rearranged the Ragas in use for the ‘Sufiana Kalam’. For the first time she uses what in Sanskrit are called ‘Shabda-alankaras’ or decoration of the words, like alliteration and internal rhyming. An example would show her master craftsmanship. ‘Matshi thap ditsnam nyandri hatsi matsi, matshi matsha-band sanith gom, vanta vyas vony kus kas patsi, vunyub karith gom I was in deep slumber when he caught hold of my wrist. The gold wristband cut into the very flesh of my wrist. Friend! Tell me who is to be trusted in these circumstances. He has left me crust fallen.’ Rupa Bhawani is another great name in the spiritual poetry. Her Vakhs are full of Shaiva philosophy and the language is Sanskritized. She lived a hundred years in 17th century and is regarded as an incarnation of Goddess Sharika. There are a number of anecdotes about her interaction with Muslim Sufi saints. In one such encounter with ‘Shah Qalandar’ it is narrated that the two were on the opposite banks of a river. The Sufi called her, ‘Rupa (literally Silver) come over to my side, I shall make you Son (literally Gold). She replied, ‘Why don’t you come over so that I make you Mokhta (literally a pearl as also emancipated)’.
Persian Influence : By this time the Persian influence had gone deep into our literature. Poets started writing ‘Masnavis’ or long fables in verse. The prominent poet of this period has been Mohmud Gami, who lived during 18th and 19th centuries. The Persian stories adopted by him included those of Laila Majnun, Yusuf Zulaikha, Shirin Farhad, etc. Yusuf Zulaikha, which has been translated in German language, is the most famous of his compositions. He no doubt introduced the Masnavi style but it reached its zenith at the hands of Maqbool Kralawari. This 19th century poet has written a monumental masnavi, ‘Gulrez,’ which has become very popular with the masses. From here onwards three distinct streams of poetry continued to flow unabated, the spiritual-mystic, the devotional and the romantic. There is a long list of Sufi poets, who espoused the cause of purity and piety as also mutual brotherhood between various religious groups. These included Rahman Dar, Shamas Faqir, Sochha Kral, Nyama Sahib and a host of others. Their philosophy was monotheistic and they laid stress on ethical and moral values. Their poetry shows a deep influence of Advaita Philosophy. ‘Ognuy sapan to dognyar travo, pana nishi pan parzanavo lo Trust in oneness and shun duality; try to know thy real self.’ ‘Ognuy soruy dognyar naba, haba yi chhui bahanay Truth is one and there is no duality; all else is a fallacy.’ In the second stream of devotional poets the names of Prakash Ram, Krishna Razdan and Parmanand are prominent. While the first two wrote devotional poems called ‘Leela’ in praise of Shri Rama, the last named was a devout of Shri Krishna. ‘Aaras manz atsaevay, vigne zan natsaevay Let us join the circle of dancers and dance like nymphs in ecstasy for Shri Krishna. Parmanand, who lived in 19th century, has written a memorable long poem wherein he has compared the human actions with tilling of the land right from ploughing up to the time of reaping the harvest. ‘Karma bhumikayi dizi dharmuk bal, santoshi byali bhavi aananda phal your actions are the land where you must put in the fertilizer fo righteousness. Sow the seed of contentment and you will reap the harvest of suprems bliss.’ Prakash Ram wrote the first Ramayana in Kashmiri and captioned it ‘Ram Avtar Tsaryet.’ In the romantic stream of poetry, the next important poet has been Rasul Meer. He has written beautiful love poems in musical meters. His famous poem starts with these words, ‘Rinda posh maal gindne drayi lolo, shubi shabash chani pot tshayi lolo My beloved has come out to play in an ecstatic mood, praise be to her shadow that follows her.’ The description in the next line is noteworthy. ‘Raza hanziyani naaz kyah aenzini gardan, ya lllahi chashmi bad nishi rachhtan, kam kyah gatshi chani baargahi lolo The gracious one has a neck like a swan. God! Save her from evil eye. By that your grace will be no poorer.’ Rasul Meer was the first poet who addressed his poems to a female beloved. The earlier poets had made a male their love, perhaps because they were pointing to the Divine and not the human.
Modern Period : The twentieth century is the period when the Kashmiri language made an all round progress. The three streams that were flowing continued and some new trends also developed. Master Zinda Kaul is a great name among the mystic poets of this period. His book ‘Sumran’ won him the Sahitya Academy award. His suggestive poems are par excellence. A short poem of his reads, ‘Tyamber pyayam me khaermanas, alava hyotun kanzael vanas, taer ti ma laej phaelnas, dil dodum jigar tatyom, krakh vaetsh zi naar ha A spark fell on the haystack, the entire jungle caught fire. It didn’t take long to spread. My heart burnt and the liver heated up shouts came from all sides, fire! Fire! Fire! ‘He has described God in these words : ‘Kaem tam kar tamat bonah pot tshayi doorey dyuthmut, sanyev kanav tee buzmut, saenis dilas tee byuthmut Someday somewhere somebody has seen His shadow from a distance. We have heard it with our ears and our heart is convinced of His existence.’ Ahad Zargar is another important poet of this stream who has written masterly poems on mysticism and spirituality. The immortal poet Mahjoor, who is called Wordsworth of Kashmiri language, has carried the romantic poetry to new heights. He was acclaimed by no less a personality than Rabindranath Tagore. The Hindi poet Devendra Satyarthi, collecting folk songs of different Indian languages was aghast to find that Mehjoor’s poems were being sung by peasants in the fields just like folk songs during his life time. He had this message for his fellow country men : ‘hyund chhu shakar dodh chhu muslim ahli deen, dodh ta shakar milanaeviv pan vaen Hindus are like sugar and Muslims like milk, let us mix the two (to create a harmonious society)’. Another great name of this period is that of Abdul Ahad Azad. He did not live long but left and indelible mark on our literature. He was virtually the harbinger of the progressive poetry in Kashmiri. His long poem ‘Daryav’ or the river is a masterpiece. He had riducled romance in the face of poverty, want and hunger. ‘Madanvaro lagay paeree, ba no zara ashqa bemari.Tse saet gaetsh fursatha aasen, dilas gaetsh farhatha aasen, me gaemets nael naadari, ba no zara ashqa bemari My love! Romance is not my cup of tea. It needs leisure and peace of mind. I have none and I am crestfallen due to my poverty. So no romance for me please.’
After 1947 : Post Independence period is a period of renaissance for an all round development of literature in Kashmiri. Kashmiri poets were influenced by the philosophy of Marx and the progressive literature of other languages, notably that of Urdu. While Allama Iqbal was the ideal for many, Faiz, Jaffri and other Urdu poets were heroes for others and they took a cue from their writings. Whereas most of the mystic poetry was full of obscure and suggestive idiom, the poetry of this new genre of poets was frank and forthright; sometimes sounding like slogans. In response to the Pakistani tribal raid, the writers formed Kashmir Cultural Front in defence of inter-ethnic harmony and as an affront to religious fanaticism. The literature created could not remain unaffected by the political and social uprising. Earlier in 1945 Mirza Arif had started a cultural organisation by the name of ‘Bazme adab’. Many enthusiastic writers got involved with this organization. Mirza Arif himself is a well-known name for his Kashmiri Rubaiyas, which are crisp and meaningful. The prominent poets of this new movement are Dina Nath Nadim, Rehman Rahi and Amin Kamil. Nadim revolutionized the entire face of poetry. He used pure Kashmiri diction, gave statement to the desire and aspiration of the common man and raised his voice strongly in defence of peace. He wrote operas and sonnets for the first time and his poems have been translated into many languages. One of his immortal poems against wars and strife is ‘Mya chham aash pagahaech, pagah sholi duniyah I have full faith in tomorrow for tomorrow will bring new light to the entire world.’ He is the trendsetter of progressive and humanistic poetry in Kashmir. His operas, ‘Bomber ta Yambarzal’ ‘Neeki ta baedi’ etc are the milestones in our literature. Rahi is another Sahitya Academy awardee, whose ‘Nav rozi Saba’ shows the influence of Iqbal very clearly. He has also made a rich contribution to Kashmiri poetry. He sang, ‘Yaer mutsraev taer barnyan, Maer maend phyur mas malryan, vaer zahir vaets aaman ta lolo The benefactor has thrown the doors open and filled wine into the big pitchers; It appears that the common man will get his share now.’ Kamil has written short stories and poetry both. His diction is rustic and meters musical. ‘Khot sorma sranjan tala razan bhav bahar aav The price of the items of make-up for ladies and the ornaments have shot up, it appears the spring has arrived.’ This period produced a galaxy of poets who contributed to the enrichment of our literature. Noor Mohd. Roshan, Arjun Dev Majboor, Ghulam Rasool Santosh, Moti Lal Saqi, Chaman Lal Chaman, Prem Nath Premi, Makhan Lal Bekas, Ghulam Nabi Firaq, Vasudev Reh, Ghulam Nabi Khayal were active within the valley and outside there were B.N. Kaul, Shambu Nath Bhatt Haleem and myself who wrote on a variety of subjects.
Prose writing also got a fillip during this period and continues unabated to date. The master short story writers include Akhtar Mohiuddin, Som Nath Zutshi, Ali Mohd. Lone, Umesh, Bansi Nirdosh, Hriday Kaul Bharati, Deepak Kaul, Hari Krishna Kaul, Santosh and Kamil. They gave statement to the emotions and feelings of the common man and picturized the life of the inhabitants of the valley. Akhtar, Lone, Kamil and Hari Krishna have written novels also and given a lead in this direction. Radio Kashmir and later the Door Darshan Kendra at Srinagar provided an opportunity and thereby played an important role in encouraging these writers. The Academy of Arts and Culture has also been publishing the works of these artists and anthologies, which inspires other young writers to try their pen. Moti Lal Kyomu has been a pioneer in the field of drama and Pushkar Bhan in satirical radio plays. Hari Krishna Kaul is also a successful drama writer. There are a host of other writers whom I have not mentioned for fear of digressing from the central point. My apologies to them since I hold all of them in high esteem and recognize their contribution to the Kashmiri literature. I am trying to make a point that our language is rich in literature. There have been some translations into other languages but it is not enough. Some of the names that come to one’s mind, who have done pioneering work in popularizing Kashmiri literature are Professors Jai Lal Kaul, Nand Lal Talib, T.N. Raina, P.N. Pushp, K.N. Dhar, as also B.N. Parimoo, Moti Lal Saqi and R.K. Rehbar. There is a pressing need for translating the selected works from Kashmiri into other Indian and foreign languages so that the readers and scholars in the entire country will be acquainted with its depth and vastness. Kashmiri is the beloved mother tongue of all the Kashmiris irrespective of their creed or faith. Both the communities, the Hindus and the Muslims have produced poets, writers and artists of repute. It is, however, a pity that the language has not been receiving the official patronage that it deserves.
After the Holocaust. Post 1990 period has been a period of turmoil, which brought shame to the composite culture of the valley. The Hindus had to migrate to Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country to escape the wrath of the foreign provoked and controlled militancy. During the last decade of their exile Kashmiri writers have authored a lot of literature. In this literature there is a lament of losing their hearth and homes, a craving to go back to their roots and pain and anguish at the way in which politics and narrow aggrandizement have cut at the very roots of their rich culture and shattered their proud tradition. The worst casualty has been the mutual trust, relationship and understanding between people of different faiths. My lament in the following verse may not, therefore, be out of place :
“Byeyi vaeth deenaek ta dharmaek fitnai, Byeyi gav byon alfas nish bey.
Gotsh na yi ravun hasil kor yus, Dashi thaev thaev astanan manz.”
(Again we are witnessing conflict and confrontation in the name of religions. Again one is getting separated from the other. I am afraid we may not lose all that we had achieved after offering prayers repeatedly at the shrines and holy places.)
The Task Ahead
Language is not only a means of communication, but it also gives a distinct identity to the people who inherit that. We have inherited this rich language and this gives us a distinct identity as Kashmiris. Our rich culture is treasured in the Vakhs of Lal Ded, writings of Roopa Bhawani, Leelas of Parmananda and Krishna Razdan and our desires and aspirations have got statement in the writings of the galaxy of poets and writers that our comunity has produced. It is in our interests, therefore, to preserve this language, keep it alive by using it and enrich it by new and fresh literature. There is a conscious attempt made by certain quarters of vested interests to distort our heritage and to belittle our rich culture. In the name of research they have been putting forth obnoxious theories linking our past with unknown lands and trying to prove that we had no connection with our motherland, India. Due to narrow religious considerations, communal bias and political reasons alien languages are being given preference over our own mother tongue. Keeping the Kashmiri language and literature intact in its pristine glory is tantamount to preserving Hindu culture, Hindu past of Kashmir and Hindu ancestry of the Kashmiri people. It is, therefore, not in their interests not to protect and preserve the glorious past of this language. But it is very much in our interests to do so and it can be done in three ways.
The first and foremost way is to use Kashmiri in day to day conversation and correspondence with all Kashmiri knowing friends and relatives. Purity of diction need not be enforced, but let us use our mother tongue. For example why not ‘Shokravar’ instead of ‘Jumma,’ ‘Shyun or Neni’ instead of ‘Maaz,’ ‘Siriyi’ instead of ‘Akhtab’ and so on. Likewise on the occasion of marriages and ‘Yoni’ our ladies should invariably sing ‘Vanavun’ in their own style which gives the fragrance of ‘Isbund.’ This vanavun is based on the recitation of the Sama Veda. The second task is to teach our children our language, in the Devanagari script, either at home or collectively by arranging weekly classes at a common place, be it Kashmir Bhawans, local temples or community halls or through a correspondence course. There will be any number of volunteers available to teach youngsters in India and abroad. All that is needed is to defray their travel expenses. This can be done by raising funds at the rate of a paltry sum of Rs. 20 or 30 per month per family in India and a corresponding suitable amount in the foreign countries. One will not be surprised to find donors even for this item of expenditure. There is no dearth of people who are willing to serve the cause of preserving our culture in any form possible. Care has to be taken, however, that there is uniformity in the script used in correspondence and in teaching during these classes. I suggest Devanagari script as adopted by the Koshur Samachar with the changes announced in its July 2000 issue. The third most important action would be for our scholars to be vigilant about the results of the so called ‘research’ being conducted by the ‘well-wishers’ of Kashmiri and rebut all the distortions, falsehood and baseless conclusions. This rebuttal should be based on facts volunteers available to teach youngsters in India and abroad. All that is needed is to defray their travel expenses. This can be done by raising funds at the rate of a paltry sum of Rs. 20 or 30 per month per family in India and a corresponding suitable amount in the foreign countries. One will not be surprised to find donors even for this item of expenditure. There is no dearth of people who are willing to serve the cause of preserving our culture in any form possible. Care has to be taken, however, that there is uniformity in the script used in correspondence and in teaching during these classes. I suggest Devanagari script as adopted by the Koshur Samachar with the changes announced in its July 2000 issue. The third most important action would be for our scholars to be vigilant about the results of the so called ‘research’ being conducted by the ‘well-wishers’ of Kashmiri and rebut all the distortions, falsehood and baseless conclusions. This rebuttal should be based on facts and figures, well reasoned and cogent so that the enlightened readership of Kashmir and outside can draw their own valid conclusions. We cannot afford to allow obnoxious statements like ‘Arnimal never existed’ or ‘Lal Ded was mentally deranged’ or ‘Kashmiri mystic poetry was influenced by Sufis’ etc, go unchallenged. The facts are that Arnimal was a great poetess, who gave shape to the ragas for Sufiana Kalam and wrote beautiful lyrics. Lal Ded was an emancipated Shaiva saint and the ‘Adi Kavitri’ of the Kashmiri language. The Sufis were greatly influenced by non-duelist philosophy of the Kashmir Shaiva Darshan, which is apparent from their compositions. We are aware that many Samitis and Associations and individuals are doing a good job in these areas. Many Kashmiris have adopted Kashmiri language for Invitation and Greeting cards, but this is not enough. There has to be a movement and this work needs to be done with a missionary zeal and in coordination with each other.
By T. N. Dhar ‘Kundan’
[The author is the Editor of “Koshur Samachar”, English Section;
Mailing Address : C 2/2B, Lawrence Road, New Delhi-110035.]