Saraswat Brahmins of Kashmir

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Saraswat Brahmins of Kashmir
Saraswat Brahmins of Kashmir
The origin of the vale of Kashmir, according to popular legend, was a vast mountain lake called Satisar, the lake of Sati, and geologists confirm this. There is a tradition that its drainer was an ascetic, named Kashyapa, hence the reclaimed land was called Kashyapmar which later became Kashmir. The mountains which surround Kashmir are varied in form and color. Kashmir is renowned for its lakes, rivers, and abundant flora and fauna.

According to Kalhana’s Rajtarangini, the oldest Sanskrit chronicle, after the Valley was drained out, Brahmins were brought there by Kashyapa Rishi who were philosophers engrossed in the pursuit of knowledge and practicing the lives of purity. These Brahmins, popularly called Kashmiri Pandits, form a distinct class of their own and were considered to be the perfect specimens of the ancient Vedic settlers in the Valley.

Areawise, Jammu, and Kashmir is the second largest state in the Republic of India. Its original area of 222,713 sq. kilometers has now been reduced to 138,992 sq. kilometers only, after the cease-fire in 1949 following Pakistani aggression in 1948, and 78,993 sq. kilometers are under illegal occupation of Pakistan. During China's aggression in 1962, it forcibly occupied 37,555 sq. kilometers in the Ladakh division of the State, Pakistan gifted 5,180 sq. kilometers of the State’s territory under its illegal occupation of China. Kashmir commands strategic importance touching on North-East, Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan.

Saraswat Brahmins

Kashmiri Pandits are offsprings of Rishis and belong to the highest order of Brahmins, the Saraswats, are highly educated and almost a hundred percent are literate. The Saraswat Brahmins are mentioned in the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata, and even the Bhavisyttata Purana. They are descendants of great sage Saraswat Muni who lived on the bank of the river Saraswati. There are many versions of the origin of this great, by now extinct river Saraswati. Rajtarangini, which is the complete record of Kashmir history, is recorded in the Chapter “The Shrine of Sharada” as under: “The temple of Sharda rises in a prominent and commanding position above the right bank of the Madhumati on the terrace-like foot of a spur which descends from a high pine-clad mountain to the east. Immediately below this terrace to the North West is the spot where the waters of the Madhumati and the Kishenganga mingle. There, on a small sandy beach, the pilgrims perform Sharadas to their ancestors. From the height of the staircase, which - forms the approach of the temple from the West, an extensive view opens. To the South East, the Valley of the Madhumati is seen narrowing gradually into a George between precipitous spurs through which passes the direct route. Kashmir via Kroras. In the North-East from where the Kishenganga issues, successive ranges of barren steep mountains with snowy peaks behind them seem to close all passages. To the north, a narrow chasm in the rocks marks the debauchery of the Sangam river, the Kankatotri of the map, which flows from the mountains towards Cilos and falls into the Kishenganga a short distance above the Madhumaii. The Saraswati of Kalhana’s description is still known by that name to local traditions.”

Sharda Temple

In ancient times in Kashmir, there existed a great temple called Saraswat temple. In the temple premises there existed one of the best manuscripts on Saraswats and their way of living. According to Prof. Bhuller, the manuscripts of Kashmir were found in this Saraswat temple. This temple is situated on the bank of Kishenganga in the North West of Kashmir. This statement was made by Jain scholar Hema Chandra, (AD 1088-1172) in PRABHAVAKACARITA.

This ancient Tirtha, though once evidently one of the most important temples of Kashmir and famous far beyond its limits has in recent times become almost unknown to Kashmiri Pandits as it falls in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). According to Rajtarangini, Lalita Ditya Muktapida in 7th Century marched ‘towards seven Konkans. According to Mr. H.H. Wilsom in his book “Hindu History of Kashmir”, seven Konkans are spread on Malabar coast - Kerala, Telangana, Govarashtra (Goa), Konkan proper, Kerataha, Varalatta and Vevrvera. We have a strong belief that large number of Saraswats had settled down in the Malabar Coast thereafter as they found the land more fertile and atmosphere akin so that they could live there and be prosperous.

In the light of recent investigation and research in history, Kashmiris played a vital role in the development of the intellectual, moral, religious, spiritual, and social life of India as a whole. The works of Utpala and Abhinavgupta are treasures of Indian philosophy. Charka and Koka are indispensable for the study of their historical excellence.

Kashmiri Language

The Kashmiri language belongs to the Indo family of languages. It has its origin in Vedic, Sanskrit itself. During the Muslim period in Kashmir, Persian and Urdu words and phrases have also been assimilated into the language. Kashmiri scholars have also contributed to poetry, and aesthetics as also to other branches of learning. Although research into the origin of Kashmiri language is yet to be undertaken in all its seriousness, yet one finds traces of its origin in a Sanskrit work called Setubandh, written by King Pravar Sen. From the 8th to 13th century, there is no record of the development of the Kashmiri language and the first monumental book in Kashmiri which comes handy is the Mahayana Prakash of Shitikanth. It is written in the Vakh form which was further enriched by the great Lalla Yogeswari in the 14th century.

Philosophic Traditions

It is a known fact that both Shaivagams and Vaishnavagams originated from Kashmir. The rich Shiva Shaktha and Tantra the tradition of Kashmir is still in vogue in the form of religious practices and rituals performed by Kashmiri Brahmins. Although Kashmiri scholars have given a rich monastic Trika philosophy called Kashmiri Shaiva Darshan, in respect of religious practices and rituals Kashmiri Pandits have always followed the Vedic prescriptions.

The history of the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins serves to demonstrate how their religious and cultural views developed into the present century. Starting from the Valley of Kashmir, the ancestors of the Bhanaps migrated to all parts of India. However, these people differentiate themselves from the rest of the Saraswat Brahmins in that they identify their caste with Goddess Saraswati, who has been mentioned in the Vedas as the Goddess of Learning. However, the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins residing on the Western coast of India (primarily in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka) are thought to have descended from these Kashmiri Brahmins. Substantial evidence has been set forth by several historians who maintain that the Kashmiri Brahmins migrated to Goa by the eleventh century AD.

Ancestry of Saraswat Brahmins

To trace the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin ancestry, from Kashmir to Goa, one must begin with the story of the famous seer, Saraswata. When there was a famine in Northern India, he continued to recite the Vedic texts by consuming the fish that Goddess Saraswati had given to him. The Brahmins of later generations who accepted fish as a part of their diet were often known to have referred to his story to justify their full-fledged status as Brahmins despite their consuming fish. Since the consuming of fish was also prevalent in the culture of many Bengali Brahmins and because of the apparent similarities between the languages of the two groups, many Gaud Saraswat Brahmin scholars maintained some of their religious views while modifying others. In the year 1708, a small group of these migrants had established their own unique caste and preserved the Guruparampara. The teaching of the Gurus and their dedication to the devotees strengthen the unity of the caste members which has survived till the present day.

Kashmiri Saraswats Now

The Saraswats of Kashmir, with a glorious history of thousands of years at their back, have been at the receiving end now for over six and a half centuries. Their decline in Kashmir began in 1339 A.D. when a Muslim courtier in the court of the last Hindu King of Kashmir, usurped the throne treacherously. The full impact of the treachery became visible with the advent of Sultan Sikander Butshikan (destroyer of idols) forty years later. The full fury of fanaticism was unleashed on the largely peaceful Hindus of Kashmir during the next forty years. This was the time (A.D. 1379-1420) when most of the Saraswats of Kashmir were either killed or had to flee from their millennia-old homeland for the plains and coastal areas of India, mostly the western coast. This was the time when some of these Saraswats from the hamlet of Mangalore to the west of Kashmir, in the foothills of the now internationally known tourist resort of Tangamarg-Gulmarag, migrated to the Konkan coast and perpetrated the memory of their own hamlet in Kashmir by naming their new abode as Mangalore.

Distinct History and Culture

As stated earlier, Saraswats of Kashmir, the Rishi bhoomi of yore, have had a distinguished history and rich culture that produced a renowned historian of great calibre, Kalhana Pandit of the Rajatarangini fame. Apart from this, the Shiv-Shakti cult and the Mahayana Buddhism originated from Kashmir besides a lot of literature on religion, philosophy, history etc. All this in Sanskrit, the mother-tongue of the great Bharatvarsha, the language of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita.

During the Mughal Period

The annexation of Kashmir to the Mughal Empire in 1586 AD ushered in an era of peace for the Saraswats, marred only by the puritanical disposition, bordering on fanaticism, of the last known Moghul emperor, Aurangzeb (1658-1707 AD). Many of his Subedars were under instruction to convert all Kashmir Saraswats to Islam which he had expected to help him to convert the Brahmins of Varanasi leading in turn to conversion of mass of Hindus in Northern India to Islam. This process was thwarted by the supreme sacrifice offered by the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur Ji. All this is recorded history.

The decline of Mughals after Aurangzeb led the Kashmir Saraswats to another calamitous period of about 67 years (1753- 1820 AD) of brutal Afghan rule. This was broken after the Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab annexed Kashmir in 1818 AD. This was followed by a brief Sikh rule followed by Dogra monarchy (1846-1947 AD).

Sikh Dogra Rule :

The 128 year.of rule of Sikhs ‘and Dogras (1819-1947 AD) saw the flowering of Kashmiri Saraswats both in Kashmir and in other parts of India. The Saraswats in Kashmir took to modern education in English and produced brilliant administrators, educationists, doctors, engineers, advocates, judges and the like. The euphoria thus generated made them ignore business and industry. They also participated in the freedom struggle in India against British rule and in Kashmir against the autocratic dispensation of the day, through the ruler there was not an alien. As night follows the day and darkness the sunshine, the 128 year calm in Kashmir and in the lives of Kashmir Saraswats was shattered by the partition of India in 1947 on the basis of obnoxious two-nation theory. This played havoc with the Saraswats in Kashmir. From 1947 onwards they were treated as Hindus, rather than Kashmiris, who had contributed generously to the development of Kashmir on modern lines in all walks of life.

Post-1947 turmoil

Thus began another turmoil in their lives. To begin with, they were divested of their landed properties in the name of so- called “land to the tiller” policy and deprived of other opportunities to grow along with their Muslim compatriots. The democratic rule in Kashmir ushered in Kashmir in 1947 was steadily transformed into Muslim rule with no consideration forkthe minority. Asa result of these machinations and manipulations, thousands of Kashmiri Saraswats had to migrate once again to the plains of India for employment and sustenance. Their population percentage in Kashmir started going down from 15% in 1947, reaching a low of 5% in 1981. In the meanwhile they had started to switch over to business, industry and tourism etc., apart from public employment where opportunities for them were fast dwindling.

The Muslims in Kashmir are the ruling elite of the State. They dominate its entire economic organisation and enjoy communal precedence in all social forums. Islam is virtually the Official religion of the State. Whereas the Muslims constitute a little more than half the population of the state, they possess three- fourths share in legislative bodies, administrative organisations and all the local Government institutions. In the Kashmir province, the Hindus have no elected representation in the State legislature, nor do they have any such representation in the local bodies. They constitute less than five per cent of the administrative services of the State and have less than one per cent share in the higher cadres of the State administration. Muslims monopolise 94 per cent of the State services in Kashmir. The Hindus of Kashmir province have absolutely no share in the decision-making bodies of the State Government, which have always been constituted by the Muslims of the Kashmir Province. More than 90 per cent of the admissions to professional, technical and other educational institutions are reserved for Muslims in one form or the other, purely on communal basis. The Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities share a bare 8 per cent of the educational facilities that the State provides.

The Muslims own and control the entire economic and industrial structure of the Kashmir Province. They own 96 per cent of the agricultural land, orchards and other urban landed estates. They enjoy a monopoly over the entire industrial organisation, trade, commerce, financial resources and exports of the province of Kashmir. They have complete monopoly in trading in fruits, carpets, shawls, wood-work, woollens, silk etc. The Hindus in Kashmir have never been allowed to have any share in the tourist industry, the transport organisation, concessionaire contracts for the construction of the State property, roads and buildings and the licenses for imports and exports which the State Government has been lavishly distributing among the Muslims.

Quit Kashmir Call for the Saraswats

The Kashmiri Saraswats awakened to a devastating call to quit Kashmir “without their womenfolk” late in the evening on January 19, 1990. The call came through loudspeakers blaring threats to “Kafirs” to quit or perish, from mosques throughout the Valley. Then a hell, reminiscent of the horrendous rule of Sikander ‘Butshikan’ was let loose against the Saraswats. Killing, burning, looting became the order of the day. As a result, about 400,000 of them migrated from the Valley reducing their presence in Kashmir to mere 0.1% per cent of its total population. Even this 0.1 per cent is not safe. Twenty-three of them, including infants, were murdered in cold blood on the eve of Republic Day, 1998 at Wondhama Village in Srinagar district. The rest may be killed in time to come or converted to Islam. Nobody knows. Till
date nearly 2,500 members of this Kashmiri Pandit community have been brutally murdered and more than 400,000 forced out from the valley during the last decade. More than 10,000 displaced persons have died due to hostile environs and physical and psychological disorders. 212 temples and more than 24,000 houses belonging to Kashmiri Pandits, hundreds of their business establishments, educational, cultural and religious institutions have been destroyed with the object of decimating all traces of the 6000 year old civilisation of this indigenous community.

Presently, approximately 2.5 lakh Saraswats of Kashmir are putting up in camps and shovels in Jammu Division of the State, with another large concentration of about 2.5 lakhs in and around Delhi. The rest of the over seven lakh strong communities (post 1941 when they constituted 15 percent of the Valley’s population) are scattered throughout India and abroad. The community is desperately trying to protect is cultural and civilizational heritage even after the exile. Education has been our first priority.  How long and how effectively this heritage can be protected, outside our birthplace, is a matter of conjecture.

  In this dark and depressing scenario, it is encouraging to see the Saraswats in India and elsewhere in the world holding out to us their hands of affection and friendship. Let us blossom together henceforth.

May mother Saraswati bless us all, open up new vistas for our development, spiritually and materially, and enable us to serve our motherland, our Bharatvarsha, to the best of our abilities and capacities: Let us not forget our roots, we should pledge to return to our sacred Janma Bhoomi Kashmir. (full-width)

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