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The Muslim-Era Chroniclers | Abstractions in Kashmir History

12:00 AM May 23, 2024 IST | Moin S. Hakak
the muslim era chroniclers     abstractions in kashmir history

A blessing and a curse is that we are both; the receivers and the transmitters of history. A blessing because history is conferred upon us. Curse because this conferred history was abstracted en route to us. As discussed in the previous articles – “White Man’s Burden” (GK,15-02-2024) and “The Aborigines” (GK, 21-03-2024) – the abstractions in early Kashmiri records were the results of the mythologisation of Kashmir history and the subsequent intellectual pastiche of the European travellers.


However, between these two periods, the medieval chroniclers transmitted an essential history. This transaction occurred within the atmosphere of political, economic, social and religious transformations.


Appropriately, the medieval chroniclers, while documenting the history of Kashmir, conferred upon us beautifully embroidered histories that are commensurate with their savoured cinematic flavour. An analysis of the tomes of Jonaraja (15th century), Mirza Haider Dughlat, Abul Fazl (16th century), Haider Malik Chadoora and the treatise of Baharistan-i-Shahi (17th century) gives us a whiff of how intriguing construction of historical narratives used to be.


The documented history of Jonaraja lacks corroboration from alternate sources from the same period because there are none. Abul Fazl and Dughlat (chroniclers of the Mughal empire) set out to document society during the infancy of Mughal rule in Kashmir. Meanwhile, Baharistan-i-Shahi’s authorship remains shrouded in mystery.


Thus, a perceptive understanding of transmitted records is important to distinguish between their nominal value and their historicity. While Baharistan-i-Shahi traces the source of the river Ganga in Kashmir, Chadoora draws interesting parallels of a Kashmiri protagonist with that of the biblical stories of Prophet Noah’s ark and Prophet Moses’ splitting of the river.


Baharistan honours angels with the task of draining the lake of Satisar, and Chadoora adulates the two jinns of Prophet Solomon – ‘Kashf’ and ‘Mir’ – with the same task. Chadoora further exemplifying his prowess of creative imagination reiterates the stories of King metamorphosing into a snake, ice turning into stone, kings turning invisible, and a few other such fantastic tales. Amplifying these delightful stories, the scribes embellished actual events during the 15th - 17th centuries to the extremity of these important events metamorphosing into mere fables.


Jonaraja found himself in a transition period when the seeds of Islam were sprouting in Kashmir. Consequently, Jonaraja uses a critical lens to analyse the people of this new faith. While drawing comparisons between the varied customs of religious characters, Jonaraja often draws them along contentious lines. This could be sensed by his shock at the knowledge that a man (Shah Mir) of an alien faith became the saviour of the people. However, he prevaricates altogether from talking about


Syed Ali Hamadani or his contemporary Sheikh Noor-Ud-Din, in spite of their immeasurable influence on this ‘alien faith’. Jonaraja specifically enjoys exaggerating the tales of temple desecration with the oft-repeated insinuation of every single temple being destroyed every single time, at every single place in Kashmir. The picture of Sikandar, depicted through the lens of Jonaraja two centuries ago, is masterly recreated by Dughlat and Abul Fazl with an impressive degree of exactitude.

While Dughlat and Fazl write roughly four centuries after Jonaraja, to them, the killing of crores of people for being ‘unchaste’ doesn’t seem to deserve further probing. Surprisingly, what Kalhana, in the 12th century, portrays as history finds identical resonance in Abul Fazl’s writings in the 16th Century. Both the sources criminate the Huna King Mihirkula for killing crores of ‘unchaste’ people and glorify Lalitaditya for overrunning the entire habitable globe.

Baharistan-i-Shahi, on the other hand, features creative narrations that merit special attention and space. The author of this text, who is shrouded in mystery, is presumed to be a Muslim because the ‘tone’ of the book is Muslimised. At first glance, this seems like a self-evident truth. However, the intensity and desperation of the author to assert a Muslim identity in Baharistan open portals questioning this desperation. Who wrote it? Why did he write it? What all has been revealed, and what all has been concealed?

Was the book written with any veiled intent? Was the book written with any political or other aspiration? All these questions will continue to remain shrouded in mystery until they’re not asked and sought objectively. Yet, what can safely be established is that the author's religion does not, in any way, add to the historicity of the book.

Whether these exaggerations and abstractions are the results of euphoric zeal for the glorification of Muslim sultans, or an attempt to exaggerate the tales of aggression, or a genuine attempt to preserve actual history, they cannot be taken at their face value and thus should be thoroughly sanitised before consuming. This becomes even more important when analysing the past from a historical paradigm.

Chadoora, transcending history, transmits fantastic exaggerations such as an earthquake that incessantly lasted for seven days and nights, a king bearing the weight of a log that was being carried by twenty people and a few narrations of massacres that soar above numerical logic. It is hard to fathom that these events were orchestrated for a ‘religious’ cause despite an extremely limited understanding of the very religion at stake.

An example advocating the infancy (and the consequent lack of information) of Islam in Kashmir is that of Sultan Qutub-ud-Din marrying two biological sisters – a deed not permitted in Islam – for which he was subsequently reprimanded by the sage-saint, Mir Syed Ali Hamadani. However, in the times when religious sentiments were evoked, they were done so primarily and intemperately for political aspirations.

The subjective opinions of some of these chroniclers find resonance in their work that exonerates them from the scope of History Proper. The recurrence of sectarian, parochial, patriarchal narratives portrays the subjective beliefs of the writers, not the reflections of society. For example, Jonaraja’s opinions like no one can frame crooked and penetrating devices better than women, people of the so-called low caste resorting to thievery, and a nation perishing if a woman is its ruler are some of such narratives that make Jonaraja’s work wanting of critical analysis.

While common sense plays an important role in all aspects of our intellectual or other activities, it should also be employed while casually chugging down the gulps of Kashmir history. When analysing the rivalries and competitions these writers share with other people/sections, the allegiances and the consequent polarisation of history become apparent. For example, Dughlat was at loggerheads with the Nurbakshis and Sufis, and Abul Fazl considered Kashmiri Sunnis, Imaamis and Nur Bakshis as narrow-minded people who perpetually fight each other. Such statements that do not stem from historical objective analogies mark them distinct from the modern standards set for historiography.

But what is the need for a more nuanced understanding of Kashmir's past and why is it important to critically evaluate Kashmir’s historical literary sources? It is important because an incomplete, abstracted, selective and unidimensional reading of the past cynically impacts our understanding of the present. The narrative that has either been passed down or propagated for parochial political or other gains shapes the lens through which we judge our present.

The exaggerations, depending upon the writer's eventual ambition, have the proclivity to sway between the extremes. Nonetheless, during the time when these writers wrote, the political ideologies of the buyers for the propagated sentiment were inseparably intertwined with religion. Writers seeking to glorify the ruler, deify the actions of the ruler. Thus establishing the greatness of a ruler within a religious conglomeration. Conversely, writers seeking to vilify the ruler, revile the actions of the King. Thus establishing his depravity within a religious conglomeration.

However, what also needs to be emphasised is that these writers did not write history based on the standards we have set for historiography in the present times. Despite  the challenges of evolving Kashmir, these chroniclers tried to record history as per their contemporary norms of historiography. What they produced (despite all the imperfections) are contributions of immeasurable value. However, it is incumbent upon the modern consumers of history – not exclusively Historians – to set standards for what ought to be accepted as history and what as hearsay.

A watchful eye might prevent the sponging of speculations and exaggerations into our honest historical discourses. In the process, the historical lens our posterity puts on to situate themselves in the future might reveal to them their historic glories and errors unadulterated. Thus the narratives we construct and identify with, might well be framed on the foundations of facts, not fiction.

But if our attention wax faints, our posterity might get lost in the noise of easily manipulated pieces of information. They might have to reconstruct their histories (and consequently their existing realities) from the reflections of broken mirrors. Therefore, the burden is ours to bear. Because a blessing and a curse is that we are both; the receivers and the transmitters of history.

Moin S. Hakak Research Scholar, Department of International Studies, Political Science and History, CHRIST University, Bangalore.