by Jia Lal Kilam

Spread of Islam

SHAHMIR ascended the throne in the year 1343 A. D. and made a promising good start. He paid his first attention to the improvement of agriculture and the lot of the peasantry. The land revenue was reduced to one fifth of the gross produce. Law and order was established with an iron hand and roads were made safe for travel. Lavanyas a Rajput clan which had acquired a lot of power and influence in the prevailing turmoil of the unsettled times, betrayed an amount of restiveness but were soon crushed, and in their stead, Chaks and Magreys, two influential clans, were brought to prominence. By such methods Shahmir strengthened and consolidated his rule. Islam now was the court religion, but the administration continued in the hands of the traditional official class, the Brahmans. With them the change of religion offered no advantages and the retention of the old creed no loss of status, and they continued to follow their old religion. Sanskrit was the official language and the people conducted their writing business in this language.

But a number of Muslim preachers now began to pour into Kashmir from Hamdan, prominent amongst whom were a number of Sayyids, most of whom had left their country for fear of molestation from Timur any time. Some of these Sayyids had come to visit Kashmir even before the establishment of the Muslim rule, notable amongst them being Bulbul Shah, who was responsible for the conversion of Renchana. His original name is said to be Sayyid Abdul Rahman, though some call him Sayyid Sharafuddin or Sharfuddin Sayyid Abdul Rahman Turkistani. This much is certain that he was a Sayyid of Turkistan and was a disciple of Shah Niamat Uilah Wali, a Khalifa of Suhrawardi Tariks (a Sufi sect) He paid his first visit to Kashmir in the reign of Simha Deo (1286-1301), but returned soon. Next time we find him again in Kashmir and this time he effected the conversion of Renchana Shah, re-christened him as Sadar-ud-Din under circumstances that have already been referred to. With the establishment of the Muslim rule other notable Sayyids began to pour into the country. Bulbul Shah was followed by Sayyid Jalalud-Din of Bukhara and Sayyid Taj-ud-Din, the cousin of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani (Shah Hamdan). Sayyid Taj-ud-Din was accompanied by his two disciples Sayyid Masud and Sayyid Yusuf. There also came Sayyid Hussain Simnani the younger brother of Sayyid Tajuddin. It is said that Taj-ud-Din and Sayyid Hussain came to Kashmir under instructions from Sayyid Mir Ali Hamdani to find if the country could give them protection against the attacks of Timur who was suspected of contemplating a wholesale massacre of the whole lot of the Sayyids. Sayyid Mir Ali Hamadani himself came to Kashmir as will be presently seen. It is said that with Sayyid Mir- Ali Hamdani about seven hundred Sayyids came and with his illustrious son three hundred more. They stayed in Kashmir under royal protection and took to the proselytisation of the new faith. - They secured many converts to the new faith Islam having become the court religion it was but natural that some privileged position was guaranted to its votaries. This created repercussions in the Hindu mind, who saw before their very eyes definite deterioration intheir former position. In the reign of Shahab-ud-Din (1360 to 1378 A.D.) the resentment in men's minds took a practical shape. A feeble rising on behalf of the Brahmans was the result. The other castes do not seem to have participated in the rising in any large numbers. The king in order to break the upheaval amongst Hindus turned his attention towards their temples which must have provided a meeting place for them. Hassan the Kashmiri historian says that almost all the temples in Srinagar including the one at Bijbehara were greatly damaged. It seems that the kings of Kashmir had by now become completely Muslimised as a result of their contacts with the Sayyids. They began to feel that consolidation of their rule depended wholly upon extirpation of all traces of opposition, religious or political.

As already stated, the Hindus could not look with any amount of equanimity upon the drastic changes that swept in the body politic of their country. Resentment must have been there. Some stuck to their old religion in spite of many difficulties they had to face, but there were many others who either by conviction or in order to gain royal favour changed their religion. The new converts came to be looked down by their old compatriots as people with no decency or loyalty for their time-honoured values. This created a new struggle between these two classes. In the reign of Sikandar one Suha Bhata who after his conversion took the Islamic name of Saif-ud-Din became the leader of the fresh converts. Besides this he was the king's Chief Minister. Both Sikandar and Saif-ud-Din planned the extirpation of the Hindus and obliteration of all traces of Hinduism from Kashmir. Saif-ud-Din had his own axe to grind but Sikandar wanted thereby to consolidate and strengthen his rule. The methods adopted by Sikandar in this behalf may well be given in the words of Hassan, the Kashmir historian. After having described the great homage which was paid to Mir Mohammed Hamdani, the illustrious son of his great father Mir Ali Hamdani by Sikandar, at whose bidding he constructed a Khanaka (now known as Khanaka-i-Maula), on the site of an old temple called Kalishri, Hassan says "this country possessed from the times of Hindu Rajas many temples which were like the wonders of the world. Their workmanship was so fine and delicate that one found himself bewildered at their sight. Sikandar goaded by feelings of bigotry destroyed them and levelled them with the earth and with their material built many mosques and Khanakas. In the first instance he turned his attention towards the Martand temple built by Ramdeo on Mattan Kareva. For one full year he tried to demolish it but failed. At last in sheer dismay he dug out stones from its base and having stored enough wood in their place set fire to it. The gold gilt paintings on its walls were totally destroyed and the walls surrounding its premises were demolished. Its ruins even now strike wonder in men's minds. At Bijbehara three hundred temples including the famous Vijiveshwara temple which was partially damaged by Shahabud Din were destroyed and with the material of the latter a mosque was built and on its site a Khanaka which is even now known as Vijeshwar Khanaka.'' After having described the destruction of many temples the ruins of which even now bespeak a fully developed architectural grandeur and massiveness, Hassan further on says that "Sikandar meted out greatest oppression to the Hindus. It was notified in the city that if a Hindu does not become a Muslim, he must leave the country or be killed. As a result some of the Hindus fled away and some accepted Islam and many Brahmans consented to be killed and gave their lives. It is said that Sikandar collected by these methods about three khirwars (six maunds) of sacred threads ( from Hindu converts ) and burnt them. Hazrat Amir Kabir who was a witness to all this orgy of brute passion and vandalism at last advised him to desist from the slaughter of Brahmans, and told him to impose Jazia instead of death upon them. All the Hindu books of learning were collected and thrown into Dal lake and were buried beneath stones and earth." Governmental coercion, coupled with brisk proselytising activities indulged in by the Muslim preachers and also the privileged position which the fresh converts secured succeeded in bringing about a mass conversion. Sikandar himself was fired with a zeal to change the character of his rule into a purely Islamic administration and a considerable advance was made in this direction. He fully believed that the danger to the infant State was only from the Hindus. That danger had to be eliminated by any methods. Hence the persecution of the Hindus.

Sikandar in spite of all this had his virtues. He was a great patron of Islamic learning, though he had an equal hatred with the Hindu lore. He introduced many social reforms. He forbade sale and distillation of wines, suttee, gambling, prostitution and even music and remitted many taxes though after having almost finished them, he allowed the remaining Hindus to live only on payment of Jazia.

Sikandar was succeeded by his son Ali Shah who also appointed Saif-ud-Din as his Prime Minister. In his short reign of about six years the persecution of the Hindus continued and even with greater vigour. Ali Shah appears to have been a weakling and an incompetent person in whose reign some outlying districts changed masters. Saif-ud-Din his minister was at one with him for bringing about the annihilation of the Hindu population. Jona Raja in his history gives a graphic description of the plight of the Brahmans in the reign of Ali Shah. Says he: " Suha (Saif-ud-Din) passed the limit by levying fine (Jazia) on the twice born. This evil-minded man forbade ceremonies and processions on the new moon. He became envious that the Brahmans who had become fearless would keep up their caste by going over to foreign countries, he therefore ordered posting of squads on the roads, not to allow passage to any one without a passport. Then as the fisherman torments fish, so this low born man tormented the twice born in this country. The Brahmans burnt themselves in the flaming fire through fear of conversion. Some Brahmans killed themselves by taking poison, some by the rope and others by drowning themselves. Others again by falling from a precipice. The country was contaminated by hatred and the king's favourites could not prevent one in a thousand from committing suicide. A multitude of Brahmans who prided in their caste fled from the country through bye-roads as the main roads were closed. Even as men depart from this world, so did the Brahmans flee to foreign countries, the son leaving his father behind and the father leaving his son. The difficult countries through which they passed, the scanty food, painful illness and the torments of hell during life time removed from the minds of the Brahmans the fears of hell. Oppressed by various calamities such as encounter with the enemy, fear of snakes, fierce heat and scanty food, many Brahmans perished on the way and thus obtained relief. Where was then their bath, their meditation, their austerity and where was then their prayers ?"

The persecution of the Hindus or more particularly of the Brahmans has been borne testimony- to by almost all the Muslim historians. Hassan and Fauq, two great Muslim historians, have condemned - these excesses in unscathing terms. But it cannot be denied that the struggle had both an economic and political background, though it took the form of religious persecution. As already stated, a number of Sayyids came over to Kashmir. They had the blessings and leadership of Amir Kabir Shah Hamdan (Mir Ali Hamdani) and his illustrious son Mir Mohammed, who had vey great influence with the then Muslim rulers, Qutub-ud-Din and Sikandar. The Sayyids achieved great influence and the prominent amongst them established dropaganda centres where meals were distributed free and people were initiated into the cult of Islam. It becomes evident that a Muslim Brahman class (Sayyids) came into existence as against the Hindu Brahman class. The Sayyids now performed the duties which were more or less performed once by the Brahmans. The income which once went to the Brahmans, went now to the Sayyids and the influence which they once wielded at the royal court came now to be exercised by the Sayyids. A struggle was inevitable. The Sayyid saw a potential danger in the Brahman in whose rehabilitation he saw his own disaster. With the aid and support of the Governmerlt he wrought his distruction. The Sayyids were a source of great strength for the rulers themselves. They became the king's party. They not only made additions to the loyal bands of "faithful" but even kept a refractory populace under check by preaching that a Muslim ruler partook of the halo of divinity. But the Brahman with a pertinacity seldom witnessed at any other place stuck to his gun. Unmindful of the gains that would have accrued to him by change of religion, and destitute, forlorn, hunted and homeless though he became as a result of his refusal to change his faith, the Brahman did not lose courage. Some of them were forcibly converted, some fled from the country, many more committed suicide, and those that remained in the country went about in disguise from place to place. Though, as we have already seen, Sikandar tried to destroy the whole of their literature, yet he failed very miserably. These Brahmans lost their temples, their homes, their kith and kin, their means of livelihood, but they minded it not. On the contrary, even in their miserable plight they did not forget their rich treasures which linked them with their past. They felt that they were the custodians of their past cultural heritage - the illuminating treatises on the stupendous Shaiva philosophy, and other great works on literature, art, music, grammar, and medicine - works which have exited the wonder of an admiring world; and wherever they went they carried these treasures with themselves. Judging from the depth of thought displayed in these works that have been preserved their high literary merit, their insight into the depth of human nature, their poetical flights, their emotional fervour coupled with an incisive logical treatment of the subjects dealt with in them, one can easily imagine the colossal loss to which the world has been subjected to by the acts of vandalism which resulted in the destruction of hundreds of other works which contained the labours of more than two thousand years. The tradition is that rone but eleven houses of Brahmans were saved, the rest having been killed or committed suicide, or went about in disguise or left the country for good.

But all traces of life were not extinct in the Brahmans. In the closing years of Ali Shah's reign the Brahmans began to come out of their hiding. On the advice of Mir Mohammed the king allowed them to live on payment of Jazia. Those who could pay were given a respite and under the leadership of one Ratanakara who somehow or other ingratiated himself into the favours of Saif-ud-Din, the Chief Minister, they started to organize themselves, But the other side looked with great disfavour upon the Brahmans trying to rehabilitate themselves and upon the advice of a Muslim divine who is named in the Hindu chronicles as "Malan-ud-Din" this Ratnakara was imprisoned and the Brahmans again went back to wilderness.

The reign of Ali Shah covers a brief span of six years. But during these short years lawlessness was the order of the day. The, edifice built by Shah Mir was tottering. Some of the outlying districts ceased to have allegiance to the central authority. Trade dwindled and the time-honoured industries which had won a name for Kashmir were in a state of decay. Thousands of people were uprooted. They went from place to place spreading disaffection and resentment. But a change for the better was soon to be witnessed.

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