Kashmiriyatfunctioned as not only a social space for inter-community interaction but also as a value that broadened the Hindus’ and Muslims’ horizon of intercommunity tolerance and co-existence in Kashmir. Kashmir’s Hindu-Muslim encounter is representatively reflected in the concept called Kashmiriyat. Although Kashimiriyat is imminent in all the aspects of Kashmiri people’s life, it is in fact the powerful shaper of religious and cultural life of its people.
Rishi Sufism, a socio-cultural religious space where several Hindus and Muslims once practiced their faiths, is one of the most prevalent expressions of Kashmiriyat in 15th to 17th century. The Rishi-Sufis practice shaped the concept of immanence of God, respect for all religions, beliefs in miracles, reincarnation, meditation, and asceticism from Hinduism and the spirit of Eightfold Paths from Buddhism and incorporated these to the concept of transcendence of God and to the spirit of “Five Pillars” of Islam for launching the syncretic socio-religious space for inter-religious interactions.
The ethno-cultural symbiotic consciousness, and Hindu-Buddhist inter-religious symbiotic spiritual consciousness, shaped the evolution of the Kashmiriyat.
Moreover, the socio-political space, shaped by peaceful interactions among Muslims and Hindus under the leadership of Sultan Ghayas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin, not only helped both categories of religious groups to have a spiritual symbiotic consciousness but also helped them to contribute to the evolution of the Kashmiriyat.
Within the context of the current ongoing, both separatist Kashmiri Muslims’ propaganda against the Hindus and Hindu Buddhist prejudice against Muslims have complicated the nature of conflict. Yet there is one point that needs be noted regarding the Kashmiriyat. That is the philosophy involved in Kashmiriyat transcends the religious teachings of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Further, Kashmiriyat is not an Islamic tool of religious conversion as feared by the Hindus and Buddhist of Kashmir.
In Kashmir, before pre-British colonial period, irrespective of religion and ethnicity, the people’s traditional sense of belongingness was expressed by the term Kashmiriyat. There are several studies that have been carried out by scholars regarding the concept of Kashmiriyat. These studies have come up with two contradictory findings regarding the concept of Kashmiriyat.
The first scholarly view, considers Kashmiriyat as a constituent element of Kashmir society. The second groups perceive Kashmiriyat as a Muslim instrument for converting Kashmiri people to Islam. One of the prominent proponents of the first view is T. N. Madan. According to him, “Kashmiriyat refers to Kashmiri identity cutting across the religious divide and can be defined as love of the homeland and even a common speech.”
On the other hand, a representative proponent of the second group, PravezDewas holds a view that Kashmiriyat is an Islamic Sufi movement aimed at the conversion of Hindus and Buddhist into Islam. He considers that Sufi movement is an evidence of the fact that Islam did not need the sword, or even state patronage, to flourish in Kashmir.Kashmiriyat is generally thought to have been developed under the rule of the Muslim governor called Sultan Ghayas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin, (popularly known as Badshah, the great king) who ruled Kashmir from 1423 to 1474 A.D., and the Mughal emperor Jalal-ud-Din Mohammed Akbar (known as Akbar the great) in 1542 to 1605 A.D. It is under the strong leadership of these two great rulers that the social consciousness of brotherhood was created among the communities of Kashmir.
Again, it also needed to be noted that through the communities’ intercommunity encounters, value of brotherhood slowly became a personal value for many Kashmiri people. Some scholars consider that it is not only brotherhood but also a social space that let people interact beyond religious and cultural walls. That is why despite of their religious differences, even after the death of the kings, Kashmiri people cherished mutual brotherhood and handed over the “Kashmiriyat Consciousness” from generation to generation.
The common feature of sharing surnames among the Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir unlike in other parts of India has been considered a symbol of Kashmiriyat. This brotherhood even now often found felt intuitively people living in the common territory of Kashmir valley.
The best expression of Kashmiriyat is found in Hindu-Muslim “Rishi-Sufi” movement. Before the arrival of Islam, the Kashmir valley was already permeated with the traditions of Hindu asceticism called Rishism and Buddhist renunciation. The origins of the Rishi movement go back to pre-Islamic times.
In Hinduism, Rishis were worldrenouncing hermits who retired to caves in forests and mountains to meditate and subject themselves to stern austerities. In the later Buddhist era, Rishis took the form of wandering monks, who lived a simple life and dedicated themselves to serving the poor and the needy.
The founder of the Muslim Rishi movement in Kashmir, NuruddinNurani (1377-1440), sought to mold the pre-existing Rishi tradition, transforming it into a vehicle for the Hindu-Muslim cultural space for interaction. The use of local institutions and methods to teach Islam made Islam more intelligible to the Kashmiris. The Muslim Rishi movement shares several beliefs, practices, and techniques with its counterpart Hindu Rishi and Buddhist renunciation movement.
To begin with, all three movements upheld the belief that ‘knowledge of God’ could be attained through true ‘knowledge of the self.’ Like the Hindu Rishis and Buddhist, the Muslim Rishis also adopted stern austerities and often retired to the mountains and caves to meditate. Most of them remained unmarried. Although Islam bans celibacy, the Muslim Rishis justified their remaining unmarried on the grounds that Jesus, also a prophet for the Muslims, was single, as well as such great Sufis as HazratUwaisQarni and the female mystic Rabia of Basra.
Author is a research scholar at University of Indore