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|Historical photograph of Kashmiri Pandits, ca. 1895|
|Regions with significant populations|
* Jammu and Kashmir * National Capital Region
|Related ethnic groups|
|This article's factual accuracy is disputed. (March 2013)|
The Hindu caste system of the Kashmir region was influenced by the influx of Buddhism from the time of Asoka, around the third century BCE, and a consequence of this was that the traditional lines of varna were blurred, with the exception of that for the Brahmins, who remained aloof from the changes. Another notable feature of early Kashmiri society was the relative high regard in which women were held when compared to their position in other communities of the period.
A historically contested region, Northern India was subject to attack from predatory Turkic and Arab regimes from the eighth century onwards, but they generally ignored the mountain-circled Kashmir Valley in favour of easier pickings elsewhere. It was not until the fourteenth century that Muslim rule was finally established in the Valley and when this happened it did not occur primarily as a consequence of invasion so much as because of internal problems resulting from the weak rule and corruption endemic in the Hindu Lohara dynasty. Mohibbul Hasan describes this collapse as
The Dãmaras or feudal chiefs grew powerful, defied royal authority, and by their constant revolts plunged the country into confusion. Life and property were not safe, agriculture declined, and there were periods when trade came to a standstill. Socially and morally too the court and the country had sunk to the depths of degradations.
The Brahmins had something to be particularly unhappy about during the reign of the last Lohara king, for Sūhadeva chose to include them in his system of onerous taxation, whereas previously they appear to have been exempted.
Zulju, who was probably a Mongol from Turkistan, wreaked devastation in 1320, when he commanded a force that conquered many regions of the Kashmir Valley. However, Zulju was probably not a Muslim. The actions of Sultan Sikandar Butshikan (1389–1413), the seventh Muslim ruler in Kashmir were also significant to the area. The Sultan has been referred to as an iconoclast because of his destruction of many non-Muslim religious symbols and the manner in which he forced the population to convert or flee. Many followers of the traditional religions who did not convert to Islam instead migrated to other parts of India. The migrants included some Pandits, although it is possible that some of this community relocated for economic reasons as much as to escape the new rulers. Brahmins were at that time generally being offered grants of land in other areas by rulers seeking to utilise the traditionally high literacy and general education of the community, as well as the legitimacy conferred upon them by association, Moving away from areas where they were under threat of forced religious conversion, the Brahmins were in turn imposing their own religion on their new locales. The outcome of this shift both in population and in religion was that the Kashmir Valley became a predominantly Muslim region.
Butshikan's heir, the devout Muslim Zain-ul-Abidin (1423–74), was tolerant of Hindus to the extent of sanctioning a return to Hinduism of those who had been forcibly converted to the Muslim faith, as well as becoming involved in the restoration of temples and of Hindu rituals such as sati, which his father had banned. He respected the learning of the Pandits, to whom he gave land as well as encouraging those who had left to return. He operated a meritocracy and both Brahmins and Buddhists were among his closest advisors.
Akbar conquered Kashmir in 1587 A.D. During his mughal rule the Hindus enjoyed security of person & property & were alloted high government posts. It was he, who pleased with their intelligence, gave them the surname Pandit. The Mughals rule was followed by that of Afghans. Gradually, many Kashmiris converted to Islam, leaving smaller population of Kashmiri Pandits who still practiced the Shaivite religion. Not much was done to win back the converts to Hinduism. The majority, though still remained Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Hindus of Kashmir established themselves in the Northern area of India, first in the Rajput and Mughal courts and then in the service of the Dogra rulers of Kashmir. This cohesive community, highly literate and socially elite, were one of the first to discuss and implement social reforms.
The Kashmiri Pandits had stably constituted approximately 14 to 15 per cent of the population of the valley during Dogra rule (1846–1947). 20 per cent of them had left the Kashmir valley as a consequence of the 1948 Muslim riots and 1950 land reforms, They began to leave in much greater numbers in the 1990s. According to a number of authors, approximately 100,000 of the total Kashmiri Pandit population of 140,000 left the valley during that decade. Other authors have suggested a higher figure for the exodus, ranging from the entire population of over 150,000, to 190,000 of a total Pandit population of 200,000, to a number as high as 300,000. According to a resolution passed by the United States Congress in 2006, Islamic terrorists infiltrated the region in 1989 and since then nearly 400,000 Pandits were either murdered or forced to leave their ancestral homes. The government has reported on the terrorist threats to Pandits still living in the Kashmir region. The Pandits were subjected to numerous indignities and brutalities before they were driven out of Kashmir by militants who reportedly were able to do so with the patronization of the ISI. Many of the refugee Kashmiri Pandits have been living in abject conditions in refugee camps of Jammu.
In 2010, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir noted that 808 Pandit families, comprising 3,445 people, were still living in the Valley and that financial and other incentives put in place to encourage others to return there had been unsuccessful. 219 members of the community had been killed in the region between 1989 and 2004 but none thereafter.
The Jammu And Kashmir Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection And Restraint On Distress Sales) Act, 1997, provides that "Any person who is an unauthorised occupant or recipient of any usufruct of any immovable property of the migrant shall pay to the migrant such compensation for the period of unauthorised occupation and in such a manner as may be determined by the District Magistrate."
The community had hoped to return after the situation improved, but have not been able to do so for 20 years because normalcy has yet to return to the valley and they fear a risk to their lives.
According to Aljazeera, the estimated population of Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley in 2011 was around 2,700-3,400. Those who left the Valley are now scattered throughout India, particularly in Jammu and the National Capital Region. Some emigrated to other countries entirely.
Kashmiri Hindus are all Saraswat Brahmins, known by their exonym of Pandit. The endonym used within the community is Bhatta. Kashmiri Pandits are chiefly followers of Shiva. Their favourite goddess is Kheer Bhawani. The spring of Kheer Bhawani at the mouth of Sind Valley is considered one of their most sacred places. Their branch of Shiva worship is known as Kashmir Saivism. The primary tenet of Kashmir Saivism is that the individual soul is one with the universal spirit, and each person has to experience and discover this for themselves.
Song is an integral part of several Kashmiri Pandit religious ceremonies. This style of choral singing is called Wanvun.
Early records and archaeological evidence such as terracotta sculptures do not record the present-day dress, which comprises items such as the turban, taranga, and pheran. Instead, records indicate that attire was varied and included leather doublets, woollen cloaks, and clothes made from hemp, cotton, linen and different types of silk. Many items of clothing reflected the cold winter climate of the area.
Kshemendra's detailed records from the eleventh century describe many items of which the precise nature is unknown. It is clear that tunics known as kanchuka were worn long-sleeved by men and in both long- and half-sleeved versions by women. Caps were worn, as well as a type of turban referred to as a shirahshata, while footwear consisted of leather shoes and boots, worn with socks. Some items were elaborate, such as the peacock shoes – known as mayuropanah – worn by followers of fashion, and steel-soled shoes adorned with floral designs, lubricated internally with beeswax.
There are many references to the wearing of jewellery by both sexes, but a significant omission from them is any record of the dejihor worn on the ear by women today as a symbol of their being married. Kaw has speculated that this item of jewellery may not have existed at the time. The texts also refer to both sexes using cosmetics, and to the women adopting elaborate hairstyles. Men, too, might adopt stylish arrangements and wear flowers in their hair, if they had the financial means to do so.
Harmukh is traditionally revered by Kashmiri Pandits and in 2009 there was an attempt by them to revive pilgrimages to the site. The Mata Khirbhawani temple shrine in Srinagar, considered one of the holiest Hindu shrines, saw the largest gathering of Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir valley in 2012. The shrine is located in Tullamulla village, 24 km from Srinagar in Ganderbal district. Some holy sites of Kashmiri Pandits include the Martand Sun Temple at Mattan, Mahakali shrine in Srinagar on the banks of vitasta, & above all the Amarnath cave shrine, the pilgrimage to which is conducted during shravan purnima.
The religious festivals of the Hindus of Kashmir have Vedic roots. The Kashmiri Pandits share many of their festivals with other Hindu communities. Shivratri (or Herath as it is known in Kashmiri language) is one of the major festivals of Kashmiri Pandits. Navreh or the Kashmiri lunar new year is also an important Pandit festival and could be the origin of the Persian festival of Nowruz.
In addition to Kashmiri Pandits, there are other Hindu communities who originate from Kashmir. These include Dogras, who live in the Jammu region, and Mirpuri people, who speak the Mirpur Punjabi dialect and live across Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi.
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