The History of Kashmiri Pandits


The Pandit Reborn- By Jia Lal Kilam

ALI SHAH could not maintain himself long on the throne. He had struck no deep roots in the people. The bulk of the people were subjected to a forcible conversion, and though later on they reconciled themselves to the inevitable, yet for the time being the wound was fresh and the resentment alive. There were many others who, though not converted dragged their miserable existence either by paying Jazia or by passing their days in disguise. The result was a universal discontent, Whether stung by a remorse for his own misdeeds or for the mere love of travel Ali Shah planned a pilgrimage to the holy places of Islam, but on reaching Jammu he changed his mind on the advice of the king of that place and he returned back to Kashmir with a considerable force supplied to him by the latter. He had appointed his younger brother Shahi Khan to act on his behalf in his absence. Shahi Khan came out to meet him, but was defeated by the superior forces of Ali Shah. Ali Shah again ascended the throne, but was soon defeated by Shahi Khan, who mounted the throne now and took the title of Zainulabdin. That Shahi Khan would have won an easy victory shows that Ali Shah, the rightful sovereign had lost the confidence of the people.

Shahi Khan now known as Zainulabdin opened a new chapter in the annals of Muslim Kashmir. From tenth century onwards and even earlier the Muslims, particularly the Arabs, had almost monopolized the trade in the East. Arab ships went as far as China and Japan. In the fourteenth century these traders had established their colonies in South India, Ceylon, Java, Sumatra, and even in China. Their contacts with races and religions other than their own had widened their outlook. The enormous gains which they reaped from trade abroad made them keep their countries open for non-Muslim traders too. Fresh ideas poured into the Muslim lands. With the free flow of ideas which now broke through the iron ring of strict isolation, it was but natural that the Governments too in most Muslim countries became very tolerant. Poets and philosophers with a radical outlook came into being and inspite of the rigidity of the Muslim Code there came about a revolution in men’s minds. Kashmir also shared the spirit of the age. In the reign of Zainulabdin trade and commerce flourished. Kashmiri traders went as far away as Turkey and with them came new ideas and many learned men. Zainulabdin with his receptive mind fully partook of this new spirit and became very tolerant. He turned his attention to the establishment of real peace in the country. He dealt with lawless elements with an iron hand, and strengthened the defences of the frontiers. This gave a great deal of encouragement to trade, and with the establishment of safe communications learned people and traders and industrialists from all over Asia began coming over to the country. Many industries were started and above all agriculture was made a special concern of the State. Gigantic irrigation schemes were undertaken and completed which exist to the present day. Where ever one may go in Kashmir, he will, in spite of the efflux of five centuries, come across with the name of this king. Zainagir Zainapur, Zainadub, Zaina Lank, Zaina Ganga and Zaina Kadal bear eloquent testimony to the great and glorious rule of this King.

It has already been noticed that the Hindu population was totally uprooted. An overwhelming majority of the people was converted forcibly, though many there were who accepted the new creed with their free will. A good number of Brahmans had left the country and many more were passing their days in ignominy and wretchedness only on payment of Jazia. But they could not openly declare themselves as Hindus nor couId they affix their Hindu mark on their foreheads, much less could they pray in their temples or perform any religious ceremony. But with Zainulabdin coming to power the Brahmans got a respite. Again we find them practising some arts, notably medicine. In this useful art they had achieved from times immemorial a mastery which they had maintained even in spite of the vicissitudes of times through which they had to pass. Their fame began to re-assert itself and in course of time it reached the royal ears as well. Zainulabdin got a poisonous boil which gave him much trouble. The court physicians tried their skill but failed, Jona Raja, the historian says “As flowers are not obtainable in the month of Magha on account of the mischief by snow, even so physicians who knew about poisons could not at that time be found in the country owing to Governmental oppression. The servants of the king at last found out Shri Bhatta who knew the antidotes of poisons and was well-versed in the art of healing, but out of fear he, for a long time delayed to come. When he arrived, the king gave him encouragement and he completely cured the king of the poisonous boil.” The king wanted to make munificent gifts to Shri Bhatta. But the latter refused to accept any. But when pressed hard, he made a request which was to the effect that the Jazia on the Brahmans be remitted, and opportunities be assured to them to develop their mental and moral resources without any let or hinderance. The selflessness displayed by the physician Shri Bhatta had its effect upon the mind of the king. The request was accepted and Jazia was remitted. The Brahman was freed from the position of inferiority to which he was relegated by the previous kings.

Shri Bhatta’s selflessness and the acceptance of his request by the king proved a land-mark in the history of Hinduism in Kashmir. Shri Bhatta’s attitude shows that the will to live as a group by themselves was very predominent amongst the Brahmans which was shared by Shri Bhatta in an equal measure with the whole lot of them. Freed from the shackles of Jazia and other handicaps the Brahmans started their own reorganization and rehabilitation. By now the Persian had become the official language. The desire to share office with others could not be fulfilled without a study of Persian. The Brahmans who were poppularly known as Bhattas took to the study of Persian and in a brief span of a few years they acquired a mastery over this language. But the Sanskrit learning and their religious ceremonies were not forgotten because this was the only distinctive feature to keep them alive as a separate group. There was now practically only one caste, that of the Brahmans which represented Hinduism in Kashmir. From this did now ” Lords Spiritual and Temporal” again take their birth, just as in the past the Lords spiritual and Temporal sprang out of the vis (populace.) The caste was divided further into two sub-castes, the Karkuns and the Bhasha Bhatta or Bhacha Bhat, the former included amongst its fold those who studied Persian and entered Government service and the latter those who studied Bhasha, i.e., Sanskrit and took charge of the religious affairs of the community. But how was the division of labour to be made? It was decided that a daughter’s son of a person should be made a Bhasha Bhatta to administer to the religious needs of his maternal grandfather’s family. The arrangement was simple enough, as it began involving ho loss of status to the Bhaska Bhatta, but in course of time this arrangement became responsible for the creation of two distinct classes with a distinctive culture and mode of life and habits with the result that though there is no legal or religious bar, yet the two classes seldom inter-marry these days. In the beginning the Bhasha Bhattas prided at having been given the exalted position of the custodian of the religion and learning of the country and may be that they were looked at with great esteem and regard by the Karkuns. But for his maintenance the Bhasha Bhatta was dependent upon the Karkuns. In course of time they lost their importance. The rise and fall of the Karkun made a corresponding increase or decrease in Basha Bhatta’s economic position. Gradually the majority of the Bhasha Bhatta’s became like the parts of a soul-less machine destined to perform ceremonies in a mechanical manner in lieu of a pittance they eked out of the munificence of the Karkun, but some of them maintained their highest traditions, and their fame for great learning and culture resounded from one end to the other. But socially, because of their economic dependence upon them, they in course of time came to be looked down by the Karkuns. Thus the Kashmiri Pandit took his birth in his modern shape, though till then the name Kashmiri Pandit was not coined to describe this community which was described as Bhatta. Even now a Kashmiri Pandit at home describes himself as a Bhatta and it is by this name that he is described by others in Kashmir.

Having cured the king and refused to accept a reward, Shri Bhatta rose very high in the official favour. He was made the court physician and Afsar-ul-ataba, the Head of the Medical Department. His influence both with the king and his own people was very great. This influence he utilised in the rehabilitation of his people. The king was all prepared for this. He wanted peace and prosperity. Jona Raja says ” As the lion does not attack other animals in the hermitage of saints, so the Turshkas who were very much alarmed did not now oppress the Brahmans as they had done before. Brilliant as the sun the king bestowed his favours on men of merit (Brahmans) whose very existence had been endangered previously.” The result was that many Brahmans who were forcibly converted during previous times were reconverted without any molestation. Those who had fled away came back in large numbers. The king gave them rent free lands and besides imported a number of Brahmans from Jagannath and Yogis from Kurukhshetra. The Brahmans were free to practise their religion and some temples that were damaged during the previous rule were repaired. Sanskrit books that were destroyed were sent for from India. Many Sanskrit books were translated into Persian and similarly Persian books into Sanskrit. A free kitchen was established for Yogis and other Sanyasis and Pathshalas were established for the propagation of Sanskrit learning. In short no stone was left unturned in giving fullest relief to the Brahmans. No wonder that the Sultan came to be known and is even now known as Bhatta Shah i. e., the king of Bhattas. The Brahmans repaired to the Sultan’s Court with their petty grievances and complaints and like the Hindu kings of old the Sultan listened and redressed them. In Zainpur and Zainagir rent free lands were given to them.

The Brahman, the Pandit or the Bhatta proved a source of great strength to the Sultan. In intellectual field he enriched his court, and in the land assessment work his services were unique. The land settlement records were placed in charge of and prepared by the Brahmans. The village administration was totally in Brahman’s hands and being the only literate man in the village he was a useful member of the village community. This accounts for the existence of Pandits though in very small numbers in villages with a predominant Muslim population in spite of the vicissitudes through which he had to go in course of centuries that rolled by from the time Zainulabdin held sway. With his apptitude for literary pursuits, the Brahmans took to the study of Persian and within a short time acquired a sound and workable knowledge of the language. This made their entry into subordinate services both easy and possible. Jona Raja and Shri Vara, the two Hindu chroniclers, have bestowed unbounded praise upon the Sultan for his open partiality for the Brahmans and their sacred books. A sort of Research Department was established which amongst others performed the task of translating Sanskrit books into Persian and vice versa. This opened the portals of Sanskrit learning to the Muslim savants and the Brahmans themselves learnt Persian and Arabic. Both the communities came to respect the learning of each other. A new culture now began to grow which was the outcome of a synthesis in the mode of thought and way of life followed by the two communities. Saints and sages now appeared who preached oneness of God and brotherhood of his creatures. Common places of worship sprang into existence where both the Brahman and the Sheikh prayed. A common poetry sprang up in Kashmiri language which was sung by both the Hindus and Muslims. The language was beautified further by an admixture of Sanskrit and Persian words used to describe highest ideas pertaining to the mystic faith which all of them shared copiously. In spite of the constant changes which took place on the political horizon after Zainulabdin’s reign there came about little change in the life of the people.

At the top many Kashmiri Brahmans came to prominence. Some of them were in constant attendance on the Sultan whom they described in their writings as Suratrana Shri Jainulavadena. He listened with great pleasure to recitations from Nilmat Purana and other Shastras such as Vashishta Brahama Darshana. Shrivara the historian says, “The king heard me recite the Vashishta Brahma Darshna composed by Valmiki which is known as the way to salvation and when he heard the annotations he was pervaded by a feeling of tranquility. He remembered them even in his dreams.” The influence of these Brahmans was so great that he forbade the killing of fish in cettain tanks and even stopped cow-killing, and also meat eating on some days. No wonder that a Muslim historian deplcres that ” the king imported back all the practices of the infidels which were once vanished from his land.” But the king, unmindful of the Muslim historian, trod his Fath which led to his eternal credit and greatness of the country.

In his reign the country witnessed an unprecedented prosperity. Agriculture reached its highest peak. The produce was as much as it was never witnessed ever since, not even under the glorious rule of the Moghuls. The produce of Shali alone was 774 lacs of Khirwars (154 lacs of maunds). The land settlement including agriculture was in charge of the Brahmans. For these operations the country was divided into two provinces. Each province was placed in charge of a Qanungo whose duty it was to look after the general welfare of irrigation and to prepare settlement records. Madho Kaul, was put in charge of northern province and, Ganesh Kaul in charge of the southern. They both were responsible to an inter- provincial head known as Sadar Qanungo by name Gopala Kaul. Under their supervision huge irrigation schemes were undertaken. L al Kuhl, Shah Kuhl exist even up to this day and feed thousands of acres of land. As was but natural these three Brahmans recruited on subordinate posts of Patwaris and others, men from their own community. The Patwaris prepared village records. This class of Patwaris lives upto this date. Ever since they have been holding these posts in heredity, the son following the father and so on. Sultans came and Sultans went, some of them cruel harsh and oppressive to the Brahmans now known as Pandits, but the Pandit Patwari on account of the usefulness of his job was left unmolested. There were many other Pandits who filled the ministerial ranks or waited upon the king as courtiers. The notable amongst them was Shri Bhatta himself. He was the head of the State physicians and held a ministerial rank. The Sultan was highly kind to him. As already seen, Shri Bhatta was indeed a deserving person. Shri Vara the historian writes that it was due to Shri Bhatta that Brahmans rose high. About him it is stated that

” Shri Bhatta was a Wazir of the king and was very high in his favours. On his death the Sultan not only expressed his great sorrow but settled an early endowment of one crore dinars on his sons.”

A short description of the Pandits who rose high in his reign may not be out of place. Sadasheo Bayu was the royal astronomer, and astrologer and held a very high rank. So did Tilkacharya, a great Budhist scholar. Soma Pandit was a very high dignatory and held a very high and distinguished position at the court and was besides, in charge of the Translation Department. He was greatly gifted for this job on account of his mastery of both Sanskrit and Persian languages. He wrote exquisite poetry in Kashmiri and was well-versed in Persian and Tibetan languages besides Sanskrit. He was the author of a book Jaina Charitra which gives an account of the Sultan’s reign. He was a skilful musician and has written a book on this subject. He translated many Persian books into Sanskrit and besides this, Mahabharata and Raj Taranigni were for the first time translated into Persian under his supervision and direction. He was a great favourite of the king. Sumitra Bhatta was an astrologer of repute who also was in constant attendance at the Court. Rupya Bhatta was another astrologer very much honoured by the king about whom it is recorded that “he could without the labour of calculation, but by merely observing the course of the planets in the past year, know their position in the year to come.” Karpur Bhatta was a physician of renown to avail of whose treatment men from distant lands came to Kashmir. Shree Ramanand renowned scholar of his time wrote an exposition of Mahabhashya. Yodha Bhatta was a great poet in Kashmiri language. He wrote Jaina Prakash and presented it to the king who ” in token of his appreciation bestowed many favours on him.” Bhatta Avatara (or Bhodi Bhatta) as others call him, was a great favourite of the king. He had Committed to memory the whole of the Shah Nama for which the king had a great liking. The duty of Bhatta Avatara was to recite Shah Nama for the delectation of the king. It is said that the king got unbounded pleasure from his recitations. This man was a great musician and has written a treatise on music. Rupya Bhanda was in charge of the palace decorations and Jaya Bhatta maintained the king’s private accounts, and the king’s charities were distributed through him. Jona Raja and Shri Vara were the two historians. The former assisted the Sultan as an assessor in deciding the cases laid before him. Shivara was a great musician who was very much in king’s favour. There were other Pandits also who were given strictly confidential diplomatic missions to execute. In short the Pandits carved for themselves a place in the body politic.

In the foregoing pages we have seen as to how the Pandits again rehabilitated and reorganized themselves. They studied Persian and in a short period of a few years they acquired a mastery over this language and by their useful services they acquired an influence and prestige which put them on par with any favoured class in the realm. It is evidene that the atrocities which were perpetrated on them during the previous rules had not robbed them of their stamina. They possessed it in abundant measure. Those who could not withstand the trials to which time put them changed their faith but those who persisted and went through the ordeal of fire and death came out unseathed and with their stamina undiminished. Zainulabdin breathed his last in the year 1474 A. D.

Though with his passing away the Pandits lost much of their prestige and greatness, yet the structure of society which they had built during his benevolent rule lasted for long and provided them shelter during the vicissitudes that befell them during their chequered career. The vicissitudes they had to go through were many and numerous: vicissitudes that almost brought them to the brink of destruction, but they survived and survive till today

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