translated by K. N. Pandit
There is considerable evidence available that indicates the onset of stagnation and consequent degeneration of Kashmir society by the beginning of the tenth century (A.D.). It was becoming more and more difficult to throw up and sustain a strong central authority for the whole of Kashmir Valley. This led to a long period of intensive wars among Damaras and the contemporary central authority.
Professor D. D. Kosambi, using a scientific methodology for his investigations, has been able to provide us profound insights in the appearance of this phenomena. We quote "The need to import trade goods, particularly salt and metal, difficult transport, lowering of grain prices with great increase in village settlements due to extensive water-works, meant concentration of wealth in a few hands for each small group of villages (emphasis added). A Kashmiri village could not be as nearly self-sufficient as one in India for the rigours and more varied climate made it impossible to do without wool, which had to be produced for exchange against cereals as a commodity .... In Kashmir the man who had the surplus acquired more wealth by trade, took to arms, and turned into a Damara.........The conflict between King and Damara, feudal baron and central power, led ultimately to a Kashmirian Hindu king plundering temple property and melting down the images for profit, without change of religion or theological excuses, simply to maintain the army and a costly state apparatus. Because this could not continue forever, we have the ultimate victory of feudalism, and weakening of the central power .......To pay for its essential import (salt and metal) Kashmir had an ideal commodity in 'saffron' (Crocus Sativas), relatively higher priced, but still in great demand, and easy to transport over a mountain to a large market, and without serious competition .... Without the Crocus or some equivalent commodity, the internal history of Kashmir would have been far less turbulent." (The Sardhasatabdhi Commemoration Volume, The Asiatic Society of Bombay. 1957, pp. 108-120).
The above analysis refers to a much earlier period than the one dealt with in detail in Baharistan-i-Shahi. Nevertheless some useful clues may be found here to the otherwise seemingly senseless quarrels and conflicts of this period, prior to the Mughal takeover in A.D. 1587.
Disintegration of Kashmir society gathered momentum from the 10th century onwards, through endless conflicts between Damaras and contemporary kings. It was during this period that the new liberating ideas of Islam, and some of its adherents slowly began to penetrate the Valley, and later culminated in the deposition of Kota Rani by Shah Mir in A.D. 1339, ushering in a new epoch in Kashmir history.
In the initial period there was hardly any resistance to the conversions, and little social or cultural strife among the people. There was peaceful existence between the traditional believers and the new converts. Lal Ded symbolizes this period.
One of the beneficial consequences of the spread of the new faith was greater movement and activity on the trade routes to the Western and Central Asia. In particular contact with Persian civilization became quite close, and linguistic barriers were crossed on a broad front. Alongside, favourable opportunities were created now for enterprising and ambitious noblemen and other adventurers from this region to thrive in the beautiful Valley by building a strong social bas for their power and wealth.
All these vital processes have now to be sorted out and critically examined by our new generation of the intelligentsia in the spirit of modern historiography. Meanwhile all the available documents that have escaped destruction, archaeological remains, linguistic and literary evidence, social customs, need to be critically examined by our new generation of historians. This may be regarded as an essential aspect of the great task of building a New Kashmir of our dreams.
There is no doubt that Baharistan-i-Shahi is a valuable historic document which deserves to be widely known, and studied for the first-hand evidence provided by some influential courtier of Yusuf Shah Chak, overthrown and imprisoned by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in A.D. 1587. The anonymous writer appears to have worked on his theme largely during he first two decades of the seventeenth century.
The late Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah frequently asserted that he was the first Kashmiri after Yusuf Shah Chak to go about with his head erect. That underlines the importance of this monarch and his times in the consciousness of many people in the Valley, who still bewail in folk songs his fate after his capture by the Mughals.
Dr. Kashinath Pandit has done his labour of love by working on the original Persian manuscripts, and has produced a faithful English version of the same, so as to make the contents available to a wider audience. He is singularly qualified for this major task. Coming from a Baramulla family with a long tradition of Persian scholarship spread over several generations he got a Master's degree in Persian from the Punjab University, with distinction. At the age of thirty-two he joined the University of Teheran (Iran) for a doctorate in Iranian, and spent three years there. He has produced a biography of Hafiz of Shiraz.
Dr. Pandit has travelled widely in Central Asia, and is well known to the scholars in the Tajik Academy particularly. The diversity and depth of his knowledge of the region is of timely importance to us in the Valley in the context of recent developments. There is no doubt about his present work being an important contribution towards the understanding of our past.
- N. N. Raina June 25, 1989 125 Narsingh Garh, Srinagar, Kashmir.
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