Friday, 22 August 2014

Chronicles without Connecting Threads

The question of Kashmir conflict is largely a question of history, memory and desire. And the tragic part of the tale is that we don’t have scholarly texts that we can call comprehensive histories. Contours and interpretations of almost every important event shaping our recent history is disputed. Before turning to recent events we note certain points regarding our ancient and medieval past as these are to be considered while questioning Kashmir identity.
Our collective loss extends to medieval times as local Tantric cults made sophisticated philosophical and aesthetic systems of magisterial thinkers suspect. Ritualism and decadence into occultism and magic took a heavy toll of Kashmiri Saivia tradition. Buddhism had already been marginalized. Economically too Kashmir needed a boost. It is in this scenario where vacuum was created that providence sent Islam that appropriated the best of indigenous traditions and Kashmir moved forward on almost all fronts.
Rishi movement and Kashmiri mystic poetry provided fresh blood into Kashmiri culture. During Islamic period magnificent progress was made in arts and crafts and then on, Kashmir economy got a  more solid plank. Kashmiri scholars contributed not insignificantly to development of Persian literature. The fact that we produced likes of Yaqoob Sarfi and Ghani Kashmiri shows vibrancy of intellectual and spiritual tradition in post-Islamic period. Even Kashmir Saivism lived in different incarnations not only in Kashmiri Sufi poetry but mystic poetry that appropriated more explicitly Saivite influences.
The fact that Kashmir could produce Lakshman Joo shows how Saivitte tradition could survive in certain sense for centuries. All this shows how problematic is the assertion of radical break supposedly introduced by Islam, a myth perpetuated by many scholars who are little aware of as evidence of rich multi-ethnic multi-religious culture. Seeing relative neglect of philosophy in post-Islamic period as evidence of Islam’s hostility to indigenous tradition is simply blindness.
In the Islamic period intellectual heritage was developed in its own way and Sufi poets appropriated the best of local indigenous traditions. Dense works on Islamic intellectual-spiritual sciences were written and if we note that it is the same tradition that under grids the Saivite, Buddhist and Islamic metaphysics and esotericisms, the argument of any violence to local tradition and forced privileging of any other gets deconstructed because it fails to explain so much and excludes so much that we all see around us the tradition that grounds all religions and proposes certain communalist interpretations.
Any exclusivist interpretation that builds on husk or exoteric content of pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions must be corrected or we have a communalist vandalization project to contend with.
We may broadly divide approaches to Kashmir history into traditionalist religious and modernist rationalist. From Kalhana to Didmeri to Hassan Khuyhami, we have traditional religious – Hindu or Islamic – approach in which one can easily identify prejudices and sympathies of these chroniclers. After Hassan Khuyhami to the present day, we have historians which are modernist rationalist in sensibility though this is not so strong as to justify clubbing them with mainstream secular historians of India or the West.
Though the only great name in historians of medieval India belongs to Kashmir, today we have no less confusing or contradictory accounts than are found elsewhere. And it is unfortunate that our history begins and ends with the Kalhana to be revived rather late and never becoming quite professional and still largely immune or not responsive to major thought currents that have affected history writing elsewhere. So far no approach has been consistently or comprehensively used by historians in the specific case of Kashmir. We have primarily Brahmanical account bequeathed from Kalhana. Muslim scholars too have bequeathed us accounts that can’t be called comprehensive intellectual accounts. Narrating few reigns, lives of saints and related material without helping us to explain clearly the historical order, our current condition and failing to connect to pre-Islamic past is what describes these histories.
Various approaches have been used by isolated individuals – we can identify no schools as such – on certain selected issues in Kashmir history. Our indigenous histories are mostly chronicles without any connecting thread of definable perspective or standpoint of their authors though one can broadly identify some elements of underlying worldview of the author. A good number of works have lately been published that attempt to bridge a few of the gaps and what is needed is a megaproject on History of Kashmir that would take cognizance of these individual attempts and provide encyclopaedic account that would help us better define our past and present.
We have yet to write a comprehensive history of Kashmir’s religious, philosophical, aesthetic, literary thought. We suffer from basic absence of comprehensive review of historical material and therefore the problem of divergent interpretations is far from soluble. We have now some studies focusing on the questions of ethnicity, gender and identity. Most of the recent studies have focused on political dimension of its history. We have far too little material on ancient Kashmir or studies on it to warrant any general comment. Medieval period has been approached from mostly communalist perspectives.
Modern Kashmir is a contested category for political historians. Ambitious attempt of capturing the essence of thousands of years of history are being made. Writing our history is not unconnected with the question of sovereignty we today struggle to articulate.

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